The beleaguered world of editorial cartooning has taken two more hits in recent days "” one voluntary, one not, but both related to these lousy economic times.
Actually, there had been a relatively long lull in the job losses compared to 2008 and and 2009, but like an earthquake fault, silence may just mean the next eruption is waiting.
Mikhaela Reid, one of the brightest young editorial cartoonists shaking things up these days, decided to "retire" from cartooning a week or so ago. She is only 29, so "retirement" is an odd term for her. But she saw her paying clients dwindle away, from a high of seven alternative newspapers and magazines down to a single remaining client, the Metro Times in the Detroit area.
With her income dramatically dropping yet the deadlines staying the same, she concluded, "I was theoretically doing it for fun--but I wasn't really having fun anymore."
Mihaela is also quite pregnant with her first child (her husband, Masheka Wood, is a fellow cartoonist), and that stress "” added to the stresses of drawing deadlines and angry mail "” was leaving her exhausted. And as a freelancer, there is really no break from deadlines; if you get sick you risk losing clients if you don't still somehow produce.
While she is looking forward to a break and to focusing on her soon-to-be-born baby, giving up the cartooning was a wrenching decision. "I've been considering this seriously for over two years now," she wrote on her blog, "but I'm not ashamed to say that when I came to my final decision yesterday and notified my major remaining clients via email there was indeed some uncontrollable sobbing on my part."
I wish Mikhaela all the best with her new motherhood, and hope she eventually finds her way back to the drawing board.
Unlike Mikhaela's voluntary departure from the scene, Bruce Beattie had a rude exit from the Daytona Beach News-Journal in Florida, where he'd been the staff editorial cartoonist since 1981. The News-Journal laid off 48 staffers (including Beattie), or 10 percent of its workforce, as the paper was sold to a media acquisition company. The paper, which had been valued at $300 million in 2006, sold for a mere $20 million, and the cost-slashing layoffs seem to have been part of the deal.
I've known Bruce all his career. Around 1979 or 1980 he was finishing advertising/illustration at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, and visited me in L.A. (where I was the staff editorial cartoonist at the Daily News) en route to a year on staff at the Honolulu Advertiser. Once he was there, he bragged about being able to go to the beach on his lunch hour "” a practice I was able to emulate for awhile when I was on staff in Ventura, CA, starting in 2002. He was also a past president of the National Cartoonists Society and during his tenure made it a point to recruit fellow editorial cartoonists into the group, including me.
Bruce had his own comic strip, "Beattie Blvd." from 1986-1997, and his editorial cartoons are syndicated with Creators Syndicate, so he will at least have something to tide him over for the moment.
But the world of daily newspapers continues to get tighter, and meaner, and prime jobs like his are probably being lost forever.
So, I can directly relate to both Mikhaela and Bruce, trying to make it as a freelancer "” amid meager earnings from few clients, while dealing with health setbacks "” after getting abruptly laid off at work after three decades on daily newspapers.
But this week has been a good one. It started Monday with an original cartoon by me in the Los Angeles Times "” just my second, and following the first by a year, almost to the day. Like that first sale, this was for a cartoon on a California state issue: in this case the race for governor, talking about candidate Meg Whitman.
Three days later, I made my second sale (after about four months) to the Daily News of Los Angeles, an obituary cartoon on Jaime Escalante, the teacher made famous in the film "Stand and Deliver."
Because I had just sold to the Times, I knew there was no chance they'd buy two in one week "” they only run cartoons a few days per week, along with photos and illustrations, and make it a point to use different people's work every day. So I conceived the cartoon with the Daily News in mind from the get-go. Since Escalante's career was mostly in the L.A. area and he dealt largely with minority kids, I guessed an obit on him would resonate with this newspaper, and it worked.
Add in my weekly cartoon for the Ventura County Reporter, and I was in all three main competitors to my former newspaper, the Ventura County Star, all in the same week. Yowza. Add in my cartoons for LAObserved.com, and I was in perhaps the top three print or online media entities serving Los Angeles. Sweet.
Making the second sales to the Times and Daily News seemed as hard as making the first sales. But clearing these hurdles means I'm now a repeat contributor, and not just a fluke one-time contributor. Being a repeater means there's a better chance of making future sales.
Being a freelancer is rather like being a whore, selling one's wares to whomever will pay. If one doesn't buy, then try the next customer. At this point, that's fine.
The money isn't great. There is no potential for being on staff at these papers, given today's tough newspaper world. But I can honestly say that it's still a kick "” 30-plus years into this game! "” of seeing my creations, the things I drew myself with pen and ink, getting into print in major newspapers.
It's way more satisfying than selling insurance.
Hey there, Editor... are you looking for a good time?
Be sure to see the huge archive of my work (organized by topic area) on my web site at http://www.greenberg-art.com