Cartooning FAQ by Randy Glasbergen
1. HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN CARTOONING?
I drew all the time as a kid and began to take a serious interest in
cartooning in junior high school. I wrote to all of my favorite
cartoonists, read lots of books about cartooning and practiced my
ideas and art every day. I made my first professional cartoon sale to a magazine
at age 15 and gradually built up my career over the years, stacking one
small accomplishment on top of another, branching out into different
types of cartooning whenever the opportunity came along. I went to
college for one year, a journalism major, then began freelancing
full-time at age 19 in Utica, NY . Although I started young and was able to earn a
modest living from cartooning, my career didn’t really kick into high gear until
I reached my mid-thirites. There are few overnight success stories among cartoonists.
2. HOW MUCH DO CARTOONISTS EARN?
It varies from one cartoonist to the next. An animator or greeting
card artist who works on staff for a large company like Hallmark Cards,
Plus they get to work in a creative environment with other artistic people.
Unlike the self-employed freelancer, a staff cartoonist will probably have health insurance coverage,
some type of retirement plan, scheduled vacation time…and a steady paycheck…but his income will
be limited to whatever his employer decides to pay.
A comic strip cartoonist’s income is based on the number of papers his
strip appears in. Small papers pay less than $5 per week for a comic
and large papers pay higher fees of $10, $20, $50 or more for a week’s
worth of cartoons. All fees are split 50-50 with the syndicate that
distributes the work (the agent). Some syndicated cartoonists appear
in 1000+ newspapers and earn high incomes, but many appear in less than
100 newspapers and earn a modest living. It’s not uncommon for a comic
strip artist to hold down a day job of some kind while his comic strip
grows a larger client list. If you’re doing a successful comic strip
that appears in hundreds of newspapers your share of the gross
receipts could be $1000, $2000, $3000 or more per week (more or less,
depending on the size of the papers and how much each pays), which many would
consider a pretty good income. Books, calendars and other merchandise
featuring your characters may increase your income even further.
A self-employed freelance cartoonist will live from one sale to the
next (doing all sorts of project work) and his income will fluctuate
from week to week, month to month, year to year. One freelancer might
earn less than $5,000 a year and another might earn $100,000 or more
depending on how successful they are, what types of projects they work
on, etc. A successful self-employed freelancer doing web comics, children’s books,
greeting cards, magazine cartoons, advertising art, etc, may actually earn more
than the average comic strip artist or staff cartoonist.
Many cartoonists earn a good middle class or upper middle class
living, but very few cartoonists are “wealthy”…there may be a
handful of top syndicated cartoonists in this category and a few like
Matt Groening (“The Simpsons”) who score big in television.
3. WHAT KIND OF TRAINING DO I NEED TO BE A PROFESSIONAL CARTOONIST?
Some cartoonists go to art school and some have no formal cartooning
education at all. Many cartoonists start out as teachers, engineers,
psychologists, factory workers, etc. Most have natural talent and
begin cartooning as a hobby and eventually leave their jobs to cartoon
full time. You can study to be a cartoonist at specific cartooning
colleges, such as The Kubert School in New Jersey, Ringling College in
Florida or The School of Visual Arts in New York City or you can teach
yourself with books, classes, and years of practice. Remember that a
good cartoonist is a writer who can draw, not an artist who can
write….so be sure to practice creating funny ideas too!
4. HOW CAN I START SELLING MY OWN CARTOONS?
In a nutshell, the process is pretty simple. 1) Write some funny ideas
2) Turn those ideas into cartoons with your drawings 3) Mail
photocopies to publishers who print similar work 4) Start working on
something new. If your work is good, you’ll begin to sell your
cartoons to magazines, greeting card companies, web sites, or other
suitable clients. Or send your work to a comic strip syndicate…if they
reject you, try again with a new idea and cast of characters. Do this
again and again, year after year, and you’ve got yourself a cartooning
career. Along the way, you’ll need to learn about copyrights, contract
negotiations, billing, and the general business of cartooning…but that
will come to you with research and experience. The Graphic Artists
Guild publishes a Pricing and Ethical Guidelines book that is very
A good web page can also help you attract a fan base and open new
doors of opportunity. This is probably the best way to get started
these days. 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 set up a Cafe Press shop with
your cartoons and place Google or Yahoo ads on your site to bring in
5. WHAT KIND OF COMPUTER DO I NEED TO DRAW CARTOONS?
You don’t need a computer to draw cartoons. Most cartoons are
still drawn by hand at wooden drawing boards and I know of no software
program than can replace that. However, computers are a great way to
add color to your cartoons, animate them, add special effects, and
there are a variety of programs available you can try. You can also
use a computer to scan your cartoons, convert them to digital files
and put them on the web or send them to others by e-mail. These days I
deliver many of my cartoons by e-mail attachment and they print
perfectly. You can use a Windows PC or a Macintosh computer to do
cartoon graphics, but most professional cartoonists feel that Apple
Macintosh computers are still the fastest and easiest (and safest) way
to do graphics. Computers have revolutionized the business of
cartooning and it’s wise to become well acquainted with all sorts of
computer graphics, electronic digital cartooning, e-mail attachments,
web pages, web graphics, etc. I use an Apple iMac computer running the
latest Mac operating system with a 27 inch monitor, Brother scanner
and Lexmark color laser printer. I primarily use Colorize and Photoshop for
creating digital versions of my cartoons.
6. HOW DO YOU GET YOUR CARTOON IDEAS?
I’ve always enjoyed writing and it was one of my best subjects in high
school and college. But mostly I learned to write cartoon ideas by
practicing … and by reading as many cartoons as I could find by as
many different cartoonists as possible. Starting out, I used to walk
around my home town and challenge myself to find something funny about
things I saw on the street (a phone pole, a dead squirrel, a broken
fence, a crack in the sidewalk, etc)…it was fun game to play and
good training. These days, most of my ideas are based on things that I
read, things I see on television, or topics I hear people discussing
in conversations. Often ideas just come from everyday experiences.
Most of the time I just sit down with some resource material and a
note pad…if I’m writing computer cartoons, I’ll grab a couple
computer magazines and flip through the pages looking for subjects to
write about. Or if I’m doing cat cartoons, for example, I might read a
book of cat cartoons or some cat magazines and look for inspiration
there. Mostly, I think it’s important to write about things people can
relate to and recognize in their own lives. People like to read about
themselves, so they’re likely to prefer a cartoon about families or
work to something weird about a talking lasagna. (More on this topic)
7. WHAT IS YOUR DAY LIKE?
A typical work day for me begins at 5:00 AM. Due to the high volume of
e-mail I receive, I spend about two hours early every morning reading
and answering e mail…I also upload my daily web page cartoon around
6:00 AM. After breakfast, I draw for a couple of hours, then go to the
post office to check my snail mail. At 10:30 or 11:00 AM I grab a big
cup of coffee, a yellow pad and a pencil and start writing.
After an hour or two, I usually have 10 ideas written, then I break for lunch.
After lunch I draw my cartoons until 5:00 or 6:00PM. (Many days the business of
cartooning takes priority over the art of cartooning…on those days I
do invoices, fill orders, answer e-mail and have very little time for
drawing.) Some days differ a bit, depending on what projects I’m
working on, but this is a typical day. During my free time, I enjoy
spending time with my family and dogs. I have no interesting
hobbies or exciting vices to tell about.
8. WHAT MATERIALS DO YOU USE?
Every cartoonist uses different tools. I do my line art with a black Flair
felt tip pen on 24 pound Southworth bond paper. I scan my work and add
color with an Apple iMac computer and a Wacom graphics tablet.
9. WHAT CARTOONISTS INSPIRED OR INFLUENCED YOU MOST?
When I was in high school, “Hagar The Horrible” was brand new and the
original cartoonist was Dik Browne (he passed away a few years ago and
his son does the strip now with a staff of assistants). Dik Browne’s
Hagar was an inspiration…solid ideas, great drawings, strong graphic
appeal. I also read a lot of magazine cartoons growing up and was
influenced by Henry Martin and Sam Gross. Children’s book illustrator
Jared Lee (“Teacher From The Black Lagoon”) was a generous and
friendly mentor when I started out, teaching me about the value of a
widely diversified freelance career.
IF YOU’D LIKE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT CARTOONING, I have written
three books on the subject. In my cartooning instruction books you’ll find
much lengthier answers to these questions and many more. My books are
all published by North Light Books and available @ www.amazon.com
The titles of my books are…
“How To Be A Successful Cartoonist” (Detailed answers to just about
every question you can think of about a cartooning career. Info on
education, training, tools, income, copyrights, ideas, writers block,
animation, greeting cards, children’s books, comic strips, magazine
cartoons, comic books, political cartoons, creating characters,
writing ideas, much more. Plus personal advice and guidance from about
40 of today’s top cartoonists including Charles Schulz, Lynn Johnston,
Tom Cheney, Bil Keane, Bill Griffith, Rick Kirkman, Bud Grace, John
McPherson, Mort Walker, Tom Wilson, many others. Published 1996)
Available in stores or by mail order @ 1-800-289-0963 or you can order
direct from your computer @ http://www.amazon.com for delivery
anywhere in the world.
“TOONS!” 128 pages of drawing lessons plus an in-depth study of
contemporary cartooning styles and techniques of the pros. Created to
be the most modern how-to-draw cartoon book available. Find TOONS! in
the art section of your local book store or order by phone @ 1-800
289-0963 You can also order online direct from your computer @ http://www.amazon.com
(Amazon.com Online Bookstore).
“Getting Started Drawing and Selling Cartoons” This book is currently
out of print, but can still be found at your public library or at amazon.com