In this second part of our conversation with the Nine Gallons author, we discuss self-publishing, the trappings of editorial cartoons, and attempting to make money doing what you love.
Looking at editorial cartooning from an outsider’s perspective, it’s easy to get caught up in all of the clichés—the heavy-handed symbolism with words written across it. You can open up a paper and still see it all over the place. Is that something you feel a need to work against?
Oh, absolutely. And I hope that more editorial cartoonists feel that they need to work against that. I feel that editorial cartooning—and comics journalism in general—is so untapped and has such a hopeful future and so much potential, but everyone thinks of an editorial cartoon as being the donkey and the elephant with ten explanatory labels on them. I really hope I never do that [laughs].
They ask the same question of protest singers—are you doing this to sway people’s opinions? Is that the job of an editorial cartoonist?
I guess I think about that in terms of all of my cartooning that is more political or journalistic, my goal is to inform, more than anything else. I think that telling a powerful story and having a narrative is more likely to sway someone’s opinion than telling them why they should change their minds, in so many word–or so many donkeys and elephants.
That’s kind of my goal with narrative comics journalism, and that’s much more difficult to apply to a one-panel editorial cartoon, but that’s certainly what I’d like to do.
It’s the same thing we tend to run into with Sunday morning comic strips—the stuff that rises to the top isn’t necessarily the stuff that’s the best.
Right. And also there’s this sense that, that stuff is at the top, so all of us have to emulate it, which is just self-perpetuating and bad. You could say that that is why the general public thinks that comics are just superhero books, because that’s what gets the most play, and that’s what they see. But there’s still stuff going on underwater.
[Looking at the above cartoon.]
What I did for this one is, Cartoon Movement has what’s called a “newsroom,” and you pitch your ideas for cartoons, and then people vote on them. And then, the top voted pieces, Cartoon Movement buys them and “publishes” them, making the second rights available to newspapers and magazines that they work with. So I pitched this one as a sketch.
This isn’t really overtly political. Would you call it a political cartoon?
To me it’s political. There are so many things that we don’t think of as classical political issues that are actually political. I think food is very political.
Wasn’t it Rumsfield who made Aspartame legal?
Probably, that asshole.
He was a lobbyist and I believe that he was the reason that we have it in food now.
I’m sure that they have a strong lobby. That shit is in everything…But Cartoon Movement is very interesting—it’s cartoonists from around the world. Our idea of editorial cartooning is based on what they look like in America. Around the world they don’t look like that. They’re actually largely illustrations, a single illustration that makes a much more general point and isn’t so specific in its characters, usually. And it’s much more symbolic. It’s more of what we see as editorial illustration in papers.
They’ve got an interesting model, in terms of actually paying people for comics. You had a pretty steady job working for Curbed.
Yeah, and then I was laid off.
Are there good models emerging in the space, or are we still far from that?
I have mixed feelings. Cartoon Movement is supported by grant funds. I know that their goal is to be a sustainable business, and I think that their plan for the syndicate is a good one—selling second rights to cartoons. But I feel like, looking around in journalism right now, some of the most successful places I’m writing for are non-profits, supported by public moneys.
I don’t know exactly how to come down on that. I love NPR, and that’s their business plan—small donations from private citizens and a smaller amount of bigger grant moneys. And in journalism, those organizations are taking some of the biggest chances.
I’m doing some work right now for the Bay Citizen, which is a new non-profit in San Francisco. They made big waves because they got $5 million an raised another $9 million. And they don’t have ads, and I can’t say that’s bad. It’s working.
It helps when you don’t have to answer to large corporations.
And I guess you have to have a big grant writing team, as opposed to a big advertising team. I’m not sure how that breaks down, in terms of their staff. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that business plan. I think the more the better, really. If they’re making it work, I’m happy.
But doesn’t the Internet make it possible to self-publish? Have you tried that approach?
I don’t know why that hasn’t appealed to me as much as wanting to contribute to other publications and Websites. I think I like the idea of doing something different for different audience.
Yeah. And I think that might be harder if I had my audience at my site expecting a more linear sort of thing from me. Today I did this comic for the Hairpin that’s a fake DIY craft making a bonnet for your cat. And later this week, I will do a probably very harsh political cartoon for a San Francisco news site. And I like getting to do such different things for different people.
And both of those things go back on my Website. I put all of the things I do for these different Websites up on my homebase. But I’m not sure what sort of audience I would garner, if I were stretching all of the time. Maybe it would just be people like me that were reading.
[Continued in Part Three]