This is only the second installment of Editor’s Dispatch, but why not cut right into the meat and address the ever-elusive question: “How do I get my comics picked up by King Features?”
At this moment in time, it’s tougher than ever. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to introduce new comics to newspapers, and the revenue potential of digital outlets hasn’t quite caught up to that of print for us, so we can’t solely rely on new media for new features. That said, we are taking out at least one, or maybe two new comics a year.
The first thing you should do is take a look at our submission guidelines. They’re simple but specific. For the most part, they answer the questions you need answered in order to submit your comic strip idea to King Features. Following those submission guidelines closely will immediately put you ahead of other submitters – seriously, we don’t like seeing binders with glitter on them. And although we laugh about it now, it was annoying the day a submission showed up with a toilet seat as the bookends of the submission itself.
This is all pretty obvious stuff, and following a set of guidelines is easy (you would think). But there are those who want to know more, and they say, “Okay, yeah, submission guidelines, but what are you really looking for in a new strip?”
If we knew that a certain execution or approach to making comics was guaranteed to bring success to a cartoonist and, by extension, King Features, we’d certainly point cartoonists in that direction. But it just isn’t that simple – the stars really need to align in an often unpredictable way. However, there are a few things that successful syndicated comic strips have in common, and there are some key things we look for. In the interest of simplifying this, I’ve distilled these things into three categories: Craft, Connection and Spirit.
Craft: It goes without saying that there are certain tenets to making good comics, and certain skills that require practice and discipline. Without going into specifics (because the landscape is vast and subjective), we do look for competence in clearly communicating with words and pictures.
Connection: Successful comic strips usually reflect our life and times, and our collective sensibilities in some way. A comic strip doesn’t have to have such a low common denominator that everyone on earth finds a connection, but readers do gravitate toward strips that say something they can relate to, and the more readers you can reach the more successful you will be. Even if a strip falls into a very specific niche, there are ways to tell universal truths through most niches.
Spirit: A comic strip really needs to be an extension of the cartoonist who creates it. You can’t just throw a bunch of premises against the wall and hope that one will capture the popular imagination. If a cartoonist isn’t drawing from a well that he/she knows intimately, the ideas will likely fizzle out, and it will become evident that there’s no soul behind the thing. Some of the best comics of all time – especially ones that have had a long lifespan – have been very emotionally close to the cartoonist who created them.
Okay, yeah, these are all fairly subjective things, but once again, there really is no specific execution or approach. There comes a time when you have to go with your gut. We’ve guessed incorrectly in some cases, but we’ve also helped introduce some wonderful and much-loved comics that have had a healthy lifespan.
*A note about this post: I actually wrote this explanation about craft, connection and spirit a few months back when my friend Tom Hart asked me to help him with a book he was writing. Incidentally, the book is very informative, and is specifically applicable to creating comic strips. It’s called The SAW Guide to Making Professional Comic Strips, and it was published in support of his cartooning school, the Sequential Artists Workshop.