The big news last fall was the announcement that, starting with the March 2016 issue, Playboy will no longer publish photos of completely naked women. And, strange as it is to say, that actually happened. But more importantly for those of us who peruse this website, Playboy also dropped cartoons. Playboy’s lame explanation for dropping cartoons is that the magazine wanted to eliminate “jump stories”—articles that started in the front of the magazine and then were continued in the back pages. The pages of jumped text created random spaces into which cartoons could be inserted. Eliminating jumped text had the effect of emphasizing the content of the feature articles in the front of the magazine, theoretically helping Playboy change its ambiance for the younger audience it hopes to attract.
Articles that don’t jump are also shorter, another appeal to today’s younger audience which suffers from short attention span.
That’s the short of it. However canny the maneuver may be, it left Playboy’s cartoonists high and dry. Susan Karlin at fastcocreate.com talked to several of them and to the magazine’s management for a full explanation, and the rest of this entry quotes her article verbatim (with snide comments from me in italics)—:
Okay, so no more nudity. But no more cartoons? Playboy, say it isn’t so!
When longtime Playboy cartoonist Dean Yeagle posted on Facebook about the magazine no longer accepting cartoon submissions, artists and fans responded with heartbreak, nostalgia, and confusion — especially considering the publication's longtime love affair with cartoons and illustrated pin-ups, and the rise in popularity of comics, animation, and [comic] conventions.
"It’s strange to all of us," says Yeagle. "Hugh Hefner was always such a supporter of cartoons. All we got was this letter."
The letter, from Playboy cartoon editor Amanda Warren, states: "As I’m sure you’re aware, we’ve been undergoing a major redesign of the magazine and the updated Playboy will launch with its March 2016 issue," Yeagle read to Karlin. "It pains me to say this, while I can’t speak to the specifics of this revision just yet, I do want to let you know that we are presently not accepting new cartoon submissions."
"I think it’s a stupid move," says Pulitzer Prize and Oscar-winning cartoonist Jules Feiffer, who drew for Playboy in the late 1950s to early 1960s. "If it’s simply a matter of rebranding, why not just change the type of cartoons they run? There are more and better cartoonists today writing in alternative media and graphic novels. It’s a whole new golden age for cartoonists."
"It was a surprise," adds Doug Sneyd, who has contributed nearly 500 cartoons to the magazine since 1964. "I knew they were doing something new with the magazine, but I was surprised to hear they were eliminating the cartoons, which Hef always said were such a major part of the magazine. I felt that they could continue with cartoons in keeping with their new editorial policy. The New Yorker continues to have a lot of success with its cartoons."
Turns out, it was pretty painful on Playboy’s end, too. (Oh, sure.—RCH)
"The decision to eliminate the cartoons was like cutting off a limb" says Playboy editorial director Jason Buhrmester. "But it was never a decision of 'Let’s not run cartoons anymore.' It was, in order to be more contemporary and do the things we want to do with the magazine, we need to get rid of jump copy, and it changed a lot of things: our word counts, got rid of the revenue stream of fractional ads, and the home for cartoons. So it was a big, hard decision to make."
(So Playboy is going for shorter articles and bigger ads. With no nudes and no cartoons? Dunno how that’ll work. Besides, full-page cartoons have no connection to the jump copy dilemma — despite what Buhrmester says down the scroll a bit. —RCH)
Playboy’s overhaul was an attempt to contemporize the magazine and lower its reader demographic from an average age of 40 to an 18 to 34 target. The biggest change was eliminating the jump copy (continuing an article on non-consecutive pages) and sidebars in order to de-clutter the layout and slow down the pacing of the magazine. But the rejiggering created a domino effect. Cartoons, longer articles, and smaller ads were among the collateral damage from the restructuring.
The amount of jump copy in back was squeezing the presentation of the front end feature articles. "That’s inverse the way a magazine should work," says Buhrmester. "It should be that the stories have some room to breathe. We were losing pages in the front of the book in order to generate enough jump copy to accommodate back ads and cartoons."
Often, full-page cartoons in the feature section were used as spacers to accommodate ads in the back of the magazine or enable it to end on a left-hand page.
"So aside from being part of Playboy’s heritage, they were also used as strategic pacing devices." (And what about that heritage? —RCH)
Buhrmester plans to continue with occasional graphic novelets, which graced two issues last year — an original eight-page prequel for The Hateful Eight by Quentin Tarantino and artist Zach Meyer, in December and a six-page sequential by Stray Bullets comic creator David Lapham last summer. (These excursions into the realm of graphic novels were so badly done that they reveal Buhrmester’s surpassing inability to understand the medium. Again, such clumsy endeavors are hardly a substitute for single-panel gag cartoons, a genre all its own. —RCH)
When it launched in 1953, Playboy was the rebellious upstart, questioning the era’s social mores, and its cartoons were complicit in that subversion. The magazine gave underground comic talent a mainstream outlet, struggling illustrators a career boost, and established artists a new platform. Luminaries like Gahan Wilson, Jack Cole, Shel Silverstein, *Vaughn Shoemaker (the Pulitzer winner who coined "John Q. Public"), Harvey Kurtzman (who helped create Mad), *Will Elder, *Frank Frazetta, *Russ Heath, Alan "Yossarian" Shenkar, Erich Sokol, Arnold Roth, pin-up artist Alberto Vargas, not to mention black cartoonists Robert "Buck" Brown and Elmer Simms Campbell, and female illustrators like Olivia De Berardinis.
(* I doubt that Vaugh Shoemaker was ever in the magazine regularly; maybe once, but not much more than that. And the other asterisked names were all associated with Little Annie Fanny, the sexy version of Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie. And none of the names are those of underground cartoonists, who, apart from Bobby London, were never regulars in the magazine. So much of the logic of the preceding paragraph falls to pieces. —RCH)
"He pushed boundaries and helped usher in the sexual revolution," says De Berardinis. "Hef’s always been amazing about change. I saw the new Playboy and they’re moving into what this generation is doing."
She surmises that comics, which rely on boundary pushing and political incorrectness, might need to wait until this generation better defines its style of humor. (Maybe Playboy should have kept cartoons, opting for some new kind of humor in order to define this generation’s style of humor. It would have continued the magazine’s pioneering effort. —RCH)
Suffering from rationales like the foregoing, Playboy joins the ranks of the rest of America’s great magazines — Collier’s, Saturday Evening Post, Look, and others — who gave up publishing cartoons because the layouts of the magazines’ pages couldn’t accommodate the irregular textures of black-and-white cartoons (even if they were in color). Layout editors wanted nice uniform columns of gray typography and generous white space, into which they could spot illustrative matter — but not those weirdly concocted visual oddities, cartoons. Once again, layout editors and designers have condemned cartoons to oblivion.