Digital Cartooning: Michael Jantze Pairs Comic Strips and YouTube

With the decline of newspapers, many cartoonists are looking for new ways to get their work in front of an audience. Michael Jantze, cartoonist and illustrator and creator of The Norm, became his own publisher on the web, but took the unexpected step of putting his cartoons up on YouTube. They are not illustrations, but rather a short video with enough time for the reader to take in each panel of his comic strips. We caught up with Jantze and asked him about comic strips and YouTube.

When and why did you decide to post your comic strips to YouTube?

My animation studio had been working with a couple of the cartoon syndicates on new media solutions for newspaper comics. We started a few years back with some short form (less than 30 seconds) animations for "Zits" and "Baby Blues". But the time and cost of converting a gag written for print to the small screen, and making them funny, seemed prohibitive for any return on investment. Other companies were also trying some ideas as well.

I next tried something similar to a motion comic, called audio comics, more like an audio book, you know? It relied on voice acting and the sound design to lift the viewer's imagination, we could use the original comic artwork and it cut production time down to about one-tenth. A week became a day. I think the format is fairly successful for comic strips, especially, but it still took too long for one person to do the work.

So the comic readeo took all the motion out of the motion comic and relies completely on reading the strip. No more voice over or read-along. This got the production down to about an hour, two if I'm pokey and I felt I had something that a cartoonist could do on their own.

I started posting the comic readeos just over a year ago, first sporadically, one or two a month, and since August 2013, weekly. I'm not promoting outside putting a link on my social media pages and just letting it find it's own path presently, since I'm still tweaking content and format as I go.

Here's an old strip format:

And a new strip format:

How did posting to YouTube to change your creative process? Did you draw differently or tell the story differently?

I consider writing to be about 70-80% of the workload for a cartoon and the brand of humor hasn't changed much since doing the weekly comic readeos. I have noticed that I'm gravitating more towards gags with fewer words and I've limited myself to six panels. The biggest changes are some of the more technical items, but again, it's not the most important part of creating a comic. For instance, I changed the ratio of the panel to match a 16:9 widescreen, eliminated the border rule and brightened my color palette for better display on RGB HD screens. Small stuff, really.

What are the tools and software you use to create The Norm and edit it for YouTube?

I'm still drawing on paper. I use a printer's card stock similar to Bristol or Bristol (honestly, whatever is available). I pencil and ink on paper, color the scanned image in Adobe Photoshop and then put it to production in Adobe After Effects. It's at those stages the Wacom Cintiq comes into play. I've set a goal to finish the color and production work in no more than an hour each. I don't want the experience for the viewer/reader to get too close to animation or even motion. I'm relying on the gag to be funny and choosing the transitions and sound effects to add to the reader's experience. 

After one of our black pug dogs died in December, I started doing a "throw away" feature called Ruff Life, mostly when I feel like it, of Mr. Pug trying to get through his work week. They're pantomime and silly. "Ruff Life" is created entirely with my Cintiq and Photoshop.

What is your advice to other cartoonists who want to broaden their audience?

I might be the worse person to ask this question. After five years off from daily cartooning, it seems that there are so many more people "doing amazing marketing" for their features. But personally, I've started small and plan to just let the audience grow organically around the feature. I'm a bit behind schedule as I only have a prototype of the strips page up on my site at http://www.jantze.com/strips.

How much of your own life is fodder for The Norm?

More and more these days. Norm was single for the first five years of the syndicated newspaper feature. On January 1st of the sixth year, he woke up married. Now starting on the 11th year of strips, Norm has a baby and a kindergartener and they look very much like my own children.

To keep up with Michael Jantze check out his website, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram.