When the Funny Pages Got Facebook Pages

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For many of us, our first exposure to reading the newspaper was through reading comic strips like Garfield or Peanuts. The whole concept of the Sunday morning full-color comics seems like a relic from another time. It’s been a long, long time and with many of the great old-school cartoonists gone, the art form seemed like it was extinct. But faster than you could ever hope to stop Marmaduke from jumping on the couch, comic strips are back. Thanks to digital branding and social media marketing, indie animators are also becoming merchandising and marketing masters.

Created in 2009 by Seattle cartoonist Matthew Inman, The Oatmeal is the must-read comic blog and it’s turned Inman into a major celebrity and entrepreneur. The Oatmeal’s musings on cats, technology and nearly everything else are hotly forwarded and posted on Facebook. Inman is a former web designer and developer who, with a minimal investment, turned his cartoons into a goldmine. Part of Inman’s genius — aside from being a hilarious cartoonist — is that he really gets social media. Constantly posting on Facebook and Twitter, Inman interacts with his fans using the same humor that makes his blog sparkle.

And the effort has paid off. His new book, 5 Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth, is a New York Times bestseller while a recent book tour brought out big crowds. Add to this the prints, t-shirts and mugs, and Inman is well on his way to Schultz-like comic infamy.

Internet comic collectives that serve as a hub for comic strips are all the rage, too. Natalie Dee has a devoted 56,000 followers on Facebook and she shares web space with her husband Drew. The popular Married to the Sea has launched individual comic strips produced by the pair. Like any good entrepreneurial comics, Natalie and Drew have a full line of t-shirts and other goods.

Social media is the perfect medium for cartoonists to alert their fans about the latest must-have items and new comic strips. So while the days of Nancy and Sluggo may be gone, the web has turned comics into brands and inspired a new generation of artists and small business owners.

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