Rob Rogers will draw for food: An artist discovers crowd-funding!
As an editorial cartoonist, I dream of having the same influence Thomas Nast had back in the late 1800s. His well-known caricature of Boss Tweed was responsible for Tweed being captured after he escaped from prison and fled to Spain. But, alas, we live in a different age now. A digital age.
In August last year, in an effort to push myself outside of my creative comfort zone, I became the first editorial cartoonist to crowd-fund his way to the Democratic and Republican national conventions. You're probably thinking, "impressive; what is crowd-funding?"
Well, crowd-funding is the modern-day equivalent of strong-arming your friends and neighbors to sponsor your charity walk. In this case, however, you are the charity. That is to say, your book or art project is the charity.
If you haven't heard of Kickstarter or Indiegogo, then you probably don't have freelance artists for friends. But it isn't just for art projects or books. I've seen campaigns to fund new inventions, help with hospital bills, send someone on a vacation they can't afford, etc. Crowd-funding has become so popular that every few weeks I seem to hear from someone I know, gently holding out a digital tin cup.
In recent months, three of my colleagues in the world of editorial cartooning have launched campaigns.
Matt Bors, a cartoonist with Universal Press Syndicate and winner of the 2012 Herblock Prize, crowd-funded his new book, "Life Begins at Incorporation." He said that "Kickstarter let me bypass publishers who don't want to take risks on editorial cartoons and go directly to my readers, who want to give me money for my work. In the first 24 hours I raised more than what any publisher would have given me for the book. It comes with a lot of extra work -- I'm fulfilling all the orders myself -- but I'd rather be in charge of my own career."
Stephanie McMillan, a freelance cartoonist and winner of the 2012 RFK Journalism Award, recently funded the printing of her new book, "Capitalism Must Die!" on Indiegogo. "Having my book funded in advance by readers is wonderful, because it strengthens my connection with them," she said. "Knowing they're waiting for my next book is great motivation for working hard to finish it. I like being in control of the distribution process as well. Having the funds in advance, and no publisher involved, allows me to price the book low and even use a creative commons license (something I haven't done before), in the hope that readers will use and spread it widely."
Editorial cartoonist Kevin Kallagher, known as KAL, is celebrating his 35th anniversary with The Economist magazine. "I wanted to celebrate the occasion with a major retrospective collection of my work," said the former Baltimore Sun cartoonist. "As a freelance artist, I knew I would need to raise the money myself for the project. I opted to use Kickstarter because other cartoon colleagues have successfully harnessed its fundraising capabilities. The response to my book project was astonishing. I had a fundraising goal of $20,000 and ended up raising $100,000."
My crowd-funding experience was similar, if not as lucrative. In previous election years, my paper would send me to the RNC and DNC to cover these events with daily sketches and blog entries. As I prepared to do the same thing in 2012, I was challenged by my editors to think outside the box.
Journalists today are not just writing stories anymore. They are also blogging, shooting photos, posting videos and Tweeting. I began to consider new ways to cover the conventions as a satirist.
My editors also challenged me to find ways to save money if possible. As any journalist knows, these junkets can be very expensive. The Post-Gazette had generously funded my way to three Super Bowls and every political convention since 1996. I was happy to think about other ways to get there.
At the same time, Joe Wos, executive director of the ToonSeum, Pittsburgh's cartoon museum, invited me to create an election-year cartoon exhibit or project (I am on the board of the ToonSeum). In the end, I partnered with the ToonSeum to create an Indiegogo campaign called "Cartoon Delegate: A Video Sketchbook From the Conventions." My plan was to travel to Tampa and Charlotte armed with a sketchbook and a Flip camera, creating both videos and sketches.
My fans did not let me down. The Indiegogo campaign raised $5,460 from 87 donors. While in Charlotte and Tampa, I posted 16 cartoons and 14 short videos. Upon my return to Pittsburgh, I created a 26-minute mini-documentary about the whole experience, including some insight into my creative process. As a reward for their generous donations, my fans received perks like T-shirts, buttons and signed prints.
It was incredibly encouraging to know that I had a group of people literally invested in my work, rooting for me to succeed. Every day as I posted videos and sketches I would hear from them on Facebook or on Indiegogo. In November, many of those same supporters, along with some new ones, showed up for a screening of the final documentary at the ToonSeum. As Matt Bors said, it was a lot of work. I had to mail out 87 sets of buttons, T-shirts and prints. But it was worth it to feel so much support and know I was creating something completely different.
As new media changes the way we consume content, communicate and socialize, the world of journalism is changing, too. I feel honored and privileged, not to mention lucky, to be working at the Post-Gazette. Not all newspapers or their parent companies have the vision to have their own editorial cartoonist. Many have downsized, eliminating the position.
A recent report by the Herblock Foundation states, "At the start of the 20th century, there were approximately 2,000 editorial cartoonists employed by newspapers in the United States. Today there are fewer than 40 staff cartoonists, and that number continues to shrink."
More editorial cartoonists are breaking the mold. Pulitzer Prize-winning freelance cartoonists Anne Telnaes and Mark Fiore don't draw static cartoons anymore. They produce amazing weekly animations for the Web. Staff cartoonists like Jim Morin of the Miami Herald and Mike Thompson of the Detroit Free-Press have also added regular animation to their portfolios. Other cartoonists like Jack Ohman of the Sacramento Bee have produced long-form, multi-paneled local cartoons.
Readers often ask me, "What's the future for editorial cartooning?" My standard answer has always been that there will always be a demand for good satire and stimulating editorial cartoons. While new staff jobs at newspapers may not be cropping up, editorial cartooning will take the form of animation, videos or web comics and be distributed through social media. Now, I can add that editorial cartooning will also take the form of Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaigns.
Boss Tweed famously complained about "those damned pictures" when referring to Thomas Nast's devastating cartoons. If Tweed were alive today he'd be complaining about those "damned pictures, animations, Tweets, Facebook posts, videos and Kickstarter campaigns!"
First Published March 10, 2013 12:00 am