You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘syndication’ tag.
Clear Blue Water has been out of newspapers for an entire year now and I finally feel like writing about what happened at the end. I don’t want to burn any bridges, but I do want to be honest about what happened and how I felt about what happened. So here’s my disclaimer… I really liked everyone I met at Universal Press (especially my editor, Sue), and I would recommend this syndicate to anyone pursuing syndication. They are very good at what they do and they are nice people, to boot. For the most part, I had a really positive experience.
…For the most part. (Cue the dark music. Dun dun dun…)
Let’s begin at the beginning, shall we? Clear Blue Water launched into newspapers on May 3, 2004. I had an okay launch. Nothing spectacular, and nowhere near how many papers I was hoping to land, but it was more than the handful I worried about in my worst case scenerios. How many was it, you ask? Well, I honestly don’t remember exactly. I’m pretty sure it was between 25 and 30, with some big fat good-paying papers thrown in with some smaller ones. On a good note, I got the paper from my college town AND the paper from where we used to live. On a bad note, I didn’t get our local paper, or, in fact, any papers in Florida at all, so I was never able to just pick it up and read it and most people in town had no idea I was a cartoonist. UPS inflated my numbers (as ALL syndicates do), but I can no longer remember what the inflated number they threw around was. Maybe 35 or 40? Maybe 50? It’s all fuzzy these days. My point is, I was happy with my launch and looking forward to seeing how many papers I could and would get from that point forward.
Clear Blue Water’s last day in newspapers was on September 28, 2008 and in those 4.5 years I was syndicated, I ADDED a total of 3 papers. Yes, that’s 3, as in 1, 2, THREE. However, I LOST a bunch of my papers in the first two years, so these were not good numbers at all. To this day I am not sure if the salesmen couldn’t sell it or wouldn’t sell it and it matters not. Each one is a depressing scenerio (for completely different reasons) but the result is the same. I will tell you what NOT to do though. Don’t get pissy with the salesman early on and demand to know if they were even taking it out of their briefcase for the editors to see. Not that I ever did that, but if I HAD, boy, would I have regretted it later. Bad idea. BAAAAAAD idea. Bad.
It got to the point where I dreaded getting my checks in the mail because it would tell you what papers dropped you or added you (the syndicate never told me beforehand). I made my husband open them; I couldn’t even face them. He’d just say, “Holding steady.” Or, “Two drops this month.” People would ask me what papers I was in and I didn’t know anymore because I chose not to know. I faced it by not facing it and choosing not to think about it. The last few years of my strip I mostly held steady. I didn’t add any, but I also didn’t get dropped by any. Still, the stress of what MIGHT be happening behind the scenes was hideous.
I expected the syndicate to drop me at any time for about four years. This was REALLY stressful. I thought about quitting, literally, every single day for those same four years. I worried about it. I fretted. I begged my friends and family to be honest with me and tell me if I sucked. I asked everyone I knew to tell me what to do. And I prayed. Endlessly prayed. Not only for success but mostly for God to let me know what His will was in this. (I KNOW that getting syndicated was a gift from God, and I have come to realize that it was a teaching gift and not necessarily a monetary one. It remains, to this day, a much appreciated blessing, though). If God wanted me to quit, I’d quit, but if He didn’t, I would stick it out.
He never answered. But, I did work out a system (much to His amusement I’m sure!) with God. I told Him if I lost this one particular big paper that I’d know it was a sign from Him to quit and I would. Immediately. But if I didn’t lose that paper, I’d stay on and keep muddling through and trying to make a success of it. I never lost that paper, so I kept going year after year. The thing is, I was still making more than I would working at some part time job around here, and I could set my own hours around our family life, and it was creative and fun and I loved it. If I had been the sole breadwinner in our family, I’d have had to give it up years earlier in order to find a better paying job, but I wasn’t, so I was able to keep it going just because I liked doing it. Getting paid to do it was just…gravy. I just wish I’d made more of a success of it. But I can honestly say that I tried. I made my deadlines and put out the best product that I could for my entire run. And if people knew what our family life was like during that time… looking back, I cannot imagine how I did it.
Every time a cartoonist would stop their strip (and it happens a lot if you are paying attention, which I was) I would feel such a kinship with them, and I’d know that my time was coming soon as well. It’s incredibly difficult to finally get your shot and then realize that no, you AREN’T going to be the next big thing and watch it pass you by. No one but other syndicated cartoonists know how hard this is, and no one else CAN know because there is very little transparency about the process and little honesty about the numbers. And THAT is why I am writing this post. I know aspiring cartoonists won’t listen and they SHOULDN’T listen because everyone thinks THEIR strip will be the next blockbuster one, and sometimes they are right. All I can say is that I would not, at this time, choose to pursue syndication again. I hear of all these wonderful cartoonists desperate for syndication and it’s so bittersweet for I used to be one of them. Yes, there is big success to be had but for most it’s a road ultimately filled with exhaustion, unrelenting deadlines, and much too little success or appreciation.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I’d pretty much decided that if I made it to my five year anniversary, I’d quit (which would have been May 3, 2009). It had become more than obvious to me that this endeavor was not going to be blessed, so it was time to move on down the road. And five years was a nice round number, and a more than respectable try, I thought.
Fast forward to the summer of 2008. A bunch of things were coming to a head in my life and I spent the majority of the summer praying hard for guidance in these things. One of the things I was desperate for was an answer. A definite yes, drop your cartoon right now for I have something else up my sleeve for you, or a definitive no, I want you to keep going and I’m finally going to bless your efforts. It was definitely a ‘shit or get off the pot’ time in my life. At this point, I didn’t really care what the answer was, I just wanted to KNOW so I could stop fretting about it. It was taking up an inordinate amount of my time and attention.
On August 4th, I received a letter from the syndicate. As soon as I saw it, I knew what it was. My husband was immediately suspicious of its contents as well. Before I opened it, I told him, “I bet’cha UPS is dropping Clear Blue Water.” And I was right. It was brief and to the point. They were stopping production on September 28th. The thing is, I’d already turned in the Sunday after that. When Lee found out he told me I could continue another week, but I chose not to and just dropped the last Sunday instead. Because I was so far ahead of deadline, this ending date gave me only two weeks notice to wrap up my cartoon. I dropped a storyline in the middle because I didn’t want to waste any of my last two weeks on it, and in mid August, I finished. It was not the ending I’d hoped for, and I wish I’d been given more notice, but them thar’s the breaks, right?
I have to admit two things. When I first read the letter, I was not upset. I was relieved. I felt as if a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders and I immediately thanked God for the answer. It was an absolute answer to prayer. It was not the answer I’d HOPED to get, but it was so nice to finally get some direction! And, it was a relief to have the decision I’d been just suffering about torn out of my hands completely.
Then I began to feel really bad. I mean, I’d been working with this syndicate for over five years and I didn’t even merit a phone call. I didn’t mind that they dropped me (I had been expecting it, as I said), I just minded the way it was done.
Why and how did I choose to make a go of it as a web cartoonist? Well, that’s a story for another time. More to come eventually…
I thought it might be interesting to post my original submission to the syndicates. It will take six more posts to post all of the cartoons, so they will follow this one. I sent this packet of six weeks worth of cartoons to all of the usual syndicates (King, Universal, United, Tribune Media Services, and Washington Post Writer’s Group) on January 2, 2003. Of them, only Universal was interested in seeing more.
Looking at them now I realized that most of these toons have been used (in some form) in Clear Blue Water. Heck, most of them were used in the first year of the strip! My drawing style has changed a bit, I used to be WAAAAAYYYYYYYYYY wordier (I didn’t like ANY white space on the paper it seems. No breathing room at all), and I was both absolutely fearless and completely naive when it came to content and what could and couldn’t be printed in a newspaper.
I had no way to color the Sunday’s (no knowledge of the process and no Photoshop) so I just sent them in black and white. I also had no idea how big Sunday’s were, so I just made up a size and figured if I got accepted, I could just learn all of this stuff then. And luckily, it turned out I was right. The real size of the Sunday’s is much shorter so I had to cut words and use less details than in these examples. Eve’s hair is dark because I thinned out india ink with water and painted it in. It didn’t work well because in some her hair is quite dark, in others, barely visible. This is why her hair is white now in the dailies. I don’t really like working with gray (I prefer black and white) so I rarely use it in dailies. Also, Easily Offended Man used to be called PC Guy, but then someone mentioned to me that they thought there was already a Politically correct man cartoon character out there so I had to think up a new name. I actually like Easily Offended Man’s name better NOW, but at the time I was quite disappointed that I had to change it. Also, Eve starts out already five months along with here twins. Over the development period, UPS convinced me to start the strip with Eve not pregnant and have her get pregnant three weeks in.
For my submission, I bought little clear plastic folders from an office supply store to send everything in. First the cover page, then the character sheets (there are WAY too many characters in my strip. Conventional wisdom says to only have a few, but I didn’t know this at the time. Good thing! Otherwise I would have just worried about it), then the toons. I stuffed them into a yellow envelope with my query letter, prayed over them, and sent them out. (I put in all these details because I really like reading about this kind of stuff with other cartoonists. My strip ultimately was not a commercial success, but I DID manage to become syndicated somehow– and this is my submission that got the process rolling.
Here’s my query letter. I still think it’s pretty good (although it’s maybe a TAD verconfident and gung-ho). I sent the same one to everybody but King. King got a slightly different version because Jay Kennedy had liked my work almost a decade earlier, and I thought I had the best shot with them. I have erased my address and contact numbers and the ones for the syndicates too. Use your imagination to fill in the blanks. You need to click on things to make them bigger. Click once to see the entire thing, and if that’s not big enough, try clicking once more. All the dailies will show up in one click, but you’ll have to click on the Sunday’s that follow sepeartely in each post.
Here’s my cover page. The reason it says Clear Blue Water by Karen Montague, and then has my contact stuff at the bottom with Karen Montague-Reyes (which I’ve erased) is because I was originally planning on doing the cartoon under the name Karen Montague (my maiden name). I like the name Montague-Reyes . I think it’s pretty and it flows well together, but it’s also a ridiculously long, complicated name and I have often regretted adding Reyes. I should have either kept Montague outright, or gotten rid of it and changed my name permanently to Reyes. I was going to go by Montague because I figured it was just easier, and I thought it would give the real me more privacy (in case I was accepted) because Montague is a fairly common last name, while Montague-Reyes? Not so much… Anyway, after I was accepted Universal convinced me to keep Reyes since I was drawing a toon with a Cuban man in it and Spanish speaking children, and Reyes is a Hispanic last name. At the time it made sense to me, but in the end, I dont’ think keeping it made one bit of difference one way or another in terms of actual SALES.
Here are my character sheets. I knew there was going to BE a Fluff Boy, but I had yet to write any of his cartoons or draw him up so that’s why he’s just mentioned and not drawn. My strip used to be HEAVILY into the superheros. I was talked out of using them so much in the first year and I have just never gone back very much. I’d like to bring ‘em back out again. I really need to start writing for them again.
I’ve heard (more than a few times) that it’s easier for a woman to get syndicated than a man because syndicates are actively looking for women cartoonists because there are so few of us. By the way, this never seems to be said by WOMEN cartoonists. Everytime I’ve heard this it has struck me as sour grapes from men who (for whatever reason) have not managed to get syndicated themselves. I’m not saying this statement is absolutely not true, maybe there is a bias there with the syndicates where if a man and a woman send in the same calibre comic strips, the woman might have the edge. I don’t know, so you’d have to ask a syndicate executive to know for sure. But it doesn’t strike me as either a fair or a particularly nice comment and I admit it’s always bothered me.
What that statement does is marginalize women’s work. It says that we are not as good as men and the only way we’d ever make it is if there was a gender bias. It trivializes our struggles because obviously, it’s SO easy to get syndicated as a woman that if you don’t then you must suck. ROYALLY. If this statement were true, then why are there still so few woman cartoonists when you compare their numbers to men? I mean, we aren’t exactly taking over this boys club!
For the record, I do not think I got syndicated BECAUSE I was a woman. I also don’t think I got syndicated because I was the best cartoonist out there either. I think I got my shot because I sent in a well-written, funny packet to the syndicates, and it happened to get read initially by someone who was well-rested from vacation, in a good mood and looking for something that they found in my strip. Whether that was the politics, the edge, the realistic family life or what, I don’t know. But I know a lot of it was sheer luck and for that I am grateful. I think my drawing skill probably gave them pause, but I worked my butt off in my development period and it angers me when people think that it all just fell easily into place because I am female.
I actually got an email once where this person told me that he was thinking of sending in his toon under a female name so he’d have a better shot at syndication because syndication was impossible for “white men” these days. (Tell that to all the men who are new to syndication in the last couple years!) I didn’t reply. What I SHOULD have said is, “What a marvelous idea! Why don’t you also use an ethnic female name too like Maria Gonzales or Lakeesha Jackson? That way you’ll have double the chances!” Ugh.
I wish more women were syndicated. I tend to read and love strips by women because we do tend to write differently than men do. Our humor and perspective is different and I enjoy it. Our strips tend to be wordier. To be more chatty. To take longer to get to the point. To have more involved storylines rather than just gag a day. We talk about things like periods and menopause and childbirth, and that’s okay. …No, it’s more than okay. It’s great!
When I was trying to get syndicated the last time, I didn’t take advantage of any of the resources that the internet has to offer because I didn’t know any of it existed at the time. We’ve had a computer since around 1995, but we didn’t have internet access until 2000, and for years I only went to a few places (most of them about autism), and none of them were cartoon related. In fact, it didn’t even occur to me to look for it!
One day, when my cartoons were done and I was about to start putting the packets together, I decided to look up the syndicates and see if they had put thier guidelines for submission online. They all had! I was well-pleased, wrote it all down and followed it. But I didn’t look for any other tips or anything.
The day AFTER I sent my submission out, that’s when it occured to me to google cartoons, cartoon related message boards, etc. Immediately a whole world opened up and everyone had an opinion on how to submit and what to submit and how to make the packets look etc. And I had done it all wrong. I wanted to go grab all of my packets back and redo them and I was appalled that I had sent them out without making them perfect.
I had done a spellcheck. I had kept the cover letter to one page only. But that was about all I had done right. First of all my strip had about 20 characters. I had put the cartoons in a report binder. They were one to a page. The Sunday’s were the wrong size and they weren’t colored in. Etc. etc. etc… I was distraught.
And then I heard back from Universal and immediately felt a lot better. That’s why I know, absolutely KNOW that it’s not the presentation that’s the key, it’s the content. I hear about so many cartoonists who just obsess about how to make their packet stand out above the others. Who worry and make themselves sick about a spelling mistake that they found after they sent it out. I think they are worrying about the wrong things. Worry instead about whether your writing is good. Whether the punchline works. If you are sending six weeks of cartoons, make sure that they are ALL your best work. I doubt anyone is rejected over a spelling mistake or the wrong binding.
I’m not saying my content was perfect. It wasn’t. But I was happy with it and I knew that most of the cartoons were funny and I felt it introduced the characters and where I wanted to take the strip pretty well. Soon, I will try to post my packet that I sent to the syndicates. If nothing else, it might be interesting for other cartoonists to see.
I found that the hardest thing about being a syndicated cartoonist was the endless deadlines. They were grueling, and I seriously underestimated how hard it would be to produce 7 cartoons EVERY week without exception. Other cartoonists had tried to warn me, but I blew them off. “Well, maybe YOU find it hard, but I really don’t think I’ll have a problem with it,” I would think to myself, while smiling smugly and serenely. Little did I know…
I had months and months of cartoons written by the time CBW launched, so the first year or so of my strip was relatively easy. Well, that’s not true. The first year I had toddler twins who were not in preschool yet, so I did all my cartooning very late at night. It was exhausting, but not as exhausting as it would have been if I’d had to write all my cartoons at the same time too. I would usually end up writing about 2-3 new strips a week, and pick out which strips I’d already written to use to round out to seven.
I didn’t draw them up early, though I went into my launch with about a two week reserve of cartoons already drawn. Unfortunately, these were eaten up in the first three months due to a computer problem that took over a week to fix. After that I was producing right on deadline. That meant that every Monday I had to send my strips to the syndicate through their online bulletin board. I could have chosen to send them every two weeks or once a month, but I knew if I did that I would loaf for three weeks and then freak out and try to produce a months worth of cartoons in a week. Having a weekly deadline was more stressful, but it forced me to produce, and I never had to worry about doing more than 7 cartoons at once, because I could never be more than 7 cartoons behind. Even if I procrastinated until Sunday, (which only happened a few times) it was still possible to finish by Monday afternoon if I busted my hump.
During the first year or so, I slowly went through my stash of cartoons that were already written. I still wrote, but they were usually used almost immediately, and I was depleting my stash much faster than I was adding to it. Consequently, somewhere in my second year I ran out and was faced with the daunting task of writing, drawing, inking, scanning, tweaking and coloring 7 cartoons in a one week period.
I found this so hard to do. Sometimes I’d have a good week where I wrote all of my cartoons easily and I was done for the week by Friday. But that was rare. Usually I struggled to think of topics, tried to force gags that weren’t seasoned yet, and stressed out all over the place. On those weeks I wasn’t done until Monday in the late afternoon.
When I met Lee Salem for the first time, he said that due to the nature of the business, cartoonists didn’t get vacation and you HAD to produce no matter what. He said that the syndicate will empathise with you, but they couldn’t sympathise with you because editors don’t care what’s going on, they just expect their content.
Basically, the attitude is, all your kids are home with the stomach flu for a week? Sorry. You still need to produce. There’s been a death in the family? Wow, how horrible. Send your cartoons before you leave for the funeral, and if you’ll be gone longer than a week, you’ll need to work on them while you’re gone and find a way to send them. ‘Kay?
One year, we had to evacuate our home 4 times in a 2 month period due to hurricanes. You basically pack up everything you’d like to still own should your house be destroyed, stuff the cars full of kids and pets and hurricane supplies and pictures and clothes and cartoons, (and don’t forget to pack the crazy, you need to leave room for the crazy!) and drive to a hotel or to your mother-in-law’s house (as God is my witness, NEVER again!!!!! Shakes fist!) until the storm has passed, and then you drive home and unpack while your autistic son freaks out and tantrums because everything is different and his routines are shot, and everyone screams and yells and fights… Fun, fun times. Oh, and during all that chaos? I still had to draw, write, ink and turn in a weeks worth of cartoons. And I did it. In my entire cartooning career, I only missed 4 deadlines, and those were only by a few days. Three of those were due to computer problems and one was the week I went to visit the syndicate in Kansas City.
One time our house was damaged after a hurricane and we had a hole in our roof, and no air conditioning or cable TV for two weeks (though we did have power, thank the Lord!) This is NOT a good combination when you live in Florida. That I came through that hell without murdering anyone in my immediate family should really have garnered me some sort of parenting/perfect spouse award. A nice plaque would have been so nice for the bathroom wall… My point? I had to cartoon during those two weeks too!
Graduations? Cartoon. Christmas day? Cartoon. Family or friends visiting? Cartoon. I have so much respect for the people who do this day in and day out for years and years without a break. I did it for four, but I was really starting to get burnt out by the end. When I was let go by Universal, it was a relief in so many ways (and a total bummer in so many others), but the greatest thing I got out of it was a break. I got to recharge and reboot and it was SOOOO wonderful. The stuff I wrote afterwards felt so fresh and it came so easily… why don’t syndicated cartoonists get vacations, anyway?
Well, I know why. It’s such a competetive field that if you go on vacation, people might stop reading if they put in old strips. If you are a newish or struggling strip, maybe you’ll get dropped all together for your audacity. (“YOU want a break? Ha! Why should YOU get a break?” they’d say, calling on speaker phone from their time share in Hawaii…) Only big strips can afford to take time off. Lee mentioned early on that after 5 years, UPS cartoonists are allowed a week or two of vacation a year, but that most cartoonists never took it because they might lose papers. I didn’t make it to 5 years, so I don’t know anything more about that.
Why do so many many people want to be syndicated? The pay sucks (well, unless you hit it big right out of the gate, but I didn’t, so I have a different perspective). You don’t get health benefits or retirement, you don’t get vacation time, this dying industry works you like a dog and gives very little back… on paper it sounds rather wretched. It sounds like chimney sweeping or something. And yet…
I LOVED it. Yes, it was hard, but it was fun and at the end of every week, I had something tangible to look at that I had produced. I grew up reading the funnies in the paper, and it ws such a thrill to see my own strip in print. It was, and continues to be a thrill to hear from people who like my strip, and so I’m glad I made the decision not to give up on CBW, even though it won’t be in newspapers anymore. I still think it’s the coolest job in the world.
I still produce one cartoon a day, but today I find the pace leisurely instead of frantic. I’m not sure what the difference is. Maybe it’s that if I don’t finish 7 by Monday it’s okay. As long as I have a cartoon ready to go that day, it doesn’t matter how fast I produce them. Or maybe it’s just that I’m working for myself instead of “the MAN.” Either way, I find it refreshing.
If you are thinking about pursuing syndication, just know that it’s not an easy road, but that you can definitely do it. If I can produce, then anyone can, if they set their minds to it. Go for it!
So, I wrote and drew up a month’s worth of cartoons and sent them in to UPS for the first month of my development deal. A few weeks later I received copies of them all back with notes on them from Lee. He’d liked most of them (thank goodness) but the notes were just a scribbled sentence or two here and there. It was nowhere near as in-depth as I’d been expecting, but nice feedback nonetheless. The next month I sent in another batch. This time I just heard that they’d arrived, I never got anything back from the syndicate. This was not a good sign… Then Lee called to tell me he was coming to south Florida for a conference of some kind, and he wanted to meet me while he was there. He would go over the second batch I’d sent in person, and I could go ahead and hand him the third installment in person too.
I was a nervous wreck.
After some discussion, we decided to meet at a really nice hotel that’s not too far from our place. Our plan was to meet in the morning, have breakfast while we talked and went over my stuff, and then he’d meet my husband and I at a local restaurant that night for dinner. He asked me to bring all three versions of Half Empty, (my first three tries at syndication from years before) for him to read too. I guess, just because he’d rejected the first two, and he wanted to see how bad they were and how much better I was now, and affirm how right he’d been to reject them in the first place. Surprisingly, he didn’t remember ANY of them off hand! …Hmph.
He didn’t look anything like what I’d expected, but he did look just like himself, if that makes any sense at all. He said he knew it was me right off the bat because of my hair (which is similar to Eve’s). We sat down to breakfast outside by the water, and chatted about his job, about the worst submissions he’s ever gotten, about Calvin and Hobbes and other famous UPS cartoons and cartoonists, and about my work. It was a very cool conversation and in the middle of it, it suddenly dawned upon me that I was being wooed. Me. They wanted ME, they were interested in MY work and they thought I was a good cartoonist. This was an enormously awesome and satisfying feeling that I certainly haven’t had enough of in my life to date.
After breakfast, we got down to business. He handed me back my second batch so I could read his comments, and I gave him all three Half Empty’s (which he kept) and the third month of new cartoons for my development deal. Watching him sit across from me and read that batch of cartoons was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. First of all I had to pretend that I wasn’t completely needy and insecure, which was hard as he was almost completely stone-faced as he read through them. I just KNEW he hated them. He cracked a smile once or twice, but there was no laughing, no enjoyment. I halfway expected him to stand up, point his finger at me and yell, “You, ma’am, are a no-talent, time-wasting fraud! Good DAY! …I said, ‘Good day!’”
Instead, when he finished, he told me which one’s he enjoyed and why. We went over all of the one’s I’d already turned in and he started using words like “when” you are syndicated, and ”when” you appear in newspapers instead of ”if”. We ended up talking for about three hours in all. All he said about my old stuff was that my drawing style had really changed and evolved. Which, I guess, was the only kind thing he COULD say.
That night he met my husband and we had dinner together, and it was a really nice time. I said goodbye to him with the feeling that he really liked me and my strip and he wasn’t just blowing sunshine my way. My husband, however, had a bit of a different take on the situation. On the way home in the car he told me that Lee was great, very charming and likable, but that you don’t become that powerful without a core of steel. He warned me to watch myself. After all, it’s just business. So, I was a bit uneasy as I went to bed that night.
On May 15th, 2003, before I had turned in my fourth and last installment of my development deal, Lee called. He asked me if I was sitting down, and then he told me that Universal had made the decision to syndicate me! This was one of the best days of my entire life. As luck would have it, my best friend and her family were on their way for a visit (they lived far away) so I got to tell her in person that afternoon. Some days just seem charmed when compared to other days, and that was one of them for me.
Clear Blue Water debuted in newspapers on May 3, 2004, almost a year later. Why did it take a year? What was going on in that time? Well, that’s a story for another time, perhaps. This one ends here. I started drawing up my strips to send in the syndicates in mid October 2002, and I found out I was getting syndicated on May 15th, 2003.
Seven months that absolutely changed my life.
To sum up, Buttercup is marrying Humperdink in a little more than haf an hour…
I called Lee at the appointed time and we talked for about 45 minutes about my strip and syndication in general. He was a very nice man, very knowledgable, and he had a lot of great stories. Apparently, my doctor scribbled copious notes for me while we chatted because I can decipher very little of what was written down. All I remember is that Lee thought that the interactions between Manny and Eve were funny, but that they were quite negative and he wanted me to send him 7-10 strips, just penciled in, that showed their softer, sweeter side. I had about a month to do this in, and then, based on whether they liked my new strips, I’d either be offered a contract, a development contract, or rejected all together. The development deal would entail me sending them a month’s worth of penciled daily cartoons every month for about 6 months for them to grade and tell me what works and what doesn’t. After that time, they would decide whether to syndicate me or not. I was told that about half of all development contracts segue into syndication.
I got off the phone ready to throw up. First of all I wasn’t at all sure that Manny and Eve HAD a softer side. I hadn’t even noticed while I was writing it that they were especially mean to each other. How could I not have noticed?! Second, I wasn’t sure I could write what he wanted me to write. People think I’m sweet, (and I can be), but for the most part I’m not all that sweet. (I admire truly sweet people, but I’m mostly just shy, not sweet, and there is a difference). I’d told Lee that the changes wouldn’t be a problem. No problem at all. I’d have those cartoons out to him toot sweet! But inside I wasn’t quite so confident in my abilities.
I sat down and tried to write sweet. Write sweet. Write sweet. How hard can it be? Everything I wrote sucked. It was all “I love you.” “Oh, I love you too, honeybunny! Huggles!” Big Precious Moments eyes… shudder. Very quickly I realized that not only were these new cartoons not funny, but they weren’t true to the characters, they weren’t at all like my submission (which the folks at Universal LIKED), and it definitely wasn’t in my best interest to send them out. I didn’t know what to do, so I showed them to my husband. He read them over carefully, turned to me and said, “These SUCK.” Thank you, oh, LOVE OF MY LIFE. I certainly feel better now. Now, how do I fix them?
After mulling it around between the two of us for a while, it was decided that I would write cartoons where Manny and Eve TRY to be sweet to each other, even if they fail because they are basically sociopaths. This would show that they did indeed love each other even if they did weild their sarcasm like weapons. I liked these strips much better and so did my husband.
Because I wasn’t giving Lee exactly what he’d asked for, I knew there was a strong possability I’d be rejected. I felt sick about it, but I knew I couldn’t write that way for any length of time, and I also thought the new cartoons were good and that they definitely added a new and needed dimension to Manny and Eve’s relationship. Basically, I rolled the dice.
To sweeten the pot, I sent two weeks worth of dailies instead of 7-10, I inked them instead of penciled them and I sent them way before the deadline. I hoped this would send the message that yeah, I can’t really take direction but, WOW! Look how fast I am! I hoped Lee would focus on the fact that I gave him more than he asked for, in a more finished form than he’d requested, in a shorter period of time, and sort of gloss over the fact that even at their sweetest, Manny and Eve were kinda prickly.
Here’s one of those softer/sweeter strips that I wrote. All of them made the cut and eventually made it into my strip. This one was in my original saleskit.
As a contrast, here’s an unpublished cartoon from my original submission to the syndicates. The difference in attitude is subtle, but it’s there. I think that this suggestion from Lee about my strip made the characters more human, more likable, and it saved them from becoming a parody of the fighting spouses on the comics page (I could name a few cartoons like this, but I see no need to bash other people’s work. Especially because I KNOW how hard they do work, even if I don’t really like their finished product.) Yes, my work still contains examples of both kinds of cartoons, but it’s more balanced now, and I think it works. If it was all the second example all the time (as it was in my original submission), I don’t think many people would want to let these people into their lives on a daily basis.
Anyway, Lee called me after receiving the new batch and said he liked them. Phew! They were going to offer me a four month development deal! Whoo Hoo! First hurdle cleared! He urged me to hire a lawyer (the way this works is you negotiate your development deal and your real contract at the same time. Then, if they reject you after your development period, your syndication contract is voided, but if they decide to syndicate you, they already have your contract negotiated and you just slip easily into your new relationship). I was referred to the lawyer Stu Rees, and he proved to be worth every penny I spent on him. He negotiated a marvelous contract for me in which I got to keep both my copyright and my first born child (who, not yet being a teenager, I was rather fond of at the time).
To be continued… (I promise this is almost over. I had no idea this entire story was so long)! It might only be interesting to me, and maybe to a few other anal cartoonists, but I feel good writing it all out for the first time. You tend to forget details over time, ya know?
So, meanwhile, back at the ranch, I had decided to try and finish one cartoon a day for six weeks to see if I could produce at the pace I’d have to if I got syndicated. I did not manage to do this, but I was close. It actually took me about 8 weeks to finish my submission. But I neglected one little thing. I had already WRITTEN these cartoons, I just had to draw and ink them up. Doing those things AND writing a weeks worth in a week was not something I was remotely ready to do until I was suddenly expected to do it.
I had stumbled across a Reader’s Digest story about Scott Adams where he said he used positive thinking to get syndicated. I can’t remember the specifics, but he’d basically written someting like ”I am a syndicated cartoonist” 15 times a day, every day, until he got syndicated. So I decided to try it. During the entire time I was doing my submission, I wrote “I am a syndicated cartoonist” 15 times a day. One thing it did was absolutely convince me that I was going to get syndicated. I don’t know if it fools your subconscious or what, but after a while, I had no doubts. I never did this again though because I started to wonder if it was unChristian. I never wrote “Clear Blue Water will become a blockbuster strip,” and sure enough, it didn’t become a blockbuster strip. Funny how that works…
People often want to know how I came up with the name for my strip. I have an affinity for the color blue and I wanted it in the title. I also love water. So I wanted water in the title if possible. My strip was often political, so I decided that I needed to find a political term with blue and water in it. I thought the odds of finding one were just about impossible (my back up title was “Something Blue”, from the marriage poem, Something old, something new, etc.) I googled politics, blue, water and immediately the term Clear blue water came up. It’s basically the idealogical divide between two political parties. Hey, now! Manny’s Republican, Eve’s a Democrat… it seemed like kismet. The title was the easiest part of this entire process. It just fell into place.
Anyway, I finished the cartoons in mid-December 2002, and my goal was to get them sent out before New Years. I had to draw up a character sheet and a cover for my packet, write my cover letters, put each submission into a neat little packet that was tailored exactly to each syndicate’s specifications… yeah, it wasn’t enough time and I basically rushed it because I also had to do Christmas and holidays with my family as well. I finished the packets at around 4 pm on the last day of 2002 that had mail service. I rushed the packets over to the post office so I could get them out before 5, and found out the post office had closed at 4.
I completely freaked out. My goal was to get them out BEFORE New Years, and now that wasn’t possible, and now I’d probably messed up the timing and, and… I KNOW it’s crazy. What difference could a few days either way possibly make? My best friend stepped in and talked me down. She told me that I couldn’t possibly screw up God’s timing, and maybe there was a good reason that my strips weren’t going to go out until January 2. It’s always nice to have people in your life who will talk you down from your crazy ledges without calling you out on your craziness. She does this for me.
I sent my submissions out on January 2, 2003, and on January 8, 2003 Lee Salem called me. My kids were still on Christmas vacation and they were running amuck when the phone rang. I couldn’t hear him and I began frantically motioning for my oldest to herd everyone into another room so I could hear. After a short but intense life-or-death game of charades, she finally obliged. Unfortunately, I don’t remember much of the conversation. He said he really liked my work and he’d showed it around to a few editors and they’d liked it too, and now he was going to show it to even more people and get their opinions, and he’d get back to me, but he really liked it.
I basically said stuff like, ”Oh! Wow! Really? Thanks!” like a moron, and when he hung up I immediately called my husband and screamed at him that Lee Salem had just called me on the frickin phone! He said, “Who’s Lee Salem?” Sigh. So I explained and then he said, “So are you getting syndicated?!” And um… he hadn’t really mentioned that part. And the clouds rolled in…
Because I had heard so quickly from Universal, I immediately jumped to the conclusion that the other syndicates would love me as well. Why, what if there was a bidding war? Oh my goodness, what does one WEAR to a bidding war?
…There was no bidding war. I ended up getting rejected by all of the other syndicates with form letters. Well, that’s not exactly true. I never heard back from King at all, and United Media sent me back my own cover letter with the word NO! scrawled across it in big screaming red letters. …I’m guessing it wasn’t right for their list.
So now it was down to just Universal and it had been a few weeks with no contact and I was getting worried. Then I get a letter in the mail from Universal and I almost cried. They don’t send you letters to syndicate you, they send you letters to reject you. I didn’t even open the letter for an hour. When I finally got my courage up, I found a really nice letter from Lee that told me how much he liked my strip and why. He compared it to a cross between two really big strips (stroke, stroke my ego…) and he told me that there was some concern about the tone of the strip. The main couple was very angry. He didn’t reject Clear Blue Water in the letter. Instead, he gave me his number and told me to call him to talk about my strip.
A decade later I got the same opportunity, again, and this time you better believe I called him. I actually wrote out a color coded script so I could make sure I remembered to hit important points, and (after a stern talking to by my best friend “You BETTER call this time!”) I sent my husband to the park with the kids, gathered a notebook and pen, and called. His secretary said he was out. A reprieve! We set up a time to call him back when he’d be in, and I hung up.
To be continued…
Oh, by the way, about today’s strip. It’s a double daily because I didn’t feel like making it a Sunday and coloring it, considering that today’s Friday, but I also didn’t want to stretch the halloween stuff into two days, and the strip I wrote was too long for a reagular daily. So it’s a double daily.
My road to syndication was a winding one, and here’s how it came about. I’m writing this because I LOVE to read other cartoonists stories. I just eat that stuff right up!
I was in high school when Calvin and Hobbes first came out. I fell in love with it immediately, and soon decided to pursue syndication myself. Never mind that I wasn’t an artist, I’d never written cartoons before, and I was NEVER going to be as good as Bill Watterson. I had decided it, and so it shall be. Ah, youth…
Anyway, I started writing a cartoon in college that sucked. Boy, did it suck. It was called Half Empty (I still like that name!) and it was about a girl named Holly and her best friend Dot and their adventures in college. It was WAAAAAYYY autobiographical, to the point that now I cringe when I happen upon it and wonder what the heck made me send this out for other people to read!!
But, send it out I did. To resounding no’s all around. And yet, Jay Kennedy from King scribbled a wonderful note at the end of my rejection letter saying that he liked it and to keep trying. Now, I have no idea if he encouraged everyone, and if he didn’t, what he could have possibly seen in this strip worth encouraging (it really was that bad!) but I was so demoralized and so young, that had he just blown me off too, that would have been the end of it. That note is the entire reason I kept trying. I still have it.
I was going to share one of these cartoons, but I can’t find any. Perhaps that’s for the best.
A few years later I tried again to get syndicated. This time I wrote a strip about 6 college age friends, 3 boys and 3 girls who make their way in the world. The main characters were Wanda and Joe. It was also called Half Empty, and it was also rejected all around. But Jay Kennedy once again came through for me. He graded all the cartoons in my submission so I’d know which one’s worked and which didn’t, and he wrote me a long, encouraging letter that pointed out my strips strengths and weaknesses, told me how to improve on the weaknesses, and asked me to resubmit the strip to him. To say I was thrilled would be an understatement. Here’s the first cartoon in that submission. My female lead in my cartoons always has curly hair like me. Freud would probably have a field day running through my psyche…
And yes, I did send it out just like that. Two boxes over two boxes, because you often see strips printed like that in newspapers. I did it this way because it fit exactly on a piece of typing paper. I probably used a felt tip pen to draw it with. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot! Sigh…
I worked really hard on my resubmission and sent it off to King Features with high hopes. Soon, I heard back from Jay Kennedy again. Another encouraging note. Another rejection. But this time he gave me his phone number and asked me to call him so we could discuss my strip. And …I never called.
WHAT?!! You never called? Why the heck not?! Believe me, all my friends and my family badgered me daily, but at that time I was almost pathologically shy and I just couldn’t gather up the courage to do it. I tried and tried until I was sick, and then the television show Friends debuted and it was a very similar concept to my strip and I realized that it would look like I was copying and I let that be my excuse to give up. I let this opportunity slip through my fingers. I’m not saying that had I called I would have gotten syndicated. I probaby wouldn’t have. But it was stupid, and it’s something I’ve always regretted not doing. At the very least I would have had an extremely helpful conversation. I ended up giving up cartooning for about six years.
In that time I had 3 children. I wrote two unpublished novels. We moved across the country. And I started thinking about trying again. I decided to write about family life because I was kind of immersed in it daily. I began writing cartoons and I thought they were good. Much better than the ones I wrote when I was younger. I gave the family twin girls because I’d always wanted them, and I wrote and wrote and wrote. And then I got pregnant. Surprise! With twins. Surprise! Just like my strip. Talk about being psychic! So, next I’m thinking that I need to have the Torres’ win the lottery…
I stopped, had my twins, and resumed writing when they were two. I decided to buckle down and get serious. I would draw up a strip a day for six weeks until I had enough for my submission to the syndicates. This would be a test to see if I could produce on the schedule they required. This would be my last try.
I’ll write part two tomorrow.
Before I got syndicated, I wrote all of these really edgy strips thinking (in my hubris) that the only reason papers didn’t run edgy stuff was because no one was writing it. I alone would write it. I would start a revolution! Ahem. …Turns out, I was wrong. Now I know that most cartoonists probably push the envelope as much as they can, but there is a very plain line in the sand that you are just not allowed to cross–especially on Sundays.
Now, I’ve had dailies turned down for content, especially in the early days of my strip, but the amount of those pale in comparison to the Sunday strips. I remember I wrote one where the punch line went something like “I think I’ll just go HANG myself!” and I got a call from my editor singing “No hangings on Sundays!” I got several calls and emails like that. “No bloody shrunken heads on Sundays!” “No sluts on Sundays!” “No peeing on Sundays!” It was funny, though the extra work involved made it rather tedious as well. Sunday comic strips are rated G in an X rated world.
Now, I can appreciate this, I really can. I like plenty of G movies, and I’m all over some wholesome family entertainment. But, I doubt most cartoons I wrote or turned in would even earn a PG13 rating in any other industry. It was strictly PG, and sometimes I found it frustrating as hell.
I think this is an interesting topic, so I’ll write more on it another day. For now, I’ll end with an example. It’s a Sunday strip that ran on March 12, 2006. Below, is the original strip I turned in to UPS.
As you can see, Eve is decked out in her old nursing bra and granny drawers. I thought the picture of her like that was really funny. My editor thought it was too graphic. She asked me to try coloring her undies in, so they wouldn’t be so… in your face. Below is the final panel from the second try of this comic.
Finally, she told me that everyone agreed that it was just too graphic for a Sunday strip. Could I change it please? The strip I came up with is below.
I actually like the final version a lot. I think it works just as well as the first one. I couldn’t say which version I like better. My point is that this was a lot of extra work for a strip that wasn’t (in my opinion) that bad to begin with. The funny thing about this is that my editor said that it would be okay to show Eve like this in a daily, so I wrote one. I liked it so much, it’s up in my favorites at my karenmontaguereyes.com site in the 2006 year.
I hope this doesn’t seem too negative– it was just a topic I thought was interesting. My editor Sue was fabulous and saved me from problems many, many times and for that I am grateful. One Sunday I wrote mentioned abortions, the NRA AND religious fanatics. A veritable hat trick of bad judgment, and I was (thankfully) talked out of shooting myself in the foot.
In other news, I now have the archives up. I have decided to leave up a two week archive. Of course, right now I only have a three day archive, but that too shall come in time.