The Economics of Cartoon Spinoffs

Occasionally I receive emails such as this one from Jim:

First, I love your work. Your comics are absolute genius and your columns a refreshing, hard-hitting dose of unapologetic liberalism amid Yahoo!’s boring roster. Your most recent cartoon, about the logic of pre-emption, strikes me as something perfect for a wall poster. Have you made posters out of any of your comics? Would you? I could use something to put up in my dorm room besides football and movie posters! Thanks, and keep fighting the good fight,

Of course I’d love to do some posters. I made two available as free downloads during the 2004 presidential campaign. But the sad truth is, there’s no way to make printing posters economically feasible. Here’s why:

The minimum print run to make full-color posters viable is 1,000. That may not sound like a lot, but as fellow cartoonists have told me, you’re lucky to sell a couple of hundred. Each poster costs $1.50 to print, which makes the print bill around $1,800 when you include set-up costs, shipping and sales taxes. Let’s say I price the posters to move, at $5 plus shipping. Then I sell 200. I’ve made $1,000. Net loss: $800.

Truth is, the only way to make posters work is in conjunction with some event where the organizers sell them as a momento of the evening.

This is also why so few cartoonists do postcards.

Of course, all of this would change if fans were to buy more than one copy of these items they crave so badly if and when they came out. For instance, readers are constantly asking when I’ll publish another collection of my editorial cartoons since the last one, SEARCH AND DESTROY, came out in 2001. The answer is: sales for cartoon collections are always terrible, even for big-time Pulitzer winners. Readers claim they want them, but they don’t buy them. That would change, of course, if fans took to buying 10 copies of their favorite cartoonist collections and giving them out as presents to their friends and relatives. But it seems terribly unlikely.

Sending Up Jesus

A concerned reader asks:

I have just read your new article about “Republican Jesus.” I must say that it was quite entertaining. Any commentator could write a column that criticizes politicians, but here, you have managed to cleverly express it in the form of a parody of stories from the Bible. That is something unique that I have not seen in a while.

However, there is one question I have for you about this. If I am not mistaken, you wrote this

article as a satire on how Republicans constantly overuse Jesus and Christianity as a tool for pushing their political agendas as well as how much the real Christ differed from President Bush.

You are not mistaken.

Unfortunately, not everyone seems to have gotten the message. Talking online, I have noticed that some people who read the article have interpreted it as an outright slander and insult to Christianity. This a big argument that right-wingers use to discredit liberals: that they are cold-hearted athiests who ridicule and demean the beliefs of the devout and religious.

I know that you desire to try and convince conservatives to change and see things the liberal

way. But is this really the right way to do that? Could it cause a backlash?

Christ himself suffered from the fact that not everybody got the message, including most so-called Christians, but that doesn’t mean that the message wasn’t worth delivering. It’s true that not everybody will understand satire, especially delivered in an unorthodox format. That said, if a reasonably intelligent person does get it, the odds are that it’s sufficiently obvious for most people to get it if they make an effort. Whenever I’ve dumbed down an idea to accomodate some misguided sense that people are too stupid to understand more sophisticated approaches, I’ve found the results disastrous. Far better to lose a few people–who probably don’t want to understand anyway–than to lose everybody.

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