Comic strips in the digital age: an inside look with Guy Gilchrist
The digital age has transformed the way we think and interact and the way we have access to information. The internet is dominating all other platforms in which we receive information. The war between print vs. digital has been a losing battle for print ever since the internet came about. While the digital age has affected newspapers and everything is moving to online, some print manifestations are fighting back to stay relevant and to remain timeless. The greatest example of this would be comic strips.
Comic strips such as "Nancy," "Calvin and Hobbes," and even vaguely familiar Tumblr comic features have survived and even thrived in the digital age.
Guy Gilchrist, cartoonist for the iconic "Nancy," ("The Pink Panther," "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," "The Looney Tunes") attests to the growth of comics in recent years. His comic boasts over 57 million viewers daily via the GoComics.com and NancyandSluggo.com websites as well as other media platforms. The comic strip is distributed throughout the world by Universal Press Syndicate.
Gilchrist has worked on "Nancy" since 1995, over 20 years. Like many other comic strips. Nancy has seen a change from print to digital, and from black and white to color. While the demise of newspapers hit everyone hard, these changes have been mostly positive.
"Nancy" has withstood the test of time through its relatable stories and entertainment value. "If you're really trendy then you tend to have a quicker demise," said Gilchrist. For some, their popularity will fall as quickly as they rise.
Learning how to monetize the internet was a struggle for many press syndicates. When the internet first arose, it was relatively unfamiliar territory and the big money was still being made with newspapers. But in the late 80's and 90's the tides turned and it was time for a new way of living.
The internet is an entirely different language than print. It has evolved to where social media can make or break you. With quite a bit of success comes great responsibility though. Gilchrist and his team not only have to write for their daily strip everyday but also to make sure that it's in color and it's posted to every social media platform like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
Through social media, people are able to discover and rediscover comics. "Back in the day if I wasn't in your local newspaper, then you didn't know I existed," Gilchrist explained. He went on to say, "I hear from people everyday that they find 'Nancy' on our Facebook page. They go, 'Oh my god, I used to read that as a kid.' Then they sign up."
Besides the GoComics website, there's an app that's very scrollable and interactive. This is a step above from what it used to be. "When papers started folding, papers started opening up .com's because that was the only way they could survive. They were reluctant to pay for comments and so the syndicates had to find a way to monetize the stuff that sells, the micropayments based on ad banners which is still prevalent today," said Gilchrist.
According to Gilchrist, animation and digital animation are getting less expensive to produce, and he doesn't mind the changes. People are now able to work out of the comfort of their own homes. "I have a student in Texas who is fully employed working out of her own home. The studio doesn't actually have a physical address, it's just a lot of different people working from their homes and then collaborating online," said Gilchrist.
Online hasn't only affected print but cartoons themselves too. Everything can be watched online. "In the old days, there were four gatekeepers: ABC, CBS, and NBC and if they didn't want your work for Saturday morning television then that was it," said Gilchrist. For instance, "'Ren and Stimpy' started online, and a lot of other stuff started online and people found it, whether it was producers that wanted to know what was going on and they brought it to their networks."
For those stuck in the past, Gilchrist says, "Those who are denying reality don't really want to work."
"The imminent destruction of my art form, as American as jazz or the blues, has been predicted my entire life. If you believe in what you do, then you'll find a way to make it work," said Gilchrist.
It takes many years for people's works to get recognized. Gilchrist ready a story on Facebook about a guy who signed with Creators Syndicate, 58-years old like Gilchrist, who had been sending out his work to publishers his entire life. So when Gilchrist heard a young companion of his complain about not getting recognized after merely six months, he was amused.
Social media and the internet has been a blessing in disguise for Gilchrist, "I'm just appreciative that all of these vehicles exist. If I can spread my positive message across and get you to smile, then I've done my job."