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Mike Keefe Taking Denver Post Buyout

Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Mike Keefe, my pal and staffer for the Denver Post for more than 35 years, has decided to accept a buyout.

Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Mike Keefe, my pal and staffer for the Denver Post, has decided to accept a buyout and leave the position he’s held for more than 35 years. It’s sad news, as the Denver Post could become the latest in a line of prominent cartooning positions that have either been eliminated or no longer exist (Los Angeles Times, Dallas Morning News, Seattle Times, Newark Star-Ledger).

Keefe’s last day at The Post will be November 29, but I’m happy to report that he will continue to draw cartoons (at a somewhat lessened pace) for Cagle Cartoons to syndicate.

Mike Keefe / Denver Post (click to view Keefe's Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoons)

I did a quick interview with Mike via email between plates of turkey and sweet potatoes.

What made you decide to take the Denver Post’s buyout offer?

I had planned to semi-retire in a year. The Post’s buyout offer was advertised as a year’s salary (in reality it’s somewhat less). So, I could work and earn a year’s salary or I could not work and earn a year’s salary. I did the math.

Was it your choice to leave, or did you feel pressure about layoffs coming down the pipe?

I felt no pressure to leave. And while layoffs could come if they don’t get 18 takers on the buyout, I felt pretty secure. The Post has always treated me well. It’s been an emotional few weeks. Bittersweet. I am sorry to see that they are forced to cut back on staff. The revenue is simply not coming in. Thank you, Craigslist and digital media. I think print journalism can also blame itself for being slow to react to the digital media revolution.

You just won the Pulitzer last year. What did you editors say when you told them you were going for the buyout?

Let’s just say nobody came clamoring around my drawing board trying to dissuade me.

 

Mike Keefe

Do you think the Denver Post will be hiring a new cartoonist to replace you?

Even though there is a long tradition of high quality cartooning at The Post–my predecessors were Paul Conrad and Pat Oliphant–I’m guessing that it’s unlikely that they will seek a replacement. I could be wrong. Send them your portfolios.

You’ve been with the Denver Post since 1975. What are you looking forward to most with the free time you’ve just given yourself?

My wife, who is still working, asked me how I was going to spend my days. I said, “Three words: Turner Classic Movies.” She was not amused. Actually, I have a number of things in mind: I want to beef up my guitar chops, paint a bit, pick up the slack on Sardonika.com, a satiric blog that Tim Menees and I do. (He’s been doing most of the heavy lifting lately.) And I want to write. I’ve been researching the armored recon squadron in which my dad served in WWII. I’ve gotten a lot of riveting material.

When you won your Pulitzer, you mentioned that you were surprised because you thought your day has passed. With greats like yourself taking buyouts and retiring, how do you view the future of editorial cartooning?

There is plenty of incredible talent of all ages in our business. I don’t worry about any decline in quality. How they earn a living at is another question. It’s a lot tougher now than it was when I started.

What role do you think cartoonists have in this age of smart phones, digital-first newsrooms and instant interaction with readers?

The answer to that is implied in your question. Clearly cartoonists must create with digital media in mind. Traditional newspapers are going to be a less robust and thinner version of their former selves. Not many will be able to afford to support a full-time cartoonist. That means someone has to crack the code concerning online profits. Till that time, it will be a forum for the dedicated and passionate cartoonist who also works at Starbucks.

Check out Mike Keefe’s cartoon archive here 

By Daryl Cagle

Daryl Cagle is the founder and owner of Cagle Cartoons, Inc. He is one of the most widely published editorial cartoonists and is also the editor of The Cagle Post.

18 replies on “Mike Keefe Taking Denver Post Buyout”

“Crack the code concerning online profits” – code?? What code? The one which lets sites like http://www.licd.com or http://www.questionablecontent.net or http://www.girlgeniusonline.com or http://www.pvp-online.com thrive? Or the “code” that allows http://www.penny-arcade.com to donate literally millions per year from their PAX shows to childrens’ charities?

There is no code. There is only engaging content intelligently monetized, or not.  

The irony is incredible. I came here from a link on the site of an online cartoon that’s been profitable for over 10 years, to find out that a guy is taking a buyout from a failing newspaper, and while he says newspapers will be “thinner,” he also says no one has cracked the online “code.”

So long, Mike. Good luck finding a clue.

Umm, those are all pop culture comics. This conversation is clearly more in the vein of political cartoonists, who haven’t found much online success as yet. This is not to discount the success of those other comics, but there is a huge difference between them. Case in point, an excellent online political comic, http://www.filibuster.com has struggled in relative obscurity despite being both very well drawn and having over a decade of archives.

Also, the millions these comics donate are not from their own pockets. They are raising it for charity. Big difference. Huge. I’m sure they donate generous from their own pockets as well, but it’s not millions. 

No offence here… but why not simply become pop culture? Pop culture can be very political and if done well should be able to draw the same support as those comics cited above.

“….allows http://www.penny-arcade.com to donate literally millions per year **from their PAX shows** to childrens’ charities?” (re-emphasis mine on my quote…)

Of course there’s a big difference between Mike and Jerry contributing beyond the many thousands they personally do.

But, essential to my point, PAX events are possible at all *because of* the popular/cultural success of Penny Arcade. Online. The long term, huge, life-changing-for-thousands-of-kids (and fun for everyone) online success.

Code? What code?

Again, you’re choosing to conflate apples and oranges. The post isn’t saying pop culture comics can’t be successful, it’s saying that it’s harder for political cartoons to be successful nowadays. This is a simple premise and I’ve seen nothing in your post that addresses. This fundamental distinction renders your entire point moot. 

It would be like someone lamenting that newspapers are going out of business and political writers having less career options and you retorting that writers for Readers Digest and Entertainment Weekly are doing really well. I’m happy for them, but it’s neither here nor there. 

And what a powerful political message it contains. Seriously, I couldn’t make a much better argument about the limitations pop culture comics have in the sphere of political discussion than that comic. Thank you!

Honestly, if this is what you consider superior political observation I can only conclude that your knowledge of the news is superficial at best.

Regarding the viability of political cartoons as webcomics… has anyone actually TRIED? Like, actually tried setting up a site, posting a strip every day (or at least 3x/week), and rigidly holding to the schedule for the year or more than it takes ANY new webcomic to achieve viability? There are many ways to monetize, especially when you own the content and control it’s application. Licensing and merchandising aren’t entirely mysterious realms. The part that most can’t accept is the idea that you may not turn a profit for more than a year, but you have to run the business as if you do.

But last I heard, that’s how ANY new business gets rolling, you’re not SUPPOSED to turn a profit for a certain amount of time. Maybe that’s the part that cartoonists need to understand. We can’t just get a job working for someone else (newspapers, magazines), you’ve got to run the business yourself. Successful webcomics aren’t successful because they’re pop-culture-based (many of them are narratively based, with continuity and character development a key factor in their longevity), they’re successful because their creators found a market and they worked to succeed in it.

Surely there’s still a market for political cartoons. The audience isn’t changing so much as the delivery media. The prize goes to the ones who are willing to work beyond the drawing phase, and be a business manager as well as an artist.

I think you’d find more what you’re looking for at XKCD.com  on the political side of things.  It’s out there and many people are successful. 

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