Wednesday, June 27, 2007

New Comic Strips

A couple of the big syndicates are releasing a new crop of comic strips. United is offering Secret Asian Man, and Universal is launching Cul de Sac .

Secret Asian Man is obviously trying to fill an ethic niche, while Cul de Sac looks like a well-drawn and well-written strip about kids. I like Richard Thompson's work and the sample strips I've seen.

Here's the question: How many cartoonists have been told by the syndicates that a new strip about kids, however well done, is impossible to sell in today's market because of existing kid/family strips? (Tiger, Baby Blues, PreTeena, Agnes, Hi & Lois, Big Nate, FoxTrot, Curtis, Marvin, Heart of the City, On the Fast Track, to name a few.)

Interestingly enough, Universal just launched Lio last year -- a kids' strip with a twist, but still a kids' strip. King greenlighted The Pajama Diaries, a family strip, a year or so ago as well. Dog Eat Doug combines babies and animals, and Cow and Boy offers kids and bovines. So, apparently, you CAN sell a strip about kids and families. This makes perfect sense, as everyone was a kid or has kids or knows kids. It's the same with family strips: everyone has a family, so it's easy to identify with the subject matter.

The moral of the story is this: Don't listen to the syndicates. Do what inspires YOU. If it's kids, or pets, or families or aliens, do it. There's always room for good comics, regardless of the subject matter.



Anonymous said...

You want thoughts, Scott? Okay, I'll give 'em to you...

I agree that "Secret Asian Man" is trying to fill an ethnic niche, although I hope it has a wide appeal as well. While there have been few if any comic strips about Asian-Americans in newspapers (see the whole discussion at the Daily Cartoonist), they have not been completely absent from all comics. If you haven't read "American Born Chinese," a 2006 graphic novel by Gene Luen-Yang, I would highly encourage you to. It seems to have won a plethora of literary awards, not to mention the NCS Comic Book of the Year Award. It is excellent work. Anyway, this book centers on Asian-Americans, but of course it is not a newspaper comic strip, so it would be nice for that ethnicity to have representation on the comics page, I suppose. I haven't read any samples of "Secret Asian Man," but I hope it's good.

I'm especially excited for the debut of "Cul de Sac." The samples on the Universal site are just great. Very well-drawn, funny... If "Lio" was last year's potential classic, "Cul de Sac" is this year's potential classic. I'm sure the positive word of mouth from Watterson will aid it in a quest for newspapers. I hope that my paper will pick it up to replace either the atrocious "Diesel Sweeties" or the ending "Sunshine Club" (R.I.P. Howie Schneider). In fact, I'd better write to them about it; I don't want them to miss this opportunity.

Chris said...

That was me above, by the way.
To continue my thoughts, I will respond to your musings about how kid strips can still make it into syndication, despite the syndicates warning against it.

Well, what you say is probably true. There is always a market for any strip with any subject as long as its good enough. But the more kid strips there are, the tougher it must be to get a kid strip syndicated. Which is why it is necessary for the cartoonist to make it not a straight-up kid strip, like "Tiger," for instance, or "Big Nate," or "FoxTrot". Instead they have to make it a kid strip with a twist.

"Lio," obviously is more about supernatural mischief and telling stories solely with pictures than about kids. "The Pajama Diaries," from what I've read, is really about the mother more than the kids or father. SUffice to say, it's from her point of view. Of the recently added kid strips you mentioned, the one closest to a straight-up kid strip is "Dog Eat Doug," but even then there's a twist -- the baby and dog are best friends and can read each other's thoughts. And "Cow & Boy," while about kids and bovines, as you say, is really more about being philosophical than about kids. You could say the same thing about "Calvin and Hobbes," but Billy (in "Cow & Boy") talks about the meaning of life etc. way more than Calvin ever did. But you'll hardly ever see Billy doing any normal "kid stuff," as Calvin often did.

So my point is that either they have to make the kid strip unique like those four to make it into today's kid strip market -- or, they have to make it excellent. Read some "Cul de Sac" and probably you'll agree that it fits the latter description.

Scott Nickel said...

Chris, thanks for the insightful comments.

I've only seen a few samples of “Secret Asian Man,” and it may have broad appeal, but UM is obviously using the Asian angle as their hook.

I've not seen the "American Born Chinese: book.. Thanks for the recommendation.

I, too hope that "Cul de Sac" does well. The samples are excellent.

Now, let’s talk about the syndicates and why they don’t accept strips about certain familiar themes – or at least why they tell cartoonists to avoid them.

The problem is mainly the newspaper editors, who don’t spend a lot of time scrutinizing comics and when presented with a strip about a kid, or a family, or a dog, invariably say, "We already have a strip like that." Of course, this is silly, because "Lio" is nothing like "Tiger," even though they both feature children as their main characters.

I think this is why you see so many niche strips being launched. The sales guy can tell a busy editor "this strip is about an Asian kid," or "this strip is about an interracial couple" or “this strip is about young African Americans." Although even here you run into trouble. If an editor is looking to fill a certain niche, “Boondocks” is nothing like “Curtis,” even though they both feature young African Americans.

Editors don't want to bothered with nuances and subtly, so I've been told. This is why I find the "Cul de Sac" launch somewhat puzzling. Sure, it's a great strip, but what's the hook? (The “hook” is more important than ever, according to one syndicate editor I’ve talked with.) What's going to get an editor to look at the samples? Is saying "it's a really well-done strip about young kids" enough? I hope so, because we don't need more hook-laden niche strips that can be pitched quickly to busy editors. We need more quality strips. Even if they're about familiar subjects already being addressed on the comics page.