Friday, February 02, 2007

The Cartooning Business

Quitting my day job -- which was years back now -- required a leap of faith. I didn't know a soul in the pro cartoonists "industry" when I started out.

My routine -- then and now -- I'd draw up 20-30 cartoons a week in my apartment, throw half of them away and then mail out the good stuff to the art director listed in the masthead of the magazine or newspaper I had targeted. Every week I would do the same. It was not that "creative," it was not "fun," but it was something that I thought I had a knack for.

And it was hard work. It took many months before I got my first sale.

"Did you ever think you'd get to your hundredth cartoon?" asked Bob Mankoff, leaning back in his chair. He was holding one of my cartoons, staring at a small, penciled 4-digit number in the corner. I was in his office, on one of those "look days," when invited cartoonists are allowed past the Conde Nast security phalanx, and get to have a sit down with the New Yorker's cartoon editor. I think I had drawn under a thousand cartoons at that point. Anyway, that penciled number was probably in the 500-700 range.

"Well, I knew I had ideas for maybe a dozen cartoons the first week I started drawing single panel gag cartoons, but that second week ... well, that was harder. And it's not gotten necessarily easier." I had been submitting for maybe 3 years when we had this conversation. And my visit with him ended like so many other visits to the New Yorker; with him holding some of my cartoons and saying, "Come back next week."

And so I do. But so far, no sales at the New Yorker.

But my work sells to other markets, and so that's good.

I've always thought that my stuff sells because it's funny. I think that because there is no other reason to buy, right? That's what the editors want. Why would an editor buy without an eye to content?

Then again, I just got 15 cartoons rejected today -- 15 real good, rejected, homeless, non-money-making cartoons. Heck, one of them should have sold. At least one!!!

"How do you know for sure," asked a student cartoonist,"that they're even looking at your submissions?"

Well, you don't know. You just have to depend on the kindness of strangers, and have faith that your good work -- like the fizz of a Guinness -- will float to the top.

(Above: Our Sam the cat poses next to a couple of submissions packages to be mailed this day.)


Royston Robertson said...

Mike, I must say, I really appreciate your inspiring dispatches from the frontline of gag cartooning! When things aren't going great (I got a complete batch rejected today too!) your posts are a real pick-me-up.

Thanks, Royston.

Mark Anderson said...

" was hard work. It took many months before I got my first sale."

I remember this time so well. Just writing and drawing and reading every book of cartoons I could get.

I think at first I challenged myself to 10 a month. Then 20. Then 25. Then I think it was 10 a week. For a while it was 3 a day, every day.

And that's how you do it. Slogging through and eventually finding a style and learning how to write a joke.

It's not glamorous, and there's no shortcut.

I'm so glad you wrote this, it should be standard reading for budding gag cartoonists.

(BTW, you've been mentioning Guinness a lot lately. Do I need to come out there for an intervention?)

Eli Stein said...

First of all, thanks for mentioning my HBR cartoon the other day, Mike. It's great to be in such distinguished company.
Second, "Cartooning Is Hard Work" was my motto for many years. I actually had the words crocheted so I could hang them on my studio wall, like "Home Sweet Home".
Eli Stein

Mark Anderson said...

I only had the words knitted into a scarf. Maybe that's my problem...