Fine Tooning

The World Wide Web is fast becoming an essential service for those involved in the visual arts. Fay Sweet looks at one Web site which could revitalise the cartoon industry in Europe

SBHD: The World Wide Web is fast becoming an essential service for those involved in the visual arts. Fay Sweet looks at one Web site which could revitalise the cartoon industry in Europe

Within just three minutes of going live on the World Wide Web, the new pan-European cartoon arts network – CartooNet – received its first caller. “Since that moment, we have averaged more than 1000 access calls a day and have received comments from users in over 50 countries,” says David Booth, project co-ordinator. “We have been completely overwhelmed. Initially, we expected a year-long roll out, but the demand for information and contacts has been instantly established, so we are now working at developing and expanding the services much faster than planned.”

The new open access electronic network has been founded to raise the profile of cartoons as an art form. The collection of potential users is intended to encompass a broad range of people – from cartoonists, strip illustrators and graphic novelists to buyers and curators. In addition it provides a focus and point of exchange for European cartoonists.

The network’s distinctive, jolly, primary- coloured graphics have been designed by Rachael Adams and the package has been developed with Pavilion Internet, which has also become a CartooNet sponsor.

In its first screen incarnation, the CartooNet is divided into seven sections – each flagged with a coloured icon – which cover membership organisations, sources of funding, news, commissions, lists of European exhibitions, conferences, competitions and other events. Using hot text it is possible to enter deeper layers of more detailed data and images.

The network also offers a showcase for talent. Generating essential revenue for the network, cartoonists can book “gallery” space on the system to show their work, biography and contact details. “Images have been kept fairly small and compressed so they can be down-loaded quickly,” says Booth. “The idea is to encourage browsing – most people will not want to wait five minutes for a complex image. As a guide, we publish file sizes against images so that users will have some idea how long it might take to call up different files. We’ve already had requests for moving images so we’re working on ways to prepare that sort of complex material for fast viewing.”

On the troublesome subject of copyright protection, Booth stresses that copyright of all images appearing on CartooNet remains with the artist. “The screen quality provides a low- resolution image that is of no use for reproduction. Of course, there is the potential for copying, but the risk is no higher than that offered by a colour photocopier.”

CartooNet was the brainchild of John Davies, director of Brighton consultancy and media production company Federated Communications. “While the European cartoon industry has a strong sense of self-identity and a long tradition, it is in danger of being overshadowed by American and Japanese product. The objective of CartooNet is to set up a European network to interconnect and co-ordinate cartoon artist networks, publishers, broadcasters, curators and event organisers, establishing a more cohesive European cartoon industry.”

Davies was joined in the venture by multimedia consultant and cartoon-fan David Booth, who is also co-ordinator of Cartoon County – the Sussex cartoonists’ and strip illustrators’ association – and a founder member of the Interactive Designers Group. Initial funding for the project was sourced from the EU’s Kaleidoscope scheme and founding partners include the Federation of European Cartoonists’ Organisations; the Cartoon Arts Trust; Cartoon County; Fanny – the Directory of Women Comic Strip Artists, Writers and Cartoonists; the Irish cartoonists’ Organisation; the Centre for the Study of Cartoons and Caricature at the University of Kent; and organisations in France, Germany and Belgium.

Plans for the near future include on-line workshops to help cartoonists prepare and present their work on computer and to take advantage of the opportunities offered from using the Net. “We are also still in the process of constructing the network, and welcome all comments and requests from users,” says Davies.

“Within the first few weeks of operation it has become clear that CartooNet has major implications for traditional image suppliers and the norm of image trading. It is in our grasp to form virtual syndicates that can provide artists with the low overhead co-operative involvement in the management and distribution of their work that they have always wanted.”

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