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25Jan/120

Comic Strip Advertising Really Works

Article by Dick Kulpa

We all seek ways to get our messages out to attract customers, readers and some good ol' attention. Advertising flyers, newspaper/magazine ads, radio and TV commercials, web site banner ads, etc. overwhelm us. But one key element has been forgotten: comic strips. Originally an American invention, this simple yet colorful medium combines pictures with text to tell a story. The very first comic books were actually bound reprints from newspaper "funnies," and sold for 5-10 cents each. Through the 1940s, these low-priced comic books sold millions per month to an eager mainstream kid-based audience. After a slump in the 1950s, fueled by Congressional investigations into comics as "subversive elements," comic books resurged in the 1960s, with 12 cent editions riding high on the popularity of the Batman TV show as well as Marvel Comics' new and unique reality-based presentations.As comics grew in popularity during the 1960s, they fueled a "comics fandom" full of artistic wannabes desiring to draw superhero comics for the established comic companies. To push their careers, amateur fan comic books were published by the thousands. But their scope was limited, and they catered to the science fiction/superhero genre. So if a comics artists couldn't get into the industry, there was little else he/she could -- or would -- do. Few of these folks probably considered marketing their talents in comic strip advertising for local consumption. But issue prices skyrocketed as distribution outlets shrank, and the comic book vanished as a prolific mainstream industry, devolving to the much smaller cult following base.As high school paper cartoonist, I was "forced" to draw political cartoons instead of the entertainment comics I wanted to do. And as the years went by, my interest in entertainment comics waned, preferring instead to do "local consumption, relevant" features my peers could relate to. There, I achieved success -- and far better results than most industry professionals.So I still believe in the "comic book."Today, comics are one of the most under-used mediums in communication. With low cost and ease of production, the comic strip/book ranks as one of our potentially greatest mass communication devices ever. And issues can be printed for as little as 10 cents each, assuming you publish over 100,000 copies. Your local newspaper usually has a web-press, capable of printing 8-16 page full-color newsprint issues.Consider these cartoon campaign accomplishments:1) A political cartoon campaign featured single panel political cartoons, and was produced in support of a small city police department in trouble with the Federal EPA. The cartoons inspired Congressmen and Senators -- right up to Sen. Adlai Stevenson III -- to come to the police department's defense, and the issue was successfully resolved. An $ 18,800 fine was canceled.2) A cartoon series utilized newspaper comic strips to sell Toyotas at a local dealership. The cartoons grew into billboards, radio and TV commercials, generating record customer turnouts and a coveted ad award for "Best Newspaper Ad Campaign".3) A local politician won election to a county board seat with campaign literature featuring a political cartoon as its cover.4) A published comic booklet campaign helped the city of Loves Park, Illinois in efforts to attract a GM Saturn assembly plant. The booklet's cover was featured on the front page of the Detroit Free Press business section, something money can't buy. A second full color edition was commissioned, and Illinois Governor Jim Thompson exchanged autographed copies with GM Chairman Roger Smith. A grateful Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs granted the city some $ 950,000 in economic development money, and DCCA Director Michael Wolfer trumpeted the cartoon booklet in a USA TODAY article 4 years later.5) Another cartoon campaign featured poster-sized cartoon placards for a group working in support of Donald Trump's efforts to diminish jet plane noise over Palm Beach, Florida. Hundreds of people waved these placards at a rally, and it appears jets have since gotten quieter!6) Upon its initial Illinois release, the 8-page anti-gang Gangbuster comic booklet was greeted with high enthusiasm, and a local newspaper story declared Gangbuster as "more popular than (Chicago Bears players) Walter Peyton and the Fridge combined", when an actual costumed hero appeared at a local school assembly. The program became a spirited anti-gang pep rally, and charged-up children were clamoring for autographs a full half hour after it ended. Things got so quiet the city actually dropped its $ 250,000 anti-gang budget.7) The "New Millennium" Gangbuster has been revitalized with considerable assistance from the Boynton Beach, FL Police Department, and is currently being distributed by the BBPD through community centers, events, restaurants and a growing list of outlets. Major area newspapers, television and radio stations have all publicized the new Gangbuster, and kids and parents alike are requesting copies by the dozens. This campaign is ongoing, and it can be viewed at http://www.gangbustercomics.comThe above cartoon efforts not only helped solve problems, they created new opportunities by energizing people to get involved, work together and take actions. They engendered new hope and creativity toward solutions. And they successfully communicated that which needed to be said. Whether children, politicians or customers were targeted, all groups responded. Powerfully.Why? Comics got everyone's attention. So the next time you're seeking a sure-fire way to advertise, promote or educate.....think "comics." Your local community is full of younger, "anime-type" artists looking for outlets. And remember one key point: the story is equally as important as the art. Artists -- and writers -- can be found on Craigslist.

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