Cartoonists Enter Newsletter Biz

By: Dave Astor

Some comic creators now have a subscriber base outside of newspapers — with free e-mail newsletters.

The number of cyberpublications tied to syndicated strips is hard to determine. Yahoo!Groups (YG) represents a handful of them, and some cartoonists self-distribute e-mail newsletters, which tend to be all or mostly text.

Probably the first e-mail newsletter for a major strip was started in 1994 by “Dilbert” creator Scott Adams of United Media. Two others were begun by King Features Syndicate creators: Michael Jantze (“The Norm”) in 1996 and Hilary Price (“Rhymes With Orange”) in 1999. There are also newsletters for, among other comics, “For Better or For Worse” by Lynn Johnston of United, “Monkeyhouse” by Pat Byrnes of Tribune Media Services, and “The Big Picture” by Lennie Peterson of Universal Press Syndicate.

The “Dilbert” newsletter has a huge list of 400,000-plus subscribers. There were 39 issues between 1994 and 2001, with five or six planned for this year.

“I wanted to directly connect with ‘Dilbert’ readers so I could get feedback on the strip and they could get information about new ‘Dilbert’ happenings — books, Web site, TV show, licensed stuff, etc.,” said Adams. “I figured that if I could make the newsletter entertaining in its own right, and free, then people wouldn’t mind the not-so-subtle commercial elements.”

United, which syndicates “Dilbert” to 2,000-plus papers, handles distribution.

Adams said he likes the newsletter because “I have few editorial pressures for timing or content. It’s wonderful and rare for an author to have such a direct channel to so many people.”

‘The Norm’ In E-mail Form

Jantze has 3,600-plus subscribers despite never marketing his newsletter.

“It started out as a place for folks to talk about their lives through the filter of ‘The Norm,'” Jantze said. “But as more people joined, the less they wrote about themselves. So the format has switched to something more about the comic and myself.” He added that the monthly newsletter “answers a lot of the questions I get: where I’ll be, what’s new on the Web site, why the strip is going in a new direction.”

Yahoo!Groups does the list management. “I did self-distribute originally, but keeping the list current was nearly impossible,” said Jantze. “The disadvantage of using a free service like Yahoo!Groups is the pesky addition of an ad whose content you can’t control.” To get an ad-free newsletter, he might pay a fee or leave YG.

The “Dilbert” newsletter doesn’t carry ads, but might in the future.

Price, whose four- or five-times-a-year newsletter has about 1,300 subscribers, also uses YG. “When I had all my addresses on my computer, I could only send the newsletter to about 100 people at a time to avoid crashing,” she recalled. “Yahoo sends them all at once with the click of a button.” YG also handles new subscriptions and outdated addresses.

In her newsletter, Price has written about the Sept. 11-tribute strips that ran on Thanksgiving, an open house at her studio building, a new “Rhymes With Orange” book, papers signing or dropping her comic, and more.

Price said newsletters help cartoonists learn what their readers like, and help “get people excited about comic-strip artists and keep the industry alive.”

Why aren’t there more newsletters? “I think most cartoonists are too busy just creating their strips,” said Jantze.

***

Et cetera …



Dave Barry of Tribune Media Services and Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services (KRT) is writing special columns almost every day during the Winter Olympics. …

The Erma Bombeck Online Museum is scheduled to be unveiled during the March 9 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton in Ohio (http://erma.udayton.edu). Speakers include former TV talk-show host Phil Donahue, columnists, and others. …

KRT added several features to its KRT Kids and KRTeens packages covering news, health, and trivia. Also, Tallahassee (Fla.) Democrat columnist Gerald Ensley was added to the KRT South package. …

April 1 is the deadline to enter the Thomas Nast Prize for editorial cartooning. For more information, contact The Miami Herald/King Features Syndicate editorial cartoonist Jim Morin (jmorin@herald.com).




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