Using Shopify and WordPress for Selling Comics and Art

Using Shopify and WordPress for Selling Comics and Art

Illustration by Katie Kassel

What happened to summer? I wrote a blog post for the B² Interactive blog about using the Shopify plugin for WordPress back at the end of July. I went on a quick working vacation and dived head on into a giant web project that I’m just now wrapping up. It took up so much of my time that I hadn’t had a chance to post until now.

Last time I wrote about how using WordPress for your professional cartoonist website was the best option for most people. I was able to implement the Shopify plugin into a recent client site and saw some great opportunities for cartoonists who were using WordPress. I know a lot of cartoonists use Big Cartel and, well, hate it. Shopify is a good option for you to explore. You just need to sign up for the Lite plan at $9.99 a month. Unlimited products, ability to sell on Facebook, and you can use their point of sale app to accept credit cards at conventions. It’s simple to integrate with your existing WordPress site using the Shopify plugin.

There are several ways to develop an e-commerce store for your WordPress website. But there are a lot of details to manage with many of the existing e-commerce plugins, and you may need to buy more add-ons to get your store to work right. Not to mention, some of the interfaces are downright clunky. Shopify’s new WordPress plugin, however, is a great solution for integrating e-commerce on your website.

There are some drawbacks which I get into in my blog post, but I think for nearly every cartoonist out there, this is a solid option. Sell your original art and books right off your own site with Shopify’s secure platform. It’s not free, but you get what you pay for. I’ll be looking to Shopify for some of my own future plans.

How To Build A Professional Cartoonist Website Quickly

How To Build A Professional Cartoonist Website Quickly

I recently wrote about how webcomics are good for content marketing and why cartoonists should be doing them. But I’ve since been receiving questions about simply getting online with a professional cartoonist website. The cartoonists asking me these questions are usually posting a bit on Tumblr and that’s about it. If you were paying me money, this is what I would do. This is how I’d build your cartoonist website set you up. This is a simple checklist of everything you need to do to get a website set up.

Your cartoonist website is your digital hub.

Get that through your head right now. Your website is home base for everything that you do. It’s going to represent you and your work. It needs to be professional. It needs to work, and it needs to work for you.

In fact, this is all about you and your freedom. Some of the hosting services may offer to provide domain name registration. And whichever domain registrar you use may offer hosting. The temptation to have everything in one spot is high. Don’t do it. Sometimes, either one will hold the name or the hosting hostage. You want to have these pieces all separate from each other so you can easily move services.

Same goes for the content management system you use. I’m recommending WordPress. It’s open source. No one owns it. You are free to move it wherever you want. You don’t own Tumblr. I’m going to write that out again so you get it: you don’t own Tumblr. If Tumblr gets sold or goes down, where does all your content and site data go? Who actually owns it?

You are a professional. Act like it.

When you go to get your domain name and social accounts, get your damn name. Don’t get something cute like ToonNinja.biz or some crap like that. Get your name, or as close to it as you can. You are a professional. Act like it. This drives me nuts. Your comics can be as wacky/sexy/dirty/dark/bloody as you want. Your site should look professional. You should act professional. Want to be taken seriously? Act. Like. A. Professional. That goes double for the Tumblr folks out there that reblog animated sex gifs that are “hilarious.” If you need to do that, do it on a separate account, ding dong.

professional

Set Up Accounts

  1. Get a domain name from NameCheap. GoDaddy tries to upsell you at every turn. If you don’t know what you are doing, you’ll end up spending more money than you want. Optional: set up privacy on your domain. You don’t have to, but you will be spammed to hell and back on domain services if you don’t.
  2. Get web hosting. Sign up with Dreamhost, HostGator, Bluehost, or Siteground. Shared hosting will be fine for you for now. Look for discounts or coupons. Expect to spend between $5-$10 a month for hosting.
  3. Set up social accounts with your name. For example, my Twitter handle is @maxriffner. My Facebook Page is facebook.com/MaxRiffnerComics. Here are the social accounts I’d sign up for:
  4. Twitter
  5. Facebook Page (you probably already have a personal account – set up a Page just for your site)
  6. Tumblr (I know I’ve been hard on it, but it’s a good social network)
  7. Google+ (just trust me on this one)
  8. Create a free account at MailChimp. You need to build an email list over time.
  9. Create a Google Webmasters account. We’ll verify that later.
  10. Create a Bing Webmasters account. Same as above, we’ll verify it later.
  11. Create a Google Analytics account. Create a profile for your site.
  12. Create a Dropbox account. The 2gb free option is fine for our purposes.

Set Up Your Website

  1. Log into your hosting provider and find your name server IP addresses.
  2. Log into your domain registrar and find your name server information.
  3. Enter your hosting providers name server information into your domains name server. You are pointing your domain name to your host.
  4. Most of these have hosting providers have something called a One-Click Install for WordPress. Do that. If you don’t, follow the instructions on the WordPress site. Takes about 5 minutes.
  5. Buy a theme. There are free themes out there to skin your website. Don’t use them. They are security risks for your site to get hacked. Most themes range around the $50-$100 price point. Spend the money.

Themes to consider

Set up WordPress

  1. Install your theme under Appearance.
  2. In Settings > Permalinks, change your setting to Post Name for easy, readable URLs.
  3. Go to Pages and delete your Sample Page.
  4. Create two new pages: Home and Blog. You can leave them blank.
  5. Go to Settings > Reading and set your Front page to Home and your Posts page to Blog.
  6. Also in Settings > Reading, check to make sure the box that hides your site from search engines is unchecked. We want search engines to find you.

Configure your plugins (Easy Version)

Install Jetpack. WordPress created it themselves. Jetpack will extend the functionality of your site. It can do backups, secure it, add a contact form, and in general help you out if you don’t know what you are doing. You will need to sign up for a WordPress.com account to use it. This is somewhat confusing: WordPress.org is the free version of the software. Which is what you are using. WordPress.com is the free-to-paid version of their software. You just want to sign up for an account, not a site. Don’t pay for anything. Follow the Jetpack instructions.

The issue with Jetpack, in my opinion, is that it slows down your site if you check off every option under the sun. But it’s easy.

I would still install the Yoast SEO plugin with Jetpack. Just read the following on Yoast on how to set it up.

Configure your plugins (Harder Version)

Plugins extend your website without you having to program anything. There are millions of plugins out there to extend WordPress, which is another reason why I suggest it. Want to sell comics or art off your site? There are plugins for that. Want to build a webcomic section? There are plugins for that too.

Install the following plugins:

iThemes Security

This plugin will secure your site. Follow the instructions carefully. I would whitelist your IP for 24 hours immediately before you start messing around with it. If you don’t understand what something means, Google it. The plugin is self-explanatory. You don’t have to do all their suggestions. Just do the critical ones and you’ll be fine.

Yoast SEO

This plugin will help you with your search engine optimization (SEO). Just fill in the blanks. Watch the videos. It’s a cool plugin. You just need to fill in your information and forget about it. You can enter your Google and Bing Webmaster codes in here for verification. You can also enter your social profiles here. This will make it easy for people to share your site. It also creates a sitemap.xml for search engines to access, along with some basic Schema.org information.

WPSuperCache

Your WordPress website is made from PHP and MySQL. PHP is a server side programming language that makes a connection to your MySQL database. They then render your site as HTML. If you get a lot of traffic, it gets harder for your site to connect to the database. Which could cause your site to crash. WPSuperCache takes your pages and renders a copy in cache for quick access. This one is easy. Just turn it to “On.” Done.

Contact Form 7

Free contact form. It’s been kind of annoying with its latest update. There are other, less confusing options out there. The best I’ve found is Gravity Forms, but it has an annual subscription. Whatever you use, test it out yourself once a month and make sure it still works.

Dropbox Backup

Connect your Dropbox account with this plugin. You’ll get daily backups of your site sent there.

“These plugins are too complicated for me.”

Fine. See above. Jetpack. Done.

complicated

Build your site

  1. Go to Pages. I would create the following pages: About, Contact, Comics, Portfolio.
  2. All content you write for these pages should be at least 300 words. That’s the minimum for it to be picked up by search engines.
  3. Go to Appearance and tweak your theme to your heart’s content. Everything you need to customize the look of your site should be there. Look at your theme provider’s Support section for more details on how to set it up. There should also be a place for you to enter your Google Analytics code in the theme.
  4. Write a couple blog posts. Again, should be at least 300 words.
  5. Put a MailChimp subscription form in your blog’s sidebar. There are free plugins that can help you with this. Or you can just take the HTML forms MailChimp provides and enter it somewhere on your site.

Blogging and Social Posting

  1. Pick a schedule to blog. I write about 1500 word posts once every two weeks. The longer your content, the more search engines like it.
  2. When I publish a post, I share it immediately on Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook. I post in the evenings. I get better traction at that time. Then I share it again on Twitter the next day, and then a week after that. On Facebook, I might share previously published content a month later, or 6 months later. Depends on whether it’s relevant or not.
  3. Remember when I told you to set up a Google+ account? This is for Google to recognize your site and you as an author. Post there when you feel like it.
  4. WordPress offers plugins that will automatically share your posts to your social channels. I use one for my Tumblr. I use Buffer for my other social accounts. I like crafting a more customized message and scheduling my posts with Buffer. The plugins are a little more strict in what they share. Whatever you want.

Fine Details

  1. Your About page should be personal! Make it about you, and why someone should care about your site. What’s in it for them? Also include a picture of yourself (or a drawing of yourself – we are cartoonists). Once you start getting press or reviews, post them here. This is a good place for your media kit to live also if you go that route.
  2. Your Portfolio page should only include your latest and greatest work samples. Keep it under 10 pieces with the sort of work you would like to get. If you want to get comic work, post comic pages. If you want more illustration work, post illustrations you’ve done.
  3. Your Contact page should have your contact form along with your email address. This is just in case the form doesn’t work. Or, some people just prefer not using the forms. Make it as easy as possible for someone to connect with you. Don’t make them hunt for how to get a hold of you, or they are gone.

Cleanup and Maintenance

  1. Delete unused plugins and themes.
  2. Check your backups once a week.
  3. Keep current on your WordPress and plugin updates.

Keep It Simple

Your website is not that complicated. The tools you need to manage it have been built for you. If you ever wonder about a technical aspect of it, Google is your best friend. When I first started building websites in 1996 (you know, last century), code had to be typed by hand. There were no databases. Images had to be small in order to work over a 28.8 dial-up modem. A site like the one you are going to build used to take at least a month to get right. Now I can make a site this size in under a week. Even in a matter of hours if I have everything I need. You can do this. Get your work online for everyone to see. Get some gigs from it. Good luck.

thumbs-up

Why Webcomics Are Content Marketing

Why Webcomics Are Content Marketing

A strip from Drunk Elephant Comics


The two biggest issues facing a cartoonist today are finding an audience and making a living. It’s hard to find either in today’s marketplace. In every other industry, the way to seperate your business from your competitors1 is through marketing. And cartoonists are horrible at marketing themselves. But there is a way to help themselves by way of content marketing. Webcomics are the perfect vehicle for that.

Already making webcomics?

If you are making a webcomic, you have probably noticed some intangible effects from it. I believe that publishing a webcomic is worth doing from a marketing perspective. A webcomic can help you find a loyal audience, serve as a portfolio piece, and get your foot in the door with publishers. This post is for cartoonists who haven’t experimented with putting their work online.

What is Content Marketing?

Content marketing is creating and sharing free content that can help convert customers. It’s blogs, podcasts, e-books, infographics, how-to guides. Back when the web was first getting started, just having a website was a competitive advantage. The process of getting online was painful, too. In the 90s, it wasn’t uncommon to take up to 6 months to create a website. Now that every business is online, content marketing helps distinguish them from their competition. And with today’s software, the speed of making content and websites is incredible.

The last 5 years or so have seen brands ratchet up their content marketing efforts. Most of what I do in the interactive space is related to content marketing. The good thing about it, if you are doing it right, is that it helps people. Good content gets rewarded by readers, search engines, and social media.

Webcomics: Cheap Marketing for Cartoonists

Most small press cartoonists today only use conventions to distribute their work and for networking. Going to conventions and selling your comics is expensive. On average, half a table at a show is going to cost you $300–600. And that doesn’t include travel or printing costs. Few people make their investment back. If the true cost of a convention is more than $1000, you have to sell a lot of comics to make that back. This is especially true if you live some place where there aren’t many conventions in your geographic vicinity.

What if I could tell you how to do more with just $120 a year investment? That’s it. That’s all it takes to find a cheap web host. With a website, your potential audience is much larger. And with great content, you are giving that audience a reason to keep coming back to your website. Your content? It’s your comics. And you don’t have to travel anywhere, or print and ship a load of books. Plus, the software that most of us use for our websites is free.

Building your website and webcomic

Once you have a domain name and hosting secured, you need to set up a website. For most people, I’d recommend WordPress. It’s free. It is extensible with plugins, including some webcomic specific plugins. You can install it with most web hosts using a One Click Install program. You can also set up a store for yourself using WooCommerce to sell your pages. I know a lot of cartoonists like using Big Cartel for its store management. But with a little elbow grease, you can build your own. And it isn’t hard.

For people who aren’t comfortable with that, Squarespace is a good option to look into. They take care of everything. I don’t think their SEO options are fantastic. And you may have to make some workarounds to post comics, but it’s a dead simple option.

marketing-bleep-3a For those that have some comfort with setting up websites, I want to recommend using Grawlix. I’m supporting them on their Patreon, and I think they are doing some great work. It’s a content management system built only for webcomics. I’m going to be using their software soon.

For those that have a lot of comfort with technology, I’m bullish on flat file systems, like Jekyll and Hugo. If you don’t know what a flat file system is, just ignore this part. I built a large webcomic with Textpattern, a content management system near and dear to my heart. Again, you have to know what you are doing, but it works how you want it to work. Definitely worth a look.

Finding an audience on social media

Once you start posting your comics on your website, you aren’t done. This isn’t Field of Dreams. You need to share it. And the best way to do that is with social media. Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr are going to be the channels you see the most success with.

Twitter

Twitter is how I found the bulk of my fans. It’s great for sharing comics. You probably already have an account. Just start posting your comics there. Include a link and a panel from your comic, and post in the evenings. You’ll see a higher engagement at that time, but experiment. It doesn’t cost you anything but time. I find that the evenings and mid-mornings work best for me. If you are starting a webcomic, I don’t know if I would recommend starting a seperate Twitter account. It’s a double-edged sword. If you do, you can lock in the username you want for intellectual property purposes. But you won’t see as much engagement as you would from your personal account. Just be aware of that.

Facebook

I would set up a Facebook Page for yourself, and maybe your comic if it is ongoing. Again, you are going to see better engagement from your personal account if you post there also. But there are benefits to the Facebook Page. One is that you don’t have to “friend” your fans, or feel obligated to. Another is with a Page, you have access to Facebook’s incredible advertising platform. For dollars a day, you can target a potential audience at a specific level. It’s fascinating how you can filter it. Facebook’s advertising used to be kind of a joke in digital marketing circles. Now it’s quite amazing and powerful.

Tumblr

A lot of cartoonists I know use Tumblr as their website. I’m here to tell you why you shouldn’t:

  1. You don’t control it. Yahoo controls it. And Yahoo screwed the pooch with Flickr and their company is kind of a tire fire right now. In all likelihood they are going to sell it. And who knows where it goes from there.
  2. Since you don’t control it, you don’t know what sort of ownership is happening with your content.

Tumblr is a social media channel, and it has a strong community. I’m not saying don’t use it. But don’t use it as your main website/digital hub. Also, it has incredible SEO value because all its links posted there are follow links. If you don’t know what that means, you don’t need to. Just use it. Post links and teasers to your comic there. And experiment. Have an exit plan. Just in case. It might not be around forever. WordPress has plugins to automatically post there when you update your site.

Buffer or HootSuite: Social Media Management

With all these social media platforms you are posting to, it can get old logging into them for updates. Good news! There is software to help you. Buffer and HootSuite are web applications that will help manage your social media accounts. Post once, and they will distribute your posts to the apporpriate channels. They both have free options available.

Build an email list

The best way to engage digitally with your fans is to build an email list. I recommend MailChimp. It’s free up to 1000 subscribers and most website software supports it. You can even set it up to automatically send out emails based on your content posting schedule via RSS.

I recommend setting up an automated email to go out via MailChimp with the offer of a free digital comic. You can set up Gumroad for a digital download (or, again, WooCommerce) with a promo code for a digital comic. Post that as an automated email in MailChimp for free subscribers. That gives them an incentive to sign up. Then, when you have a new comic that is being released, you have a direct connection to that audience.

There are other email marketing providers. The only other one I’d recommend is Campaign Monitor. You have to pay to use it, but it’s affordable. Constant Contact and Emma are two others services. I’ve hit up against their limitations more than I’d like.

Hit a convention

Okay, I know I’ve just written about 1500 words about digital promotion. But nothing beats promoting yourself in a physical location. Take your time at this step. Research conventions that are a good fit for your comics. And look at the professionals attending for networking possibilities. I would recommend not getting a table for a bit and going to some conventions as a fan. Bring some books, but just for trading and networking.

When you have an audience, get a table and cut your costs. Cut corners wherever you can. Be ruthless. You work hard for the money you earn and invest in your art.

I haven’t had a table for 9 years and have gone to cons only to network. This strategy has worked better for me than having a table. I will get a table again in the future, but for now, I like this method. I’m not chained to my table trying to earn money back. I get to work the floor and meet people.

Drunk Elephant Comics

drunk-elephant

My webcomic, Drunk Elephant Comics, ran from 2008 through 2012. I learned a lot from publishing it online. Not only about marketing and promotion of a comic, but about the art of cartooning. I earned a loyal following of fans through that webcomic. It also led into some great professional opportunities for me.

Which is why I’m bringing it back.

In the years since I haven’t been putting out new webcomics, I feel like something has been missing in my life. While I was putting out Drunk Elephant Comics, I kept gaining new fans. That has slowed down. And as I look at how I’ll be releasing new work shortly (The Walk), I wonder how I can help promote it? Drunk Elephant Comics was content marketing for myself, as a brand and an artist.

When I graduated from CCS, I was ready to do longer stories. Graphic novels. And when I started Drunk Elephant, I felt like I was struggling with that all the time. I wanted to make another graphic novel and didn’t appreciate the strip format. I gained appreciation for comic strips during my journey. So I’m going to try it again, this time with all the knowledge I’ve acquired since then.

I’ll write more about the technical aspects of how I’m going to do it, but Hank is coming back soon. Two other projects are in the pipeline that I hope to release online also. I will also be setting up a Patreon that will support all three comics.

2016 is going to be a busy year.


  1. I don’t believe that other cartoonists are in competition with each other. Your audience isn’t necessarily my audience, and also, fans like all sorts of comics. We’re all in this together. ↩︎
Speed Is Simple

Speed Is Simple

New post for the B² Interactive blog. I’m becoming a bit obsessed about speed. Site speed that is. Most websites run off of some sort of database, which makes a lot of calls back and forth, slowing a site down. Now that we live in a mobile world with cellular speeds, there’s a movement to not only ditch databases, but to also ditch Javascript, the other main culprit in slowing a website down. Basically, I miss the old days. I used to build every website I ever touched by hand, and each line was optimized for even the slowest connections. Now in this automatic, framework heavy world, developers are starting to get back to that mindset. Here’s an excerpt:

Afterward, bandwidth exploded. Web 2.0 began, and we started to make our websites act like desktop software. We started to develop complicated templates and libraries to speed up development. We stopped creating our code by hand. Everything was developed on frameworks with existing content management systems. Sites with large codebases became the norm. We came to a point where “web designer” was an outdated term. The job splintered into different specialties to support all these frameworks.

And then mobile devices came on the scene, and we’re back to speed being an issue again.

The B-Sides Podcast

The B-Sides Podcast

We recently started a podcast on the B² Interactive blog, the B-Sides. We talk about current events in digital marketing, and we hope you’ll enjoy listening to us! This is the first podcast I’ve been a host on, so I’m getting a kick out of it. Our inaugural episode is up. We talk about the Apple Watch, a device near and dear to my heart. Our next episode is about ad blocking technology and how it will affect publishers. I’m the guy who vaguely sounds like Seth Rogen.

You can listen to the podcast on our site, or you can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes. If you like what we’re doing, write a review or give us a rating!

Quality Control: An Analysis of Pogo and Walt Kelly

Quality Control: An Analysis of Pogo and Walt Kelly

Walt Kelly debuted his comic strip POGO in the pages of the New York Star on October 4, 1948. The strip ran for the rest of the Star’s publication, which ended on January 28, 1949. But POGO returned, this time in syndication, on May 16, 1949. The early syndicated POGO strips seem familiar. Kelly took the 4 month layoff to redo most of the strips from POGO’s original run in the Star. His lines were bolder, and his storytelling became much more clear. This reaction to his own work belies his belief in total control of his product. Most, like myself, assumed that POGO first appeared in the pages of the Star. But Kelly’s characters had been appearing in comic book format for years prior. In fact, most of his work from that time is rare in today’s comic market. Kelly intended to bury this older work. In later years, Kelly misdirected his audience with a fake “first sketch” of Pogo Possum. He wanted POGO to appear as a fresh idea for the New York Star. This need for control made Kelly not only a shrewd entrepreneur, but also helped make him a masterful cartoonist.

Pogo Possum first debuted in the pages of Animal Comics in 1942. The character appeared in almost every issue of the title. There were also appearances in other Dell Comics, including a 16 issue Pogo Possum title. Kelly trained as a newspaper reporter and produced political cartoons or similar artwork. But it was his years working as an in-betweener at Walt Disney Studios that cut his cartooning chops. After leaving Disney to avoid choosing sides in a labor strike, Disney helped him find work back on the East Coast. He started at Western Printing and Lithographing Company, the publisher of both Disney and Dell comics.

The evolution of Pogo Possum.

The evolution of Pogo Possum.

What’s most interesting about this early work is how much of it would recycle into the POGO syndicated strip. This was especially true for the Sunday strips. Since the Sunday strips contained more panels, it was easier for Kelly to translate his sequential pages to the new format. Another point of interest is to see the Pogo character transform from a secondary character to a leading everyman. Albert the Alligator was the protagonist for most of the early stories. Kelly’s art began to evolve as Pogo became the story focus. The character’s visual development skyrockets. The first appearance of Pogo and Albert are in the Disney style, with Pogo himself looking almost rat-like. While Albert’s design doesn’t change much over time, Pogo’s is transformed to a more pleasing one. He receives a more rounded head, larger eyes, and a streamlined body. In 1949, Pogo’s transformation was almost complete as we see it in later work. Kelly stripped away the rodent features to portray the character’s gentle and kind nature. Even Pogo’s tail no longer has a point at the end. Instead, the tail has a more rounded bump.

Pogo was appearing in both POGO in newspaper strips and in the Pogo Possum comic book, published by Western. Kelly felt frustrated producing the comic book and meeting deadlines as the strip’s popularity increased. His frustration only continued with Western trying to capitalize on his old work. Western published a collection of Kelly’s older POGO work from its Animal Comics stories. Kelly tried to fight its publication. He felt that it would confuse readers since the characters had changed in the decade of his telling their stories. Kelly was right. His readers thought he had hired assistants with little training to do new material for him. Kelly cancelled the series soon after to nullify his contract with Western. He was beginning to take control of his property.

This trend continued with his syndicate, Post-Hall. The syndicates owned the comic strips. But in 1952, Kelly wrestled his copyright back under his control. The comic strips started to attribute the copyright to Kelly. The distribution credit belonged to Post-Hall Syndicate. This put Kelly in an exclusive club of cartoonists who owned their creations. The deal meant that Kelly was a business partner with Post-Hall.

1971 Earth Day Poster

1971 Earth Day Poster

Another interesting facet of Kelly exerting control of the POGO property was political satire. The role of political lampooning was not seen in comic strips. This was the job for political cartoons on newspaper editorial pages. Post-Hall was reluctant for Kelly’s content to make this transition. But Kelly owned the strip. To placate the newspaper editors who found the move distasteful, Kelly accommodated them with alternate strips, like those he did for the holidays. Newspapers often did not print on the holidays back then as they did today. Not wanting to confuse the reader, Kelly would do separate strips for those papers who did publish on the holidays. Readers for any given paper were never in the dark or feeling like they missed a key strip.

As POGO’s popularity increased, the merchandising and licensing opportunities inundated Kelly. Again, we see Kelly using his business savvy to flat-out turn down almost every offer. He wanted to have complete control over his creation, and often did not have time to oversee these projects. This may have a correlation to the Disney Labor Strike that led to Kelly leaving the company. Walt Disney used to have daily contact with his workers, especially his animators. As the company grew, Disney had less time to interact with his employees. And the assembly line working conditions of animation caused the employees to gripe. When the animators formed a union and started a strike, the culture at Disney Studios suffered. It had permanent lasting effects on what the company produced in the years hence. Disney’s failure may have had a much more profound effect on Kelly. He had refused to choose a side; it may have taught him to always have personal control of his property.

Disney Animation Strike

Disney Animation Strike

Which isn’t to say that POGO was never used for promotional licensing purposes. Kelly was generous in using his work to support causes he believed in. He mentioned the importance of savings bonds in the content of his strip. Pogo appeared in promotional materials for the Salvation Army, the March of Dimes, and the Department of Labor. He even designed logos for military units. This was common practice at the time. Disney Studios produced a legion of these patches and logos for various armed service branches.

POGO was operating on a much higher level than many of the strips at the time. Kelly used every opportunity to experiment. The characters of the Okefenokee Swamp would often break the fourth wall and address the fact that they were inside a comic strip, in essence making the reader one of the characters. Kelly would introduce new characters on a regular basis. Some fans count around 600 characters before Kelly’s death. Kelly treated his characters almost as if they were actors on a stage. That, in combination with the bending rules of comic strip logic, made for some interesting strips.

pogo-which-way-is-up

Kelly’s art improved from his early Animal Comics days, as seen in his depiction of the Okefenokee Swamp. There was usually a great deal of care put into backgrounds for the first panel. It acts as an establishing environment shot. By the time POGO moved to newspapers, the backgrounds are both lush and minimal. There are definite visual hierarchies. A cluster of trees in the far background used spot black. But the foreground trees almost have more detail than the swamp inhabitants themselves.

As with most artists who use a brush to achieve long, lush lines for their figures, Kelly didn’t use an underdrawing. He chose to bring the characters to life with his brush instead. From studying his original pages, he roughed the characters out in blue line with simple geometric shapes. Kelly thought of each panel as more of a composition rather than talking heads.

From his time at Disney through years of sequential comic book work, Kelly became an artist who knew the value of quality. Combining this with his background as a journalist makes for an interesting pairing. Nothing is ever perfect in newspapers; there are always errors. It’s accepted as part of the business. Kelly took that mentality to his comic strip in much the same way Hergé did with TINTIN. He took what he learned from his earlier work and recycled his art through the lens of a more experienced cartoonist. He never aimed for perfection; he would save it for the next version, the next iteration. By having complete control over his creation, he was able to tweak and refine his stories to his heart’s content. After learning the rules and then breaking them, he didn’t hold a mirror up to the human condition, he created a window for us to take part in.

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