It’s ironic that the next big thing in the comics world is a small cell-phone screen. But the distributors of strips from Crankshaft to Dick Tracy are working to get a foothold in that tiny space, and at least two cartoonists say they’re thrilled to get the exposure.

“If I could have my comic on a toaster, I’d have it on a toaster,” said Lalo Alcarez, creator of the sharply satiric Latino strip La Cucaracha, after a panel discussion on cell-phone comics at the Comic-Con International convention in San Diego.

Already, cell-phone users can pay to download wallpaper, greetings, animation and daily strips featuring well-known characters (Ziggy, the For Better or for Worse family) and lesser-known ones (Captain RibMan and Anoki). Later this summer, an aggregation site called GoComics will expand to include offerings of strips like Doonesbury and La Cucaracha, all available to mobile-phone users willing to shell out $2 or $3 a month for access.

GoComics, which works with a number of comic-strip distributors and hopes to strike deals with comic-book makers like DC and Marvel, reports making 1 million sales in 2003. Nearly two-thirds of the customers are women, perhaps because they like the ability to personalize greetings, said co-managing director Chris Pizey.

Ultimately, GoComics hopes to convince cell-phone users to pay to see about 150 comic strips, many of which are now offered on the Internet for free. It’s been a challenge to “reteach or retrain” Web users to pay for content, said Pizey, who also works in the online side of the comics business.

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