Dear Fitz fans,
When I started drawing Mr. Fitz in 1999, it was professional therapy, but it was also the beginning of what I hoped would be the fulfillment of a childhood dream: to be a nationally syndicated cartoonist. I had been practicing my craft since second grade and all the way through college. When I submitted to the syndicates, they turned me down with form letters, but the Daytona Beach News-Journal, after initially turning me down, agreed to run the strip five times a week (on a page that didn’t run on Monday) and later six times a week – for the “princely sum” of $5 a strip. I agreed, hoping that proving I could handle a daily strip would lead to nation-wide comics-page fame.
The strip started out being about the foibles of teaching, the funny and frustrating things the students do, and was professional therapy for that pain. It soon became about something else, too – the insidious and pervasive absurdity of the education reform movement in all its forms. I now felt I had found a voice, and a subject for my comics. I began the website, started the Facebook page, and continued submitting to the syndicates, only to receive more rejections. I asked my newspaper if they might consider a raise, or putting me on some of the other newspapers their parent company owned. No reply.
I have now drawn over 5,000 Mr. Fitz comics since March 28, 2000, and after a full 18 years of drawing Mr. Fitz nearly daily for the Daytona Beach News-Journal, I am ending the newspaper run of Mr. Fitz on March 31st. But I am not ending Mr. Fitz – it is going to become a web comic, running at least three times a week and more as I see fit, plus “classic” Mr. Fitz from the past 18 years on the other days. So there will still be new-to-you comics six or even seven times a week. (The old strips will really be new to me, too- I don’t remember what I drew eleven or twelve years ago at this point!)
My reasons for ending the newspaper run are many. For most cartoonists, drawing a daily comic strip is a full time job – a job they do with the help of assistants who ink and letter the strips and help write gags. I am a one-man show. I write, draw, ink, and scan every strip myself (I do type the lettering now in my own font). And I do it after teaching all day. The longer I do it, the harder it becomes to write. Strips used to write themselves. To keep it fresh now means taking a lot longer to write a single strip, so writing, drawing, inking, shading and scanning a single strip now takes anywhere from one to two hours, depending on how elaborate it is. As I said, my newspaper pays me the princely sum of 5 dollars a strip, so for 18 years I have made, well – less than minimum wage.
I’m not in it for the money – but money is always nice, even for something you enjoy doing. Without money, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy teaching, either. My sole source of income for the strip will be my patrons on Patreon. Their support enables me to buy art supplies and to keep the website up and running. I won’t belabor the point, but I would surely appreciate your support. Of course, I know most of my audience is teachers, a population not exactly rolling in money. If you can’t see supporting me at Patreon, at least consider buying a Mr. Fitz book at Lulu.com or a poster at Zazzle.com and/or one of my Scholastic books which contain over a 100 Mr. Fitz strips in each one.
Eighteen years is a long time to be doing a second almost-full-time-job. When I started the strip, I was 33 and six years into my teaching career. Now I am 51, and only 5 years from being eligible for full retirement. My children were 4 and 5 when I started; they are now 21 and 22. The strip has brought some great things into my life: a small but faithful fan base, two book deals with Scholastic, and a unique form of therapy to deal with the stress of teaching. But after 18 years, keeping up with 6 times a week is becoming more and more difficult. I’m looking forward to enjoying the strip in a less stressful way, and to spending bit more time with my very understand wife (Mrs. Fitz). I can’t thank her enough for her patience and support.
Lastly, doing the strip six times a week prevents me from doing other creative projects, including archiving the 12 years’ worth of strips that have never been seen online – hundreds of strips that need to be scanned and formatted. But I also have a two finished novels I haven’t had time to market, a trilogy I’m writing with my son, my first full-length play to finish, plays I want to act it… oh, and that other job: teaching.
So here is the new model: 3 new strips a week, plus 3 or 4 classic strips that will be new to most of you. It was either this, or quit completely. I think this change will take the pressure off me, keep me fresh, and help to make drawing Mr. Fitz fun again. And the classic strips may prove to be a time capsule of nearly 20 years of education reform.
I told my Patreon supporters first, because without them, I literally wouldn’t be able to afford creating. There are expenses involved. Everyone who pledges even a little support at Patreon will get a postcard with an original drawing of the Fitz character of your choice!
Saying goodbye to the print comics pages is bittersweet. I am saying goodbye to my childhood dream, but I am opening myself to other possibilities while continuing, I hope, to amuse, enlighten, and offer a needed bit of commentary, and levity into the often stressful world of education. I sometimes wish that American education didn’t give me so much to pick on – but in the meantime, I’ll keep filling in those blank frames. Just three times a week instead of six.
Thanks for reading.
David Lee Finkle