Call it the charted uncharted. Internet comics have been with us now as long as we’ve had high-speed connections, yet with the long collapse of the daily newspaper’s reign (and with the “funny pages” alongside it) creators either have to get savvy or get lost. As well, they’ve had to find ways of balancing this creative endeavor with day jobs. The funnies don’t earn money like they used to.
Cartoonist Dan Pavelich has been making it work with his strip Just Say Uncle. Recently he’s made the step to go beyond the distribution of the GoComics platform to taking it on himself via a Patreon page. Popdose talked with him about the process, his love of the three or four panel gag strip, and how that love is enduring in the difficult 2010s.
Where did the initial conception for Just Say Uncle come from? Although it is a three panel strip, as many people might imagine from a comedic strip, it has a very specific sense of place. Generally, creators will invent a town in which to base their characters, so having a very specific and real setting is quite unique.
Originally, I was working on the strip with a writer friend of mine, Dave Klein. He decided to bow out, and gave me permission to continue the strip however I wanted to. I think it’s specific in that it has a small-town kind of feel to it, which I think a lot of people have a nostalgic comfort with.
What started you on as a comic strip creator? Who are the influences that caused you to want to be a cartoonist yourself?
My love of Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts.” When I was a kid, I couldn’t afford the expensive coffee-table compilation books that they sold, so I clipped the dailies out of The Chicago Tribune and glued them into spiral notebooks, to make my own books. I once wrote to Schulz when I was in grade school, and he replied. He wrote a little note on the bottom of the letter I’d sent him, and included a quick sketch of Snoopy & Woodstock. Sadly, I lost the letter and sketch, as I was too young to know how valuable they were.
What were the biggest hurdles in getting the strip started? In my mind, the daily comic strip is in a weird place right now. It once was a dominant form because of newspapers, but the “funnies page” was on the decline long before physical newspapers were. Now, after several years of finding a place, it seems comic strips have new life, thanks to being online.
Years ago, I was actually in development with King Features Syndicate a couple of times for another strip I was doing, but they never thought it had developed enough to make it into newspaper syndication. These days, even the biggest syndicates like King and Universal Press Syndicate, which runs GoComics.com, rarely launch new strips to newspapers. With budgets getting tighter every year, newspapers aren’t taking the risk of making readers unhappy by replacing Beetle Bailey with a new, untested strip. While there is some new life for struggling cartoonists online, it’s still nearly impossible to make a full-time living doing it. There are a handful of artists that have managed to do it, but it’s a rarity. Most of us have day jobs.
GoComics is pretty prestigious in my mind. But you’re taking it once step further by linking the strip with a Patreon funding mechanism. What was the impetus for doing that?
It is pretty prestigious to be associated with GoComics.com and Universal Press Syndicate, but, unfortunately, unless you manage to draw in 100,000 subscribers for them, there’s really not much money involved. That was the reason for an additional partnership with Patreon. Fans that really love the strip can become a patron with a monthly subscription, pledging whatever amount they feel comfortable, knowing that 95% of the strip’s income goes directly to the cartoonist. If it weren’t for this secondary monthly income, I’m afraid I just couldn’t justify spending all of the time on the strip that I do. It would have ended without fan support.
Patreon is a bit like Kickstarter in that it is crowdfunding, but different because it is a continual financing support system. It is more like a subscription where individuals can choose the support level that works best for them.
That’s exactly how I look at it, it’s a subscription where you get to name the price. When I first launched my Patreon page, I asked my readers to subscribe, depending on how much value Just Say Uncle had to them personally. Is it worth 50 cents a month to you to see it continue? A dollar? The price of a good cup of coffee?
At the same time, you have different packages with which to thank patrons. You you describe what the higher rollers would get?
There are lots of perks, including signed prints, original artwork and merchandise from the Just Say Uncle store. That includes everything from t-shirts to device cases.
Is this how the future of the arts will be, not only for comics, but across all the forms? The patronage system is — of course — not a new one by any stretch (ask the Borgias), but it is coming into its own now where new media models are concerned.
It certainly looks that way, though I’m not sure if it’s for better or for worse. It’s nice to have a bit of extra income, but it sure does take a lot of time hustling to get it.
What is your process for creating the strip: paper, scan, digital? All digital? Any benefits/negatives between the two that you’ve noticed?
I draw everything in pencil, and then fine-tune it with black ink pens. The inked version gets scanned into Photoshop, where I clean it up with the eraser tool and make any last-minute adjustments. I save that black and white version, in case I need to fix a mistake I’ve missed at this point, and color/shade a copy of it to post online. I’ve got one foot in the real world, one in the digital, the best advantage being non-destructive editing.
How will Patreon help you keep the strip going?
The biggest benefit of Patreon is that the income generated justifies the hours spent creating the strip, and circulating it via social media, which is a full-time job in itself. It also helps pay for the art and office supplies needed to run day-to-day operations.
Where can people sign up to be a patron?
Anyone can become a patron by subscribing for as little as 50 cents a month at www.patreon.com/justsayuncle.