Somewhere between art and amusement lies the bastard child of aspiring humorists. The gag cartoon falls into the same class of timelessness as Chuck Taylors, To Kill A Mockingbird, and the Corvette. Our grandparents grew up reading them in the Saturday Evening Post; our parents grew up reading them in the newspapers; and we’re currently digesting them daily on the internet. Here’s a shocker for you—the Saturday Evening Post still exists! Newspapers are still rolling off the press with syndicated work! Though, these outlets are quickly on their way out the door.
The success of cartooning has always been closely tied to the success of print. We all recognize where print is heading. Even my father, the archetypal newspaper reader, has opted for a 3-a-week paper delivery versus the 7-day delivery because it became cost prohibitive. Magazines are suffering massive readership losses, leaving many longtime cartoon markets to drop the printing of cartoons to save money. This has left only the top echelon of magazines running cartoons. It has also left a lot of cartoonists with pipe dreams. So, many artists who once sold their work to these defunct magazines are now all vying for a precious few slots in the precious few remaining outlets (predominately, The New Yorker, which receives upwards of 3,000 submissions a week).
I had a penchant for drawing from a young age. I would draw my favorite ’90s cartoon characters, fully realized pokémon battles, and boatloads of dinosaurs (seriously, a lot of dinosaurs). This went largely lost and forgotten through high school. I started drawing cartoons when I saw a flyer, calling for cartoonists for Eastern Michigan’s school paper, the Eastern Echo. The flyer had been there for who-knows-how-long. The deadline had passed. Regardless, I went home, brainstormed and drew up three gags to quickly email them for review. Next, I was drawing for the Echo. There, I submitted two cartoons a week for three years, harnessed my abilities while learning cartoon theory, and caused a wild ruckus after social commentary got misinterpreted as racial insensitivity. My legacy is the forced renaming of the section from “Comics” to “Sequential art & satire”. Beyond the notoriety, it is proof that one 3×3 in. drawing can still stir people and promote dialogue.
At this point, any success is good success. I’m fortunate enough to have been published in the Saturday Evening Post, as well as a wonderful trade, Funny Times, continuing the storied tradition of cartoons on newsprint. The success of gag webcomics like Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal and XKCD prove that there’s still a venerable market for thoughtful humor blending the image and the word. The digital age has even spawned a new genre of image-based humor which straddles the gap between blog and cartooning such as The Oatmeal and Hyperbole and a Half. But back to print…
There’s a strange world going on outside the text bubbles. I feel like I’m catching the dying breath of a creature that’s been on the earth for two-hundred years. Imagine if Nessie’s cold, limp body washed ashore one day. Everybody would gather around and say things like, “we ardly knew ye,” (we’re in Scotland, remember) and “why ja huff to goo so soon?” A reporter would write a story and realize that they didn’t have a newspaper to write for anymore. Hundreds would post pictures on Instagram, with captions of consternation, reminiscing their fond hours playing Loch Ness monster in the pool as a child. The cause of death would be reported as undisclosed, but we would all have an inkling that it was the introduction of invasive new species to the water of her life. In her case, diluted reality TV shows about Bigfoot and ghosts made Nessie obsolete; just as mobile devices and the internet make print material look like hieroglyphs.
But I like my hieroglyphics.
I’ve accepted that print cartooning will never again reach the heights it once enjoyed, but I anticipate there to always be a niche market for it. Until I’m proven a fool, I’ll continue to draw on paper, snail mail cartoons to magazines, and flip pages to read more. I can’t ignore evolution, because it exists, but you can’t ignore the past either, because it subsists.
If you wish, visit my (non-print) website to amuse yourself with about 100 original cartoons.