Every week I get a few e-mails asking me for advice on how to become a cartoonist. Here are a few of the most common questions:
Q: What kind of training do I need to become a professional cartoonist?
A: None! Most cartoonists are self-taught. They grew up doodling and drawing because they enjoyed it. They copied their favorite comic strips, bought some How To Draw Cartoons books, maybe took an art class or two along the way, but mostly learned by practicing day after day, year after year. I interviewed dozens of top cartoonists for my book How To Be A Successful Cartoonist (North Light Books) and they all started out as something else, a teacher, an engineer, a psychologist, a grocer, college professor, etc. Cartooning usually begins as a hobby, then becomes a career when it generates enough income to support a home or family. Learning how to draw is important for a cartoonist, but learning how to write funny ideas is also important (probably more important) so it’s necessary to practice both!
Q: How can I start selling my own cartoons?
A: The best way to get started is to get started. Sit down, write some ideas, then draw funny pictures to illustrate your idea. When you’ve done a dozen or so, send them to a company that publishes something similar. If you’ve done some single-panel magazine style cartoons, send them to a magazine like The New Yorker or Woman’s World. If you’ve done a comic strip, send it to a comic strip syndicate like King Features, Creators Syndicate or Universal Press. If you’ve created some fun greeting cards, mail them to Recycled Paper Greetings or other greeting card company. (Always mail photocopies, never sent original art.) Then forget about all of it and start over with something new to send out. Do this over and over, week after week, month after month. Your work may not be very good at first and you may get plenty of rejection, but you’re probably going to improve with time so keep at it. As you get started, it can be very hard not to get discouraged and quit, but your favorite cartoonists got past this point and you can do it too.
Another great way to get started is to create a web page to showcase your cartoons. In addition to building a fan base for your work, your website may attract the attention of editors or sponsors who can help you start generating income. You can also set up a Cafe Press shop to sell cartoon merchandise or place Google ads on your site to bring in some cash. If you’re into non-traditional cartoons made especially for Internet readers, I highly recommend How To Make Web Comics by Scott Kurtz and Kris Straub. If your work is good, readers will share it with their friends and family and your popularity will grow.
New technology and devices may open up more opportunities for cartoonists and new ways to display your own work. Cartoon apps for the iPhone are a cutting-edge way to self-publish. Tablet computers like the Kindle and iPad have the potential to revolutionize the way we read our newspapers and magazines, which could lead to fresh opportunities for new cartoonists and established professionals.
Q: What kind of computer do I need to draw cartoons?
A: Although some cartoonist like Scott “Dilbert” Adams draw and assemble their cartoons on a computer, you really don’t need a computer to draw cartoons. Most cartoons are still drawn the old fashioned way with pencil and pen, sheets of paper, and a big wooden drawing table. Once you’ve drawn your cartoon, computers are a great way to enhance your work with color, Flash animation, Photoshop effects. You’ll also want to scan all of your cartoons to keep a digital copy on file for your website and e-mail. I use a Canon 8800F scanner, not very expensive and works great for cartoon line art. My computer is a 24-inch iMac with a Brother color laser printer (MFC-9840CDW). For my drawings, I use ordinary pencils, black felt-tip Flair pens, and Southworth 100% cotton 24 pound paper.
If you’d like more information about the art and business of cartooning, look for my books at your public library or on Amazon.com. The titles are How To Be a Successful Cartoonist, Getting Started Drawing and Selling Cartoons and Toons! How To Draw Wild and Lively Characters For All Kinds of Cartoons. Each book features interviews and advice from top professional cartoonists like Lynn Johnston, Rick Kirkman, Tom Cheney, Charles Schulz, Bil Keane, John McPherson, Mort Walker and Brian Crane.