Cartoonist at Work on the Web

By: Steve Outing

The World Wide Web presents some interesting opportunities for cartoonists brave enough to venture into the wilds of cyberspace. Randy Glasbergen, a successful cartoonist whose work is published in many magazines and who does "The Better Half" comic strip for King Features, has been publishing on the Web since last September.

"The Web has been a terrific experience for me," he says. But it's not without its pitsfalls, given the ease with which copyrighted work like a cartoon strip can be easily and freely transmitted around the world digitally.

I interviewed Glasbergen by email recently about his experience in publishing cartoons on the Web:

Q: What's the basic strategy behind publishing your cartoons on the Web?..

A: "My first pages have been advertisements for my freelance cartoon and illustration services for businesses, newsletters, advertising and such. I've had a very strong freelance career in print, so the Web has been a natural extension of that work, helping me reach a much larger and more varied market than ever before.

"After discovering my earlier pages, many people wrote and asked me to create a daily feature. So (last) week I began 'Today's Cartoon by Randy Glasbergen.' My goal for 'Today's Cartoon' is to attract enough readers to make my page attractive to a sponsor."

Q: Could an online newspaper service republish or buy rights to publish the daily cartoon?

"If online newspapers want to link to my daily cartoon, that's great, I'd love it! I don't charge any fee for this. I only charge a fee when my cartoons are actually posted on someone's site. That fee varies according to the specifics of the usage (how many cartoons used, size of company, etc.)."

Q: Who are your online clients?

A: "Most of my online clients are corporations of various size who are hiring me to create cartoons or illustrations to make their sites more fun and interesting. Some of the cartoons are reprints from my recent archives and some are created to fit a specific client need or message. Fees vary according to the project. I've also been contacted by a number of newsletter publishers and have found a good business in supplying fresh cartoons to that market. For the first time, via the Web, independent business people have easy access to a smorgasborg of talent that heretofore had been largely hidden from them. ... The Yellow Pages didn't have a lot of cartoons listed in it, but the Web does.

"Just being on the Web isn't enough, though. Any cartoonist can put up a Web page. But to be effective, you must present a product or service of value. Your value might be creative services or it might be the ability to start someone's day with a good chuckle. Either way, it's not enough just to take up space on the Web ... You gotta deliver the goods somehow."

Q: Have you had problems with people improperly using your cartoons?

A: "So far, I'm not aware of anyone stealing my GIF files from my pages and posting them without my permission. Many write for permission to lift the cartoons from my pages and each case is handled on an individual basis. Although the issue of electronic rights may still be vague, most ordinary folks don't want to risk violating a copyright notice."

Q: I'm seeing more cartoonists go out on their own on the Web. What's in it for them?

A: "Many cartoonists are using the Web for a variety of purposes. The Web is a great way for amateurs and beginners to find an audience. (The Web doesn't send you reject slips!) Many syndicated strips are also on the Web and I suppose this helps build an audience for strips that aren't in as many papers as 'Garfield' or 'Blondie.' Freelancers are using the Web to broaden their client base. Illustrators love the Web because it allows them to post an electronic portfolio for instant review by art directors and editors, to the dismay of Fedex."

Q: What's the relationship, if any, between your Web site and the syndicate that publishes "The Better Half"?

A: "In addition to the Web and my other freelance projects, I create 'The Better Half' for King Features Syndicate. This has always been completely separate from my freelance work, which KFS has no connection with."

Q: Does the emergence of the Web change or weaken the position of the syndicates who heretofore have been so important in making or breaking a cartoonist's career?

A: "I don't know how the syndicates will adapt to the Web. There are still plenty of printed newspapers around, let's not forget that. So the syndicates still have plenty to do in that market.

"One possibility is that the syndicates will function as talent scouts and agents for online cartoonists. First they discover good talent, then they seek a sponsor for the cartoonist's page, splitting the revenues with the cartoonist. The more 'hits' a cartoon's Web page receives, the more the syndicate can charge the sponsor. This is quite similar to TV shows having sponsors.

"Another possibility is that online newspapers will sell subscriptions to services similar to a localized version of America Online. They sell you the software with your subscription, then you log on to access the local paper's online features. In this case, a syndicate would sell cartoons to the online paper and each paper would still try to pick the most popular comics and features to attract more subscriptions. In this scenario, online newspapers would not be available on the Web as they are now."

Q: Your new Web site is entitled "Today's Cartoon by Randy Glasbergen." Why didn't you choose a catchier name?

A: "The title is simple and to the point. My work has already found a following on the Web, so I wanted to connect Today's Cartoon with that following instead of calling it 'Under The Sink' or 'Gutter Ball' or one of those other trendy names. My name is becoming well-known on the Web. ... In fact, I'm the very first cartoonist to have his very own category heading in Yahoo. That's when I knew for sure that my Web cartoons were really catching on."

Some humbling figures from a mass medium

Online publishers and online services might pause to reflect on the news this week that the Super Bowl football game on NBC last Sunday attracted 138.5 million television viewers. Even America Online's impressive growth to 4.5 million subscribers seems paltry compared to that kind of reach. As most newspapers operating online services are pleased to attract several thousand computer users to their sites, it's humbling to look at television's stranglehold on huge audiences. Where online services come into this picture is in setting themselves up as the place to go before the game -- for pre-game stats, interviews with players, etc. -- and after -- providing online chat and discussion venues for those for whom the game doesn't end until after they've talked it over with their equally fanatical buddies.

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