When I’m not reading, clipping or commenting on comics, I sometimes wonder what the future holds for this newspaper-dependent industry. Cartoonists Theron Heir and Darrin Bell have been thinking about the future as well; specifically, the future of their comic strip, Rudy Park. I was surprised to read on their website, for example, that “newspaper closings and bankruptcies have cut in half the already modest amount [Heir and Bell] make for writing and drawing Rudy Park.”
That’s pretty sobering, and it makes me wonder how comics fans can support their favorite cartoonists. I personally subscribe to both of Chicago’s high-circulation newspapers, although I realize that makes me part of a dying breed. I also paid for a subscription to Comics.com until they inexplicably decided to make themselves a free service. (Coincidentally, this is how I continue to read Rudy Park on a daily basis.)
Another point Heir and Bell bring up on their website is that cartoonists can’t earn a living when their work is distributed on the Internet for free. That brings to mind the rapidly sinking music industry, but it also makes me wonder whether web comics could ever be a viable business model. When a musician puts his music on MySpace for free, he can entice listeners to buy T-shirts or come to a live performance. When a cartoonist puts his comic strip on the web for free, what else does he have to sell? A coffee mug? A collection of reprints? An advertisement or sponsorship? None of those options are particularly lucrative.
It may be that Heir and Bell have decided the diminishing financial returns on their strip are no longer worth the time and effort they put into it. Both men have other jobs, after all; Heir as a journalist for the New York Times and Bell as the creator of the excellent strip, Candorville. Maybe Rudy Park will find a way to draw paid viewers to its website for “premium” content. Or maybe it will end up as a side project that had a good run, but was destined to fall by the wayside. If that’s the case, I can only hope it won’t be a harbinger of other strips collapsing under various financial pressures.