On Strips: Syndication Speed

By | Friday, August 15, 2014 Leave a Comment
Editorial cartoonists, by the definition of their job, use their artistic talents to comment on current topics. Robin Williams, for example, died on Monday and Daryl Cagle's collection of editorial cartoonists paying tribute to Williams had around 30 different pieces by Tuesday. Universal Uclick had any number of them by Wednesday. With electronic communications, it's incredibly fast and efficient to get a piece of art from an artist's drawing table to a wide number of people.

Of course, that's true of webcomics too. There are any number of webcomikers who broke from the regular storylines to do pieces on Williams. (Erika Moen, of course, turned in by far the most eloquent, original, and touching piece. On the off chance you haven't seen it, it's located here. I got more teary-eyed reading it than I did from the actual news of Williams' death.) That was one of the originally one of the more novel things about webcomics; that they could and did so much faster than traditional syndicates. Syndicates were used to dealing with newspapers, who ran on a much slower (relatively speaking) schedule than the real-time updates of the web. But, to their credit, they seem to have largely caught up and there's very little delay caused by the middleman beauracracy that webcomickers don't have to deal with when publishing their work.

But here's what I don't get...

Why do newspaper strip cartoonists still work on a 4-6 week schedule?

With Garry Trudeau on a sort-of sabatical from Doonesbury, Lalo Alcaraz is currently (I think) the most topically current comic strip artist under syndication. But his latest strips have focused on John Boehner threatening to sue President Obama, and anti-immigrant protesters demanding the deportation of children immigrants. Both of those stories were from 2-3 weeks ago. Trudeau also had a lead time of about two weeks, but over the decades, he had become very astute at getting extremely early reads on news items and predicting where the stories would go in a week or two.
But in a world where events unfold in front of our eyes via multiple sources in real time -- where nearly everyone is armed with a camera and an internet connection -- and where it's not only possible but relatively common to post both written and aritstic reactions in just as real time, why can't comic strip cartoonists work closer to their publication date? Why do they still need to adhere to a syndication schedule that's even outdated within the syndicates themselves?

I could see if there was a greater danger of offending the wrong group and the syndicates wanted to exercise some editorial control, but it seems editorial cartoonists are more likely to do be offensive (intentionally or not) these days, just by virtue of the subject matter. I could see if there was some worry about cartoonists keeping a regular schedule, but they're already doing that just several weeks earlier that publication. I could see if there were more time needed to prepping the cartoons for print, but digital pre-press makes jobs go super quickly and many artists supply their work already prepped. I honestly can't think of another reason why syndicates would require such a lengthy lead time. Anyone have any answers for me on that?
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