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Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 07/28/2008

The Morning Line: Cartoonists -- No Vacation for You!

By Michael Cavna

Non Sequitur: Old news is good news if you're a cartoonist needing a little time off. (Universal Press Syndicate)

Baldo: Cutlery aside, running your reprints can cut both ways. (Universal Press Syndicate)
. The writers of "Non Sequitur," "Baldo" and Comic Riffs are all, technically, on vacation today. But notice how only one of us is still writing. That's because cartoonists now commonly invoke the Power of the Reprint.

Vacations, like sabbaticals, have long been a heated topic in cartooning circles. Readers and client newspapers must be served daily, of course, so creators make individual choices about how -- or even whether -- to take an extended vacation. For most, there are only a few options:

1. Draw Double-Time. Some cartoonists work sufficiently ahead, motivated either by an endless supply of fresh ideas or the fear of losing a single client should they resort to reprints.
The upside: A feature's readers get an uninterrupted flow of new material. The vacation is imperceptible.
The downside: The caffeine drip it can require to pull several all-nighters at the drafting board.

2. Recruit a Guest Artist. This week, "Bizarro" by Dan Piraro is being guest-cartooned by "Sally Forth" artist and King syndicate-mate Francesco Marciuliano (so reports Editor&Publisher, citing Comics Curmudgeon). The guest artist -- at least as an announced matter -- has increased as a go-to option, especially among Colleagues of Mutual Respect.
The upside: You leave your baby in trusted hands -- and perhaps increase the exposure of a fellow cartoonist.
The potential downsides: Your eager surrogate shines so brilliantly in your space that your return is viewed as a creative comedown. More likely: The "experiment" rankles a few readers or editors upset that the Real Cartoonist is away.

3. Open the Vault o' Reprints. The option to go into reruns seems increasingly common -- and in turn, readers and editors grow in their acceptance of this practice.
The upside: As with TV reruns, your readers enjoy a period of nostalgia.
The downside: As with TV reruns, your readers decide to quickly flip the channel and develop a new viewing habit.

4. Take a few extra weeks off and call it a "hiatus." If your strip is not a "Doonesbury"-esque fixture, this option can induce sweaty palms (which isn't usually conducive to quality cartooning -- severe pen slippage is not pretty.)
One upside: This option gives editors a chance to test other strips -- in a tight business in which every opening is highly competitive.
The downside: When's the last time you tried returning to work after a blissfully relaxing 12-week vacay?

And then there's always another option in a wired world: Whether you're heading to Botswana or Boca, pack up your art materials and make it a working vacation. Why, you haven't lived until you and your sweetie missed the seafood brunch buffet because you needed till noon to nail a gag.

So what do you think -- are you a fan of reprints or guest artists, or do cartoonists owe readers unceasingly new material?

LATER TODAY: A cartoon twist on presidential politics.

By Michael Cavna  | July 28, 2008; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  The Morning Line  
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The double-time option is what I grew up seeing Charles Schulz do with "Peanuts," in an example of the old school American work ethic. The REAL downside is that it took terminal cancer to get Schulz to stop doing the strip all together. "Peanuts" became a literal fulfillment of his description of drawing a comic strip as "having a theme paper hanging over your head every day for the rest of your life."

Posted by: Daniel J. Drazen | July 28, 2008 7:03 AM | Report abuse

New material, of course.

That said, the cartoonists can do what works for them. My customers would like me available 24x7, but I'm gonna do what works for me.

BTW, I'm in awe of the guys who can get up every day and publish something new. I'd have big "TUNE IN TOMORROW" banners in place of a cartoon at least three days a week.

OK, six days a week.

Posted by: f2 | July 28, 2008 7:09 AM | Report abuse

I do prefer new material, especially when there are developed characters and story lines being carried along. It must be tough to re-run strips that are extremely topical or political because today's material may not be relevant for re-running in the future. Topical comics reduce the artist's cache of re-runnable strips and, hey, must limit their vacation time (wouldn't want to be re-running the same stuff every time they took time off).

However, cartoons like "The Far Side" always worked pretty well when in re-runs because they were all one panel gags. Whenever Larson went on an extended sabbatical, it was like re-reading his greatest hits in the paper. Man, I miss that guy. "The Far Side" would work in neverending re-runs and is a candidate for daily syndication if I've ever read one (and I'm looking at you, "Classic Peanuts").

Posted by: erin | July 28, 2008 8:35 AM | Report abuse

When you mention strips in your blog (e.g., Bizarro) please do us all a favor and link to them as well.

Posted by: alan | July 28, 2008 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Francesco Marciuliano is not the Sally Forth artist, he is the writer. Craig MacIntosh is the artist.

Posted by: julia | July 28, 2008 10:44 AM | Report abuse

Semantics, maybe, but I have always thought of comics as having been "drawn", not written. I believe that the dialog lettering is often done by a separate hand. Not sure what to call that. Amanuensis?

Posted by: MSchafer | July 28, 2008 11:05 AM | Report abuse

"Tune in tomorrow [for something new]" banners? I didn't realize that the Spiderman strip has been on vacation all this time.

Posted by: Ollabelle | July 28, 2008 1:28 PM | Report abuse

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