Ollie & Quentin Book

Ollie & Quentin Book
125 pages in full colour!

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Blowing my own mute trumpet


I am producing a really good comic here and my editor at King Features is delighted with the quality of my work but 'Ollie and Quentin' is not connecting with newspaper editors. My editor says there is nothing I can do to improve my strip. We are both surprised at the reaction to it. He did not pick it out of the other 6000 submissions that year for nothing. Sadly newspaper sales are the measure by which a comic is judged and it doesn't take a genius to work out that there is only so long a syndicate will carry an unviable comic before it is forced to admit that it doesn't work and will have to cancel it. I suspect Ollie and Quentin is going this way unless something changes soon.


We have one final card up our sleeves which I can't talk about but if that fails we are gone. I am sure of it. I do not expect to still be doing this in a year's time if things do not improve. It will be sad that a lifelong dream that I sacrificed so much for failed at the final (big) hurdle but I won't slog my guts out every day for no reason. It has been very soul destroying to produce great stuff which just falls on deaf ears. Working up to 8 hours a day every day to earn little more than the minimum wage is not what I saw for my career and not how I expected to bring up my two children.


I would be the first to admit it if I thought my comic was garbage. It isn't. I know this is what I am meant to do and will miss it enormously. I have enjoyed the writing more than any other part of my 25 year career. I know I can compete with the best. I don't enjoy having no life outside my comic but am happy to dedicate my time to it because I am good at it and want to share what I can do. 'Ollie and Quentin' is fresh, new and different. It is clever and charming. Even the drawings are unlike anything else on the funny pages. The potential is enormous. Yet, American newspapers don't want it. Perhaps this is where we went wrong. I have a great British sense of humour, it just doesn't translate.


So, if you're a fan (and I do have plenty) please make some noise. It will be no good moaning after we are cancelled. Let people know about 'Ollie and Quentin' now. Write, talk, text, post and tweet about it, write to your newspaper editor or see a really good strip confined to comic strip history.


24 comments:

Peaches said...

Piers, it would be tragic if you didn't continue with O&Q. They're amazing and show off your talent as an artist and joker so well.
It would be a pity if the US gives up on you as we seem to share humo(u)r on so many levels with them.
Hope your secret and very cunning plan works out x

Anne Hambrock said...

Piers,

Your strip makes me laugh every day and you manage to surprise me in the final panel at least 90% of the time.

And I'm a hard sell :-)

Chin up!!

Anonymous said...

Some opinions and thoughts:

I keep up with your blog semi-regularly and reading Ollie and Quentin for me the two biggest issues are Quentin's design and the lack of expressive/funny drawings. (static poses in costume ,muted facial expressions)

From a marketing perspective choosing Quentin to be a lug worm was a very esoteric choice. You had to know coming in it would be an uphill battle to have readers connect with a worm.

On the already small comics page, Quentin's size makes him a speck on the page. Often the camera feels too far away from the characters.

Ollie and Quentin's close-ups and expressions are underutilized; the brow and jowls potential,range of emotions and nuance. This may be too much to ask though.

I don't think your British sense of humor is the culprit here.

From time to time I feel both Ollie and Quentin's dialogue are interchangeable, Ollie or Quentin initiates the gag ,commentary or idea but would still work if said by the other. That takes away from connecting to the characters and mainly just showcases the gags.

stbeals said...

I am making noise to two newspapers.
This is a hilarious strip and I've never understood the disconnect between quality and popularity.

As for British humor, I just see things in terms of "funny" and "not funny". However, (as an American) I find myself watching more and more British TV and wonder why we continuously remake British TV shows when the originals are so much better.

It's a strange world. Please don't (mentally) throw in the towel!

John Hambrock said...

Honestly, O&Q is one of the best strips out there. If it can't make it in today's newspaper market, what can?

As your fans, we'll be behind you doing all we can.

Piers Baker said...

Thanks, everyone, for the encouraging words. I won't give in because I like doing this too much and will always take great pride in my work to the end. If O&Q go down the guys will be kicking and screaming, pinching and biting all the way.

Peaches, you're lovely. Always so encouraging.

Anne and John, you're what's so great about this strange, tough, wonderful business.

Stbeals, I agree about the remaking of great shows. Here in Britain we've been enjoying "The Killing" in Danish which has received rave reviews everywhere. So glad we saw it in it's original form, subtitles and all. I understand the US will be watching a remake. Yawn.

Thanks too to Anonymous who makes some interesting points. I'll keep them in mind over the coming weeks.

chrishillman said...

Who needs newspapers? They call ME up and beg me to subscribe. I have the local paper and the Washington Post at a fraction of what they cost a few years ago. I never read them, and when I call to cancel they convince me to keep the subscription for even less.

I get all my news online. I read several webcomics. I visit the pages and support the comics by buying books and clicking ads I like. Your comic reminds me of Sheldon (http://www.sheldoncomics.com/). I say that you can forget tying your great comic to crusty newspapers and syndicates who are only in to profit off of your work.

This comic is great. Your humor and art are great. I want you to be successful. I wish you the best of luck, I have added you to my RSS feed (so, I will be watching).

Anonymous said...

I think anonymous is right on the money.

Piers Baker said...

Thanks Chris, you may be right. I had a lot of success selling my comic here in the UK without too much effort. If O&Q are discontinued it will be fun to go back to selling it myself.

I had always seen my strip being reproduced in color and on screen. This is why I was happy to draw a small character like Quentin and color my comics so meticulously. Seeing my comic poorly reproduced in miniature in US newspapers made me think the future really was elsewhere. I understood the newspaper industry to be dying and believed King Features would be at the forefront of a digital comic future. I therefore put my effort into producing a comic that would embrace that digital step forward. My mistake. It's newspaper sales that matter most. Comics Kingdom is excellent but we're still a long way off earning the majority of our income from online sales.

Seeing what sells today makes me think there is a formula for a successful newspaper comic. Choosing a worm as a main character is a mistake when the characters that do well are usually human. I know a British audience sees past the worm aspect and focuses more on the humor. I mistakenly thought US newspaper readers would do the same.

Gary said...

My paper, the Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune, dropped the strip several weeks ago, and I wrote to complain. I wish I'd thought to write in to support it while it was still there. My 11-year-old daughter and I will continue to follow it online, but we really miss reading it in the paper together. The strip that replaced it is just run-of-the-mill, but O&Q offers real humor.

Anonymous said...

What's excellent about Comics Kingdom? It's clunky, impossible to navigate and you can only find it on a newspaper site if you're specifically looking for it. It's the comics solution for people who don't care about comics.

Norm Feuti said...

That's disheartening news, Piers.

For what it's worth, I don't think there's anything wrong with your comic. It's well-drawn and funny ... the only two things a humor comic needs to be.

I hope things turn around for you.

steve said...

Piers,

It is disheartening to hear you are having trouble picking up newspapers. You have a really fun strip that outshines most of what is out there.

I hope you will sign more papers soon! I really like your strip!

Steve S. (2 Cows and a Chicken)

ROLFE said...

Piers,

I do hope that the 'thing' you intend to implement on O&Z brings about a massive swing in your numbers.

You are super-talented cartoonist and an inspiration to amateur-cartoonists like me.

Take care,

ROLFE

p.s. Can I suggest you set up twitter, facebook pages etc. etc. Or publicise the existing accounts. So we can spread the O&Z worldwide!

Daniel said...

I agree that the path to success for O&Q is not going to be in U.S. syndication, for the simple reason that any potential markets for print syndication are rapidly, RAPIDLY drying up here in the U.S.

For the two cents it's worth, I completely disagree with the idea that your character, design or dialog choices are unpalatable or esoteric. You have created a very effective cast and "look" for your strip. If you find it valuable to experiment from here with different angles, dialog, etc. you may find some ways to "punch it up" in the spirit that "there's always room for improvement," but I have to agree with the anonymous assessment regarding these issues. I also have no problem with the British humor. Although I'm sure it is a concern for some, I think it's minor.

You have an amazing commodity here that has nothing to apologize for, and it's very unfortunate that newspaper editors don't make decisions the way readers do. But, as I hope you have experienced, readers are active and do notice. If you can find a way to put O&Q into another business model that capitalizes on this somehow, I believe you will find success.

Of course, the web opens lots of opportunities, but the bad news there is that it will likely represent a "start-from-scratch" point, and it could take a few years to build a large and steady enough fan base.

The good news is that you already have a lot of skill in your ability to build and manage a community of readers.

Since someone mentioned Sheldon, I might recommend a book that cartoonist wrote with a team of 3 others, called "How to Make Webcomics." In it they detail the business model they've used. I'll be launching a comic later this year, and I've found it to be a great resource. I imagine much of it will already be familiar to you, and I understand that family and financial considerations may dictate less-than-flexible options.

But I hope that if you want to, you can find another way to bring O&Q to the world, either by continuing it or bringing it back to us after a strategic hiatus. It's overcome much trickier obstacles than the ones it currently seems to face, and it's too good to be taken down this way.

The very best of wishes, and I'll be watching for what happens!

GhaleonQ said...

(I guess I'll comment here for the 1st time!) It's odd, because

1. low-key, charming humor ought to attract the traditional strip audience.

2. you do a nice job, I think, of "justifying" (not that it needs it if you avoid the business aspect) the characters' physical and emotional identities. You spend time with them as a double act, as animals, as friends, and as 2 generic comics characters.

I spent some time bothering the necessary people, though, so good luck. I sincerely mean that.

Tom Racine said...

I suppose what this boils down to is, did King Features mis-read the market for this excellent strip, or is it an indictment of the failing newspaper industry that they can't get a toehold out there. I have faith in the syndicate editors in general...they wouldn't spend the time and effort on a comic without feeling that they had something they would sell and make a profit on. But obviously, it's not taking off as planned, which is a crime.

I can't say I have a ton of faith in the newspaper industry overall. I don't think this is a down phase...I think it's a spiral towards inevitability. Unless something changes in the way cartoonists are paid and their work distributed, things look a bit dark on the dead tree versions of the news. I can't help but wonder if O&Q WOULD be better off as an independent webcomic. I hope it doesn't come to that.

Piers Baker said...

Thanks everyone for your supportive, encouraging and informed words. There's a lot of very interesting stuff here as well as very kind. And from such luminaries in the cartoon world too!
I will go down fighting, don't worry. If I can find any ways to 'improve' my comic for a newspaper audience I will although I can't compromise on what I feel is right for my strip regardless of how it is being received.
I should point out that King Features are still working hard to promote my comic and haven't given up on me. As I said we have something quite exciting in the pipeline. I just know that it would be financial nonsense for them to keep running a comic that wasn't bringing in a return after 4 years.

Anonymous said...

"Eek and Meek" started as a comic about mice. Then, years ago, they suddenly became human. Perhaps that should be tried.

Maybe this could survive as a Web comic. Newspapers are dying.

Piers Baker said...

I have given this some serious thought myself. How about a parallel universe where Ollie and Quentin are human and drawn in a completely different way?

Watch this space!

Anonymous said...

While I appreciate the gentle and original humour in each of the O&Q comics I've seen, I've noticed that the episodes I'm not as eager to put in the effort to read are the ones with less blocky text. May I suggest putting lined paper underneath the page you're drawing upon to keep the text straight? In any case, your comic, Pooch Cafe and Frazz are the 3 comics I find worth reading each and every day.

Anonymous said...

And I certainly admire the courage it must've taken to use a hermaphroditic booger as one of your 2 main characters.

Piers Baker said...

HeeHee, thanks Anonymous. I should point out that the text you are talking about is in fact a typeface and not my handwriting. I chose it because I felt it reflected the voice I have in my head for Quentin. A bit croaking and 'up and down'. The baseline is pretty straight but I do understand what you mean. I try not to have too much text in my comic but sometimes it's unavoidable.

Anonymous said...

No matter, I can always use the browser's "zoom in" button to make the strip easier to read. It's worth it. I haven't found the text to be excessive, only irregular. But now that I know it's deliberate, I'll attribute it to creative expressionism rather than poor penmanship. I'm also thank you for confirmirming (in the May 28th strip) what I've suspected was the inspiration for Quentin's intrinsic globularity. Gesundheit indeed!