Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Question: Does Making a Living as a Cartoonist Get Easier and Easier?

Above: a cartoon of mine with a note of acceptance (and some notes for a redraw) from the Wall Street Journal.


I don't know if you take question like this from strangers over email. If not, I apologize for bothering you. But I have been reading your blog for a long time now, and, honestly, I've learned more about the business (and the art) of cartooning from your site than I have from the library full of "how-to" books I've bought over the years.

I've only just really started to sell a few cartoons here and there and only to the most obscure, unknown magazines. They usually pay in the $15 to $35 range, I find. So, nothing like what you and your colleagues are doing, but that's what my question is about.

When you get to the level you guys are at, selling to magazines people have actually heard of it, have you reached a point where you know and can expect to sell a piece out of every or most of your submissions? All the how-to books say that 90 percent of the time you'll be rejected and to just continue sending out stuff in large quantities but does that still hold true for someone like you or Anderson or Glasbergen or Piccolo etc. or do you pretty much sell every time you send something out?


Thanks for the kind words about my blog.

I get a lot of questions, so no worries.

First off, congrats on your sales. It tells you without doubt that you create content people will pay for.

The question you ask -- does it get easier? -- is a good one.

There is not a guarantee that you will sell 10 out of 100 -- but I don't think that that's what you're asking.

Is it a statistical likelihood that you will sell 10% of your output?

Yeah, well, sometimes it works out, sometimes no.

I have had editors that will buy my stuff a lot and others that might buy 1 out 200. So, it depends if you resonate with the client.

I augment my income with other kinds of cartoon work, so that helps. Look at Rina: 2 syndicated strips, gag cartoons in The New Yorker, Parade, Reader's Digest, etc. She is always working. Randy Glasbergen has been selling to national publications, publishers and businesses for years. My pal Mark Anderson has tons of cartoons for business clients and has sunk a lot of time and energy to sell his
cartoons automatically thru his extensive, searchable site. He also does custom cartoons.

As the print gag cartoon markets dwindle, it's important to diversify. Last year, I decided to helm, with my friend cartoonist John Klossner, a new self-published comic book titled RACONTEUR. Fellow gag cartoonists Jeff Pert and David Jacobson joined in. The comic was so successful that we did
4 issues. 

I think you have to keep trying new things; keep moving, you know -- like a shark.

I don't know if this helped. Hope so.


Mark Anderson said...

Really great answer, Mike! (And thanks for the mention.)

And I totally agree - you have to be flexible. Like yoga flexible.

I'm not really what I'd consider an editorial cartoonist, but I do a weekly topical cartoon that's a bit out of my comfort zone. But it's good regular business, and honestly I'm growing a bit as a cartoonist as a result.

Also, I'm working on creating a long form comic with another client. Again, out of my comfort zone, but it's also exciting.

Look for opportunities, say yes to as much as you possibly can, and do great work. I wouldn't say it's ever easy, but it is a lot of fun.

Brian Fies said...

I doubt you guys made a dime on Raconteur, but I want more!

One context of this Q&A is that comics and cartooning are changing and everyone is trying to figure out how to make a living. I don't know much about your type of cartooning but, from what I see in my niche, a fair strategy is to try a lot of things and do more of whatever works.

Jim Keefe said...

"...keep moving, you know -- like a shark."

That resonates - best advice I've heard.

john k said...

There's a famous old saying, which I'm going to misquote here - to the question "how does one make a living as a cartoonist?" Don't do anything else until you're 40. Then you won't be qualified to do anything else.