Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Who Needs a Website Anyway?

My re-re-re-designed website
Fifteen years ago in Los Angeles I met a guy who had his own website. "How pretentious" I thought. "Who the hell needs one of those?" Well, duh. Obviously, I could not have been more wrong. Nowadays everyone needs a website. At least, everyone who is a freelancer.

"Are you a freelancer?" - I get asked this question all the time. But in the entertainment industry - who isn't a freelancer? Even when artists are under contract, we are usually just squatting in a temporary employment time-share - beyond which lies the great unknowable.

The recent layoffs at DreamWorks, Rhythm & Hues and Digital Domain underline the precarious nature of employment with even the most well-established companies.
My cartoon strip Queen's Counsel, a satire on law and lawyers published weekly in The Times, has been my longest-ever job, anywhere, by far. And I don't think I even have a contract with The Times. So it's basically been a 20-year freelance gig.

When I quit my job as a barrister back in 1996 to go and work at Warner Bros Feature Animation in Glendale, the head of the studio said to me "Oh, you'll never keep the law strip going. It will naturally come to an end as you run out of material".

In a way he was right, I did quickly run out of personal material, but I always found ways to rustle up new stories and keep it fresh. Anyway, Queen's Counsel has lasted a lot longer than Warner Bros Feature Animation did.
But for how long? Newspapers are slowly dying, worn down by declining circulation, the rise of the internet, and now by the threat of state regulation (at least here in the UK) following the phone-hacking scandal.

Cartoonists have to find a way to make a living outside of newspapers - and this means going online. But does an online presence help or hinder? Does it help to promote sales of books - or just mean that no-one needs to buy your book because the cartoons are online? And what kind of business model involves giving away your work for free?

I'm damned if I know the answer. Having a website these days seems to be mainly just another business expense, like running a car or having an agent to tout your wares. Once it was a pretentious luxury - now it's a professional necessity.
And you can't leave it alone either. Websites need constant upgrades and improvements. What looked shiny and new a few years ago, now looks dated and weak. Queen's Counsel is no exception - my cartoon website is now on its third makeover.

Well, at least it's tax-deductible.


(Editor's Note: For more on web cartoons, read our interview with graphic novelist Sydney Padua, check out Stephan Francks' new graphic novel Silver, find out about the birth of Queen's Counsel, and lament the birth, life and death of a newspaper cartoon strip.

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