Digital rebirth for comic strips

"See you in the funny pages" takes on a new meaning for cartoon artists who are making a home on the Web.

Hans Bjordahl is the quintessential new-media cartoonist.

Bjordahl, a 36-year-old program manager for Microsoft's Outlook e-mail program, has also been a cartoonist for years, first at his college newspaper in Colorado and later for the Denver Post in Colorado.

Today, you can find his weekly comic strip, "BugBash," in Microsoft's internal newsletter MicroNews, and on the Internet, where it can reach a diverse and growing audience without piggybacking on the newspaper syndicates that have long dominated the distribution of newspaper comic strips.

Like other types of entertainment, comic strips are changing with the times. As the newspaper space allotted to comics shrinks along with advertising dollars, cartoonists are looking for new ways to reach their audience. Even "Dilbert" creator Scott Adams, who has had an online presence for 11 years, started publishing a blog in October.

"Comic strips are moving away from newsprint," said Don Asmussen, a political comic-strip writer at the San Francisco Chronicle. His "Bad Reporter" is syndicated through Universal Press Syndicate in 30 newspapers. "If it's not going to appear in print, then why not move it? Animation is the future of cartooning."

No doubt, newspapers have lost many of their big comic strip names over the last decade. Famed strips such as "Peanuts," "Calvin and Hobbes," "The Far Side" and "Bloom County" are gone. Some newspaper groups like the Tribune Company, publisher of the Los Angeles Times, have cut costs by dropping editorial cartoonists, despite their popularity.

As one comic-strip writer put it: "Newspapers try to satisfy everyone and therefore they satisfy no one."

Comics online

As comics move online, the rules for reaching a broader audience are changing, and the skills those cartoonists need to reach their audience change as well.

Bjordahl, for example, maintains a blog with a small group of fans, and plans to join a federation of niche comic strips--including a paleontologist comic--that target specialized ads to his audience.

Traditional comic-strip writers also face tough competition from animated cartoons. The political satire of was a staple of the last presidential election, in many ways setting the bar for animated humor.

Traffic to humor sites, which include comic strips, grew 20 percent last year and attracted roughly 30 million unique readers, according to market researcher Nielsen NetRatings. The top sites, according to Nielsen, are sites that largely carry animated cartoons like and The popular satire site The Onion and, a collection of syndicated comic strips that includes "Marmaduke," are in the top 15.

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