“Spectickles” Is Now Syndicated!

Life is full of twists and turns. In my last blog post, I wrote about how I went around syndication and instead pursued licensing. Not having the benefit of a national or international audience as you would with syndication or having some other means of mass audience building, the numbers weren’t what they could have been. Having figured out why, I took another look at syndication.

Ideas

Getting syndicated is a massively challenging task and as a result, highly comptetitive. I was extremely fortunate when I had the interest of a major syndicate editor, but due to economic reasons, the launch wouldn’t be possible for at least a year. At the same time, I had been speaking with Bill Kellogg, the Marketing Director for Ink Bottle Syndicate and the man responsible for bringing “Tundra” to over 550 newspapers in the U.S. and overseas – no easy task. As a matter of fact, the major syndicates are very interested in Bill’s success formula, which in my opinion is good, old-fashioned hard work – Bill is one of the busiest people I know! With only a minimum of threats of violence to his person, car, pets, wardrobe, and associated inanimate objects, he agreed to sign “Spectickles” (I’ll remain camped out on his front lawn wearing an intimidating grimace till we officially launch, or until my wife yells at me to stop it, whichever comes first.) Tweets

This is an incredibly exciting time, and Bill has begun the long process of introducing “Spectickles” to editors nationwide. If, perchance, you are interested in seeing “Spectickles” in your local newspaper, here’s what you can do:

If you would like to see “Spectickles” in your newspaper, and if you are willing to write a short letter to your paper to request that they consider Spectickles, please e-mail my marketing guy, Bill Kellogg, at with your city, state and newspaper name. He will e-mail you the name and contact information of the person at your paper who handles the comics section. Requests from actual readers can make a big difference.

Snoring

Well, that’s it for now – I’ll keep you posted as new developments occur. See you in the Funny Papers! Cheers!

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Lessons Learned In Art and Cartooning

When I really got focused and started in cartooning in the middle of 2008, I’d decided to try a different route than most others who came before me. It seemed to me that submitting to syndicates ad nauseum and receiving the river of rejection letters wouldn’t get me where I wanted to go. I looked at the problem from a different angle and tried to find a different path to success. I’d read about licensing and the incredible financial possibilities and results gained by some of the more recognizable cartoon characters.

Its All On My Blog

So, in early 2009 I went all in. I approached a number of licensing agents, approached some major companies, and started to see some pretty amazing opportunities appear. I had the great good fortune to see my work appear on greeting cards, calendars, figurines, coffee mugs and a whole bunch of other stuff. It appeared I was well on my way to hitting and surpassing the financial goals I’d set for myself.

commandment Facebook

The reality kicked in, and sales weren’t what they could’ve or should’ve been. This is a humbling experience. I began to seek answers to the lackluster sales in licensing, and one thing immediately became clear: I hadn’t created an engaged, committed audience – I’d skipped that step and went straight to manufacturers. As a result, I had lots and lots of people picking up the products with my characters, enjoying a hearty belly laugh, but then setting them back down and walking away without making a purchase. There was no emotional connection or buy-in, and that made all the difference in the world.

BA0283 update my blog

Whether you are a cartoonist or licensed artist, you have to (if you want to be successful in licensing, most particularly character licensing) find a way to connect with your audience, keep them engaged, and provide them with a means to follow you, your story, your art, your techniques, and your future intentions. And keep building that audience – the most imperative element of all. I did a great deal of research with other artists and cartoonists, and this was the brilliant column of light leading to the answer that I’d somehow missed along the way.

I’m not complaining – we’re still signing with new licensees and broadening the possibilities with my characters. But I owe it to the licensees to give them the best chance at not only recouping the investment they’ve made in my art, but of profiting from it as handsomely as my supporting efforts can manage.

Bigfoot

So how do you go about building that audience? What tools and resources are out there to guide you in developing a systematic approach to communicating and building an emotionally invested audience? There are countless ways and viewpoints, but here’s a few I found exceptionally helpful:

Books (conventional and Kindle):

“How To Make Webcomics”

“How To Use Facebook For Business”

“The New Rules Of Marketing And PR”

Podcasts: The podcasts cover a broad spectrum of topics within the field of art and comics, but as you listen, you’ll hear about successful techniques, tools and resources that have led to some of these artists having committed audiences numbering in the millions.

“Escape From Illustration Island”

“Webcomics Weekly”

“Tall Tale Radio”

These are just a few to get you started, but sufficient to keep anyone busy for a considerable period of time in learning the methods for effective audience-building. Good luck and feel free to chime in with additional ideas and experiences!

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And Now, For Something Completely Different

I am immensely fortunate in so many ways. Greatest of all is my family. Earlier this month, my wife and I renewed our vows in the ceremony we had always wanted. Of course, I’m quite concerned about the judgment of any woman crazy enough to marry me twice. Shelly has been incredibly supportive and is the biggest cheerleader for my cartoons. Having someone in your corner means a lot when the going gets tough, and she’s never faltered in her support.

My beautiful Shelly and I beside the small lake, just outside the historic building where we'd had out ceremony and reception.

My beautiful Shelly and I beside the small lake, just outside the historic building where we’d had out ceremony and reception.

Two of the finest warriors I’ve ever known and with whom I’ve gone into harms way stood with me during the ceremony – thank you Ed and Dave – your presence made the day extraordinary.

The ceremony just concluded, and Shelly and I are heading out to greet our guests as they enter for the reception.

The ceremony just concluded, and Shelly and I are heading out to greet our guests as they enter for the reception. Shelly’s beautiful smile was the beacon that led me home after so many months spent overseas.

My background is a bit far afield of what you’d expect for a cartoonist, but whatever the events that led me here, I’m happy this is the result.

4 year old Aidan is overpowering me, dragging me onto the dance floor.

4 year old Aidan is overpowering me, dragging me onto the dance floor.

 

Thank you to all who follow my work and make every day a pleasure to be a cartoonist.

Cheers!

M311 Right To Remain Silent

 

 

 

 

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A Quick “Foggy Bottom” Update

Dave Ditullio and I have been hard at work creating new material for “Foggy Bottom” as well as perfecting characters we’d like to play a major role in the cartoon. I’ve actually reached out to my fellow U.S. Navy Chiefs and the overwhelming response to our latest character, ‘Chief’ has been extremely positive.

Chief Updated lo res

We’ll be reaching out to more of our Navy friends, family and professional associations and see their reaction. To date, hundreds of Navy Chiefs are excited to see it – we hope not to disappoint! ‘Chief’ and his “Foggy Bottom” gang will be available for weekly newspapers through Bill Kellogg’s Ink Bottle Syndicate – be sure to ask for it in your local weekly newspapers!

The Yang to ‘Chief’s’ Ying is another of our latest characters, ‘Sarge’. We gave him a ‘flat-top’, an appropriate rank tattoo on his right arm, the ever-bubbling cigar, and colors suitable to an Army-related character.

Sarge lo res

Dave, on the other hand, will be showing ‘Sarge’ around to his fellow Army servicemen and women for their feedback. Again, the response has been very positive. We look forward to hearing your feedback, and if you like it, let us and our syndicate, Ink Bottle Syndicate and its Marketing Director, Bill Kellogg know!

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Evolving As An Artist and Cartoonist

When I started in cartooning many years ago, I drew in a way that, at the time, was natural to me. I’d read a few books on the subject, visited a few websites and applied what others had done before me. When I started, I suspected that the characters I drew would always have that same appearance, that there was no evolution of design. Such was not the case.

Here's one of the earliest cartoons I created, heavy on cross-hatching and strictly black and white. Color hadn't yet entered my skill set.

Here’s one of the earliest cartoons I created, heavy on cross-hatching and strictly black and white. Color hadn’t yet entered my skill set.

Like most cartoonists early on, I’d had my sights set on syndication and had submitted several concepts to the major syndicates, all of which were impersonally rejected. The work had been created with that in mind – heavy use of bold blacks, drawn to what I’d understood to be the required dimensions for reduction, etc.

After a steady stream of military deployments, I’d find myself reinventing the work when I’d return home – not really a bad thing. I started adopting a more ‘cartoony’ style, abandoning the chase for a more realistic look, which tends to be less memorable and engaging in cartooning. Part of what’s required for a successful cartoon is a distinctive, memorable look, the start of what some describe as a brand.

You can see here where I began to abandon the cross-hatching style and give the characters a rounder, softer look.

You can see here where I began to abandon the cross-hatching style and give the characters a rounder, softer look.

Soon, I began trying to identify traits that I considered visually funny. Among the first was glasses. I started drawing large glasses on my characters and giving them something of a dumpy look. If you look around, you’ll find physical traits that you consider humorous, and when exaggerated, make for a character that becomes memorable and fun to look at. Now, mind you, we’re not looking to do so in an effort to be mean or cruel – I’ve heard some VERY unpleasant stories from caricaturists who draw people who are paying to have their features distorted in a cartoonish way. Turns out, they didn’t like that!

Among the first cartoons where I begin adding glasses as a humorous feature.

Among the first cartoons where I begin adding glasses as a humorous feature.

When I went to my family home near Albany, New York, my mother has a picture of my great grandparents. I hadn’t really given the matter a great deal of thought at the time, but when I saw my great-grandmother’s glasses, I knew they’d make a great addition to my developing characters.

Among the first uses of the stereotypical "Spectickles" over-sized fifties-ish glasses.

Among the first uses of the stereotypical “Spectickles” over-sized fifties-ish glasses.

Within a few years, I’d finally landed where I suspect my “Spectickles” characters will remain in appearance. I sought feedback from family, friends, cartoonist colleagues, and the buying market to better tweak my characters, resulting in what you see now. But, as you’ve read, the process took time, a great deal of thought and consideration, and the acquisition of new skills to get where I wanted to go.

Cigar Sherpa

I continue to work in new mediums, create new characters and cartoons, and utilize different tools as the mood strikes. All of which are an essential part of developing as an artist and cartoonist. And most importantly, to me anyway, all of which has been enormously enjoyable and rewarding.

Car Pool Clean

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“Foggy Bottom” By Bill Abbott and Dave Ditullio

One of the greatest joys, for me, in cartooning is the ability to create something new when the mood and opportunity strikes. I get immense pleasure working on “Spectickles“, “Percenters”, and the other cartoons I’ve created myself or in collaboration with writers (“A Wing And A Prayer” with Ken Alley, “Karma Café” with Richard Cross).

From "A Wing And A Prayer" cartoon collection with author Ken Alley.

From “A Wing And A Prayer” cartoon collection with author Ken Alley.

"Karma Café" with publisher Richard Cross.

“Karma Café” with publisher Richard Cross.

But there are times when stepping away from familiar work to create something entirely new can recharge the creative batteries. Such is the case with “Foggy Bottom”, my latest collaborative effort with artist, writer, and fellow military veteran Dave Ditullio.

Killer Whale

Dave and I come from odd backgrounds for cartoonists. He was in BUDS (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) training at the same time I was going through SWCC (Special Warfare Combatant Craft Crewman) training at the same facility although we didn’t know each other at the time. The training is similar (a high-quality beat-down of historic proportions), but our missions are different. Dave had to leave training due to a family issue and I went on to serve overseas with the SWCC Teams. We actually met for the first time at a Naval Reserve Center in Buffalo, NY and hit it off right away. We’re both absurdly competitive and our military backgrounds make us something of an anomaly in our geographic region. Luckily, our wives are patient beyond measure as Dave and I typically turn our competitive nature into abusing one another. Rarer still is the fact that we’re both artists – exceptionally unusual coming from our Special Warfare calling.

Harder

We recently decided to use the energy we typically expend on abusing one another into a cartoon we call “Foggy Bottom”, the embarrassingly odd name of a Washington D.C. suburb, although that has nothing to do with our cartoon. We’ve developed a cast of underwater characters and present them in a single panel format. We’ve got TONS of material, and we have the good fortune to be represented by Bill Kellogg’s Ink Bottle Syndicate, so keep your eyes peeled for “Foggy Bottom” in your local weekly newspaper. And, if misfortune should find you without “Foggy Bottom” in your local weekly newspaper, by the power of Thor’s Hammer, demand it!

Receptionist

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The Bill Abbott Interview On Tall Tale Radio With Tom Racine

Just a brief update – I had the great pleasure to be interviewed by the host of my favorite cartooning podcast, Tom Racine of Tall Tale Radio. I had already been addicted to the interviews with my favorite cartoonists when Tom contacted me. I was thrilled and honored to participate. I have to admit, I’m not the most talkative person on any given occasion with the possible exception of, say, a mime convention, but I stammered my way through it and hopefully won’t become anyone’s newest cure for insomnia. Here it is (click on the image below) – let me know what you think!

2013-08-06-episode_180

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