A New Deal For Gagwriters
By Ron Coleman
When gagwriters collaborate with cartoonists the typical deal goes like this: The gagwriter submits typed gag ideas and the cartoonist picks and holds those he likes. The cartoonist then draws up the gags and submits them to his markets. If the cartoonist makes a sale he gives the gagwriter 25 percent of what he receives and keeps the other 75 percent.
The 50-50 Plan
Here is another approach which used to be touted by George Hartman, publisher of Cartoon World (formerly known as Information Guide. He called it the 50-50 plan and here is how it worked. Interested cartoonists and gagwriters would get together and gagwriters would submit their ideas as typewritten ideas to magazines. If the magazine liked one they would give the gagwriter the go-ahead and the gagwriter would have his cartoonist partner draw up the cartoon. In this circumstance, when the magazine paid for it the gagwriter would keep 50 percent of the check and the cartoonist would get the other 50 percent.
Most publications would not go along with this idea since it involved an extra step for them to take. But it did work for publications which had trouble finding good cartoons, primarily because they had a very difficult slant. In fact, I've sold quite a few cartoons this way to highly-slanted trade journals by submitting my ideas first in typewritten form. I found it saved me a lot of time since I didn't have to draw up a lot of cartoons that would only get rejected. Once an editor approved one of my ideas they would usually buy it 100 percent of the time.
A Better Plan?
With the traditional collaboration where the gagwriter receives 25 percent of the sale, it is very difficult for gagwriters to make any money. First of all, when they submit ideas to the cartoonist, that cartoonist will only accept a small percentage of what they write. Then the cartoonist has to submit them to his markets and usually he will only sell a small percentage of what he submits. I found when I submit cartoons on speculation to any magazine other than regular markets I work with, I would pretty consistently sell one or two percent of what I submitted.
So suppose the gagwriter writes 1000 gags and the cartoonist accepts 10 percent of them. The cartoonist draws up 100 cartoons and sells maybe one or two. The gagwriter gets 25 percent of one or two sales out of 1000 gags he has written. Those are pretty long odds and if the cartoonist only accepts one or two percent of what he submits those odds get longer.
I've experimented with just paying cash for gags I accept, which is a good deal for the gagwriter, but a losing proposition for me since I sell such a small percentage of what I buy.
So here is a new proposition which I think is better for both the cartoonist and the gagwriter. The gagwriter submits his gag ideas to a cartoonist. The cartoonist draws up those he likes and at the same time sends the gagwriter a copy of each cartoon. Then both the cartoonist and the gagwriter are free to submit those cartoons. If the gagwriter makes a sale, he keeps 50 percent. If the cartoonist makes the sale he gives the gagwriter 25 percent. This gives the gagwriter more control over the marketing and with both sides submitting the work increases the chances for sales.
I'd be interested in hearing the opinions of cartoonists and gagwriters concerning this plan.