Editing Daily Kos’s cartoon section is only one of the many ways in which Dan Perkins makes his living. Perkins says he started self-syndicating because “it was initially the only option,” but once he had “established a substantial client list, there was no real reason to split my income with a syndicate.” He also prefers this method because it affords him a measure of control; he can decide where his cartoons appear and how much he charges for them. And he has the independence of being his own boss. “I get a lot of checks every week, for like ten or twenty dollars. You get enough of those, you make a living,” says Perkins.
Matt Bors is one of the artists to recently sign a cartooning contract with Daily Kos. Bors juggles a number of jobs as well; he syndicates his cartoons through Universal Press Syndicate, does freelancing work, along with his duties for a project called the Cartoon Movement.
Bors, 28, runs the project with Tjeerd Royaards, 31, and as younger cartoonists, they can’t reminisce about days when they could make a decent living. “You work three days a week so you can cartoon two days a week,” says Royaards. Their site publishes cartoons from artists all over the world, including from places that wouldn’t come top of mind for this craft, like Malaysia, Nepal, and Sudan. Submissions when Osama Bin Laden was killed were particularly interesting: “You’ll have cartoons from America come in saying this is good, and then, from other places, a message that international justice is important. Many different perspectives,” says Royaards. (Their tagline is: “There is more than one truth.”) This summer, Cartoon Movement traveled to Haiti to find a Haitian cartoonist and journalists for a series of comics journalism about the country post earthquake. They’ve since published a number of pieces, including a long form piece about the tent camps called Tents behind Tents, and an animated video about increased homophobia in the region, called Haiti’s Scapegoats.
Cartoon Movement pays one hundred and fifty Euro up front for every piece they publish from their member artists, which, at the moment, is one cartoon per day. It’s not a lot, but they see their model as an alternative to traditional syndication, which doesn’t pay unless the cartoon gets sold to a publisher, and takes a cut of the fee. They also sell the cartoons to other media after purchase, and they have deals with magazines and newspapers around the world. 130 cartoonists have joined the site from over 75 countries, and one of the missions is to foster conversation between these international cartoonists, including discussion about possible revenue models for the digital age.
Their youth could make them uniquely qualified for the task. “[We] are a younger generation of cartoonists, we’re both under 35, we’ve never had staff positions,” says Royaards. “Our experiences as cartoonists have been quite different.” Bors says opinion page editors at papers have always understood the power of something visual on the page, and he’s hoping web editors start giving cartoons the “same priority they give the written word.”
“I have a big web audience,” says Bors, “and a lot of my cartoons are incredibly popular. They fly around the web more than a lot of articles do, but for whatever reason, cartoons aren’t on the budget.”
Correction: This article originally misnamed the cartoon syndicate run by Daryl Cagle. It is Cagle Cartoons, not Cagle Post. The relevant sentences have been corrected. CJR regrets the error.