Freethunk was developed for freethinking unbelievers in response to the growing Christian pop culture and emerging pop cultures from Islam, Mormonism and other competing religions. The idea began as a result of my cartooning (Jeff Swenson, that’s me!) where I dedicated one cartoon a week to criticizing religion. I felt this was important because of my past beliefs and association with the Christian religion (or faith if you prefer). This was back in 2000 for the blasphemous cartoon of the week and then in 2004 I started Freethunk.net as a website. The site was awkward in its first incarnation, but featured an ebook collection of cartoons. From there, games and articles were added that were of possible interest.
Around 2006, Freethunk started a relationship with IHS, The Institute of Humanist Studies of NY providing cartoons for their news editions and appearing on their podcast. The site attracted more interest and as the owner I tried to reach out to as many freethinking cartoonists as I could so we could spotlight their work. Many of them, unfortunately, have ended their series or in some cases just disappeared. I also looked to see what we could do to talk to Christian cartoonists and ended up with a great interview with Reverend Fun.
Between 2008 and 2009, due to financial pressure the site was put on hold. There were some minor updates but as we all know, in order to make a website work you really should be updating daily. I just did not have the time and I was turning my back on cartooning during that period as well. I kept questioning if it was all a waste of time considering that I could work a standard office job, finish my day and have time to read a book or watch a movie and relax. Running a website always keeps you on edge, even small sites can be exhausting when you’re doing everything yourself or paying out of pocket for all the costs. My goal was to collect my cartooning work into print form, which I did for a complete edition and a best of edition (now revised for a rerelease for one complete edition on Amazon) and close that chapter of my life.
So I took an office job with hopes of leaving my starving artist syndrome behind me and all of the stress you acquire with being self-employed…however, I kept getting requests for cartoon work and decided to fulfill them for extra money. My office job was going well, the boss seemed to love me, the money was comfortable and steady and I figured I was going to keep moving on up. Maybe with a little luck I could get a better house, take some vacations, and generally live like all those supposedly happy people around me that my wife knew. …Well, damn, that didn’t last long. The economy collapsed and the landslide took out my cushy job. Now I had to take a crap job and draw on the side to make up the difference for the loss of pay.
But then the cartooning gigs led to some working relationships with some rather smart people who saw the potential to get things started up again. I didn’t have much “faith” in Freethunk or my cartooning in general, but I figured what the hell. I’ve got nothing to lose and no matter how I tried I couldn’t stop drawing anyways. Cartooning for me is not about success or money or even if anyone reads it. It somehow became my obsession (I guess it always has been) and I now embrace my starving artist syndrome (which isn’t quite true to say starving as I survive pretty well for an artist in comparison to my fellow brethern/sisters in the cartooning field).
As a result of relaunching Freethunk.net I have gained some compatriots in freethinking (or at least friends) who contribute to the site. They may not be as staunch as I am in my vision for Freethunk but they’ve been certainly willing to help out as creative types who are also obsessed with comics, fiction, movies and TV. So far we have J. Ells of the Bible Belt comic strip, Chaz Wood who is an author and artist, and our sponsor site ComicsGoneBad.com who literally saved Freethunk with an updated WordPress design. In addition, I’m receiving positive feedback for once instead of just angry complaints from Christians or Muslims–not that I mind the complaints (this site welcomes the criticism, keep us honest).
As we head into 2011 I am hoping to continue to find my balance. Yes, I have to pay the bills, but I have to draw too and I am planning to go full throttle with daily updates this year as the past 3 months have proven that it can be done. We’re going beyond just single panel cartoons that point out the flaws of religion (though, they will appear). We want freethinking characters that we can relate to. Freethinking entertainment is actually all around us, it just needs to be emphasized and built upon. Expand your imaginations atheists, agnostics and various unbelievers and see what is possible without God. You’re not crazy, they are!
UPDATE: It’s 2016, Freethunk is still kicking.