Career Make-Over; Looking
on the Lighter Side of 'The Change';
Cartoonist wants to take 'Minnie Pauz' character into syndication.
The Los Angeles Times; Los Angeles, Calif.; Dec 10, 2000; SUSAN VAUGHN
Menopause, for some middle-aged women, brings hot flashes, mood swings and irritability. But for Dee Adams, 52, it yielded a potentially lucrative career.
Two years ago, the Oxford, Mich., resident created an online cartoon called "Minnie Pauz" (http://www.minniepauz.com), about women's experiences with the change of life. The endeavor reaps her a "liveable" income, mostly from licensing the use of the cartoons in slide presentations and making personal appearances at medical conferences.
"I never promote a specific product or company in my 'toons," Adams said. "I'm only promoting using humor in women's health, and that's the benefit that companies and physicians get from using the cartoons."
|Now Adams has bigger plans, specifically
to build a veritable "Minnie Pauz" empire, which could include a syndicated
cartoon, T- shirts, gift books, greeting cards, mugs, bumper stickers and
The cartoon work is a radical departure from Adams' previous career pursuits and has resulted in a dramatic reversal of fortune for her. For nearly two decades, the divorced mother of three adult children lived below the poverty line.
To support herself, she took a variety of jobs: apartment manager, cabdriver, baby-picture salesperson, bartender and sign painter, to name a few, before learning Web design and computer skills, which eventually enabled her to put "Minnie Pauz" online.
From her mobile home, she generates a new cartoon each week and notifies her 3,000 e-mail subscribers about "Humor Replacement Therapy" updates at her site.
Now that she aspires to be a full-time cartoonist, Adams consulted Jan Eliot, creator of the syndicated comic strip "Stone Soup."
She told Eliot that she'd like to syndicate "Minnie Pauz," but worries that she'd have to step up production of her cartoon to meet newspaper publication deadlines. "At this time, right now, no, I don't think I'd be able to [handle that pace]--I'm not there yet-- but I believe it's a learned process," she said. She's also aware that landing a syndication contract will be a challenge.
Syndicates serve as sales agents for cartoon and comic strip authors. The largest syndicates--King Features Syndicate, Universal Press Syndicate, United Media, Creators Syndicate and Tribune Media Services--are bombarded with submissions from amateurs and pros alike.
Competition is brutal. For example, King Features, which receives more than 5,000 submissions each year, selects only two or three for representation, said Jay Kennedy, editor in chief of King Features in New York. But sadly, Kennedy added, less than 20% of the submissions "are worth reading at all." The overwhelming majority are immediately rejected because they are unprofessionally rendered or they violate King Features' submission guidelines, he said.
Cartoonists such as Adams who aspire to syndication should carefully study each syndicate's Web site and submission guidelines, said Kathy Kerr of Universal Press Syndicate in Kansas City, Mo. They also should keep abreast of comic strip and syndication developments by regularly reading David Astor's "Syndicate World" column in Editor & Publisher magazine (http://www.editorandpublisher.com) and Hogan's Alley (http://cagle.slate.msn.com/hogan), an online cartoon arts magazine, Kerr said.
"It's much more difficult to get a strip going than it used to be," said Mort Gerberg, whose cartoons are published in the New Yorker and Playboy magazines.
"The amount of space for comic strips [in newspapers] is minuscule compared with before, and many newspapers are folding."
Nowadays, to add a new strip, newspaper editors often must drop a long-established one from their rosters and weather fierce fallout from loyal readers.
Syndication contracts are especially valuable to comic strip authors because, should they develop massive national followings, they probably will earn big bucks.
Newly syndicated cartoonists, whose work might appear in 50 publications, might eke out $10,000 to $20,000 a year. But more seasoned comic strip creators, who get their strips in at least 200 newspapers, can pull in more than $100,000 annually, said Jack Ohman, political cartoonist with the Oregonian in Portland, Ore.
The elite 15 or 20 American cartoonists whose well-known strips run in more than 1,000 newspapers often earn more than $1 million a year, Ohman said. And their merchandising income frequently equals or exceeds that sum.
"That's where monster money can be made," said Kevin "Kal" Kallaugher, editorial cartoonist for the Baltimore Sun.
Competition aside, Adams will face other challenges in getting "Minnie Pauz" syndicated.
First, cartoonist Eliot explained, her comic is aimed at a niche audience--middle-aged women. Newspaper editors tend to look for cartoons that will attract sweeping cross-sections of readers. Because of this, Eliot suggested that Adams consider submitting her cartoon to women's magazines.
Second, single-panel cartoons such as "Minnie Pauz" are harder to sell than multi-panel comic strips, because newspaper space for the former is far more limited, said Tom Wilson II, author of "Ziggy," which is syndicated in 600 papers. That's why Eliot encouraged Adams to consider converting "Minnie Pauz" to a comic strip.
Adams must make sure her cartoons are easy to read and uncluttered.
"On the crowded comics page, if readers' eyes wander just a fraction of an inch, they're already looking at the next comic strip and you're history, babe," wrote Christopher Hart in "Drawing on the Funny Side of the Brain: How to Come Up with Jokes for Cartoons and Comic Strips" (Watson-Guptill Publications, 1998).
Her dialogue, too, must be spartan.
"A cartoon caption is super-disciplined writing--about 12 words painstakingly chosen for their meaning, imagery and sound," wrote Gerberg in "Cartooning: The Art and the Business" (Quill Books, 1989).
Adams' characters should have universal appeal and possess "familiar traits with which readers can identify emotionally," Gerberg said.
To do this, she and other new cartoonists should come up with adjectives or short phrases ("lazy," "tough" or "ladies' man," for example) that capture their characters' essence, suggested Mort Walker, author for 50 years of "Beetle Bailey," which is syndicated in 1,800 papers.
Adams told Eliot she's not yet confident of her drawing abilities. Nearly all those interviewed agreed, however, that clever writing will be far more important to her cartoon's success than beautifully rendered artwork.
"If you're a bad cartoonist and a good writer, you can make it," Walker said. "But if you're a great cartoonist and a bad writer, you won't."
Nonetheless, Eliot said, if Adams eventually hopes to land a syndication contract, she'll need to become more proficient at sketching facial features, which reflect characters' personalities and emotions. Adams agreed this was a priority.
Even with syndication, it may take Adams five or more years to build a robust following, Kennedy said. Unfortunately, many comic strips grow stale and fade out long before they hit that landmark.
The stress on syndicated comic strip authors to produce witty material is intense. Most professionals push themselves to generate six ideas with rough sketches a day. At the end of each week, they review their ideas and sketches and choose the best seven for a week's run. Then they finalize the cartoons' artwork and lettering.
Syndicates expect cartoonists to remain six to 10 weeks ahead in strip production, according to Jerry Scott, co-author of "Zits," which runs in 950 newspapers.
Some hardy aspiring cartoonists self-syndicate after established syndicates have repeatedly rejected their work. They try to sell their cartoons directly to newspaper editors and handle their own billing, follow-up calls and bookkeeping.
They, in effect, do twice the work of their syndicated peers, who need worry only about producing a strip. Many also submit cartoons at no charge to small local newspapers so they can gain a following and build their portfolios.
To learn about other possible markets for "Minnie Pauz," Adams can consult "Artists & Graphic Designer's Market 2001: Where & How to Sell Your Illustration, Fine Art, Graphic Design & Cartoons" (Writers Digest Books, 2000). She also should consider joining the National Cartoonists Society (http://www.reuben.org), Eliot said.
"It's tough, but it's a wonderful job, a dream of a job," "Ziggy" author Wilson said. "I really wouldn't want to do anything else."
Credit: SPECIAL TO THE TIMES
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