In Search of Audience, Some Cartoonists Try Twitter; Others Aren't Sold

By Michael Cavna
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Sitting expectantly at the taping of a late-night talk show, Bryan Brinkman was a near-anonymous New Yorker -- literally just another face in the crowd. The 24-year-old cartoonist had a Web site and a day job, but he could count on two ink-stained hands how many people officially followed his work.

By the next morning, as he checked his Twitter account, he no longer had seven followers. He had more than 10,000. And within 24 hours of the show, even that doubled.

This sudden explosion was tallied by Twitter's metrics -- and rallied by Jimmy Fallon, who on his new NBC "Late Night" show last month conducted a stunt: He urged viewers to sign up as "followers" of Brinkman's Twitter account. As a result, Brinkman also saw his professional animation Web site draw thousands of page views in the days that followed, he says. The Bryan Brinkman Experiment had tapped the power of Twitter for professionals.

As Twitter, the social micro-blogging service that lets people share 140-character posts, passes its third anniversary -- and as many cartoonists are hit by the tough economic times in print publishing -- the Brinkman Experiment spotlights a cartooning-career question that grows ever louder:

To tweet or not to tweet?

For some cartoonists in need of new readers, that is the connection.

As newspaper comics sections shrink or vanish, as alt-weekly papers slash their cartoons, as political cartoonists see their ranks reduced almost weekly, social networking looms large as a way to reach fans during this dauntingly uncertain time for cartooning. "Dilbert's" creator Scott Adams led the way for mainstream cartoonists to use e-mail; many comic artists use Facebook -- but are cartoonists atwitter over Twitter?

Garry Trudeau's "Doonesbury" comic strip recently satirized journalists such as NBC's David Gregory who famously tweet about the play-by-play minutiae of their day. Trudeau, like Jon Stewart's "Daily Show," has characterized Twitter as mere gimmick.

Twitter is "usefully applied in some hands, pointlessly so in others," says Trudeau, who won a Pulitzer for "Doonesbury." His use for it? He employs Twitter itself to satirize Twitter. And so on the site's account for Roland Hedley, his comic strip's fictional Fox News reporter tweets Trudeau's cutting witticisms.

For Daryl Cagle, who runs the cartooning Web site/syndicate, Twitter helps build his business and alert his readers to industry news. With more than 25,000 followers, Cagle is consistently among the "Top 300" most popular micro-bloggers in the Twitterverse, according to measurement site (By comparison, sometime graphic novelist Neil Gaiman is in the rarefield air well north of 100,000 followers.)

"I don't do a lot of 'What are you doing?' trivial personal posts," says the Southern California-based Cagle. "I mostly link cartoons and things I see on the Web that interest me. My followers know who I am and what to expect from me.

"People who think Twitter is trivial aren't using it productively," says Cagle, whose site features the work of about 200 editorial cartoonists. Cagle says he also uses Twitter for creative purposes, sometimes bouncing ideas off his followers.

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