Comments on “tryout strips” . . .

Note (10-15-13):  I just read through this post, and I made one or two really tiny changes.  But I think this is one of my best posts.  Not sure it will change anyone’s thinking — but it should!

Soon I intend to spend some time discussing Frank Godwin’s Rusty Ryan sample strips.  Notice that I did not call them “tryout” strips.

This post is basically my own opinions, thought up in my own head, based mainly on experience.  You may have completely different opinions than mine on the matters discussed.  If someone like Mort Walker or the like were to say I am wrong on the stuff below, I would probably accept that!

Anyway, I want to start by saying that I dislike the term “tryout strip.”

I know that every industry has its “buzz words,” and I cannot say with certainty that the term “tryout strip” does not have a long history.  However, I suspect that the term is of recent origin.  I further suspect that the term did not originate with artists. I would guess that it originated with collectors.  I may be wrong on all that.  However, the term is used frequently with respect to certain items of Rusty Ryan art that are, or have been, on the market.

I can think of one circumstance in which the term would possibly be a good one.  If a publisher comes up with an idea for a strip, that publisher could conceivably ask for sample art from several artists, and in a sense they would be trying out for the part of artist, and the strips would be tryout strips.  Or, if I wanted to be one of the artists on (say) the Superman comic book, and I submitted samples, in a sense those would be tryout art.

But the term seems to be used indiscriminately.  If it is a new strip by a new artist, I don’t see how the word “tryout” applies.  That would be something like submitting a short story to a magazine, or like submitting a script to a movie studio on spec.  No one calls those “tryout manuscripts.” And if the strip is rejected by all the syndicates, then the strip is one of a million strips that the syndicates have rejected.  It’s all in a day’s work for an aspiring comic-strip artist.

So, once again, you might say, “Gee, Tom, if you are so smart, what do you think we should call such strips?”  Well, what I call them is “sample strips.”  It’s not perfect terminology, but at least the term doesn’t place the artist into a “cattle call” situation like that often faced by actors and actresses.  The artists aren’t in high school, trying to make the basketball team.  They aren’t recent graduates of cheerleader camp, hoping to be one of the chosen few.

I am guessing that many artists would say, “I don’t mind submitting samples of my strip.  If the syndicate thinks the strip will sell, then we may have a meeting of my product with the syndicate’s demand.  But I am not ‘trying out’ for anything, which implies that a qualitative judgment is being made by an editor about my art.”

Yes, I know it is more complicated than that.

There is something kind of pseudo-egalitarian about the term “tryout.”  When used by non-artists, it tends to say:  “Hey, we  are all just people.  I work and slave at an everyday job, and really, even though you are an artist, you too are subject to the laws of supply and demand — after all, you have to ‘try out’ for jobs just like me.”  Problem is, that is baloney.  Some artists — many artists — have a genius that is hard to define, but it is something that the typical collector will never have. So, the term brings the artist down to the same status as the collector.

Yes, I know that some collectors are artists, and that is true of me — but for this post I am wearing my “collector” hat.

The term “tryout strip” or “tryout art” also preaches to collectors. Even though the term is a little undignified when it is used to refer to art (“tryout art” doesn’t really fly), it is somehow often used to elevate the status of the item referred to. I guess it is like, “Yeah, those are just miscellaneous drawings over there, but THESE — look at the speech balloons and the panels — ARE TRYOUT STRIPS!”

Yeah, I see that you have a stack of strips there, but I’m not sure what makes them special.  I would imagine that most successful strip artists have put together a number of such items, but how they can be lumped in with, let alone considered better than, published strips is a bit beyond my ability to understand.

Well, I think I have said enough for this post.  In my next post, I hope to discuss the Rusty Ryan tryout strips — uh, I mean, sample strips.  I hope that post will make some of the foregoing more clear.

—Tom Sawyer

April 11, 2012

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