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Monday, April 13, 2009

Filibuster: The end, for now


We've been posting J.J. McCullough's cartoons here on The Shotgun for as long as I can remember. In fact, I still remember sending ex-ed-in-chief Kevin Libin an excited email about an amazing cartoonist that should be in the WS magazine (back when we were in print), only to be told that Libin and the gang had already employed him (I was in the U.S., my subscription was in Canada).

So it's with a certain amount of sadness and regret that I'm posting the following from J.J. McCullough. On behalf of everyone here at the Standard: Good luck in Japan, and change your mind! (And thanks for the incredible cartoons).

It’s with a heavy heart that I have decided to put Filibuster on an indefinite hiatus.

My reasons are multiple, but the simplest explanation may also be the most blunt — the site is simply not popular enough.

I have been doing Filibuster for nearly eight years now, which is not an insignificant period of time by webcomic standards. I’ve produced almost 1,000 toons, and while my update schedule has obviously become far more loose over the course of the last year or so, overall, I’ve still held pretty firm to my self-imposed mandate of at least one toon a week, every week, since 2001.

Yet I don’t feel I have very much to show for it all. If Google Analytics is to be believed, I average an extraordinarily pathetic 2,000 visitors a day, a rate that has remained depressingly constant over the last few years, in spite of producing a number of very popular comics that have been cross-linked from some big-name blogs. In such situations I may get an enormous deluge of new visitors for a day or two, but it always trickles back into a wimpy stream soon enough. I likewise get very few emails from readers, and this site’s forum, though home to much intelligent and engaging dialogue, remains sparsely inhabited. It’s all very unsatisfying.

I don’t know exactly why Filibuster never “caught on.” Usually sheer longevity (coupled with a vaguely consistent standard of quality) is enough to drive up some sort of stable support base with just about any webcomic, but not so with mine.

I have my theories, of course. A leading one is that most people simply don’t like editorial cartoons, so I always faced an uphill battle. Editorial cartooning is a somewhat anachronistic art form with a subtlety that many people either don’t get, or actively dislike. Political cartoons, with their stock symbols and labels and visual metaphors and all the rest are formulaic, yes, but so is Manga and so are superhereo comics and so are online strips about video games and all the rest. But I’ve never quite understood why some folks get such a thrill out of eagerly denouncing and mockingthe traditions (admittedly unimpressive and boring as they sometimes are) of political cartoons with a snobbish venom few other forms of cartooning ever have to face.

But editorial cartooning may be on the way out, anyway. According to Daryl Cagle, the prolific commentator on all things relating to editorial cartoons, as newspapers become less profitable in the internet age, editorial cartoons are often one of the first costs to cut. As a result, claims Cagle, there are now “only a few dozen editorial cartoonists left” in the United States “and they seem to be losing their jobs at a pace of about one per week.” So maybe I bet on the wrong horse.

Of course, this theory does not explain the tremendous success enjoyed by Cox and Forkum, another solely online editorial cartoon (now in hiatus too) whose popularity was enough to inspire tens of thousands of visitors, two books, reprints in newspapers across the United States and Canada, and all the accompanying rewards. Granted, Cox and Forkum was always an explicitly right-wing comic, which gave them a strong support base during the fanatic polarization of the Bush years. I’m not going to self-righteously suggest that I was somehow above crass partisanship myself when my pet issues were at play, but I was certainly less interested than most in making my comic openly pro or anti left or right. And that probably hurt me. Content wise, I was probably also too Canadian for my majority-American readership, and not Canadian (or perhaps not pro-Canadian) enough to get a strong Canadian base. But who knows, maybe I just should have updated more.

A webcomic can only be a labour of love for so long. In recent months Filibuster has become a bit of a chore, and its obligatory nature has often drawn my creative / artistic energy away from other projects that I am more interested in perusing. Living in Japan has likewise proven to be a much more difficult and unhappy experience than I anticipated, and the last thing I need when I’m in such a state is one more unpleasant chore to further lower my mood.

Lastly, I’m simply just not as into politics as I used to be, at least for now. I think President Obama deserves the benefit of the doubt for the time being, and I don’t wish him any particular ill in pursuing whatever agenda it is he’s pursuing. America voted for change, and he has a right to implement it. Politics in Canada, by contrast, has become so profoundly anti-change that I really have a hard time getting passionate about it anymore. Harper and Ignatieff are both decent men, I guess, but it’s going to be a long time before any effort is made to address Canada’s fundamental problems, which as a wise man once said, are never openly acknowledged, let alone solved.

Anyway, while one never wants to say never, especially when one is as fickle as I, I think this is going to be the end of Filibuster for a while. I’ve had a good run. Enjoy the archives, and if you are still interested in following my art, be sure to check out my Deviant Art page, which I will hopefully be updating more regularly in lieu of this site. When I do more writings or charts, I’ll also stick them on here, so updates will occur. I’m also planning on revamping myCanada Guide sometime in the future, so… don’t abandon Filibuster completely.

Thanks to everyone who has stuck with me this long. Though I may sound down, it has been a great experience for me overall, and I’ve learned a ton. Hopefully you’ve gained something, too.

Let’s stay in touch.

J.J. McCullough
April 2009, Saitama, Japan


Posted by P.M. Jaworski on April 13, 2009 in Western Standard | Permalink


Terrible news.

Best of luck at whatever is next for you, JJ.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-04-13 7:18:26 PM


"I don’t know exactly why Filibuster never 'caught on.' Usually sheer longevity (coupled with a vaguely consistent standard of quality) is enough to drive up some sort of stable support base with just about any webcomic, but not so with mine. I have my theories, of course. A leading one is that most people simply don’t like editorial cartoons...."

I really don't mean this to sound cruel, but I love editorial cartoons and would have become a regular visitor to his site if his were better. But the simple truth is that McCullough is a very talented artist who just isn't as funny as he thinks he is. The answer to why he has not 'caught on', I believe, is the simple one he himself identifies: A lack of a consistent standard of quality.

I wish him well and hope art is somehow in his future. But editorial cartooning is just not his bag.

Posted by: Fact Check | 2009-04-13 7:32:49 PM

mccullough's cartoons were sly, they were bold, they were funny and they were infuriating. he was absolutely wrong 89.9 per cent of the time, but wrong with such a great designerly powerpuff-girls-meet-tex-avery style that - try as you might - YOU HAD TO READ THAT CARTOON. damn you, jj. damn you.

Posted by: murphy | 2009-04-16 7:37:44 AM

Interesting. I was under the impression getting 2,000 hits a day in the big picture that is the ENTIRE INTERNET was considered to be doing pretty good. Besides that, Analytics is a fickle beast, my site "only" gets around 400 hits a day, but 7,000 unique visitors a month, due to something called post clumping (reading several posts in one shot, not visiting for a week, repeat.)

Unless his general visits and unique visitors count happen to be the same, he probably had more readers than he realized.

Sure, a few webcomics like Penny Arcade and PVP hit 20K-50K/day, but the simple fact is, there are more net surfers who like geeky webcomics than online editorial cartoons.

Quitting due to the current political climate, sure, that makes sense. Ironically a lot of editorial cartoonists have who they want in office now, and came to the realization too late that they partisanly wise-cracked their way out of their jobs.

But to consider 2,000+ readers as pathetic, is pathetic in and of itself.

Posted by: comic-analytics | 2009-04-17 2:12:12 PM

I thought that 2000 number as good as well, c-a.

The challenge on the internet is monetizing traffic. Online publishing of any kind is rarely financially rewarding.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-04-17 2:44:22 PM

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