Hey. I love my iPad. I happily go about Googling, shopping, downloading new apps, listening to new music, and reading new books almost every day. Now, I even read The New Yorker and peruse the cartoons on my iPad. The problem for us artists is how the new technologies are undermining certain aspects of our profession, specifically, payment for our work.
The old ideas about intellectual property, copyright, and the ownership of one’s work are now in the process of disappearing. Anyone who wants to and knows how to can Google our published work and use it gratis. Some people, mostly those born in the internet age, are actually unaware the old rules, both spoken and unspoken, about artists’ ownership and control of their own work. The word “plagiarism” appears to be disappearing from people’s vocabularies. Copyrights are becoming meaningless. When a cartoon is referenced in the media, the name of the artist is often no longer mentioned, and sometimes even the name of the publication in which the drawing appeared.
Being a magazine cartoonist has always been an iffy job, even for those few of us fortunate enough to be regulars in The New Yorker. When I started out, there were a number of publications left which ran cartoons, but in short order, magazines began to change. Work like that of Milton Glaser and Seymour Chwast at Push Pin Studios, in the 60s and 70s, directly or indirectly influenced art directors and designers, and magazines began to adopt a different look, featuring a lot of color, photos, illustration, and airy type styles (Hello Helvetica!). More and more, art directors and designers began eliminating our funny little boxes. They were interlopers, sometimes badly drawn and almost always in plain old black and white. Each cartoon represented the style of a particular artist, all different in one way or another, and often at odds with the magazine-designer’s concept. Magazine cartoons also took up valuable real estate, which could be used for more lucrative purposes, such as advertising. There was a brief renaissance during the 90s, when the economic bubble which was to burst a few years later was still inflating. Business magazines started running cartoons, in many cases adding color. When the bubble burst, though, our little boxes began to disappear again, with exception of The New Yorker, where cartoons have always been considered a crucial part of the magazine’s identity.
Other forms of cartooning were thriving, though, including animation and comic-books, which eventually made the jump to “serious” literature in the form of graphic novels. With graphic novels, the art itself often plays the major role. How the drawings appear on the page and in what order is as important as, or in some cases more important, than the story-line. Humor sometimes isn’t a factor at all, unlike magazine cartoons, in which humor is the raison d’etre. The drawing itself in a magazine cartoon can be clumsy and inept, as long as it serves the spirit of the joke. (I hasten to point out that inept or clumsy drawing isn’t a prerequisite in our cartoons, but it is permissible. The joke is the thing, whether it comes with great draftsmanship or not.) Another difference between the forms is that magazine cartoons attempt to avoid anything that might impede the delivery of the idea, like overly-long captions or fussy drawing, in order to deliver their humor as quickly as possible. The “surprise” factor is very important. Graphic novels deliver their message more slowly, in multiple panels and pages, and, as in their more literary forebears, “un-graphic”novels, being funny most often isn’t the point.
Magazine cartooning is still alive and well within the pages of The New Yorker and a handful of other publications, in print and on our iPads, etc. Maybe magazine cartooning will find a way to flourish with new technology, either the current versions or some other breakthrough technology soon to come.
Doing a batch every week has become a strong habit with me and my ilk, and I still get a lot of pleasure from the process, despite the insecurity of not knowing when or if I’ll sell a cartoon in a given week. (In fact, that may be part of the attraction, in a slightly masochistic way.) I don’t think I could stop doing what I do now, no matter what the future may hold for the profession, so I’ll probably keep drawing til I drop, as will many other artists in this slightly oddball profession.