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GPF News Archive

First Post Previous Post Next Post Latest Post January 31, 2005

 

Hey, gang. Yeah, it's been almost a full month since my last news update, and unfortunately there's not much I can give as an excuse. I've been pretty busy lately, but I've been meaning to write a "state of the comic" type post for weeks now, ever since the start of the new year. It just hasn't been happening. But since I wanted to make a few introductory comments about the current story, it seems like now's as good a time as any to post.

Notes on "Providence": As you might guess from yesterday's and today's strips, we're going into another dramatic Trudy story line, and this one's going to be a doozey. While there's a good bit of humor in it, expect some very interesting insights into Trudy's character, as well as an emotional rollercoaster ride. There are some aspects to the story that I'm sure some readers will find controversial (which will become evident soon enough), but I ask that you don't judge the story as a whole until it has run to completion. That's not to say I don't expect the usual amount of fierce speculation coming from the forum, but that you bear in mind that the story has several twists and turns and that you may not want to jump to too many conclusions before we reach the end.

Notes on "Prudent Jurisprudence": I also wanted to thank everyone who e-mailed me your comments and unofficial legal advice prompted by the recent Prudent Jurisprudence story, as well as apologize for not responding to everyone individually. I'm a bit behind on my e-mail as it is, but many of your comments were either going to be addressed later in that story or will be answered in later stories, so I didn't want to spend a lot of time answering the same questions over and over again individually. As you might have already guessed, Fred and Trent's trial is one of the biggest plot threads for this year, so we'll be seeing a lot more of this arc as the months roll on. As always, keep those e-mails rolling in; while I may not be able to respond to everyone individually, I do read every single fan mail I get, and believe me, I appreciate them all.

GPF Sculptures from 'N'Toonz: I've mentioned it before, but I'm definitely raising the visibility of it now: As you may have noticed, there are now links to a GPF Sculptures page in the blue "site links" box on almost every page of the site and also in the "cube ad" rotation in the archives. We now have an exclusive deal with 'N'Toonz for officially licensed GPF maquette sculptures. While 'N'Toonz has its own official "splash" page for them, I decided to build my own "splash" page (linked above) that displays some of the actual statues I have in my possession, just to prove how awesome they are. I won't waste space here talking about them (that's what the other page is for ;) but I encourage you to check out the Sculptures subsite and take a look. Who knows, you may find yourself ordering one of your own....

The State of the Comic: Illiad over at User Friendly used to do a "state of the comic address" every year, and I always thought that was a good idea. I've meant to do one for years now, and I've especially felt led that this year needed one. Besides, it's a good idea to let you know what's going on with me and what I have planned. I usually try to keep my private life out of these pages—after all, you come here to read funny stories, not to read a whiney blog—but since the two are somewhat intertwined at the moment, I'll give you an update there if you'll bear with me.

Production on the comic is as strong as it always is. At the time of this writing, my buffer stands at six weeks—down from my usual eight, but I'm working on rebuilding it. I've laid out the overall plot for this year in my handy-dandy continuity spreadsheet, and already have rough timelines with plot details on several of the major stories. In fact, I also have the main timeline for Year Eight laid out, which those who have been paying attention may recognize as when the next huge "mega-story" in the vein of Surreptitious Machinations is currently planned. I think many of the nay-sayers who have found fault with SM will find this next saga much more interesting, if they're willing to invest their time in it. Several stories from this year build to that new saga (as well as some surprising events planned after that in Year Nine), and I think some of the lessons I learned from that earlier experiment will smooth out some of this new saga's rough edges. And since I've already mentioned SM, I should also mention that the spin-off/sequel to that story has already been scripted and is almost a quarter of the way completed. I also plan to finish this sometime this year.

Financially, however, the comic is not exactly booming. As some of you may remember, I was laid off from my last full-time job in December 2002, and while I've worked three short-term I/T contract jobs in the past two years, the rest of my time I've been technically unemployed. One could also say I'm a "self-employed cartoonist" (which is what I usually joke about when people ask in person what I do), but unfortunately there is the underlying painful fact that while GPF is profitable (in that it makes more money that I spend developing it), it still doesn't pay the bills. While ad revenue, PREMIUM subscriptions, book sales, your donations to the Tip Jar and purchases from the Store helped pay for a new laptop (which does the majority of the computer work for the strip now, BTW), buy art supplies, and travel to a couple cons last year, we otherwise came away with just over $1400 profit. While this is a significant improvement over previous years, it's still not something to write home about. It's a pretty number to be sure, but when I think back to how I made more than that after taxes on a single two-week paycheck from my old full-time job, that's not much to show for myself. $1400/year is not enough to pay a salary, so I can't simply maintain the status quo.

Now before anyone panics, I'm not in danger of bankruptcy. The bank isn't coming to foreclose on the house or take back the car, the power company isn't shutting off our electricity and the phone company isn't turning off our phones. Technically, we are still living comfortably on my wife's salary, and I'm still covered under her insurance. Our credit rating is fine, and we aren't living on our credit cards. But we were used to having two decent I/T industry paychecks, so we've had to tighten our belts and not have as many luxuries as we used to have. Since GPF pays for itself it isn't a burden, but it isn't a salaried position either, and we can't simply have blind faith in the stability of her job.

I'm currently presented with a number of options, none of which are very certain at the moment. The first and most obvious is to try and get another day job. While this may sound simple enough, keep in mind that I've been looking for over two years now and still haven't found full-time employment in my area. Contract jobs seem to be all I can find right now, and after doing that three times already, I'm not exactly excited at the prospect of doing it again. There's too much uncertainly, too much detachment with contract work, and while the pay is often better in the short term, the huge periods between assignments where you have to worry about how to pay for health insurance, mortgages, and car payments are unsettling. I have a few leads (including one that at this writing looks like it may actually get to the interview stage), but lately none of them have been very solid. This means I may have to (a) move a significant distance from my current location to find fresh leads or (b) seriously consider leaving the I/T industry and trying to find work in another field. The second option is not very attractive to someone with a college degree in a field he desperately wants to find work in, but it's one I'll have to consider.

The second main option is to try and squeeze as much blood from the GPF stone as possible to turn it into a viable business. I don't mean that to be taken as "selling out" and becoming overly commercialized (although some people may already think that with my Plan Nine and Keenspot connections). What I mean is to more aggressively explore merchandising and revenue generating options to best maximize the strip's profitability while keeping its "grass roots" feel. This means coming up with better selections in the Store, accepting commissions, holding more original art auctions, and finding better ways to maximize ad revenue and increase PREMIUM subscriptions. I've considered launching a sponsorship program much like Bill Holbrook of Kevin & Kell has (both the tiered "member" structure and the "sponsor for the day" structure). I've also considered attempting to break into freelance art, or perhaps launching other comics on a subscription basis. (As always, I have no intention of making the core GPF comic subscription-only, since that's always the first think people think when I say something like this.) However, considering that I pour so much of my energy into the comic as it stands now with so little in return, I'm not as optimistic about this option.

The third option is to attempt to break into novel or screenwriting. This is something I've always wanted to do, almost as much as wanting to be a cartoonist. I've never been sure I could pull it off, but then again, I was never sure I could pull off being a cartoonist either. I've always felt that I could use GPF as a launching point for other projects, and the comic has certainly given me the confidence that my work can draw an audience. I have many ideas that are far more ambitious than GPF that would work best as novels, movies, or television series, and one thing I've considered is to turn some of my time over to devote to taking a shot at them. Of course, the life of a novelist or screenwriter isn't exactly the most lucrative either, especially in the early states of selling your first work, but I hope I can turn some of my existing success with the comic into the momentum to get started.

I'm sure, by now, some of you are probably wondering where this puts the comic. Obviously, option #2 may seem to be the best for continued GPF success, but putting more effort into the business side behind the comic may take more time away from the artwork itself. Option #1 will surely cut back on the amount of free time I have for comicking, and I may be forced to cut back my production somewhat to save time. Option #3 also may cut into my available cartooning time, especially if it becomes successful and thus a more profitable use of my time.

I'll preface what I say next with this: At this point in time, I have no intentions of ending the comic or drastically reducing my output from its current levels. It is my hope that whatever I have to do to make my finances more secure will not interfere with the comic too severely and I will continue to produce it through the rest of its natural life cycle. However, if I am forced to make cutbacks, I'll probably go in the reverse order of the enhancements I've added over the years: dailies may go back to gray scale first, then I may drop Sundays to once per month, then drop Sundays altogether if worse comes to worst. Ending the comic is something I will only do in the absolutely worst scenario, as if I am no longer physically capable of writing or drawing or if the finances of maintaining the strip are too much of a strain to waste headaches and stomach acid over.

By now, I'm sure many of you are probably thinking I'm in a depressed funk, loafing around and moping about how I can't seem to be making any headway. To be honest, I actually was a little depressed about this earlier when I started writing this post, but as the day has progressed, several things have lifted my spirits and given me more hope for the future. (Or maybe it's just because my wife made homemade chocolate truffles and I got to taste test them. I'm not sure which.) I'm trying to approach this problem with as much energy and optimism as possible, with my two primary goals being to make GPF the best comic strip it can be and to make our financial situation stable enough—or better yet, more profitable—to continue to make GPF the best it can be.

I am, as always, open to any suggestions you guys would be willing to share. I'm always looking for ideas for new items for the Store, for new PREMIUM-exclusive content, and other money making ventures for the strip. If you have I/T job leads in the Piedmont Triad area of North Carolina, I'd be delighted to hear about them. If you have contacts in the sci-fi/fantasy publishing or TV/movie industries, I'd be incredibly grateful for tips on publishing a first novel and/or screenplay. As always, I read every e-mail I get (except for what gets filtered out as spam) and I watch the forum religiously, so I'm always easy to get a hold of. Any input you'd like to make will happily be received.

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