Comic Strip WIIFM

By | Monday, October 26, 2020 Leave a Comment
Brenda Starr

We've seen a number of newspaper strips hit the big recylce bin in the sky this year.* What happens when a comic strip gets cancelled? Not the ones that are axed by the creators themselves, but the ones where the syndicate says, "You know, I don't think we'll continue this any more." Sometimes, there's a vocal minority of fans who are disappointed, perhaps mad, but often most comic fans shrug and say, "Meh."

There are a number of reasons comics get cancelled, but not infrequently, it's due to low sales. The synidcate has decided that producing the comic is simply not profitable enough (or at all). They've expended as much as they feel they can do drum up interest and support, but it's just not selling to newspapers well enough to justify continuing. Now, maybe that's because the comic sucks. There is certainly no shortage of crappy comics out there! But it's possible, too, that it was good, but just didn't make it to the attention of the right audience. Bad or insufficient marketing, you might say.

Now, when a comic gets cancelled, whatever money was transferred in that process halts. The creators don't get paid, obviously, but now neither do the editors, production guys, anyone the publisher had advertised with, etc. I'm not saying these people necessarily get stiffed money they're owed -- though that does happen -- just that there's no future earnings coming to them because of the comic. In the cases of larger deals, most of those people will be able to switch gears and find other similar gigs. The creators shift over to other gigs, the printers pick up additional customers, etc. Smaller folks might have bigger problems. Maybe the creators have to do freelance ad layout work for advertising circulars, maybe the printer goes out of business entirely.

But regardless of what happens to these people, they broader comic fanbase still gives a collective "Meh."

It's not that they don't care per se, but if an individual isn't invested in the comic in any way, they don't have a reason to put much emotional stock in the loss. They look at the strip in terms of, "What's in it for me?" (In business shorthand, this is often abbreviated as WIIFM -- pronounced "wiffum.") "What do I, as a consumer, get out of whether this book continues or not?"

If a person was reading the strip, their loss is direct; they don't get to read it any more. Whatever they got out of it will no longer be available. And because they had some emotional attachment to it, they have at least some modicum of concern over the people involved. "Good luck finding a new gig, Creator X!" Sometimes, these fans follow the creator on to their next project, if possible.

I don't know that anyone gives much thought beyond that. To the printers, USPS/FedEx/UPS workers who deliver different parts of the work, the folks at the syndicate... I don't know that most people make that connection between any one cancelled title, and everyone throughout the whole process. Not that it's easy to -- we never hear about the guy who delivered the papers from the printers to the warehouse, or the admin at the printers who had to juggle a bunch of invoices for any one project, or the teenager who unpacked shipping boxes at a distribution center... I don't know if their namelessness is an active way to make things emotionally easier on us consumers, or if we're simply unable to make emotional connections along those more distant lines.

But the question still boils down to "What's in it for me?" And while I recognize that at some level we have to do that -- we can't be equally compassionate about all issues everywhere -- it's a shame that more people don't extend their interest in comics beyond the handful of books they actively read.

* Yes, I know Brenda Starr was cancelled back in 2011. I specifically chose an image of an older strip that's been gone a few years in case anyone is still bitter about some strip that got axed more recently.
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