“The artist of today, if s/he doesn’t want to evade the issues, or become an empty shell, must choose between technology and service in the class war…Either s/he joins the ranks of architects, engineers and admen whom the industrial powers employ…or s/he becomes a depicter and critic who critiques the face of our time, becoming a propagandist and defender of revolutionary ideas…”
— “Art is in Danger” (gender-corrected), 1925, Union of Communist Artists (George Grosz, John Heartfield, Wieland Herzfelde)
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I think a lot, as you can imagine, about the tension between trying to make a living as an artist and trying to remain true to a larger purpose. It’s really hard sometimes, because the two aims are mostly opposed. At times I’ve tried to make my comics more mainstream because I’ve really wanted them to get into daily papers, but my political views usually bleed into them anyway.
I feel uneasy when I do a series about something completely non-political (say, online dating). I start to worry that I’m wasting my time and ignoring the issues that matter. I’ve never fully been able to make the transition from editorial cartoonist to comic strip artist. “Minimum Security” started out as an editorial cartoon and turned out to be a hybrid.
It’s been clear for a while that newspapers are circling the drain. I’ve clung (and still do, in the deep irrational recesses of my heart) to the hope that I could get my comic strip into some of them before they totally collapse, even if only for a brief moment of glory and the satisfaction of having succeeded at something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid. I also wanted the opportunity to address a much larger audience with the ideas that I think are important. I wanted to bring certain things to people’s attention as they sit at their breakfast tables.
I was really close not too long ago, in line for United Media to launch my comic into print. Then everyone noticed that the economy was collapsing, and it got pushed back, and pushed back again.
Though not officially launched, “Minimum Security” is running in one daily paper, and it’s been a thrill to see it on the comics page right between “Hi and Lois” and “Hagar the Horrible.” And of course the comic strip has run in other non-daily periodicals as well, and on comics.com.
I’ve learned a lot the last couple of years while working with United. As my editor, the brilliant cartoonist/writer Ted Rall has taught me how to structure jokes and push them to higher levels of funny, how to define characters, how to make a comic look good, how to get across a serious point without being boring, and so much more. It’s ridiculous that they laid off the person who, as Editor of Acquisitions, was cultivating a new generation of newspaper comic strip artists and represented an aspect of a possible viable future for newspapers. It confirms for me that newspapers have given up and still have a long way to fall.
I love drawing “Minimum Security.” I love it most when it makes a point that I think is important and manages to be funny at the same time. Clearly for the foreseeable future, it’s not going to be the big print newspaper sensation I’d dreamed of. But it has a good audience, on my website and on comics.com, an audience that I think appreciates its harder edge and its sense of outrage. I’m going to bring that into it more.
I’ll hang on to my hopes of print syndication until the bitter end. I’ll still try to get it into another paper or two in the meantime as well. I’m not giving up — I’m really damn stubborn. But I’m not going to pull my punches any longer in hopes of commercial success. Not while the world is being killed.
Don’t get me wrong, I still need to make a living and I’m willing to draw things that I don’t fully believe in. I do that, and I’m glad to get paid for it. It’s certainly a more modest livelihood than before I lost my job (at a newspaper) a year and a half ago — I’ve since let go of the need to live alone and have my own garden. I’ve always been good at living with little money anyway. I absolutely love not having a conventional job. I have to be more creative about finding work and take more chances (and work harder than I ever did at a job), but so far it’s going okay. I haven’t yet run out of things to do.