Cartoon Brew officially launched on March 15, 2004. A decade is a long time to be doing anything, but it feels like an especially long time to be blogging daily. As we head into the site’s 10th anniversary year, here are some reflections on where we’ve been and where we’re headed.
The idea for this site began simply enough: historian Jerry Beck and I both ran fairly popular animation websites in the early-2000s. His was called Cartoon Research, mine was Animation Blast. We also had different areas of interest that complemented one another, and we thought that by pooling our sites together, we stood a stronger chance of creating a central gathering spot for the animation community. The other upside, we figured, was that operating a single website would be less work for each of us individually because we wouldn’t have to write new posts as frequently. Well, those two upsides eventually cancelled each other out. As Cartoon Brew grew in popularity, so did our workload until it became the rough equivalent of a full-time job (minus the full-time pay, of course).
Looking back at the site as it appeared in 2004, it reminds me of how different an approach we had at the time. Consumed with other projects, we viewed the site as an outlet for letting off steam and sharing our curious cartoon-related finds. Both of us had worked in traditional animation media—Jerry had been instrumental in the launch of Animation Magazine, I had been an associate editor of Animation World Magazine—and speaking for myself, those publications represented everything I hoped Cartoon Brew would never become. The blogging format was perfect because it allowed us to be ourselves—to express ideas in an informal setting and grow organically without the pressure of being a “business.”
We launched the site in an era when the Internet ecosystem that we take for granted today did not yet exist. In March 2004, YouTube hadn’t been created, neither had Vimeo, Tumblr, Twitter, Reddit, or Kickstarter. Facebook, which had launched a month before us, did not exist except to a closed network of perhaps a few thousand users. Whenever an animation artist launched a Blogspot, it was an event, and the closest thing we had to social media or online commenting was website message boards and Usenet. The fervor for animation was far more restrained, too; nowadays, the release of a movie trailer generates more impassioned discussion than used to exist for actual film releases.
Our first major site redesign in spring 2007 added a vital functionality: commenting. For the better part of the last seven years, I’ve been one of the site’s two comment moderators, which means I’ve probably read more of Cartoon Brew’s few hundred thousand reader comments than anyone else. It may not be evident to the casual reader of the site who reads a handful of posts at a time, but few (if any) online forums in the past decade have hosted such a vital and informed discussion about animation. Cartoon Brew remains the only animation forum today in which everybody participates, from the biggest names in the industry (sometimes under their real names, sometimes not) to students, enthusiasts, and pros from every corner of the industry and every part of the world. Someday in the future, historians will discover a profound snapshot of animation at the beginning of the 21st century in these comments.
We were always enthusiastic about trying new things, and a notable early failure from the 2007 site revamp was Cartoon Brew Films, which was an attempt to sell digital downloads for animated shorts. We planned the site in 2006—long before we had heard about the iPhone or understood the impact that smartphones would have on the world. We created a classy and well-functioning platform for selling the films, but we never sold more than a few hundred downloads of any single film. We learned a lesson that I’ve since watched many others learn: selling à la carte downloads of animated shorts is an extremely tough business proposition. (Of course, Fred Seibert had warned us all along, but sometimes you got to learn these things for yourself.)
Since then, we’ve continued modest video initiatives through Cartoon Brew TV and four years of our Student Animation Festival, which is devoted to showcasing the work of rising animation talents. The Student Festival remains an important part of the site and a reminder that we’re not just interested in where animation is today, but where it’s going to be in five years. We were the first media outlet of any significance to ever write about filmmakers like David OReilly and Rebecca Sugar, and I’ve been told we played a role in making the Adventure Time pilot a viral hit, which three years later led to the most significant series of the current era. Sometimes we even launch cultural movements–accidentally. This post has been credited countless times in documentaries, textbooks, and elsewhere as beginning the fandom known as Bronies.
It would be unfair to write these reflections without also acknowledging some of the growing pains that have occurred along the way. One stumble—which at the time sounded like a brilliant idea—was launching Cartoon Brew Biz in 2010. It was our sincere attempt to be comprehensive by covering all facets of the industry. But our solution to being more comprehensive was to mimic the copy-and-paste writing style of other animation industry sites. We let down our readers by reprinting press releases without providing context or curation, and although we tried our best to separate the press releases from the regular content, the Biz section altered the ethos of the site.
The following years—2011 and 2012—proved to be difficult transition years for Cartoon Brew. It should have been a comfortable period. No animation site had a comparable level of traffic, user engagement, or ability to push big stories into the mainstream. But too much stability produces stagnation. My enthusiasm waned as we tried to preserve what we had built instead of looking forward to what we could become. Further, it concerned me that the animation industry was growing faster than two people could ever hope to adequately cover. Our formula that had seemed like a sure bet in 2004 was no longer a sustainable model for the future.
Well, one thing led to another, and in February 2013, I became the sole managing owner of Cartoon Brew. While having a partner was a unique experience that I wouldn’t trade, going solo has been the most exhilarating period in my decade of running the site. Ironically, going solo as a website owner has allowed me to collaborate with a far greater number of people to create the site itself. Since last year, we have renewed the site’s editorial mission, which is being fulfilled by a growing roster of regular contributors and guest writers, each of whom adds unprecedented depth and breadth to our coverage of the art form. There is still much to figure out and much more to come, but even in these early stages, your response has been highly encouraging. In the past eight months, the number of unique visitors to Cartoon Brew has more than doubled, marking the fastest period of growth in the site’s decade-long history.
After a decade of Cartoon Brew, it still feels like we’ve barely scratched the surface of this amazingly resilient and expansive art known as animation. The story of animation is not contained in any single post nor is it written by any single individual. Like the comments on the site, the resonance of animation is revealed through a steady accumulation of ideas and discussions. Cartoon Brew will continue to evolve editorially and strive to tell the animation story with passion, accuracy, candidness, timeliness, and, of course, fun, while sharpening our commitment to changing the mainstream misconceptions that dog our community. The Cartoon Brew of 2014 has changed a lot from the Cartoon Brew of 2004, but my passion and enthusiasm for animation remains undimmed.
Whether you read Cartoon Brew every day or you’re reading the site for the first time today, thank you everybody for being a part of this amazing journey through the wonderful world of animation.