Cartoonists and vacation

Whenver a comic strip writer goes on vacation, they reprint old strips with a little announcement that the artist is on vacation.

Why doesn’t the artist just draw 5 cartoons ahead for the week?
You can’t tell me their always a little ahead anyway.

The same could be said for Dear Abbey and the like. They do the same this (…“so & so is on vacation this week. Please enjoy this article from the past”…). They get millions of letters. How hard could it be to have a few columns saved up? I don’t get it.:confused:

Usually the artist does draw extra strips while he’s on vacation.

In a couple of cases (Doonesbury, for instance), the artist took a sabbatical to work on other projects, and older strips were reprinted. But the vast majority of the time, the artist does exactly what you advocated.

I agree with RealityChuck (that’s twice in one day!), but I have an idea for you, pkbites: in the months leading up to your next vacation, why don’t you do enough work to cover the two weeks you’re away. You know, in addition to your regular daily workload, just write a few extra reports, dig some more ditches, sell some additional bonds, or whatever it is you do.

What’s that you say? Having to do enough extra work to cover your vacation would sort of undo the idea of a vacation? You think it’s different for a comic strip artist or Dear Abby? They aren’t doing real work, like you? (Well, in the case of Dear Abby, you’re probably right.) But you try coming up with a new creative, presumably funny idea and executing it 365 times a year.

Although I’ve lost most of my interest in daily comics since Bill Watterson stopped drawing Calvin and Hobbes, I doubt it’s easy to do even a crappy daily strip like [insert your least favorite here] every single day.

Burried in all that sarcasm an agreement?:smiley:

Okay, maybe drawing a comic for everyday is tough (but don’t get me strated on garbage like Family Circus) but how can writting out a couple extra columns like “Dear Abby” (or Dear Annie, or whatever they call it now) be all that hard. It’s just a paragraph answer to some poor saps problem. I could see banging out a couple extra as not being that difficult.

Usually cartoonists do work ahead for a week or so of vacation, it would seem; I’ve only seen old ones reprinted in the case of several-month-long sabbaticals. YMMV, of course.

Webcomics, on the other hand, apparently don’t work ahead (most seem to draw 'em the night before they go up), so you get stuck with a week of stick-figure fillers when they’re gone. [sub]::coughSluggyFreelancecough::[/sub]

Cartoonists are required to work a minimum of 6 weeks ahead on their daily strips, 8 weeks ahead on the Sundays. As bad as some strips are, you might think it is a simple matter to think up a few extra gags to get ahead, but it is actually one of the more demanding jobs. Reflect for a moment that you are the writer of Blondie - you have written about a gajillion gags for the strips which basically has about 5 different situations for the characters. Working up a funny (or at least not painfully unfunny) gag every day can be torture after a strip is five or ten years old , imagine what it is like doing it on a strip that is over 70 years old like Blondie.
Anyway, regarding vacations. Cartoonists have three options for taking time off. First they can work ahead, which is REALLY hard but possible. Virgil Partch, who did “Big George” was reputed to be close to a decade ahead on his strip when he died. Needless to say, this is not typical.
The second option is to turn over the work to ghost writers and cartoonists. Most cartoonists have an assistant or two, and the most popular ones can afford to have a whole team working for them (for instance, Jim Davis hasn’t laid a hand on “Garfield” in many years - the strips are written and drawn by committee and he just approves them). With good assistants or ghosts you can get pretty much all the vacation time you want.
Your last option if you can’t afford assistants and your creative juices aren’t up to doing extra strips is to convince the syndicate that you need time off to recharge your creative batteries (in other words, fly to Bermuda and get drunk). Garry Trudeau was the first to get away with this considerable coup, and others have been able to follow in his path. One comic strip syndicate in particular (Creators Syndicate) actually has it in their contracts with cartoonists that they may take off a week or two each year during which time the syndicate will distribute reruns.
More than you wanted to know?

You can’t tell me that writing the Family Circus is too hard, though…

That Jeffy!

Alright, lets abandon comic strip artists.

What about columnists like “Dear Abbey” and the like. They don’t have to be creative like cartoonists. They just write up a paragraph. How hard could it be to do that? They get millions of letters. How hard could it be to write an extra weeks columns.
How long could it take?

What I really don’t get are these columnists that have a column in the paper once a week. Usually these witty little articles in the “good morning” section of the local paper, sorta like Andy Rooney. And every now and then you’ll see “so & so is on vacation. Please enjoy this old crap from a previous column”. And I’ll think “On vacation from WHAT?!?”:confused: They write one column a week. They couldn’t write an extra column?

As we’ve determined, I agree with pkbites about the advice columnists. Before she died, I used to marvel at what an easy job Ann Landers had. She obviously had a staff who sorted through the tons of mail to pick out the good ones, and they probably rendered the chosen few into grammatical English for her, too. Then all Ann had to do was write “You should see a professional therapist” at the end.

Okay, sometimes she did a little more than that, but when you looked at the ratio of letter to response, it was about 10:1. And it was all pretty common sense stuff. Anyone could have done it. It had to be one of the easiest, and probably most overpaid, jobs in the world.

Her sister, Dear Abby, is the same.

Now, other columnists, like Miss Manners, who write substantial pieces once a week or more. I’m sure that’s tougher than you might think. I’m impressed by that, as I am by my sister, a Unitarian minister who writes a 20-minute sermon at least three times a month. I’m a professional editor and writer, but I wouldn’t want that hanging over my head.

Do you have a cite for this, or is it personal knowledge? I only ask because some of the artists use current events in their cartoons.
Foxtrot recently had something on the blackout (just days after it happened)
Doonesbury seems to have a lot of current plotics (RE: the CA governor recall)

Is this a case of the run the “vacaction strips” that might not deal with current events or those are the strips that most often have re-runs?

Man… I think I need more coffee.

What I was trying to ask up there is if the strips that are made ahead of time for a vacation are ones that wouldn’t have any reference to current events. OR, are the strips which consistently deal with current events the ones which most often have vacation re-runs.

(as an aside, is re-run hypenated or am I making up more “new English” rules?)

The 6-weeks-in-advance schedule is to allow time for editorial approval, layout, and distribution, and I’m fairly sure that all syndicated strips do it. Sundays have to be done even more ahead of time than dailies, to allow for color setup (which is why you rarely see a Sunday that continues a storyline from the past week’s dailies). Also, the Sunday comics are printed almost a full week ahead of time, and stuffed into the paper when it’s done, to make things slighty less hectic Saturday night.

There are detailed explanations of the process in Bill Watterson’s The Calvin & Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book and Gary Larson’s Prehistory of the Far Side.

Borrow, buy, or steal the former. It’ll answer any questions you’ll ever have about syndicated cartooning.
Current-events strips are rare, and pushed through the system to make it to the papers while still current. Any newspaper comic strip that doesn’t deal with current events was drawn over a month before it was published.

So the real question is, when is the cartoonist on vacation? The week the reprints are in the paper, or two months before when he would’ve drawn them? :confused:

Actually, I was just going to post a related question after reading the “Boondocks” reruns the last week.

[And, BTW, the Boston Globe does NOT include a notice saying that the cartoonest is on vacation, which always gives me a feeling of deja vu until I realize the comic is a repeat.]

Anyway, what I’m wondering is whether the cartoonest actually gets paid for the strips that get repeated like this. True, he is not producing anything new, but doesn’t he still get royalties on every strip that is printed?


Why in hell shouldn’t the comic strip artists have a couple of weeks off?

I’ve never been required to do 2 weeks of work in advance before being allowed to go on vacation? How about you?

I have often wondered, not only how the Blondie artists keep coming up with ideas, but how in hell do they catalogue them so as to prevent unconscious repeats of the very same skits?

Something else that I haven’t seen mentioned but is somewhat related. When comic strips like Doonesbury are tackling a controversial topic, my understanding is that the syndicate will offer “alternate” strips (i.e. reruns) for newspapers that would rather not run the original. So when you see a week of “Doonesbury Classic” strips, it may not be that the cartoonist is on vacation, it may be that your local “family” newspaper is avoiding a touchy subject.

Lotta good questions above, let’s see if I can answer some of 'em:

Q: What about topical/current events strips? how far do they work ahead?

A: Actually they work six weeks ahead just like any other strip. However, they can get special dispensation from their syndicate to insert special topical strips if the situation warrants it. If Trudeau, say, wants to insert a week of dailies about the fall of Baghdad right after the fact then his regularly scheduled strips on file get pushed back. Trudeau, in particular, does this inserting often, as does Magruder with his Boondocks strip. The syndicates consider the timeliness of their strips to be a selling point, and so these guys pretty much have carte blanche. Other strip creators are on a much shorter leash, but they do have the same privilege as long as the syndicate okays it.

Except in really rare cases special topical material cannot be inserted the day after the event. Newspapers receive their comics in weekly batches, and so special material cannot be inserted, at best, until the Monday after the event, without special cooperation from the newspaper. Sunday strips almost never use current event material because they have a longer lead time for production.

BTW, unlike strip cartoonists most editorial cartoonists work on a day-to-day schedule.

Q: How do cartoonists avoid repeating their ideas?

A: Um, just between you and me, they don’t. At least let’s say they don’t go tremendously out of their way to avoid the situation. I don’t know of any cartoonist, for instance, who keeps a database of used gags in order never to duplicate. On the other hand, most cartoonists do keep a file of gags so that they can be ‘switched’. Switching is an industry term for taking an existing gag and making enough modification to it that you can’t really be accused of cheating. The classic switch is to reverse the roles of your two characters and modify (slightly) the gag to accommodate the reversed roles.

Q: Does the cartoonist get paid for reruns?

A: The cartoonist gets a percentage of the revenues generated by the syndication of the strip. Thus, since the newspapers pay (with an occasional grumble) the regular rate for rerun material the cartoonist gets their customary cut. BTW, the industry standard is 50% of the revenue to the syndicate, 50% to the cartoonist. Yes, successful cartoonists do get FILTHY rich.

Q: What is your cite for this stuff. Are you a syndicated cartoonist?

A: No, but I am a researcher who specializes, believe it or not, in syndicated comic strips. I write articles about comic strips for various magazines. And no, you can’t make a living doing that (well, at least I can’t). I have a ‘real’ job too.

Does anyone remember the Dear Abby fiasco?

In the grip of severe depression, she couldn’t bring herself
to give the usual advice to her write-ins. Instead, she simply reran old columns - until she got caught.

This might have been 4-5 years ago, and I have no idea how long she pulled her little scam.

Ah, but she apologized.

Re: Dear Abby and Ann Landers -

For a while, I had a sneaking suspicion that Ann and Abby were actually the same person, not twins. I used to read two newspapers every day - my local rag and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The Seattle paper ran Ann, the local paper ran Abby.

I started noticing the “on vacation” notices always appeared at the same time in both columns. Okay, so maybe they take their vacations together. But then I started noticing something else. I would be reading Dear Abby, and the question/answer would sound awfully familiar. I would realize that I had read the exact same question, with the exact same answer a couple months earlier in Ann’s column! So I had to wonder, “Is Abby borrowing her sister’s material, or… are they the same person? Hmmmm…”

I don’t remember Abby rerunning her own material, though it would make sense that the reruns wouldn’t be too recent. But the “borrowed” material always appeared in Abby within a couple months after it appeared in Ann.

Now that I think about it, Abby “retired” almost immediately after Ann’s death… so perhaps they were the same person…
But enough conspiracy theory and back to the columnist/vacation question. Writing their columns wasn’t all those two did. They also (allegedly) wrote mailed replies to anybody who included a self-addressed, stamped envelope. The ones that appeared in the columns were simply the “most interesting” of all the submissions. So they were actually busy with far more than just what appeared in their columns.