A Brief history of this strip...
It didn't occur to me until my sophomore year at the University of Texas at Austin, that real humans made comic strips - and I could be one of them. There in the middle of a weeder semester as an electrical engineering major, I suddenly felt I had discovered my calling. Ten years later, I'm still calling, without a definite answer.
Incidently, Robert Rodrigues (El Mariachi, Desperado) had a comic strip in The Daily Texan at that time and it played a role in awakening my desires to do it myself. Through several years of diversion to complicated to mention here, my comic strip "Oliver" finally ran in The Shorthorn at the Univ. of Texas at Arligton several years later when I transferred. Oliver focused on a squirrel that wanted more from life than his allotted role - named after Oliver Twist asking for more soup.
1999 is the ten year anniversary of my trying and failing every 6 months to be picked up by the syndicates. Twice a year for 10 years I produced 30 comic strips, character synopses, etc. I packaged it all up, printed them out at Kinkos and sent them out with great hope. I have received several personal rejection letters with some explanations as to why the strip wasn't fit for print (I received plenty of three-line, form rejection letters as well). The same syndicate president liked and disliked the exact opposite elements one year apart. One letter said the squirrel wouldn't work, and couldn't be a central character. A year later, when the squirrel was no longer the center, the rejection letter said the squirrel worked and should be the central character. This from the same president. Another syndicate requested I re-submit my comic with the characters as humans, no animals (it would compete with one of their own features). At first there were 10 or so syndicates with market share. Now there are only four competitive syndicates - don't be fooled by all those names on the comic page, they are really part of large conglomerates.
Just as it never occurred to me that people actually drew comic strips, it some how never dawned on me that I could put up a Webpage. Suddenly, I had this great vision of the web as "build it and they will come" late in 1997. If the syndicates couldn't see the potential in my strip, I hoped the world of web surfers would. I had been surfing the web in college since 1995, but as I mentioned, it never occurred to me to put my comics online. I put up my comic strip which was running weekly in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's kid's section as "Oscar the Wiener Dog" since September of 1996. I still had the misguided notion that millions of surfers were out there scouring the web for the latest and newest thing. I put a page on my dail-up ISP's member page http://www.flash.net/~toonboy/ And waited. And waited. And waited. Two months later with a total of about 40 visits (less than 1 a day!), I had a more sober view of the Web.
In January of 1998, my New Year's goal was to get a domain name. I finished my belated college degree in July of 1997. My comic strip would no longer run in the school paper. If my dream was to continue, I needed a new outlet. My college comic strip was centered around squirrels and park life. My weekly comic strip at the Star-Telegram centered around Oscar the Wiener Dog. My heart was really with the strip from college with all the characters I had developed over the years. But popular sentiment (especially from kids) was with the dog strip. I compromised, and merged all the characters into one strip. Until recently, the combined strip has run only on the web. I named it "Not In My Backyard!" and bought the domain name nimby.net. The name comes from the political science term "NIMBY" referring to local opposition to national projects. (e.g. "Trash dumps are necessary, just not in my backyard.") I was mistaken when I thought NIMBY was a common term known by everyone. People were having a hard time remembering it and when they did, they often went to the dot com instead of the dot net. I realized notinmybackyard.com was a more memorable name, and purchased that as well. Today the site averages 1000 unique visitors a day, about 2500 page views. Still far too few for my taste, but an improvement nonetheless (and my hosting is just barely paid for by advertising).
I chose the dog as a last minute character when the kid section editor didn't want to run my college strip. She liked being difficult. The dog was actually my next door neighbor's at the time - Oscar the Dachshund. I've always been fond of dogs, and have grown up with many at home and at my grandparents. I'm also fascinated by the sociological and historic aspect of dogs. Dog's personalities have always seemed so complex and individual; it is easy to imagine them with human thoughts and intelligence. I can remember my own youth and have since heard other youngsters ask their dogs if they can talk. There's a certain age at which children suspect dogs and other animals can talk, but just keep it a secret. My present comic strip is about that secret.
My original intention was to draw enough attention to the strip so that the syndicates would perk up and put it on their roster. One syndicate creative director actually did pay attention and emailed me the phone number of his secretary. After a rather chumsy exchange of emails, I FedEx'ed them a package of my strips. On short week later, a form rejection letter followed. After deliberately contacting me and asking for a submission, they sent me a form rejection letter. I emailed the director back for an explanation, and he said the board didn't approve. My vision has since changed to be aggressively anti-syndicate. Not In My Backyard! will never be owned by a syndicate. I suppose record and movie producers have a hotter place in hell, but I will be disappointed if syndicates don't have a hot seat.
If the internet hasn't provided me with fame and fortune, it has at least provided enough encouraging fans to keep me going - a needed antidote to the callous syndicates.
Unlike record producers or movie producers that foot the bill to actually produce the product and mass market it, syndicates do nothing these days. They used to have to prepare six weeks or strips and mail them out in a timely fashion to the thousands of papers that carry the strips. Now, almost all the papers use electronic versions of the comics. The threat of electronic distribution was so serious that King Features bought out the company that was doing the distribution. I would do more to fight the syndicates if I didn't think the real reason for their monopoly is newspaper editor laziness and complete disinterest in the comic page. But this is a very long story. Berk Breathed and Bill Waterson have aired their complaints with little avail, so I'm sure my little peeps won't make any difference for now. I am reminded of the children's story of a witch that spends all night casting spells to end the darkness. She never succeeds. By the time morning comes bringing daylight, she is too sleepy to stay awake.
Since I'm a graphic artist by education, I have been schooled in "the effectiveness and necessity of advertising" classes (which should be titled "the effectiveness and necessity of having a job"). I started rooting around the internet for humor sites to advertise on and I discovered several large humor email list that accepted advertising. I got good deals from several of them and was very impressed with the response. Now I'm a little quicker to pick up on a good thing, and I realized I needed one of those. Most hosting services don't allow mailing lists, the ones that did refused to allow an email list that sent attachments. I finally found a host that was cheap enough and included majordomo mail list with the package (and they didn't mind the attachments). I'm totally against the free services that sell your targeted contented to advertisers without giving you a cent. A very bad deal. I consider it almost as criminal at the comic strip syndicates.
The motivation behind the email list to gather an army of supporters to email and write letters to newspapers asking them to pick up the strip. It took several months for me to finally get things set up and working. I started my first mailing on April 14 of this year, with 9 subscribers. I found that when mailing my comic strip from my Machintosh computer, the file was unreadable by a large percentage of Windows' email clients (and web-based clients.) I adapted a web-based, mime-mailing script, and now mail my cartoons from a password protected area of my site (on unix) to the list host. I mastered the art of keeping the b&w strip to under 20k. Any larger takes too long to download, and with majordomo the undeliverable mail is sent back to you. After my list reached 3000, the bounces and administrivia of majordomo was too time-consuming. I jumped on board a new, free hosting service that did not force you to run their ads. This turned out to be a "get what you pay for" type of service. When my list stalled at 4750 people for several weeks without explanation, I realized I needed to find an affordable - but accountable - list host. After a long search, a list reader recommended listhost.net. As I mentioned, I have become accustomed to less-than-favorable responses from list host companies. One even suggested I stick with the free service. I was surprised to find listhost.net quite enthusiastic about my list and very affordable. I felt I had someone on my side. Listhost.net has worked flawlessly. My subscriber list is up to 5300, about three weeks after switching.
I often wish I could just mail out the cartoons without comment. Producing a comic strip daily takes most of my heart and soul, and I often have little left to give the list in personal comments. Once again, the direct feedback of fans has kept me going some of my burn-out periods. Recently, I've started adding funny pet stories to the list from readers.
My original goal was to wait for the magic number of 10,000 subscribers to start my assault on the newspaper circuit. Through the unsolicited help of the list's readers, I've been contacted by several newsletters and newspapers requesting to run my strip. None of the publications are very big, but it is a start. Which brings me to my latest project -setting up a password protected press download area. I'm also very busy doing two and three comics strips a night trying to get 30 strips ahead (for publications). The press area is http://www.notinmybackyard.com/press