Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Familiarity's Brood

They say that Familiarity breeds contempt, but is this always the case? Like everything else in life, this is not a reliable cliche.

Let's face it, we're human. Since the dawn of time, the universe outside our front door has always been a big scary place full of the unknown. We can step out through that cave mouth and be eaten by something big and ferocious, or leave our apartment and get run down by a bus. Or worse... we can get to our jobs and have to deal with backstabbers, evil bosses, scary lunch-ladies, and that guy who wears his shoes on the wrong feet and talks to the hamster named Norman that lives in his shirt pocket.

It's no wonder that a man's home is his castle, or a woman's home is where she is Queen. Home is nice. It's comfortable, and... familiar. We're pretty sure that there's no boogeyman hiding behind the couch, and the only real danger is what used to be a potato salad that is now hiding in the back of the fridge.

How does this relate to cartooning and creativity, you ask? I'm getting to that. Familiarity is a comfort, and this is why we see some frankly boring comic strips filling the comic's pages long after their Creators have passed on. And that is why we have some frankly could-be-better webcomics receiving lots of attention, while greater strips go unnoticed.

The internet is a great venue for Cartoonists; we can have archives, character studies, Creator biographies... even a bookstore... all in one place. The trick is getting people to come to our websites, and more importantly, keep coming back. And the trick to that? Yeah, you guessed it: fresh content.

Now, when webcomics first began, the argument amongst the intelligentsia was the merits of Editors, and who needs 'em. Frankly, I believe we all need Editors, and not just to correct spelling and grammar. By the time a webcomic builds an audience, the strip and its Creator are already set in their ways. Nobody wants to then take feedback and rework their strip into something better because, hey, that's a lot of work! So instead we get some comic strips that range from pretty good to please, God, no more. And what's worse is that we get every little thing the creator ever did.

Here's a tip: truly great Creators don't want you to see their early works, and that's why they appear to be so great. You only see their best. To a point.

And that supports my current argument, about familiarity. Some comic strips have been around for sooooooo very long, and yet still have their original Creators. Unfortunately, they don't always have their original Creativity.

Hey, you say. First you tell us that Newbies suck, and now you're telling us that Old-timers suck. Does nothing please you?

Yes, yes.... I'm trying to make a point here, and yes, it's about me. It's always about me, isn't it?

(sound of embarrassed crickets)

So here I am, at the top of my game. I'm very busy, I'm making money, and my work is out there... all over the world. And yet, not many of you know me, my name, my work, and I sit here every week watching my audience dwindle away. And why is this? Because it's my Freelance work that is paying the bills, and my Freelance work that keeps me busy every hour of the day. I very rarely get a chance to blog like this, and I even more rarely update my website. And that's killing me.

Meanwhile, some young twerp out there with sooooo much free time adds new strips to his website every day, and because there are, what? 6 billion people in the world, he eventually builds up an audience, and gets some attention, and who knows? Maybe his strip IS good, and since he has an audience, he says to heck with the syndicates, and Editors, and goes his merry way, making the same old strips day after day after day, achieving enough fame to keep him going. And he gets his fan mail, and sells some books, and his mother is proud of him.

But he never achieves greatness. Maybe if he sent his stuff out to the Editors, he would have gotten a few rejections, and worked just that much harder. Or he would have reworked that strip, and in the process developed better characters, or improved his artwork, or found a better way to tell a joke.

Who knows?

Meanwhile there's a truly gifted person out there, who has a wonderful comic strip, but no time to develop it, or even show it off. She's worked so hard at it, but she has to get the kids to school, and run off to her day job, and by the time she's ready update her website, it's time for bed. So she eventually quits, and nobody notices.

Familiarity's Brood marches on.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

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