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Letter to a Young Cartoonist

kolinsky-weaselFLATDear Young Cartoonist,

The Internet is real, it exists, and to insist otherwise would be an act of folly. There are several hundr- okay, millions of people who make their living from the Internet, so it must be real. As I stare out the back door this gloomy morning, watching raindrops land in a puddle to form beautiful concentric rings which immediately vanish, it seems almost possible to convince myself that the Internet never existed; that the developments of the last twenty years were all just plot points in a ’90s movie about Virtual Reality, perhaps starring Winona Ryder as Chelsea Manning.

But then I realize the random patterns of the raindrops resemble nothing more than… a screensaver! I jostle the mouse of my psyche to get rid of this natural reverie and return to our shared tech reality. The Internet is real! and must be reckoned with.

What is the meaning of the Internet? And what can be done about it? I am 36. Like Virgil in Dante’s Inferno I come from Another Time, the pre-Internet era, to guide you, Young Cartoonist, through the architecture of Hell. Young Cartoonist, born in 1990 (shudder!!!), I ask you, what does the Internet mean to you? Is it your preferred medium? Is it your Life? Is it your Wife? An altar of sacrifice, at which you offer up your artwork, hoping to feel like someone cares even tiny bit? Even one Like?

Historically cartoonists drew on paper. Why? Only because it’s available and cheap. People who draw will also draw on tables, on their clothes and shoes, on walls, and on bathroom stalls. People will draw with sparklers and with lawnmowers to create crop circles. People will draw with invisible lines to connect the dots in the Milky Way. It is evident that people who want to will draw in any available format, whether it is a beautiful sheet of hot-press watercolor paper or a virtual 3D space in Google Sketchup or the skin of a water buffalo. The desire to make marks comes with no predetermined appropriate surface.

(Speaking of art supplies, Y.C.: did you know that there has been a shortage of sable watercolor brushes for the last year, due to the possible endangered species status of the Siberian Kolinsky Weasel? It seems that sable hairs are not plucked from horse’s tails, as previously thought, but from this beautiful mammal, which hopefully bred like crazy in 2014. Among certain circles, the scarcity of Winsor Newton Series 7 brushes is tantamount to, say, every iPhone 6 being held up in the factory due to an investigation of child labor violations.)

Advances in technology may alter the aesthetics of cartooning, but will not have any real effect on people’s desire or ability to create interesting cartoons. Yesterday the Kolinsky Weasel, today Photoshop.  But real economic changes have been wrought by information technology, and especially by Social Media’s influence on distribution and behavior.

I have some questions, Young Cartoonist. Did you ever wonder why there are more of us than ever? Is it because comics are getting more and more popular? Does it sometimes seem like there are more creators than readers? Does it sometimes seem like despite the “renaissance” comics are experiencing, the opportunities for making any money in the art form are pretty scarce? Does it often seem like an industry that barely breaks even? Do you make any money at conventions? Break even? Or take a loss, buy a bunch of books and enjoy it as a social occasion? Why?

I have some ideas and they have to do with the Art World. I know you might hate or fear Art and that’s understandable, so  just bear with me. The increase in popularity of comics is tied to the huge influx of people entering the Arts sector in recent decades, for many reasons. Among those might be: Art is cool, Art is fun, Artists are sexy and connected, Daddy pays for my studio, Jay-Z wants a Picasso in his Casa, etc. Despite what people might tell you or themselves, the reasons underlying the increasing numbers of people becoming artists have more to do with economics rather than a philosophical or idealistic mission. Art is an increasingly lucrative business venture, especially for those in the upper classes. Investment capital is being “parked” there.

Art is also a good bet as a career in our Information Age. Over the past thirty years or so, due to Free Trade agreements and the like, the Industrial base in America has mostly shut down or been shipped overseas, leaving America between twin poles of Information/Management and Service industries. Would you rather 1. Sit in an office managing a database; 2. Wear an apron and make espressos…or 3. Be the master of your own destiny as an Artist?! Perhaps sipping one of those selfsame lattes, in a loft building that used to be a factory?

Increasing numbers of well-educated Art Experts with MFA degrees (though maybe not actual skills) are pumped every year into the “Art World”, a specter which is accepted as a reality, a competitive shared dream world to be entered into and validated by. Much like the Internet, though you may try to ignore it and focusing on trees and puddles of rain, its reality will still be there when you turn around, ready to accept or reject you.

But where does that leave comics???

Good news Young Cartoonist!

You are the real artistic avant-garde.

People are drawn into comics for all sorts of reasons, but there has been huge growth in the last twenty years and I believe it has to do with the increasing commercialization and corporatization of Fine Art. Comics are lately functioning as an avant-garde escape hatch for people who like to make challenging work, especially if they want to draw or have an interest in narrative, and prioritize making good, lasting work over “blowing up” in the art market.

The amazing work of many cartoonists active over the past twenty-year period is comparable to the fabled flourishing of avant-gardes in places like Paris in the 1920s, San Fransisco in the 1960s, The Lower East Side in the ’70s, Providence in the 2000s, etc etc. etc. Those are all physical locations and they were all cheap.

Comics is an international avant-garde, because it is always cheap to make a zine and have it seen.

Isn’t the Internet a crucial tool to help this geographically scattered avant-garde… cohere? I understand the simple arguments apologists will make in its favor. But the Internet, and specifically Social Media platforms, undermines the avant-garde, it undoes the professional. It takes away your ability to make a living. It distracts you from your work. The Internet promises community, but in fact is engineered to foster alienation.

For instance: many people post their artwork online for free. (Or comics, movies, music, writing, etc.) But it’s not really free. The cost of your labor is absorbed. The value of the work goes to Big Tech. Everyone viewing your work has paid for whatever screen or computer through which they view your work, and also for their Internet access plan. But your audience doesn’t value you, Young Cartoonist, so much as the device that frames you. You are disposable.

In effect, Young Cartoonist, you become part of a package deal included with the monthly payment of Internet service. The artwork is consumed by the viewers online as part of their daily steroidal dose of information. For the consumer, it’s as though they subscribed to a newspaper with an infinite amount of funny pages! But for the artist… you get paid in “likes” and those don’t translate into dollars.

A radical shift in human consciousness regarding “content” has occurred over the last twenty years. People expect to receive information for free, and they will post that information online whether or not they are paid (The Artist also must “pay to play,” since posting information costs the Artist the price of a computer and an Internet subscription plan).

Artists continue to publish their work online because everyone wants publicity. Everyone wants to become famous, everyone wants an audience. I do not begrudge anybody wanting fame, fans, and followers. To build an audience is to build sustainability for your practice, and of course artists will build buzz for their work by any means possible.

But in the end, this system is only financially rewarding to the corporations who provide the platforms you pimp yourself out to. Worse, the Social Media companies proceed to harvest your information — Metadata — which is then shared between corporations to advertise their products to you. Facebook, Tumblr, and YouTube are not giving you something for nothing.

Are we this desperate?

Committed artists should be able to make a living. Illustration work is scarce, and often the meager payments arrive too slowly. Publishers are increasingly unable to pay artists anything approaching a livable wage in royalties and advances because the overall number of people buying books is diminishing.

People find their entertainment and education solely through the Internet. Instead of buying your books, people are spending innumerable hours watching soap operas marketed to them as a “Golden Age of Television”: Mad Men, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, True Detective, True Blood… all of these shows make me want to vomit in the face of the indoctrinated fool who invariably speaks of them in rapturous tones. I’d rather spend my time cleaning out a ten-year-old Rapidograph, or picking a scab!

Is this the future you want, Young Cartoonist? To work full-time, make comics when you’re not watching television shows that go on longer than some people’s entire lives? To travel to conventions where you can’t sell anything because people are jaded by seeing it all online? To self-promote rabidly on social media, performing your “self” to the point where your online persona turns into a distorted Kabuki mask?

Wouldn’t it be preferable to turn in a daily or weekly strip, or a ten-page comic story a month, to a publishing platform that actually pays? Like a printed magazine or newspaper? Even one online that pay a reasonable rate? Publishers need to step up, and Artists need to step away from the screen. By posting work on Social Media, you are falling into a trap encouraged by Big Tech that says: more buzz is a replacement for actual physical transaction of goods.

In opposition to this trend is the beauty and craft of self-publishing. Even if you, Young Artist, can’t make a living producing zines, simply to produce them and claim responsibility for the fistful of dollars you might make, is incredibly empowering. Sharing, trading, and selling comic zines, and meeting the other people who make them, fosters a real community, in opposition to the Panopticon of Social Media. If, after working for hundreds of hours on a zine, to give it away to someone, or sell it for a low price that could never compensate your labor, is to participate in a true gift economy.

A kind of Methadone clinic for information addiction is found in your local Library. I go there almost every week, checking out tons of comics,  but also to make the effort to learn about all kinds of other things… Art of all kinds, music, history, novels, poetry, science: information resides there, the branches of knowledge in physical proximity. A library is a truly free institution, a temple of learning! It’s a gift to you from the State, or from yourself, as you pay the taxes to support it. It’s actually hard to believe that something so anti-capitalistic and humane exists, when contrasted with the dark, competitive future being accelerated by the Info-Pimps.

It’s stopped raining, Young Cartoonist.

Thanks for your time.

See you in the checkout line,

Matthew Thurber

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73 Responses to Letter to a Young Cartoonist

  1. Alex Fellows says:

    This sentence sums up the indie comics industry nicely: “By posting work on Social Media, you are falling into a trap encouraged by Big Tech that says: more buzz is a replacement for actual physical transaction of goods.”

  2. Arp Laszlo says:

    2,500 tons of awesome.

  3. I’m halfway in between Matt Thurber’s age and the age of the young cartoonist to which this post is addressed, so I guess I’ll keep posting comics on Tumblr? But seriously, while I agree that comics are an avant garde, I don’t see a difference between giving a hand-made zine away at a con and giving a hand-drawn digital comic away on my hand-made website. Both build a community! Hopefully, however, we can all agree that libraries are the best.

  4. Ben Humeniuk says:

    So, in essence:

    It’s a (financially) hard but (artistically) worthy pursuit to be a cartoonist. Lots of innovation happening here without our art becoming commodified.

    BUT: when we put it out online for free, it is in fact commodified by the tech companies and data compilers that profit off of the internet economy.

    THUS: Make it as a physical object, trade and sell it as a physical object, and invest in the community of artists doing likewise. Get to KNOW another cartoonist instead of just Tumblring at them.

    If so, I see this gauntlet you’ve thrown down here. I’m contemplating it…

  5. lennardg says:

    Well said, Mr. Thurber.

  6. Chase Van Weerdhuizen says:

    Y’know as valid as many of the point of this article are, it sure is written in the patronizing tone that drives us millennials crazy and for which TCJ is known. Honestly, if this piece had been about the excitement of in-person collaboration, positive avenues to make money off of comics in this current age, and shared unity against corporations, I could have been on board. Not that I need a pat on the ass to boost my internet-era ego, but because my entire generation is trying to figure out what paths to follow that will bring us the most fulfillment and long-term success. Trust me, my friends and I spend a good chunk of our weeks in fear of what our means of income will be after graduating from an arts institution.

    Instead I received an insult to my intelligence about how I’m supposedly not aware of what’s happening around me. Trust me, every week I have a conversation with my peers about how we’re probably getting screwed over by mega-corporations for our content (or perhaps even worse, small licensed property publishers who cheaply pay for the mines of quality they’ve found online). We’ve been on the internet long enough to know that we’re playing a game. We’ve seen our peers who do not engage with the internet (on some level) becoming obscurities.

    My generation also does self-publish. There’s nothing more satisfying to us. It also costs a significant chunk of change that’s hard for us to pull together (of course we all know how well discussions of crowd funding go on this site). On top of that, small-press shows where our books could be sold are discriminating audiences. They fundamentally reward the silk-screened abstract art comic (which costs $$$$), rather than cheaply produced genre comics. No judgement, I enjoy beautifully produced artistic objects as well as the next person. But as an alternative to this, many of my generation sell their physical/ebooks through the internet which actively supports a broader range of genre. Our barriers to entry are low, so the returns are obviously lower than they could be. The truth of the matter is we economically function the way we do, because the diminishing marginal returns from the internet haven’t dropped low enough.

  7. I wanted to like this essay, even through it’s arch, Letter-To-A-Past-Art-School-Professor tone, but it seems to amount to “stop doing things the way you do them and do them instead how I do them, here in the local library! Reading Is Fundamental!”

    This is great though: “Historically cartoonists drew on paper. Why? Only because it’s available and cheap. People who draw will also draw on tables, on their clothes and shoes, on walls, and on bathroom stalls. People will draw with sparklers and with lawnmowers to create crop circles. People will draw with invisible lines to connect the dots in the Milky Way. It is evident that people who want to will draw in any available format, whether it is a beautiful sheet of hot-press watercolor paper or a virtual 3D space in Google Sketchup or the skin of a water buffalo. The desire to make marks comes with no predetermined appropriate surface.”

  8. jasontmiles says:

    boo hoo
    go to the library, print this article out (for free!) and read it again

  9. Pingback: Thurber: The internet is “pay to play” for young cartoonists — The Beat

  10. As a digital native middle-aged cartoonist who is actually a few years older than Thurber, I feel Thurber is yearning for a past that is dead and gone. Where are these printed platforms that pay? Can you name even, say, three for every state of the US? Even the old conservative newspaper comics syndicates are giving it away free on the internet.

    Kickstarter and Patreon provide a way to grope towards making a living drawing your comics, without the arduous process of convincing someone else that your scribbles are worth publishing. They let you convert a tiny percentage of those ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ into money. There are a number of people who make a living this way; there will be more. Some will be self-publishers forever, some will attract the attention of a publisher by dint of acquiring a large enough fan base and happily give up all the work of printing and shipping and promoting.

    I am a few years older than Thurber – he was born in 1977, I in 1971 – but honestly this sounds like someone who is older than me bemoaning the Death of Print. (I am also well outside the indy comics culture that fetishizes cheaply printed zines; give me pictures on a screen, or give me something gorgeously reproduced.)

  11. Robert Kirby says:

    I sense a new alt-comics tempest brewing. But that’s good. Discussions and debate and arguments, all good.

  12. Joseph says:

    “Let me post this entry on the internet telling millennial readers to try not to use the internet.”

  13. BVS says:

    this is the nicest thing I’ve read all week. I only wish more “young” people had gotten their asses to the public library on Tuesday since it’s probably their local polling place.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DyIHOTx7zxM

  14. Blue says:

    Nobody tell this guy about Gigi DG, or any of the countless cartoonists who’s figured out how to turn crowdfunding and developing an appealing professional personality into a viable career. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1003106610/cucumber-quest-book-three

  15. Ben Rankel says:

    I read this on my iPhone.

  16. Complete madness. I’ll counter Thurber’s condescending “did you know you can use the library for free?” with “did you know that people will buy things they enjoy, even if they’ve read them before on the internet?”

  17. k says:

    I don’t think it’s possible for this article to be more patronizing.

  18. Steve says:

    Yes, the web distracts from making a living and fosters alienation. You nailed it!

  19. jasontmiles says:

    clearly matthew’s sarcasm and sincerity are confusing the mouse pads. perhaps he should’ve scolded the growing humorlessness of today’s internet youth? is mad magazine online? thankfully we all have this platform to share our reactions and feelings to everything. i’ve never seen anything beautifully reproduced on a computer monitor. please, more condescension towards the history of civilization. i’m sure you’ll get it right. now get off my lawn!

  20. Dave U. says:

    Boy, that Cucumber Quest sure sets the bar high. I doubt most comics I enjoy would ever be crowd funded successfully.

  21. Matt Seneca says:

    Hell yeah. Best thing TCJ’s had in ages.
    -a cartoonist born in 1990

  22. k says:

    “Instead of buying your books, people are spending innumerable hours watching soap operas marketed to them as a “Golden Age of Television”: Mad Men, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, True Detective, True Blood…”

    i’m glad watching hbo tv series makes people physically unable to buy books or enter bookstores. i almost watched true blood yesterday, and man, i’m glad i was warned. it would’ve been terrible to never be able to buy a book again.

    can this article be any more of a patronizing piece of drivel. it offers no actual advice or useful words.

  23. Steve says:

    A cartoonist also must be a salesperson. Selling in person and on the phone is much more effective than throwing something up on line. There is trust involved. It’s easier to inspire confidence in person or with your voice, whether you’re selling a single copy or 1,000 books.

  24. Tim Hodler says:

    The over-the-top and unnecessarily hostile responses to this clearly gentle and humorously toned article sure go a long way towards proving some of its points.

  25. Erik Nebel says:

    that’s an awesome drawing of the animal coming out of the computer screen.

  26. Tyler Boss says:

    How has no-one talked about the DeForge, Hanselmann, and Hanawalt posters…Also where does one buy the Michael one…

  27. Making and trading zines is an important part of being a member of the ‘comics community’ and encouraging people to make the effort is important too, good article.

  28. R. Fiore says:

    Shouldn’t an essay that starts out “Letter to a Young . . .” include some kind of useful advice? I mean, I thought that was a convention of the genre.

  29. Reimena says:

    Thanks for taking the time to write this article, Mr. Thurber. I can see you’re well-intentioned and have the best interests of young cartoonists in your heart. And even more, I hope you’re happy that your letter has finally reached a young cartoonist, because guess what? Here I am.

    I am 19; this makes me without doubt, a Young Cartoonist. Probably younger than everyone who has already posted in this thread. Probably closer to the age group Mr. Thurber aims this letter to. But probably not the young cartoonist that he expects.

    This letter, ironically, is not for me. At all.

    Why?

    Maybe to some it’s a good idea to go back to print. There are standards, there are opportunities, there is money to be seen. Well, good for you! But guess what?

    I don’t have that.

    Why?

    Because I don’t live in the US.

    I am a 19 year old young cartoonist who lives in Malaysia. WHAT? MALAYSIA? If not for the two airplane incidents, I am quite sure the majority of the US population will not know where Malaysia is at all, let alone comic creators in Malaysia.

    Which is interesting isn’t it? Here’s something to consider: would people like you, the comment reader, be able to notice Malaysian creators if not for the internet? Would people like you know who Hwei (lalage) is? Would people like you be able to know who I am (well, hello, I am here and I don’t mind work)? Let’s take this further: would people like you be able to read European comics, South American comics, Indian comics, Russian comics, Australian comics, Indonesian comics, African comics, even some AMERICAN comics, if not for the internet?

    Would we even have this comic surge right now without the internet?

    The reason why we even have a comic surge in the first place is because we’ve finally opened up doors for creators of different races, cultures, nationalities, identities, opinions, political parties, viewpoints, EVERYTHING to express themselves. And that’s good! Because this opens up the audience too!

    To shift away from the internet is to reduce opportunities for young cartoonists like me. To reduce flavour in an increasingly globalised industry.

    You can’t tell young cartoonists like me to go to print: as a Malaysian, I DON’T EVEN HAVE A LOCAL WELLPAYING RELIABLE PUBLISHER. Well yes, we do have publishers, but they pay less than USD100 per page (some less than USD30, some don’t even get paid! And this is PROFESSIONAL RATE), with no creator rights, no union, strict censorship (we can’t even draw a KISS), no artistic freedom, NOTHING, NOTHING. This is not the kind of environment you want to foster young cartoonists in, is it?

    Oh there’s a simple solution: try the big names. Do people realise how difficult it is for a Southeast Asian to get published? Answer: IT IS NEAR IMPOSSIBLE. Let’s say we don’t have the internet: unless a big name publisher hotshot personally travels to a third world country and reads works by said country (and why should they? We’re more well-known for our cheap beautiful beaches), if they even know where to start, if they even know where to find it, there’s absolutely NO CHANCE, NO WAY for young cartoonists like me to be seen. And that puts us at a disadvantage created by simply having less opportunities and less access than our American counterparts.

    Let’s face it: the market for art is in the US. Most of the jobs are there. Most of the opportunities are there. Most of the money is there. Most of the audience is there. If we can’t be seen by the US, then what’s the point? I am sad to say but that’s reality.

    That’s why I am so glad the internet exists: it makes me self-reliant and not dependent on Western charity (by that I mean big name publishers). I don’t need to feed their opinions, I don’t need to give them money to publish me, I don’t need to police my work or pander my unique identity to make my culture ‘more relatable’. And this has made my work, proudly, Malaysian. The internet gives me a space where I can retain my identity and tell my unique stories and that should be viewed as a healthy development, because that makes our industry dimensional, complex and well-respected. And it’s not only me, but it’s all the comics you get to enjoy right now.

    Without the internet I would not have known my friends from all corners of the world. Without the internet I would not even know there’s a comic surge right now. Without the internet, I would not be making money for my art at all. Without the internet, I wouldn’t even be given the opportunity to work for big companies like BOOM!. Without the internet, I wouldn’t even consider becoming an artist AT ALL, because why should I? I have the academic qualifications to become a highly-specialised doctor if I want (I am not because medicine is not my interest); why should I waste my time making comics for an offline venture that will not bring me any reimbursement or an audience, both locally and internationally?

    Without the internet, I would not be as successful at 19 than I am right now. And I’ve done quite well for a third-world 19 year old with an almost non-existent local comics industry.

    I am actually alright with pimping my work out to the Big Tech, because in exchange I get to contribute my own story in ways I never could in local print, and I also get to read other people’s stories as well, which will inform my influences and world view even more, making me a mature artist and therefore grooming me to become a more confident, more realised comic creator. This is artistic growth that is priceless and cannot be gotten anywhere else. Not even in art school (and I don’t go to art school). This is the kind of thing that both old and young cartoonists have that no one before the internet ever had, and we should make use of it.

    So if y’all like print better, then go ahead! You’ll still have people like me who have money (earned from the internet) to continue buying printed comics from the bookstore regardless of how digitised everything has become. Personally I like the experience of buying and reading physical books. You can do whatever you like to become the artist you wanna be, internet or no internet; no issue with that.

    But don’t forget
    For some of us, the internet is all we have to succeed.
    For some of us, the internet is our only platform to speak, to have a voice.
    Because for some of us don’t have your privileges, your culture, your opportunities, your conventions, your publishers.

    As a 19 year old, self-taught Malaysian young cartoonist, I thank you for your time and your concern. I really love the first few paragraphs of this letter; it’s very sweet and I agree with it. Please understand I don’t view you any lower than I did before I read this article or knew who you are. My comment here is only to show everryone a different angle of things.

    In the end though
    As a 19 year old self-taught Malaysian young cartoonist
    I have to say
    I am sorry
    But this advice in this article will not do me, or people like me, any good at all.

    I hope this comment has at least enlightened you on the very different comics culture outside of the US.
    Wishing you all well and yes, more comics please!!

  30. Oliver says:

    “You know how you too can have a fully-rounded vocabulary, don’t you kids? By reading books! Your local library will have lots and lots of good books for you to read!”
    — The Sensational She-Hulk #5 (1989)

  31. Ben Humeniuk says:

    Reimena,

    You’re awesome. Thank you for authentically, passionately giving context to this discussion. As a community that seeks to represent a variety of perspectives and experiences (and I am speaking broadly of alt/art-comics here), how narrow of us to think that the North American cartooning scene is the standard experience. Your rebuttal is both really humble and super sobering.

    With Mr. Thurber’s core point being the authentic building of cartooning community via physical transaction, perhaps there’s a parallel discussion that needs to be had about how cartooning communities of privilege can proactively draw in compatriots from isolated areas. (Understanding, of course, that this thread should logically continue on the path of merit/pitfalls of web distribution).

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  33. Alt Snyder says:

    It’s something like the internet fandango bolstered a lot of younglings fan-bases via smedia sites, whilst them older enough to recall the pre-net ways of making, promoting, and growing have deeper scabs toothpick; this more arduous path to challenge sans insta-blip hype motors and by that tolkien lesser of depth, like literally. However, there is more: young people use shitty digital palettes and when they make zines their risograph’s ink is diluted and lacking. It is a tough lifestyle choice to put on a Negron-Deforge-Sadler backpack after heaving a battle-scarred Brinkman-Carlos-Thurber trunk about. Kids living at home have way more time to “play” online than the grown-ups with actual ends-to-meet. The internet is diluted, a popularity contest — outsiders are cooler than jocks, the numbers mean little relative to true vision and execution. Yes, in true internet fashion, I am posting this anon. like a shit, fuck you!

  34. Reimena, thanks so much for writing that. I was going to make a point about how ridiculous it is that older cartoonists don’t seem to think young cartoonists market their work at conventions (go to SPX, there are a lot, a LOT of young people selling zines) but even that seems trivial in light of your post. Again, thanks so much for writing. I think everyone finished it a little wiser and more aware than they were before they had read it.

  35. Uland says:

    Bravo, Thurbs.
    I’ll go one further & suggest the like-economy is horrible for art & the Tumblrist rabbits who thrive there are bad for comics. They’re hurting comics by rewarding each other for keeping the rabbit warren warm & cozy; likes are about rewarding like-ness (see how well any deviation from any SJW self-preening goes down). There is no motive to venture beyond the warren to either achieve something distinct or something anyone without a Jesus Jobes haircut could possibly pretend to care about.
    #rabbitstew

  36. Uland says:

    You guys don’t get it. Thurber is being nice. He’s trying to tell you in soft, millennial rabbit-speak that your work is boring and stinks because you’re so wrapped up in seeking validation from each other you’re unable to make work that stands out ( all you can do is seek to one-up others & trade-up positions in the validation-chain) . This chokes out superior artists and cartoonists like Thurber who can see the rabbit warren for what it is.
    #Yourskinismynewhat

  37. TCF says:

    I cannot stress enough how much I love Reimena’s comment. You truly put it into words perfectly – better than I ever could. Now, I live in a small European country, and from what you described, the conditions (regarding the comic industry) aren’t AS bad here as they are in Malaysia (and other parts of the world), but they are still quite bad, especially compared to the US. So yes, even for most European countries, the internet is actually the best way to get your work out there and build an audience (and yes, earn money for your work).
    I’m also not just a creator, but a reader as well, and I can honestly say that without the internet, I’d be missing out on some amazing comic artists from all over the world. So yes, I am glad the internet exists and that people share their work on it. This is not to discredit physical comic books or anything (because I do love those), but as I said, without the internet I’d be missing out on a lot of amazing stuff.

  38. bea says:

    technology is scary, i make art by banging two rocks together in my humble forest cave. i saw an ipod once and i cried for days

  39. Reimena says:

    I should think a good balance between maintaining an online presence and being physically present in conventions and the like would be ideal; and a lot of young cartoonists (and even older ones) are already doing that. It would be very myopic to say that ALL, or even MOST, young cartoonists are confined to their computers only. There’s also something about going to conventions and having booths and cosplaying and meeting people of your fandoms that fosters a deeper sense of community, much like Mr. Thurber envisions . And more often than not, these relationships are planted first on the internet. It’s a natural progression. I’ve done this many times with local friends I’ve met online who I eventually meet in conventions (oh yes in Malaysia I only have one major con (that is worth going to, even then it’s mostly about Japanese works. It’s a bit of a muddle) and finally, an alt-comic con), and hopefully in the future when I’ve saved enough to go to TCAF to see my Canadian/American comic friends. A lot of the experience of SDCC and SPX from what I’ve seen is fans and creators interacting from each other because the fans follow their works online and therefore have the interest and make the effort to buy merchandise, or comic friends who discover each other’s work online and hang out for the first time in the con itself. Many of the young cartoonists in the con actually rely on their fanbase and friendbase to buy their comics, otherwise it would never work out.

    Maybe for people not used to socialising online, the experience of building an online presence is not intuitive. Nobody even knows where to start. It does feel like you’re ISOLATED. That’s the initial stage. Building a presence takes a long time, but it’s worth it. Because once you start getting in touch with the community that’s already online, you’ll feel less alone, and you can even consider it as a secondary community! You’ll always be touch with everyone, and not only sporadically in the few cons you attend each year.

  40. NHOJ says:

    First off, I have a huge amount of respect for Reimena and what she posted, because what she says reflects the actual reality of being an independent creator today, rather than Thurber’s –frankly– insultingly condescending article. You keep on being awesome, Remeina.

    Speaking as someone who bangs out comics on a regular basis at the ripe old age of 32, I can say that the Internet has played a *huge* role in allowing me to get my work out there and build an audience, a hell of a lot more than when I attempted the print route. I’ve even managed to make a bit of spare change, here and there, thanks to putting out digital collections of my work for sale online (for use on eeeeevil devices such as iPads & iPhones and other equally nefarious doohickeys).

    The Internet not only allows me to build my audience (from all over the world, no less, which is wonderful), but also allows me to expose myself to exciting new creators. I currently live in a place where access to printed indie comics is middling (at best) outside of the major cities, so the Internet acts as an instantaneous gateway to a huge array of wonderful content.

    There are times when I stop to think about it and am amazed at how fantastic that is.

    Rather than looking down your nose at young creators and their work, Mr. Thurber, you should congratulate them for making the world (and I emphasise the word ‘WORLD’) of comics an even more vibrant and exciting place than ever.

  41. Mike Hunter says:

    Thurber: “It distracts you from your work.”

    Along that vein, a recent cartoon from Ruben Bolling: https://medium.com/the-nib/ernest-hemingways-amazing-new-typewriter-c3e49dddd988

  42. Josh Latta says:

    Eh, I tried to sell my crap, I couldn’t, so I might as well give it away. Personally, I’d rather do that than go to a comic convention.

  43. Erik Nebel says:

    “Your audience doesn’t value you, Young Cartoonist, so much as the device that frames you. You are disposable.”
    “This system is only financially rewarding to the corporations who provide the platforms you pimp yourself out to.”
    “Are we this desperate?”

    yes, we are this desperate.

  44. Ran says:

    I’ll go one further & suggest the like-economy is horrible for art & the Tumblrist rabbits who thrive there are bad for comics. They’re hurting comics by rewarding each other for keeping the rabbit warren warm & cozy; likes are about rewarding like-ness (see how well any deviation from any SJW self-preening goes down). There is no motive to venture beyond the warren to either achieve something distinct or something anyone without a Jesus Jobes haircut could possibly pretend to care about.

    I’m actually a little baffled by this comment. I know more than one cartoonist who has used tumblr as a base for getting short comics to go viral and then using the hype they’ve generated to fund small print runs for minis, bundled alongside the original mini that went viral. I’m an avid fan of funding and purchasing projects that began on the web–I don’t hang out on kickstarter, refreshing for projects I might like, though. I either find out about them because I’m already reading the comic digitally and jump on the chance to have a hard copy in my collection, or, more often, I hear about it through tumblr and dash on over to pledge. 90% of my comics library (which pales in comparison to my book library) is independent work that I discovered online. I have bought exactly three professionally published books in the past three years, and one of them was posted, in its entirety, online for people to read before it was published by First Second (Friends With Boys by Hope Larson). I’ve also recently put in my pre-order on the Nimona graphic novel, also being professionally published after being posted up online.

    I’m certain that Tumblr absolutely has its share of artists that post and post with no expectation of actually making money off of it, but I must not follow those people–almost every artist I know uses it as a tool to direct eyes to the work they do that makes them money–whether that means using it to generate hype for small print runs, using connections they’ve made on there to get word out about their crowd funding, letting people know that they’ve updated their free to read comics (on websites where ad revenue pays them), that their commission slots are open or to things in their etsy stores, and so on. None of these people are starving artists, and it keeps them relevant and in direct contact with the people who buy their content.

    And this, all of this, is to say nothing of how many of these people used tumblr as a means to connect their works to companies like First Second, or go work doing cover variants, inking and illustrating Adventure Time comics or transitioning to work on books that I can find at my local brick and mortar like Lumberjanes.

    I’m 30, and was 14 before I ever got a computer. When I did, I suffered through the years of dialup modems and using the internet for nothing more than chatting with people on Yahoo Chat rooms and clubs. I remember how things were before the internet could be used the way that it can be now, and as someone who makes a living–enough to pay my bills put food on my table–off of an independent comic, I have to say that if that’s all you think about the internet, then you’re doing it wrong. There are so many avenues online that lead to real money for cartoonists, but discovering them and taking advantage of them is something you need to be active in. You look at twitter and tumblr as a waste of time, I look at them as ways to tell my readers exactly how they can best help me continue to make comics (money).

    Nostalgia for when things were more simple and straight forward is fine, but it just doesn’t work this way anymore, and it’s not going to feed your family or keep the lights on. Libraries ARE great, but you know what’s even more great? Buying the book I would have checked out at the library as an ebook–it’s right where I can access it FOREVER, and the person who wrote it might actually see some money for it.

  45. ethancf says:

    Comics are communication. As an artist, you are putting your ideas on display – and hopefully it’s not too idealistic to think that it’s not only for money. We’re sharing ideas, and accessibility is as valid a concern as profit. Books are great when they expand an artist’s platform or audience – I have friends who won’t read comics on a screen, and many more who make good arguments that print is the way comics are meant to be read.

    But what about those who can’t afford to go to conventions and trade zines? Those who can’t afford (and who can?) to keep up with the endless stream of great, meaningful work published in oversized, hardbound collections? Those who don’t want to truck ten longboxes across town every year to fill another tiny apartment?

    Comics are for everybody, and I think comics are better for a generation of cartoonists with such easy access to great artists like Hanselmann and DeForge (genre-defining work itself built on populist newspaper comics) as well as those countless others online without book deals and convention appearances.

  46. Zeparu says:

    Yeasterday’s fan comment under our latest webcomic episode: “I can’t wait to buy the printed collection!”
    ’nuff said.

  47. Uland says:

    Ran- None of the people you think “make money” actually MAKE MONEY. They get to not lose as much money as they otherwise would by soliciting for money from people who hope to one day be in position to solicit money from the people who are also giving money to people for stuff no one really wants. Maybe 1% make actual, pay-your-bills money.

    It’s a giant petting zoo that no one will pay to enter so the animals have to stroke each other.They get pellets, but look! the doors are wide open! You can go out into the wild and build a hut kill your dinner and make whatever you do — whether it makes money or not ( that isn’t the point, really) will feel like a real accomplishment and your life will no longer be huge bore to everyone who pretends to like you on the stupid computer.
    Then go back to the zoo with your 14 feral children WITH TORCHES.

  48. Andy says:

    I’m sorry but your snide reference to “SJW” invalidates anything you have to say and reveals it as culture warrior nonsense. Yes, we get it, you hate that women are empowered by tumblr and other such platforms and can bypass traditional cultural gate keepers. That’s great. Go pound sand.

  49. R. Fiore says:

    I don’t see how refraining from posting comics for free is going to force anyone to pay cartoonists. People pay for internet access for dozens of reasons other than reading comics, and would continue doing so if there were no comics. As far as I can see, webcomics are almost universally posted on the cartoonists’ own website, and don’t draw traffic to for-profit sites. If advertising-supported sites thought they could draw eyeballs with comics they’d probably make the cartoonist an offer for exclusive access. The most likely reason for webcomics cartoonists will refrain from posting their work is that all their time is taken making a living some other way. It does seem to me the way most webcomics cartoonists make money from their work is to have them published in books bought by people who still buy books. That and merchandise, which used to be considered a supplement to a cartoonist’s income, and not the entirety of it.

  50. Pingback: Off-Panel: November 10, 2014 | PANELS

  51. RM Rhodes says:

    Here’s the quiet secret about sitting at a desk, managing a database: there is a lot of free time associated with the job, if you do it correctly. The steady paycheck, paid vacation and health insurance are nice bonuses, but the free time is really the important bit. Almost nobody in an office spends their entire 40 hour work week actually doing work.

    In addition to the insane number of meetings that we all attend (most of which allow our minds to wander, because they only tangentially involve us), there is a lot of time spent talking to co-workers, waiting for people to make decisions and general thumb twiddling. This is especially the case on days like today – the day before a federal holiday, when there’s not much to do, but every hour spent in the office is an hour that we don’t have to take as vacation.

    For myself, I’ve already watched part of a Youtube documentary and I have a script to write before the day is complete. None of the people who make decisions are in the office and I’ve left messages for all the people who owe me stuff. So while I wait for something to react to, I’ve got time to practice my French and go over the lessons I learned in my cartooning class yesterday.

    I’ll ponder the whole “not being the master of my own destiny” thing when I’m sitting on the beach in Jamaica two weeks from now, sipping a fruity rum drink and reading the new William Gibson novel.

  52. Tom says:

    The problem with Reimana’s post is that publishing her work on the web does not make her independent from western charity.  The money she makes from the web IS western charity, albeit in a subtler, more insidious form.  She may not be dependent the big publishing houses, but she’s dependent on foreign web hosts, advertisers and readers.  This might be okay for Reimana, personally, but it’s bad for the comics community in Malaysia.  The reason it’s bad is because of the exact thing she cites as her motivation to avoid print publication in her country – there are no paying publishers in the local economy and the local government censors everything.  The Internet provides people in Malaysia with a way to ignore and bypass the societal problems and corruption that would normally keep them down, but that is not what they should be doing.  They should be rising up and changing things, entering politics to make it so the government stops censoring them, organizing their labor so that Malaysian publishers start to pay better rates;  Making revolution.  Having the opportunity to escape into a virtual world where everything is better breeds complacency, and that complacency is really damaging to the stability and independence of the cartoonist’s real community/nation. It’s a parallel process to when the U.S. sends its textile factories overseas in order to exploit cheap, desperate foreign labor.  It drives down the cost of the goods and devalues the labor in every country.  Only this time instead of Nikes, it’s comics.

  53. Daryl Wor says:

    I find the internet to be very stifling to my own creative work, which is not in graphic design, but in audio. I am downloaded and enjoyed like crazy, meanwhile getting intense negativity by one of the weirdest fandoms that ever existed, and also I am told that “this is just the way the internet works.”

    Frankly I think people not discussing my art with me and like-clicking it up the wazoo instead is a travesty. I put my art online to find my people and talk about the work with them. I have up to 500 + listeners to my radio drama and barely anyone is talking to me about it. It’s nerve-wracking, and on top of it all, people are defending the laziness of not discussing my hard work with me, which I can only do for free as I do not own most of the characters I’m using. I’ve spent my life savings on this project and if I had received the dialogue I require to enjoy it’s content and continue to press on I see myself as being on Episode 22 by now, not 13 & 14.

    For graphic arts, perhaps the incentive is there. For other things, most people seem to have lost many cognitive abilities, including using a keyboard to chat about free-entertainment.

    Thank you for this article. It is a very good issue to address!

  54. R. Fiore says:

    Tom reminds me of the part in Catch-22 where ex-PFC Wintergreen explains to Yossarian that we all have our jobs to do, mine is to unload these Zippo lighters if I can and your job is to get killed over Bologna.

  55. Tom, are you speaking from experience or something? Because if not it seems ludicrously condescending to tell someone who lives in a country that has a history of mass-killing protesters that they’re hurting comics by not…doing what, what exactly is your plan of action for the freedom of the Malaysian people, and what should Reimana do in the meantime since her putting comics on the internet is clearly so deleterious to her country’s welfare? We await your insights with bated breath.

  56. Mike Hunter says:

    Alas, the flippant tone of Thurber’s “Letter to a Young Cartoonist” is not enough to excuse the absurdities which permeate the essay. This is no “A Modest Proposal”; it’s taking many unfortunate realities and seriously (light tone and all) suggesting solutions which are as ludicrously unrealistic as that scheme of Lysistrata’s.

    “I am 36…” (A mere child!!) “Like Virgil in Dante’s Inferno I come from Another Time, the pre-Internet era, to guide you, Young Cartoonist…” is at least consciously silly, unlike some of the predictably irate responses. The nadir being:

    ———————
    Andy says:
    I’m sorry but your snide reference to “SJW” invalidates anything you have to say and reveals it as culture warrior nonsense. Yes, we get it, you hate that women are empowered by tumblr and other such platforms and can bypass traditional cultural gate keepers….
    ———————-

    I can remember when “empowered” first was being tossed about in the 60s. Is this what the term has been devalued to? Sexism is more crassly rampant than ever*; reproductive rights are under attack as never before since first passed; women in the military are horrendously vulnerable to sexual assault; representation of women in politics continues to be abysmal. But at least…you’ve got Tumblr!

    (I had to “Google” to find out what SJW stood for. Tip of the hat to Uland for bringing the term to my attention…)

    Back to the main silliness:

    ————————
    Thurber says:
    The increase in popularity of comics is tied to the huge influx of people entering the Arts sector in recent decades…the reasons underlying the increasing numbers of people becoming artists have more to do with economics rather than a philosophical or idealistic mission. Art is an increasingly lucrative business venture, especially for those in the upper classes. Investment capital is being “parked” there.

    Art is also a good bet as a career in our Information Age. Over the past thirty years or so, due to Free Trade agreements and the like, the Industrial base in America has mostly shut down or been shipped overseas, leaving America between twin poles of Information/Management and Service industries. Would you rather 1. Sit in an office managing a database; 2. Wear an apron and make espressos…or 3. Be the master of your own destiny as an Artist?! Perhaps sipping one of those selfsame lattes, in a loft building that used to be a factory?
    ————————-

    What a load of…nonsense. There is a GIGANTIC difference in the commercial viability of a “fine artist” like Koons or Barney (sheesh, they sound like kiddie cartoon characters) and that of the average comics creator.

    —————————–
    If the advertising cost was ZERO and publisher expenses were ZERO, then the writer and artist of a 20 page comic would each get $37.50 PER PAGE. Oops, no money in there for the cover art, sorry. Add in more people (inker, colorist, letterer, etc) and the amount gets split even further, but this is a BOGUS number. The publisher has expenses/staff to pay for.

    The reality is that once the publisher takes their share of what’s left (and they absolutely deserve it), there may be no money left for the creative team, let alone advertising…
    ——————————-
    http://www.jimzub.com/the-reality-of-mainstream-creator-owned-comics/

    Moreover, even ‘way before this Internet thing happened, only a tiny percentage of creators could actually make a living from their art.

    It’s not just comics; it’s…

    -Writers (Writer’s magazines are a depressing list of tips on how you can “submit” your work; if you’re lucky and try over and over and over, you might actually make a sale, and usually earn less per hour than you’d have made working the fryolator at Mickey D’s.)

    -Actors (“The statistics are terrifying, with something like 92% of the profession out of work at any one time. What the figure doesn’t reveal is that the same 8% tend to work continuously while the same 92% never get a look-in.” http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2009/may/09/tips-surviving-acting-industry .)

    -“Fine artists” (“With the exception of household names, most people in the creative arts need a day job to make ends meet.” http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2012/jul/29/artists-day-job-feature ; “Only the most successful fine artists are able to support themselves solely through the sale of their works.” http://occupations.careers.org/27-1013.00/fine-artists-painters-sculptors-and-illustrators )

    -Musicians (“Even as the number of jobs in classical music has declined, the number of people capable of doing those jobs has soared,” says the Nov. 10 “New Yorker”)

    …and so forth.

    And as for Thurber’s idea that being an “Artist” means you’re “the master of your own destiny”…sheesh! Maybe if you”re independently wealthy, or have a day job or supportive spouse, or are incredibly lucky enough to do something that’s hugely popular…

    ————————–
    Thurber says:
    For instance: many people post their artwork online for free. (Or comics, movies, music, writing, etc.) But it’s not really free. The cost of your labor is absorbed. The value of the work goes to Big Tech. Everyone viewing your work has paid for whatever screen or computer through which they view your work, and also for their Internet access plan. But your audience doesn’t value you, Young Cartoonist, so much as the device that frames you. You are disposable.
    —————————

    ‘Way before this Internet thing happened, art galleries, art-supply manufacturers, art schools, were already making more money out of art than artists were.

    A pre-Web-era Voice of Wisdom might as well tell zinesters, “The cost of your labor is absorbed. The value of your work goes to copy and mimeograph-machine manufacturers; the schooling system that taught your audience to read; the road-builders, car manufacturers, public-transit systems that enabled your audience to go to where they could pick up your work or a copy of “Factsheet Five” to see a mention, or the ad for, your zine therein; the postal system that enabled zines to be mailed all over the world.”

    So, old-time zinesters, “You are disposable! A mere tool of the envelope-manufacturing, printing equipment, U.S. Postal Service Establishment. Your audience doesn’t value you, so much as the envelope that contained your zine, the printed-on paper and staples it was embodied in…”

    —————————-
    Thurber says:
    By posting work on Social Media, you are falling into a trap encouraged by Big Tech that says: more buzz is a replacement for actual physical transaction of goods.
    —————————–

    Unfortunately, it’s not like people are lining up to lay out cash for “actual physical transaction of goods” that’s not already highly advertised. And, though “buzz” doesn’t necessarily translate to money, without people knowing about your work — which the Internet incredibly facilitates — there will be NO “physical transaction of goods.”

    What is buzz but a version of advertising? Ad companies used to pay people to stand around by supermarket check-out lanes and have scripted conversations, intended to be overheard, about how great such-and-such a product was. Flesh-and-blood buzz dispensers.

    Pre-Internet, a woman friend who was a talented photographer would have would-be models asking her to photograph them for free. “It’ll be good material for your portfolio!” In what way is that different from the “more buzz is a replacement for actual physical transaction of goods” (like, getting paid for your services) message?

    The Internet Taketh Away, but it Giveth, too:

    -Unlike advertising, buzz can be generated incredibly cheaply or virtually free. (What about the cost of a computer or Web access, some will say? Well, most people in the “developed” world would have them anyway. Unlike Kolinsky sable brushes, those are not specialized art tools, useless for anything else.)

    -Artists in the most geopolitically isolated areas can post and share their work, get feedback, with as much snark as a gallery artist could expect to overhear. (Conversely, my own art has hung in art shows and museum galleries, and the feedback — never mind buzz — I got from it was bupkis. I got far more and better reaction from jokey photocollages I’d posted on the old TCJ message board, one of which, to my delight, was republished in the print “Comics Journal.”)

    -Creators or art-lovers can discover incredible talents (whether new or old) that once would have been impossibly obscure or inaccessible, to inspire creativity or give delight.

    “Getting Paid for Giving Away Art for Free: the Case of Webcomics” is a brief but highly informative breakdown. See http://www.create.ac.uk/blog/2014/02/25/webcomics-dowthwaite/ .

    ——————————–
    Reimena says:
    Do people realise how difficult it is for a Southeast Asian to get published? Answer: IT IS NEAR IMPOSSIBLE.
    ——————————–

    Unfortunately, Reimena (sincerely loved your comments), it’s not like publishers in the U.S. are grabbing every comics creator they run across and shoving fistfuls of cash in their pockets, either. While SE Asian creators might have a 0.0000000001% chance of publication, here it might be a 0.0000001% chance. (You’re leaving self-publishing out of the equation, as am I.)

    ——————————–
    Tom says:
    The problem with Reimana’s post is that publishing her work on the web does not make her independent from western charity. The money she makes from the web IS western charity, albeit in a subtler, more insidious form. She may not be dependent the big publishing houses, but she’s dependent on foreign web hosts, advertisers and readers.
    ———————————

    Yes, and by using modern medicines, air conditioning, telephones, electric lights, she’s “dependent on western charity” too. (That subtly insidious “western charity”! At least these guys are keeping the contagion out: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/10954290/Taliban-bans-polio-vaccination-teams-from-southern-Afghanistan.html )

    ———————————–
    Tom says:
    The Internet provides people in Malaysia with a way to ignore and bypass the societal problems and corruption that would normally keep them down…
    ———————————–

    Malaysians have their heads too far up their digital backsides to even notice their situation is less than ideal, then?

    Looking at China (where Web access is heavily censored and controlled) and other non-democratic countries, the Internet actually can be incredibly helpful in fostering activism, reporting governmental outrages and societal injustices. (And unfortunately, aiding and fomenting extremism, terrorism, and “vaccination causes autism”-type idiocies, too.)

    A more nuanced view, in a study at http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/demdemand.htm . A look at the negative side: http://millercenter.org/debates/internet/about .

    ———————————
    Tom says:
    …people in Malaysia…should be rising up and changing things, entering politics to make it so the government stops censoring them, organizing their labor so that Malaysian publishers start to pay better rates; Making revolution.
    ———————————-

    Christopher’s “it seems ludicrously condescending” is a ‘way too polite response to this smugly prescriptive, mind-bogglingly clueless comment.

    *Is Hardee’s trying to win a “most sexist commercials ever” contest?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOJuFvcd-r8
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GmD5iYvIIYI

  57. Andy says:

    Mike, words have multiple definitions. By “empowered” in this instance I mean that tumblr and similar platforms have allowed women to go around the traditional male dominated cultural barriers in the comics world. I agree that there pros and cons to the digital age of comics, but this is unequivocally a good thing. Honestly, I’m kind of surprised at this line of thinking you’re espousing here. I see it directed at entertainment critics all the time. “Why are you whining about this when women are being stoned in the Middle East!” is a nasty bit of disingenuous derailing rhetoric. Somehow, I don’t think what I’m saying somehow means I’m fine with, say, the rollback of reproductive rights across America. And don’t be too quick to tip that hat. “SJW” is a dogwhistle term, used by the types who are currently engaged in the glorious struggle of sending Anita Sarkeesian death threats.

  58. The library was the original Pirate Bay.

  59. Please, everyone stop misreading the lighthearted voice of this article as condescension.

    Also, the very, very first sentence of this article is, “The Internet is real, it exists, and to insist otherwise would be an act of folly.” The message is therefore not, “throw away the internet, go to the library,” but rather to privilege the physical and the social over the virtual.

    The nefarious thing the internet has done to art is to allow us to take it for granted. Ran says, “Buying the book I would have checked out at the library as an ebook–it’s right where I can access it FOREVER.” Is this really true? what happens when we lose electricity or all global formats change for reading documents? Militant virus attack? Where is that thing that was supposed to last forever? What happens as access to every kind of culture becomes more and more centralized to Apple, Google, Amazon?

    I’ve seen the deleterious effects of this thinking on my own life, taking for granted access to movies on the internet until all the physical video rental stores in my city have closed and now I have access to a much MORE limited number of movies than before. And it’s guaranteed that unique voices are the ones that lose out in this process.

    Thurber is saying that with all the talk about, and on the the part of creators the shrugging acceptance of, all money leaving the arts that there IS still money being made by that art and little to none of it goes to those who create it (or for that matter, those that publish it). We quietly accept this fact at our own peril. We also accept the “fact” of the permanence of digital media (“It’s all there, I’ll see it/watch it/listen to it eventually.”) at our own peril. So we need to make an effort to show up, to be there, to buy things, to trade them, to invest in the world of people and paper and dust and dirt. Art does not live on forever without some kind of effort on the part of those that value it.

    What I may say is that we ought to pay attention to how we feel at the end of interactions on the internet and in the real world. Even positive internet interactions I’ve had around my art (getting a bunch of orders, getting offers, nice feedback etc.) feels to me like a simple carbohydrates next to the complex and nutritious meal of events like last weekend in Brooklyn.

  60. Andy says:

    The problem Conor is that what Thurber is saying champions the entrenched and the privileged over the new and the struggling, as well as the traditionally voiceless. How many minority, women, LGBTQ and so on cartoonists have actually been able to express themselves because of this medium that wouldn’t before? And how many have gotten eyeballs on their work that wouldn’t have before? Pandora’s out of the box. I’m absolutely an advocate for doing things away from the internet like you suggest, but it’s naive to suggest that somehow that is a solution to Apple’s near-monopoly.

    As to the “patronizing tone”…. Look, I don’t think anyone seriously believes that Thurber is some sort of clownish caricature of a tweedy intellectual who wants people to smash their computers and sit around reading Joyce all day (although the surreal dig at TV gives evidence to anyone who might want to argue otherwise) but that aspect is indeed incredibly patronizing. I would relish an article that actually discussed the problem of the internet becoming more beholden to conglomerates and how this concerns cartoonists without the nastily hectoring tone. Why is this necessary, exactly? Does Thurber believe all web cartoonists are morons?

    While I agree that we should be cautious about proprietary digital mediums, otherwise the storage question is sort of a non-sequitur. What happens when there’s a fire at the library? My 2 year old son tore a favorite book of mine to shreds this very morning. Every kind of information storage medium is prone to loss.

  61. R. Fiore says:

    If your imperative is to express yourself or your interest group and it’s a truly imperative imperative then there’s something to be said for a medium that doesn’t set any barriers based on talent. No one is being imposed upon and no one is being forced out. The internet is so limitless that dilution of quality is meaningless.

    Comics can get by without gatekeepers better than most art forms. A page of badly written words looks a lot like a page of well written words, and it takes some effort to make distinctions. A cartoonist on the other hand will show you whether he or she has talent at a single glance.

  62. Alessa says:

    I have a lot of friends who are illustrators and self-publish their own comics to sell online and at conventions, and from what I’ve heard, a lot of young artists who ARE getting published say that they know publishers don’t want to take a chance on people who don’t have an online following. Maybe the key is to create interest in your work through Tumblr and whatnot without giving a whole story away, thereby making it redundant for someone to buy your book because they’ve already read it all online. Just a thought.

    But then you have a monster like Michael DeForge making tons of work and putting every page of his new comic online, but Koyama publishes it and people still buy it because it’s so damn good. In any case, I think it’s complicated, and although I agree that libraries are great and all, this article makes the issue of online vs. print to be much more black and white than it actually is.

  63. Lane Milburn says:

    Is it topsy-turvy day on the internet?
    Since when is it out of line for one guy to critique the monolith?
    Yes the internet has provided a platform for the disenfranchised to get “likes”, but what do you think are the demographics of the execs profiting at the top? I’d guess pretty white and pretty male.
    Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook didn’t gingerly assert themselves to be selected by us customers, they’ve aggressively flooded our lives and are making a killing from our every activity.

  64. Andy says:

    I think the problem is that Thurber wants the readers to believe that it is truly advice to young cartoonists when really, it’s a jeremiad against internet conglomerates. And that’s fine and all, but it reads like victim blaming right now.

  65. Andy,

    “How many minority, women, LGBTQ and so on cartoonists have actually been able to express themselves because of this medium that wouldn’t before? And how many have gotten eyeballs on their work that wouldn’t have before?”

    -Why does the internet get credit for this? Comics has always been outsider/weirdo/fringe/progressive voice-friendly since at least the mid part of this century. I think our community deserves credit not the means by which communicates.

    “I would relish an article that actually discussed the problem of the internet becoming more beholden to conglomerates and how this concerns cartoonists without the nastily hectoring tone. Why is this necessary, exactly? Does Thurber believe all web cartoonists are morons?”

    -Obviously not. Thurber is, in fact, a web cartoonist (http://www.pictureboxinc.com/blogs/muk-luk/). Where in the letter is he ever “nasty?”

  66. Christian Marks says:

    Thurber is correct. The giants of Silicon Valley — Google, Facebook, Twitter and others — are ubiquitous web presences that have become invisible to users. They provide the indispensable affordances of cyberspace: online services such as search, email, web-based word processing and social networking. Their services present a “communist” user interface over a hidden a capitalist substrate. The user interface subverts the human capacity for altruism and exploits the human proclivity toward hyperbolic discounting of the future by inducing legions of online workers to endure significant opportunity costs for the glory of releasing digital content online for free. The capitalist substrate, operated for profit and inaccessible to users by design, mines user activity to target advertisements to users. Giving away comics online for a few likes helps contributes to the power law distribution of a few Silicon Valley behemoths–at your expense.

  67. Also, an argument I haven’t seen addressed: why does Thurber assume that young people don’t make zines and go to cons? Just go to SPX or TCAF or like, anywhere. TONS of kids in their early teens and late 20s, all with zines. Who is he talking to, who is this hypothetical young comics maker who is on the internet and ONLY on the internet?

  68. Mike Hunter says:

    ——————————-
    Andy says:
    Mike, words have multiple definitions. By “empowered” in this instance I mean that tumblr and similar platforms have allowed women to go around the traditional male dominated cultural barriers in the comics world. I agree that there pros and cons to the digital age of comics, but this is unequivocally a good thing.
    ———————————

    I understood you used “empowered” with that “tumblr and similar platforms have allowed women to…” part; you SAID so, and I quoted you saying so.

    However, this does not mean that “empowered” has a different definition; it still means the same thing. The only difference is that the once-powerful term, used to describe fighting for and attaining highly important goals, here is used in association with minor goals.

    I’m reminded of some TV commercials singing the praises of “freedom” during that orgy of American self-congratulations and patting ourselves on the back, the Bicentennial celebration. Only the “freedom” they were referring to wasn’t freedom of speech, assembly, or religion; it was the freedom to choose whatever glitzy new product you wanted to buy

    So the argument is, women comics creators are utterly barred by “traditional cultural gate keepers,” “traditional male dominated cultural barriers,” from expressing their creativity, and must resort to Tumblr and such because that all-male fraternity of editors and publishers won’t give them a break?

    One can imagine the cries: “I couldn’t find a publisher, so it must be because the Patriarchy won’t give us women creators a chance!” Nothing to do with perceived lack of talent, or a particular approach or subject not being considered commercially viable or appealing, of course. How much more comforting and self-aggrandizing to think, “I wasn’t published because of Oppression Against Women!”

    Well, check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_female_comics_creators ; what a spectacular array of talent! Also, see most any report anywhere, whether some mainstream publication or the excellent Comics Reporter, giving the news of new comics by superb creators. Women are all over the place. If there is some all-powerful hegemony of “traditional male dominated cultural barriers” seeking to bar them, it sure is remarkably ineffective.

    Even in the Underground Comix days, with those “smash the Establishment, bring on the Revolution” creators routinely being noxiously, hypocritically piggish when it came to women’s rights, there was a thriving scene of women’s comics. I know; I bought all I saw when they were being published. I had no trouble finding them, they were right there in the head-shop shelves alongside hits like “Zap” and “Slow Death,” though unfortunately they didn’t seem to sell very well.

    That anyone who wants to be “published” can put their stuff on the Web is arguably a good thing, but not “unequivocally a good thing.” Is everyone able to search through the digital haystack to find a needle that’s Something Worth Reading? Hell, no. That’s where those evil old “gatekeepers” — editors and publishers — come in. Finding and bringing forward the gems amid the dross. Some obscure jewel may be spotted by a blogger and raved about, thereby setting forth the cascade of positive comments and links known as “buzz.” But, editors and publishers make it their living to sort through submissions, and, nowadays, winnow through the buzz, to pick and publish what they consider particularly outstanding and/or salable.

    ———————————
    R. Fiore says:
    …the internet is so limitless that dilution of quality is meaningless.
    ———————————

    Sure. But, to make a non-digital analogy, is it easier to find a quality comic in a spinner rack, or amid a stack of comics measuring one cubic mile? The quality may not be diluted, but it sure becomes harder to find.

  69. leah says:

    I really wanted to leave a longer, thoughtful response here, but as it is, our internet has been out due to a neighboring fire and instead using my “smart” phone is rather difficult to leave a comment (the irony!) So I’ll just say for now that matthews header illustration is my favorite, i agree with conors comments, props to andys as well, and do not trust anyone who uses the term “sjw” (shudders and spits)

  70. Reimena says:

    @Tom:
    Well yes in a way I am dependent on Western charity (if you consider the Internet as western charity. Looks like almost every local clothing boutique I shop at online is entirely dependent on Western charity too., even if their money comes from locals like me…). But it sure is better than
    1) buying an air-ticket with my own savings, convert my 1 ringgit to 0.3 US dollar, fly to the states and visit every publishing house begging for them to publish my story and NOT have them want to modify it to appeal to Western tastes.
    2) visiting the 2 publishing companies here and begging them to publish my work and lose my creator rights, get paid RM3000 for the job (that’s about 900 USD; not enough to survive a month in Kuala Lumpur), be given 0.1% royalty, and have it sell to a general public that at the moment is still unaware of comics, with no international marketing whatsoever to support it, thereby still not contributing to my industry in any real way despite my efforts

    I am very aware that the amount of money I am making at this age, with art, within the year, is THE IDEAL among the Malaysian art community. For that I am grateful, and this is why ONLY FOR MY LOCAL COMMUNITY, I highly encourage dabbling in the Internet. It’s our only way to improve our industry actually, and so far it has worked, and sometime next year I want to test if it works 100%; to see if the effect trickles down locally in a monumental way. When it happens I will tell you all how it goes.

    I am not sure if you will understand, but I don’t think you have enough contextual experience of living in this country to realise the uphill battle the few EDUCATED and RATIONAL Malaysians are dealing with to even VOTE THE 60 YEAR OLD MONO-PARTY GOVERNMENT out in the first place. We did a couple of years ago; our opposition party had the majority vote, but because of the merrygandering, the government had majority seats, making our voting useless unless we manage to bring the issues down to rural areas (our style of gerrymandering is basically, for example to show the proportion, 1 seat for a person in the city who votes for the opposition, 2 for a person in a rural area who votes for the government), places with no access to information and education and locally governed by very conservative religious groups which naturally align themselves with the current government . Even if we managed to change the government, it’s going to take more than 10 years to see any real reform, and even longer to see the country develop its art scene to maturity (I always believed the state of the comics scene is always proportional to the strength of the general arts scene of a country. e.g France). EVEN THEN there’s no guarantee the old government won’t try to illegally steal back its power, like it has proven to us when Penang fell back into being managed by it despite having voted and having been managed by the opposition for a few months. And there’s always the threat of a May 13 1969 revival (I don’t believe in it but the government can do anything apparently). So are you saying I should WAIT until my government has reformed and my people have developed culturally to make comics then? Seems pretty ridiculous!! Even then it’s such a short sighted solution to the comics problem here; it’s not really the censoring that troubles us (though it would be nice if it’s gone) but the still prevalent attitude of comics being seen as childish to the consumer and as not worth the investment to the comic artist and THEIR FAMILY (you know the stereotype of the Asian father wanting their children to be doctors and not artists? That doesn’t apply to all but it is true for the majority), leaving our industry in this weird purgatory. And despite your saying that internet is a distraction to our social issues, over here, it’s IRONICALLY the only way most Malaysians can READ about social issues and differing opinions and become more politically aware, because we have minimal free speech and minimal free (physical) media info (all our newspapers are funded by the government). The internet is VERY powerful in Malaysia – all of what you, Tom, may consider as reform are organised solely and participated by people on the internet – and our government knows it, and will not be afraid to jail or kill anyone who steps too out of the line.

    I understand your concern, but as fellow countrymen, if you don’t live and work and mamak and lepak here like a macha you can’t offer me any real solution to my country’s issues. As a fellow artist you can’t offer me any real solution, because ultimately, it’s local people like me and my friends who know what’s the state of our industry, and we are more than equipped to deal with the problem. So yeah, thanks but we are already trying as hard as we can on our own, both politically and artistically, without your concern.

  71. Mike Hunter says:

    ———————-
    Reimena says:
    @Tom:
    Well yes in a way I am dependent on Western charity (if you consider the Internet as western charity….)
    ———————–

    For that matter, isn’t the Internet a military “charity”? Developed during the Cold War:

    ————————-
    Scientists and military experts were especially concerned about what might happen in the event of a Soviet attack on the nation’s telephone system…In 1962, a scientist from M.I.T. and [the Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency] ARPA named J.C.R. Licklider proposed a solution to this problem: a “galactic network” of computers that could talk to one another. Such a network would enable government leaders to communicate even if the Soviets destroyed the telephone system….
    ————————-
    http://www.history.com/topics/inventions/invention-of-the-internet

    …And if you pay to use it, whether in buying the necessary equipment, for Web service, by seeing the ads sponsors put before you, can it really be a “charity”?

    I guess the gerrymandering in Malaysia described is a “charity” too; Americans invented it! ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerrymandering )

    Sorry to hear about the “the uphill battle the few EDUCATED and RATIONAL Malaysians” have in trying to get a better government in place. Though we’re far better off (not that I expect it to last), some Americans can relate. What we have to deal with: http://jensorensen.com/2014/11/10/low-information-nation-midterm-elections-edition/ .

    On a brighter note, another plus of the Internet is that I can type “Reimena Malaysian comics” into Google (it didn’t occur to me until afterward to click on your name in your posts) and discover a whole batch of wonderful stuff:

    https://www.facebook.com/reimenaashelyee/info

    http://reimenayee.com/

    http://callupish.deviantart.com/

    http://alcottgrimsley.com/twidi/C1001-002S1/ (Love the art-style matching icons below the panels.)

    Wow, you’re a really superb, world-class artist! (And only 19!) The illustrations are gloriously stylized, the color palette rich, nuanced. Whether more cartoony or realistic, masterfulness is evident in everything to be seen.

    And funny, too: http://reimenayee.com/hair/

    (Reminds of a series of Victorian-era cartoons in “Punch” satirizing the then-prevalent, absurdly elaborate women’s hair styles. The only example I could find: http://www.darwincountry.org/explore/006947.html )

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  73. Victor Cayro says:

    Patronizing? condescending? Nope. Homies got points, like multiple half court dunks.

    We all love the internet, it is stronger than the cigarette, but who smokes who?

    I think he’s reminding all of us to be mindful of what we’re doing as cartoonists, to not give ourselves away for nothing to the Original content absorbing sentinel arms of multi million billion guhzillion dollar corporations, sucking our time n’ souls out with the face books and tweeters and instagrammers.

    I became a distorted kabuki mask of myself, and like a (stubborn) booger on my finger, I can’t flick it off.

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