Rina Piccolo has been in syndicated newspaper comics business since 2000. She started as one of the contributors to Six Chix, and debuted her own strip, Tina’s Groove, in 2002. For many cartoonists, landing that regular gig would be the end goal. But in 2010, she launched a webcomic called Velia, Dear, making her one of the very, very few newspaper cartoonists to even try to branch out into webcomics. She eventually discontinued that strip in 2012, basically ceding that she couldn’t quite crack the economics nut in webcomics while still continuing her regular syndicate comic work.
This week, she posted a note about how a comic of hers was rejected by her editor as being a little too racy for newspapers…
She went on to explain that she wasn’t blaming her editor, or even the newspaper editors who might decline to run it, but the small percentage of vocal newspaper readers who vociferously object to anything that doesn’t fit in their incredible narrow standard of good taste. Piccolo goes on to say that she’s not complaining, but acknowledging how safe (i.e. boring) comics are when any and every possible offense is removed from them. (She includes an anecdote about how a reader wrote in to complain that a cartoon depiction of a dog drinking from a toilet was “offensive to dogs.”)
Piccolo points out that, by fundamentally limiting what she can/can’t make jokes about, she’s not able to bring her A-game to her Tina’s Groove. The strip above is what she thought was her best comic of what would have run last week, but most of her regular audience won’t see it because “it might raise an eyebrow”.
Then Piccolo goes to hit the nail directly on the head by saying this is precisely why newspapers—and syndicated newspaper strips—are falling behind. They’re playing things so safe (“PG to the Power of Ten” in her words) that they’re not able to keep up with the competition. Namely, webcomics. And she regails in being able to share this comic thanks to the internet…
Oh, and the best part is—I can show you the censored strip that priggish letter-writing readers don’t want me to show you. I can put the flagged comic on Twitter and Facebook… where it will be forgotten two minutes after it’s read. Yes, that’s right—where it will be forgotten two minutes after it’s read—as it should be. Why? Because the comic is not that edgy. The comic is not that risqué. In any forum outside of the newspaper comics page this comic is run-of-the-mill mainstream safe.
Historically, there’s been a bit of disconnect between traditional newspaper cartoonists and webcomikers. But even if cartoonists like Piccolo can’t always figure get the webcomics business model to work for them, it increasingly seems there’s a growing respect in and appreciation of the creative freedom that webcomikers have. And it’s that understanding that eventually leads to getting that business model to work.