The syndication struggle

7 Jul

Sometimes when I’m out and about, I’ll take a look around at all the different professions people have and just think what my life would be like if I went a different route.  Trust me – I’ve worked gobs of day jobs as I’ve worked toward becoming a cartoonist (often two jobs at a time) and there’s really never an easy road (unless you’re extremely lucky) when you take the road less traveled.  So, I’ve dipped my toes into different jobs and careers and have experienced many of them.  And although day jobs provide a consistent income, hours, sometimes health care options and more benefits, I’ve still gone this path as a cartoonist.  I’ve done it knowing it wouldn’t be easy.  But, there have been even bigger bumps in the road that I would’ve never thought of when I was growing up.  For example, I’ve mentioned quite a few times that – as a child – I just wanted to be syndicated.  Syndication, back then, meant I provided a daily comic strip/panel to newspapers seven days a week.  I pictured some collections of my work that would eventually come along with that and the joy of just sitting in a studio working.  Not focussing on sales, freelance or anything else – just providing a comic feature.  And you know, when I was young, that was a viable option.  I’m pretty sure that’s not an option any more….

I’ve attempted talking with editors and other professionals in the business about taking my feature, Break of Day, even further.  I’m syndicated online, but that’s not really the cream of the crop compared to being in newspapers.  I am in the newspaper as well, but that’s from self-syndication, which doesn’t really do much.  I’ve asked around about potentially moving the feature forward but to no avail.  The reality is, the newspaper comic will probably never be the same.  Having another Calvin & Hobbes, Peanuts or Far Side that makes it into mainstream media like the once dominant cartoons once have done isn’t happening.  It’s never going to be the same compared to the past.  The reality is, newspapers (in print) are still in decline.  In fact, there really hasn’t been a successful newspaper cartoon launched in over a decade.  There have been some successes, but when I’m talking successful, I’m talking in a major way.  Like, Garfield success.  Something that big, you know.

And guess what, I hope I’m wrong.  I hope I’m dead wrong about my feature and syndication and the future.  But I gotta be realistic here and honest with myself and others.

So, I’ve had to change the perspective of who I am as a cartoonist several times throughout my career.

I’ve actually experienced some depression in the past knowing that I really don’t even have a shot at being a “big time” syndicated cartoonist.  It can really take a toll on a person when you see cartoonist that got on board the syndication train while it was still allowing passengers and you realize they are doing what you wanted to do, but you don’t really have the chance unless some breakthrough happens that just – well – happens.  Another struggle was the thought that they probably put in just as many hours as I do on my feature, yet when it comes to syndication, I probably get paid about 5% of what they make for the same line of work.  So, it has been frustrating.  Probably about as frustrated as phone books feel these days.

Depressed Phone Book

However, I’ve learned that I just need to accept reality and stop comparing myself to others in my field.

I used to get insanely jealous when I would get on Facebook and see that a fellow syndicated cartoonist (you know, one that makes a living off that) was putting out a book or something.  Or doing talks.  Or selling merchandise that was actually promoted by a publishing company.  STUFF.  Boy, somedays it made me want to drive off the next bridge I would come across.  Just knowing that that’s not really an option for me is tough.  I didn’t “get on board” when there was a chance a decade or so ago.

Plus, I used to find myself again getting mad at all the hours I pour into my work and realizing that I’m not making hardly a dime compared to the dollar that other gag cartoonist made that had the newspapers.

But, as I mentioned….I’ve learned to accept reality and not compare my work to others.

And actually, my career is heading toward potential even more-so than being in the newspapers would have possibly offered.  At least, that’s what I’m hoping.

What the heck am I doing?  Well, I’ll elaborate a bit…..

One of the things that used to put a damper on my work was this:  I used to worry about my work and what others would think.  But nowadays, with it being a somewhat free-for-all in this industry, it’s something I’ve learned not to do.

I’m doing a graphic novel with vulgar language.  What will people think?

I am working on a religious based comic strip with a comedian.  What will people think?

I have a dirty greeting card on shelves.  What will people think?

I forgot to wash my hair.  What will people think?

I don’t think about any of that stuff anymore.  It’s all about what I want to do.  I am happy to say though that I typically take a shower daily and keep my hair rather clean.

This freedom I’ve allowed myself has helped tremendously.  Let me just say that in this current year I’ve signed a major contract for a potential major deal (I’ll keep it under wraps until more information becomes available), worked with awesome clients and am enjoying the flexibility of doing what I want to do.  And it’s gotten me all off my mindset of “I HAVE to be a syndicated cartoonist in newspapers“.  Again, I don’t think that’s an option anymore so I haven’t made it my main goal like it was when I was a child.  I’ll continue my syndicated series and enjoy it, but for Break of Day becoming anything further than it is, well, I’m not too certain if it will.  I’m not ruling it out, but it is what it is.  I figure I’m in a good position if things come around in the industry and syndication becomes an option again.  In the meantime, I’ll chill out about it and do my series for the fun of it and even with the lackluster pay that it offers.  Plus, a lot of my gag cartoons end up in publications and magazines, so it’s really not as horrible as I make it out to be sometimes.

As this year continues on, I’ve decided not to sweat the small stuff and really go for the big picture.  Bold projects are my main focus.  In this digital age, there are actually ways to really take advantage of the availabilities the internet offers.  And if you pay attention, there are a ton of different things beyond the papers that make not just me, but any cartoonist a living.  You may need to get a day job for a bit and work both for awhile, but it can happen.

So, I’ll continue doing what I’m doing.  I have some exciting things on the way.  I guess I wrote this post because I guarantee there are probably a ton of potential cartoonist out there that felt or feel the same way – that it’s hopeless.  I’m sure many are depressed and angry as I have been in the past.  Trust me – there is a silver lining.  You gotta be a bit creative and maybe change the blue print of yourself that you originally wanted, but that’s okay.  The best thing to do is face it all head on.  You’ll have a ton of failures, but success is a possibility.

Don’t go jump off a bridge just yet.  And for God’s sake take showers everyday, clean yourself off and get on with it.



9 Responses to “The syndication struggle”

  1. monster1612 July 7, 2013 at 11:37 am #

    Try appealing to a wider audience, you could get more publicity that way.

    • w101njf July 7, 2013 at 11:51 am #

      With Break of Day? I don’t think it’s the audience I’m worried about, just the market. As for my other endeavors, there’s definitely a narrower audience for some of the stuff.

  2. bearmancartoons July 7, 2013 at 12:58 pm #

    Just make sure your wife has a better job than you do. haha

    • w101njf July 7, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

      The key to every successful cartoonist. 🙂

  3. David Hurley July 7, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    It’s good to read your thoughts here Nate. I think a lot of cartoonist feel this way and it’s cathartic for you and them to see this. Keep going, I’ve seen you come a long way. Just don’t let George Takei become your business manager! 🙂

    • w101njf July 8, 2013 at 5:12 am #

      Thanks, David! Luckily, George hasn’t contacted me about becoming my business manager (although if he was, it would probably be unbeknownst to me since he rarely credits people).

  4. George Ford July 8, 2013 at 2:19 pm #

    I know exactly what you’re talking about, Nate. Ever since I picked up my first Archie comic or read my first Comics Page in my small hometown newspaper, I declared that I was gonna be a cartoonist. I read every 741 book in the library. And for those in the know, the 741’s are all the comic strip collections. 🙂

    But, as time progressed, my certain goal began to look unachievable (or at the very least, extremely, EXTREMELY difficult to bring to fruition. I still strive ahead, although I do not have the slightest idea how I’m gonna make this work.

    On some days, I’m optimistic, on others, you couldn’t pay me to crack a smile. I knew it was gonna be hard, but has it now become impossible?

    I truly appreciate you writing this, Nate. It lets me know that i’m not the only with who is passionate, but has his doubts. It feels almost blasphemic for me to scrutinize my life-long infatuation, but I need to be honest with myself.

    • w101njf July 8, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

      The syndication part of being in the newspapers is basically the only BIG thing taken out of the equation unless things really turnaround. That being said though, there are many other possibilities with cartooning that go BEYOND that and can be better! You have a great series with AC and you’ve got plenty of talent. I’ve added just other elements of income – along with my Break of Day series – to make it work. There are a lot of avenues and roads to take, but there’s a lot of ways to make things workout.

      Keep on keeping on! It is hard to hear about the syndication world – and I hope I’m dead wrong (as I mentioned), but I’ve had kids even ask me how to make it into the papers and stuff, and it’s one of those subjects where I’ve started to tell them that they’ll have to wait and see how because this profession changes constantly.


  1. Random Happenings | Nate's Ramblings - July 21, 2013

    […] recently written about the sad state of syndication and I often post about how I feel like the market is for a guy like me.  This career of mine makes […]

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