What paper are you in? That’s the question I’m inevitably asked each time I tell someone that I do a comic strip. (Other than “How do you come up with your ideas?”) I can’t blame people for asking, because that’s where comic strips belong, right? At this moment, I can confidently say that we’re in about 20 papers, as if that somehow justifies me as legitimate. Does a comic strip need to be in a newspaper to be legitimate – or profitable? I also get asked how the “Syndicate Game” works. How, exactly, do you get IN papers? Since most editors prefer to work through a syndicate, here are the basics in a nutshell: 1) Cartoonist creates a comic strip. 2) Cartoonist sends six weeks worth of strips to one of the dwindling number of major syndicates left. 3) Cartoonist waits four months to hear something back. In the meantime, the syndicate sifts through thousands of mostly amateurish submissions. Of the other hundred remaining, the syndicate eliminates the ones that are too controversial, too plain, too-much like a strip they already have, not enough like a strip they already have, and the ones they don’t figure will make a million dollars in five years. 4a) Cartoonist finally receives a form letter politely thanking said cartoonist for his submission, but regrettably, blah, blah, blah… (OR) 4b) Cartoonist receives a letter or call of praise saying the syndicate LOVES the strip, but wants the cartoonist to change this, that, and oh, by the way, the title. Call me cynical if you want, but, I’m just frustrated by the dichotomy of the current situation… -The most common way to get into the papers is through the syndicates. But they only select one or two strips a year, and even then there are no guarantees. Of the handful they choose, it is rare for any of them to last beyond five years. -Most people think comic strips should be in the newspaper. But newspaper circulations keep going south. -The most common and widely acknowledged way to make money as a cartoonist is to get syndicated, but the Syndicate takes half of everything, and sometimes, a big chunk of creative control. -Most people think that comics that exist on the web must not be as good as comics in the paper. Indeed, there is a lot of garbage on the Internet, but you can also find some of the best work around that isn’t in papers because it doesn’t happen to meet a particular demographic that’s in vogue. A few years ago, I submitted Kim & Jason to the syndicates, and got the standard form letter. In retrospect, they made the right call. There were a lot of things to iron out, and the art was very inconsistent. Last year, I actually spoke with a syndicate big-wig, who gave me an honest critique. She really liked the art, but encouraged me to work on the writing, which she felt could be funnier. She also admitted that the strip might be too “sweet” for generally cynical newspaper editors. Since then, I’ve committed myself to beefing up the writing, and am sometimes pleased with the results. And every six months or so, I find myself asking the question: Are the syndicates for me? It started years ago with the first submissions. The rejection letters forced me to make a decision: would I give up, or try and make it without them? Obviously, I chose the latter, figuring that if I could build a big enough audience, the syndicates would take notice and ultimately, sign me to a contract. But even then, I knew that the bulk of Charles Schulz’s income came not from the papers he was in, but from the many licensing deals he had. So we created the Kim & Jason Collection to bring in revenue and to help spread the word to wider audiences. It has grown ever since, and the comic strip, I believe, has gotten increasingly better. It has taken lots and lots of WORK. Not to mention a little blood, (X-acto knives are sharp), sweat, and tears. As the strip improves, and readership grows, and more retail stores carry our products, I can’t help but wonder: Do we NEED the syndicates? Common knowledge says yes, but the rebellious, visionary, entrepreneur in me says “heck no!” The rebellious side of me (which is also quite stubborn) says “You’ve had your chance – and you passed on the opportunity of a lifetime! I’ll show you!” (A bit presumptuous and conceited, I’ll admit, but I like to think the great ones often displayed this attitude.) The visionary side of me sees a declining status quo. Fifteen, or even ten years ago, it would have been impossible for me to be doing what I’m able to do now. Kim & Jason is available to a worldwide audience. Technology has instigated many changes and people’s habits are changing with it. To a certain extent, the Internet has leveled the playing field. The power the syndicates once wielded is declining. Newspapers are dying, as more and more people get their news from cable TV and the Web. The entrepreneur in me sees a boatload of opportunities available to someone with a little creativity and ingenuity and a willingness to work. The syndicates are a big business, and big businesses habitually make “safe” decisions, and often miss great opportunities. The syndicates have their connections and all, but I have a hard time stomaching the idea of them getting half of everything after all the hard work we’ve put in marketing this thing. So the inner debate continues. Right now, my company JBiRD iNK syndicates Kim & Jason. We have a nice, easy system set up for newspaper editors who would like to add K&J to their comic sections. Kim does a great job soliciting papers when she has time in between the million other things she’s responsible for. While I’d certainly love the connections and reach the syndicates could offer (if they even would want Kim & Jason at all), I believe in my heart that as time moves forward and our audience grows, those same syndicates will have less and less to offer us. We’ll see. For now, I’ll keep telling folks what papers we’re in to ease their minds that Kim & Jason is a real comic strip, while quietly working at making the syndicates irrelevant.