NEWSPAPER COMICS BACK IN THE DAY…
I was a kid growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, and I loved reading the comic strips in the newspaper every Sunday (and sometimes during the week too). I grew up on Garfield, Peanuts, Calvin & Hobbes, Hagar The Horrible, Ziggy and all the others. I loved them. I wanted to draw them.
And sometimes, I did!
Then I started growing up and moved on to other things for the next 20 years before rediscovering the joy of drawing comic strips.
Fast-forward to a few years ago, and now I find that comics are more popular than ever, and not just the comic books from Marvel and DC, but even newspaper-style comic strips are a pretty big deal on social media and websites like Buzzfeed, Tapastic and GoComics.
But today’s comics are…different.
I signed up on Instagram and discovered cartoonists like Sarah Anderson, Adam Ellis and Shen and probably a hundred others too. I enjoyed all their webcomics at first, but after a while it started to feel like I was just seeing the same jokes over and over again.
Not the same exact comic by the same cartoonist, but like…different comics that were all basically the same kind of jokes. Sometimes I’d even see the same jokes being redrawn with variations by the same cartoonist.
WHEN DID COMICS START TO BECOME SO RELATABLE?
It feels like many webcomics today are stuck in a loop.
You keep seeing the same topics being joked about in the same way again and again by tons of cartoonists. The punchlines are like 100% predictable. It’s not that they’re copying each other (well, some might be doing that). Mostly it’s just that they’re focusing their jokes on a too narrowly-focused group of topics that millennials (and others) find to be relatable:
- Lack of sleep
- Hot showers
- Getting beat up by life
- Adult responsibilities
People love these comics because they are so relatable, but a lot of us are getting tired of seeing the same thing every day. It’s getting old, so old in fact that some cartoonists (myself included) have begun drawing comics that parody these “relatable” millennial webcomics. Look up #tiredoldjoke or #oldjokekiller on Instagram and Twitter to see what I mean.
So are “relatable comics” killing the webcomics scene? I don’t think so, but I do think that repetition and lack of creativity are definitely sucking the life out of today’s webcomics.
But people have always loved comics that they can relate to.
RELATABLE IS ACTUALLY GOOD
The best comics out there are usually the ones that connect with us, especially when they do so in a surprising way. It’s kind of cool to read a comic about some mundane aspect of life, some silly little thing that happens all the time, and then you go, “Oh my god! That happens to me all the time!”
It’s cool when somebody “gets” you, especially when it’s something that nobody really talks about all that much. There’s a lot of humor out there in those relatable aspects of life, you know? I mean…humor is everywhere in life. The jokes are out there, and the best cartoonists are those who find them and share them in their comics in a way that hasn’t been done before.
I think that’s why I think that so many of the best comics out there over the years are those that we can relate to. Whether you’re a young stay-at-home mom, an empty-nester, a germaphobe, a college freshman, a crazy cat lady or baby-boomer stuck in a dead-end desk job…there’s a lot of hilarious and relatable comics out there that you would love. You just have to find them.
RELATABLE COMICS ARE NOT NEW
A recent blog post by kotopopi suggested that the relatable fad is a new thing in comics. But as a boring, old white guy who’s married with two kids and has had lots of experience with jobs and cats and unpaid bills and rush-hour traffic and anxiety and more cats, I can tell you that #relatable is actually as old as comics themselves. The thing is that different people relate to different jokes. As a kid, I couldn’t always relate to the comics I read in the newspaper, but my parents and grandparents laughed their asses off at many of them because they found them to be so relatable…for them.
- Many working women in the 70’s and 80’s loved the comic strip Cathy because they could relate to it.
- Many parents back then loved Family Circle and Calvin & Hobbes because they could relate to them.
- Millions of cat lovers fell in love with Jim Davis’ Garfield, with its furry, sarcastic protagonist who mostly just wants to be fed, get his chin scratched and then be left alone. If you’ve had cats your whole life…you can probably relate because CATS ARE SELF-CENTERED ASSHOLES!!! 😉
The thing today is that now, thanks to the Internet and social media, you don’t have to just read comics created by grumpy, 50-year-old professional cartoonists. Anyone nowadays can draw comics and put them up on social media, and that includes teenagers and young adults.
The great newspaper comic strips of the past weren’t always easy for kids and young adults to relate to, because they weren’t drawn by young people. Sure, you could “get the joke” or just enjoy the cuteness of the art, but it didn’t really speak to you very specifically unless you were age 30+ and married with kids, cats, cranky bosses and bills to pay.
But that has been changing with the current Internet webcomics boom!
- Do you hate it when your smartphone notifications keep you up all night? There’s like 100 comics about that…
- Do you hate it when you run outside in shorts and a tank top on the first day of spring, only to freeze your butt off in the snow? There’s another 100 comics about that too…
- Do you hate being fat but love tacos? Every cartoonist ever has got you covered…
A SHORT WORD OF ADVICE FOR YOUNG CARTOONISTS…
Go ahead and keep making comics that your fans love and can relate to, but for the love of god, PLEASE COME UP WITH SOME NEW MATERIAL!!!!
(Love ya, mwa!) :*
A LONGER WORD OF ADVICE FOR OLD GUYS LIKE ME WHO DRAW WEBCOMICS…
As an old guy who draws comic strips, I sometimes find it very frustrating when I pour out my heart and soul into crafting an original comic strip, just to put it out there on Instagram and barely scrape up 50 or 60 likes, while someone half my age retells a tired old joke about coffee or spiders or leg hair that gets shared on Buzzfeed and gets 20,000 likes overnight and leads to sales of dozens of t-shirts, buttons and stickers…because it’s “SO RELATABLE”.
So what’s really the problem here? Old cartoonists out there…what is going on? Do we blame those damn kids and start hating on our fellow cartoonists?
Well…okay. Yeah. Sometimes.
But that’s not cool.
And it misses the point.
The problem IS NOT that we aren’t jumping on the “relatable” bandwagon with everyone else. After all, there are lots of people our own age who can relate to the comic strips we draw.
The problem is that we’re promoting our comic strips online to millennials and sharing our work on platforms filled with millennials – yet we ourselves are not in that demographic, and we’re drawing and sharing comics that aren’t very relatable to that demographic.
Lesson #1 of marketing is to define your audience AND THEN GET YOUR PRODUCT IN FRONT OF THAT AUDIENCE.
If you’re 40-something like I am and frustrated about sharing your comics on Tumblr, Instagram and GoComics without getting much of a response (or worse…a negative response), then could the problem be that you’re pitching your product to the wrong audience?
That’s what I’m starting to think.
So who is your audience? Who will find your comic strips to be relatable? Once you get that figured out, then go find where those people hang out online and start sharing your comics with them. Try that and see if it makes a difference in the response you get. I’m starting to do that more myself, and I’ll share my results pretty soon.
Of course, it could also be that your comic just plain sucks, but that’s a different problem with a different solution.