I’m a newspaper editorial cartoonist. The decline of newspapers has dragged my profession down; cartoonists see our print clients sinking, while the internet hasn’t developed a culture of paying for content. Ironically, the audience for editorial cartoons is bigger online than it ever was for print. Editorial cartoons can enrage despots and cause riots. Cartoons are more powerful than words. Cartoonists are on the front lines of journalism — but we struggle to pay the rent.
Crazy sales figures and global media attention have artists of all kinds talking about NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens), a new, online phenomenon that enables artists to sell rights to their work directly to art collectors and fans. Simply put: NFTs are efficient contracts that guarantee value in scarcity — for me, only one NFT per cartoon — and prove provenance on an unhackable blockchain online ledger. I find myself asking: Could NFTs save the editorial cartooning profession? Artists of all kinds are eager to take advantage of NFTs, which could be an exciting new income opportunity or a momentary tech bubble, ready to burst.
Readers on the web tend to follow the cartoonists with whom they agree, preferring strong opinions — cartoons that “draw blood.” Newspaper readers are older, and timid print editors tend to select cartoons that shy away from strong opinions. Editorial cartoonists with Patreon pages (where online fans support their work through donations) see a stark difference between their print and Web audiences. I see the difference on our reader-supported Cagle.com site, where our “Hero” contributors tend to be liberals who prefer cartoons that are much stronger, and farther to the left than what newspaper editors will accept.
Another problem editorial cartoonists have with newspapers is that we’re limited to the topics that dominate CNN and Fox News; we don’t get reprinted if we draw on other topics. Some important topics, like most environmental issues, overpopulation, social issues that are always simmering but never boiling into headlines, simply don’t make it into editorial cartoons. I get lots of email from readers who ask about why there are no editorial cartoons about a particular issue that is close to a reader’s heart.
Fans are already influencing cartoonists by supporting them directly; what if those fans became NFT collectors, and what if a market of collectors became the main, paying clients for editorial cartoonists instead of newspapers? What if collectors who worry about endangered species bought cartoons about gorillas, whales and sea turtles? What if collectors who want to see cartoons with stronger opinions actually purchased the strong cartoons that “draw blood”?
If NFTs endure, could collectors steer the cartoon debate along with newspaper editors, CNN and Fox News? There are reasons to think this could happen; the virtual fine art that is popular with collectors often takes political positions, and often ridicules both political institutions and the art world itself; editorial cartoons seem to be a good fit with the NFT, art collector culture. Collectors want to make an impact on society.
A new and innovative NFT platform called Portion.io is ready to put this to the test with an ambitious plan to build a marketplace for editorial cartoon NFTs. Portion is taking the first step with a “drop” of my own editorial cartoons. We’ll test the waters with very modest, fixed prices to start — and we’ll see how it goes! We’re expecting that if the first drop of my own cartoons goes well, we’ll introduce many new editorial cartoonists on Portion. Subsequent drops of cartoons will be offered as auctions where we’ll see if collectors have the potential of impacting the public debate, and we’ll see if the NFT marketplace can save an important art form that is a traditional part of journalism. The world needs editorial cartoons. I’m hoping art collectors will need them too.”
Come watch the first editorial cartoon NFT drop at Portion on April 17th! My ten NFT cartoons are already posted there at: https://app.portion.io/#editorialcartoons without prices, prior to the Saturday drop/release date.
Tomorrow I’ll post my first NFT cartoons here in the blog and write some more about them.