I recently ran across a very funny comic strip series called The Argyle Sweater. A quick Google search showed me that Argyle Sweater cartoonist Scott Hilburn has been on the comic scene since 2006, and in that time he has been wildly prolific and successful in his genre, yet... I had never heard of him.
I started thinking about how famous Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal has become, with his millions of fans on Facebook and hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter, yet here is an equally talented cartoonist who has put out books, calendars, greeting cards, and other merchandise for years, yet he has only a few thousand fans on Facebook and a handful of Twitter followers. Why is that?Traditional media versus social media
The obvious answer is that The Oatmeal is strictly a web comic, whereas The Argyle Sweater originated in traditional print publications and then moved to the web. Sure, The Oatmeal has since put out two very funny books, and now dabbles in posters and other merchandise, but Inman started the comic on a blog, and that is still where the majority of his comics get published first. Inman has also gone to great lengths to cultivate a massive and adoring online fan base, whereas it seems that Hilburn has not.Picking up where The Far Side left off>
Content-wise, The Argyle Sweater comics are very reminiscent of Gary Larson's beloved comic strip, The Far Side. The comics are typically only one frame, and they feature talking animals making wry and witty observations. In this YouTube interview about his line of greeting cards for Recycled Paper Greetings, Hilburn addresses the Far Side comparisons, and admits that Larson was a tremendous influence on his work. He also cites the cartoons from The New Yorker to be an inspiration for his style.
While some fans could argue that his work is derivative, and too similar to The Far Side, I think that his humor is modern and different enough to set him apart from Larson. Also, since Larson retired from the cartoon business in 1995, I see no problem with a fresh new voice stepping in to fill the void with this style of comic strip. Hilburn doesn't copy or imitate, he has his own messages to convey; he just happens to convey the messages with a similar technique as a very well-known cartoonist.Why Social Media matters
Hilburn's work is undoubtedly funny and enjoyable. As I mentioned above, he has put out several books and calendars, and has a well-stocked Amazon shop full of quirky Argyle Sweater merchandise. He also has a sleek website and is on all of the required social sites, so it's not as if he has no internet presence at all. So why isn't he more famous?
My theory is that he isn't "playing" with his fans enough. The reason why Inman and other celebrities have gained such large online fan bases is that they use social media to interact with their fans every day. Perhaps if Hilburn updated his blog more often or communicated with fans on Twitter and Facebook, he would become as large and well known as The Oatmeal. He is certainly deserving of that recognition.
Then again, maybe he doesn't want to achieve that level of fame. He seems to be making a good name for himself in the industry, getting book deals, and generally succeeding at his chosen career, so maybe that's enough. Still, I would like to see more of his work on the web. It's funny stuff, and I like it when funny people become popular and respected for their talents. Then again, mega-internet celebrity isn't for everyone.