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So You Want To Be A Cartoonist?  Part 1

Hi.

I guess you’re reading this because you’re thinking of getting into cartooning, right?  Or, maybe you’re just bored and the other blogs on your reading list are reruns.  Whatever the case may be, I decided to start a new series about becoming a cartoonist.  I’m not sure how long it’s going to be or anything like that.  I’m just going to start – and finish – when necessary.

I thought I’d keep out the very detailed information on specifics in this.

These posts won’t be about what kind of pencils to buy, the best editors to contact or stuff like that.  Anything with a lot to go over I would just create a different post for and not include it in this series.  Cool?

However, this WILL be a bit about what I’ve gone through, done and still HAVE to do to become a successful cartoonist.

Now, everyone has a different definition for success, so don’t take all this to heart.  You can define being a successful cartoonist anyway you want.  I know I have my own version of what that is.  I also believe that success isn’t defined by a one-time thing.  In my life, I have moments when I’m successful and times I’m not.  You’re going to have things work out and things not be so great.  That doesn’t really define you as unsuccessful or successful in the long-term.  It’s a bit of both.  But, those little happy moments when cartooning work does pan out are fantastic.  I feel I’m a success in areas and there are more areas I’d like to include.  Anyhow, I hope you get my point.

Also, I’m not a motivational speaker or someone trying to be one.  Half the time I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about.  This isn’t here to motivate you.  It’s just an honest look at the profession and what I’ve done.  You’re not going to like a lot of what I have to say, either.

All this being said, this is what I’ve done to get into the cartooning biz and what I’m continuing to do.

I thought it would be a fun way to share my thoughts, frustrations (oh, and there are a TON of them) and advice.

I’m HOPING that maybe you can get something out of this.  It’s just the honest way I’ve gone about things.  Pieces of it might work for you and might not.  I dunno.

Every cartoonist has a different story.  And, well, this is just a slither of mine.

So, let’s get right to it.

You want to be a cartoonist, huh?

First off, congrats on your choice in profession!  No seriously, cartooning is the most rewarding, challenging and fun career that I could imagine.  I was lucky and realized very early in life I wanted to be a cartoonist (I mentioned in a previously blog post about my first big break being in 5th grade).  You may have just discovered that you want to get into it at a later point in your life.  Maybe you’re in your 20’s, 50’s or 80’s.  It’s all good.  I don’t think age has anything to do with choosing a career path or anything.  I just discovered recently that I’m an avid fan of calamari.  Who knew?

And, sorry to be brutally honest with you, but be prepared to be angry, rejected, frustrated, have the feeling of dread, possibly depressed and just about every imaginable negative feeling and emotion there is.

I really think – to become a successful cartoonist – is more challenging than becoming a famous actor, or musician.  I believe you have a better shot at winning the lotto than becoming a cartoonist.  In fact, you could probably land on the moon before raking in decent sales on your work.

Your feelings and emotions will be tested.  There is no doubt about that!

But, there is a light at the end of the long, winding tunnel.

Even at my point in my career now, I have had numerous day jobs, survived on little and have tested my patience with “is this right for me” constantly.

It IS NOT easy.  It is not for the weak.

I think that’s why it’s so rewarding though as well.  If you can rise to the top – even if it’s in a little way – then you’ve done something that not many are able to do.

It has taken me decades to get to the point where I am now.  And I’m not bragging.  I have a LONG ways to go and MUCH more I want to accomplish.  That success thing?  Yeah, again, I’ve had my successes, but there is a lot more I’m going for.

Okay, so now that I’ve dashed your hopes of being a cartoonist, we’ll see if you still want to read on….

You do?

I guess you do.  You’re reading this still!  What a brave soul you are, my friend.

If you’d still like to know more, I’m going to start now sharing my story from a ways back.  Again, I’ll leave out a lot of details on some of this, but I’ll try to fill-in-the-blanks with as much as possible to make it all clear.

To kick-things off, WHY did I – and still do – want to be a cartoonist?

I can draw.  I always could, still can and enjoy doing it.  As an adult, I love entertaining people with the cartooning medium.  I also love the freedom cartooning can give with flexible hours, being able to live anywhere and work from any place.  Seeing my work entertain people brings me a lot of giddy feelings.  And royalty checks aren’t too shabby, either.

If you want to be a cartoonist, first off, figure out exactly WHY you want to be.  Is it the money (ha!)?  The fame (hahaha!)?  Or something else?  Get it figured out.  It’s what’s going to push you to move forward.

Now that you know that, I’ll go on….

I started off naive.

That’s right.  I did.

I think it was because, as a kid, I was always told I could draw good.  And you know, for a child, I could.  I was alright at it.

The thing about that was, it was kind of like if you won a blue ribbon in every race you ran in – even if you weren’t in first.  Everything I did was Oh, that’s nice! or That looks great! and often You’re very talented.

Great to hear.

What happens then is, when I became older, I still thought everything I was doing was “great”.  Which, in reality, everything I was creating wasn’t great.  In fact, quite the opposite many times.

But, I got a little lucky.

I started my career at Wright State University in 2003 for the newspaper, The Guardian.

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Above:  The first issue of The Guardian that I was in.  You can see at the top of the paper the little part that says, “New cartoonist debut”. I liked that.

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Above:  A random pile of Guardians featuring my comics.

When I say I started my career, to clarify, I was getting paid for my work.  Trust me though, this was not enough to live on.  During this time, I waited tables, worked in merchandising and had many other day jobs to help support myself.

But, I was getting paid.

The work I was doing was…awful (in my opinion).

Seriously.  It was pure crap.

At the time though, I considered it outstanding.  I really did.

I still had that untouchable feeling of every piece of art or cartoon I did was good.

Looking back on it, it really was not.  Not at all.  Against my better judgement, I’m going to share some of the comics with you here.

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Above:  My very first published gag cartoon in the school newspaper.  I used just a felt-tip marker and a fine-tipped permanent marker to create these suckers.  Excuse me while I run to the bathroom real quick to puke.

The only positive I can say about some of it was that it had some decent writing at times.  Not the best, but some of it was okay.

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Above:  My first (and – to this day – rare) political cartoon I had in the debut issue.  For this one I actually used India ink to create the image.  Not quite as bad as markers, but still cringe-worthy.  While at The Guardian, each week I created one political/opinion cartoon and one gag comic.

You know what though, it didn’t matter.  I was published in the school newspaper, getting paid for it and I was “out there” as a cartoonist.  Whatever was going on in my head was working.  Granted, I kind of sucked, but it was as start.

If you want to become a cartoonist, just start.

Find a place you can feature your work.  For me, it was the school newspaper in college.  I drew some cartoons (about twelve or so) and sent them to the editor of the paper.  I then arranged to meet face-to-face with her – and I got in.  That worked.

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Above:  Just having my name in the paper was really a motivating factor to take this gig and run with it.

And here’s a secret I can tell you about what to do different than me.

You think you’re great and don’t need to improve?  Yeah, lose that.

If you have that mentality, get over it – quickly.  

That’s not to say don’t feel good about your work.  Feel GREAT about it!  I did.  But what you can do, while feeling good, is try to get better.  Always try and get better.

I just wish, when I was younger, I got some HONEST feedback/criticism.  I really didn’t.  I did later on in life (and I won’t get into details here) and it helped immensely.  But before that, I waddled in a cesspool of mediocrity.  My work wasn’t great, but nobody told me that.

I eventually got better.  It took many years after first getting into the paper to realize that my work wasn’t the best and there was a lot I could improve.  Though I was told how great I was in my younger days, in the professional world of cartooning, that does not apply.  You have to beat the competition.  You have to be on your game and an extremely high level or else someone else will be.

So get a grip on yourself (not in a dirty way)!

Start thinking of ways to just get moving.  Even if it’s drawing funny pictures on your friend’s fridge (which, believe it or not, I did for awhile and that did get me to continue working harder after all the attention those doodles received).

And if you can’t draw well, keep practicing, but still try to do SOMETHING. These days, it’s funny, but even people that can only draw stick figures have made it into the mainstream arena of cartooning.  And heck, go look at those Guardian cartoons again.  I think most of the work is in the WRITING.  I’ll get into that later on…

Kudos for you for reading through this.  If you’re still onboard to becoming a cartoonist, I’ll have Part 2 coming soon.

In the meantime, sharpen those pencils, buddy.  You’re in for a wild ride down the path of becoming a cartoonist….

I’ll leave you with some other Guardian cartoons.

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CLICK HERE TO READ PART 2