ADAPT OR DIE. Reinvent the wheel. Embrace change. Ring in the new. Be young or get young. There are probably more cliches about keeping up with the times than there are traditional editorial cartoon jobs. Which was the point of a recent panel discussion at the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC) convention in Orlando, Fla.
"A lot of cartoonists have lost their jobs," said session host Mike Keefe of the Denver Post. "We're all very vulnerable."
That's one reason why a number of staff and non-staff cartoonists are widening their horizons in order to increase their value and keep doing what they love.
"They're creating new niches in our business," noted Keefe, who himself does online cartoons, animation and more.
Marie Woolf, one of the AAEC panelists, has also taken the cyber route. She started a Web site (http://www.mwoolf.com) last fall that includes her current and past cartoons, information about herself, and more. Also, her home page includes a link to the site (http://www.wileytoons.com) just launched by "Non Sequitur" creator Wiley Miller of the Washington Post Writers Group.
Woolf wanted a site to serve as an outlet for her work at a time when traditional editorial cartoon jobs are so hard to find.
"I love editorial cartooning," she said. "Nobody is going to tell me that I can't do it. But I'm not currently with a newspaper or syndicate."
Woolf -- a former Chicago SunTimes Features cartoonist and former Salt Lake City Deseret News and Alameda Newspaper Group contributor -- added, "I got into the Internet so I could have a forum to get my work out. It ended up being the most important tool of my career besides pen and paper."
The cartoonist/illustrator reported that the site has brought her offers to do freelance work, appear on TV, make speeches and more.
Another panelist, Pat Crowley, is a former Palm Beach Post editorial cartoonist who now works as a "staff cartoonist" for the Florida paper.
In that unusual position, Crowley draws cartoons, does illustrations, creates the "Camp Okeekeedokee" Sunday comic, designs pages, sets up offbeat photo shoots, and more.
"I reinvent myself every day," said Crowley, adding: "If you can fill space for editors cleverly, they love you."
The third panelist, editorial cartoonist Ed Stein of the Rocky Mountain News and Newspaper Enterprise Association, reinvented himself by starting a local comic for his paper this past January.
The six-times-a-week "Denver Square" -- named after a common type of house -- uses a fictional family to convey what it's like to live in the city. There's material on the weather, the Denver Broncos, local events such as the recent Timothy McVeigh trial, and more.
Since launching the strip, Stein has doubled his workload despite doing three rather than five editorial cartoons a week. But the creator -- who negotiated a "significant," though not twofold, increase in salary -- is glad he created "Denver Square."
"I've tried to develop syndicated comics, but I've always wanted to do something more local," he said. "I'm getting 10 times the response to the strip than I do for my editorial cartoons."
Stein emphasized that he doesn't intend to give up editorial cartooning -- "it's too important to me" -- but admitted he had been losing some enthusiasm for that job.
"A lot of my editorial cartooning rage has quieted down during the last 20 years," he said. "After doing so many cartoons on abortion, gun control and other topics, I realized I wasn't going to change the world."
But Stein, like Woolf and Crowley, did change the way he worked.
Syndicate Offers Digital Products
THE LOS ANGELES Times Syndicate's LATS Online is offering several new digital products for Web sites.
* "Digital Crossword," the online version of the Los Angeles Times puzzle. …