Several months ago I clicked on a web link that led me to a comic called Basic Instructions, by Scott Meyer. I thought, “Damn, this is good.” So I sent him my compliments via e-mail.
Scott replied, expressing deep suspicion that I was really the Dilbert cartoonist and not some a-hole yanking his chain. I thought, “Damn, he’s cynical and paranoid. He’s a natural cartoonist.”
Somehow I convinced him I was real. Over the course of the next few months I offered him some tips for getting syndicated in newspapers. It dawned on me that my blog readers might want to follow that conversation, like a reality show, and see if my sage advice can help a talented unknown hit the big time.
You can help. Over the next month or more, with Scott’s permission, I’ll give you updates showing my advice and his responses. Your comments will guide us. When his work gets to the point where I think he should submit it for syndication, I’ll show him how that’s done and let you follow along.
Yes, he is a lucky bastard. But talent causes luck, so it’s not a complete accident.
First, let me catch you up. Start where I did, at his web page, and check out some of his work as I first saw it. Be sure to read his comic titled “How to Disguise a Yawn.”
The format Scott uses fits his writing style perfectly. Unfortunately, that physical shape, and his wordiness, won’t sell to major newspapers. Newspapers are looking for single-panel strips like Bizarro, or the three-or-four panel strips like Dilbert. And the words have to be large enough for their older subscribers to read. That means less wordiness and larger text.
My first advice to Scott was to put the comic in strip format and reduce the wordiness to improve its marketability. Multi-panel strips are easier to sell than single-panel strips because newspapers use more of them.
A change in format is a huge decision for a cartoonist. Cartoonists tend to be natural single-panel writers or natural multi-panel writers. If I tried to put Dilbert in one panel, it would fall flat. If Gary Larsen had written The Far Side in more than one panel, I think he would have flopped. Douglas Adams needed a whole page for a joke. Henny Youngman needed one sentence. I think those differences are hard coded. You need to find the format that fits your writing.
After a few rounds of trying to fit into the strip format, here are a few samples of what Scott came up with.
I’ll have lots more advice on making it more marketable. But now it’s your turn. What do you think?