Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mike Lynch Interview in THE HIPPO

Below is the text of my interview in this week's free New Hampshire paper THE HIPPO, with some cartoons and comments by me. The only correction I see is that the organization I belong to is called the National Cartoonists Society, not the National Cartooning Society. Maybe I was mumbling when I mentioned the group! The article is written by Heidi Masak, who is an old fashioned reporter who takes notes with a pen and paper, she says. My thanks to her and editor Amy Diaz for all the time and effort it must have took -- not only with me, but with all of the other cartoonists interviewed.

New Hampshire’s cartoonists

Who’s behind the funnies

By Heidi Masek

For some, it’s the first section of the newspaper they look for. For others, it’s a wry joke on a text-heavy magazine page. Then there are comic books.

A lot of work goes into cartooning, and not many people make a career of it. Here’s a look at some of New Hampshire’s top comic creators.

Mike Lynch

“Cartooning has always been the one constant in my life,” said Mike Lynch of Milton. The Wall Street Journal, New York Daily News, Harvard Business Review, Playboy and Reader’s Digest are among his clients for single-panel magazine cartoons.

As a kid, he drew on the wall. At first he was yelled at. Then his mother started putting paper up on the wall and inviting other kids over for drawing parties.

“I tried to get away from it, but I was unhappy,” Lynch said. Ten years ago, he quit “real jobs” to be a full-time cartoonist, he said. He worked as an education administrator for a music conservatory in Manhattan for seven years, and in computer graphics for Wall Street companies for five.

Lynch took a few drawing classes at Parsons School of Design when he moved to New York about 21 years ago. Born in Iowa, he went to college in Ohio where his father taught.

When people say, “I am a cartoonist,” it can many anything from drawing Dilbert to animating Sponge Bob, Lynch said.

Lynch referenced playwright and screenwriter Martin McDonagh when he explained how he ended up focusing on single-panels for magazines. McDonagh got a book on writing and the first chapter was on writing plays. He wrote one, and it was produced. The second chapter was on writing for TV, but that didn’t work out. Lynch has tried to sell comic strips, but the longer form didn’t seem to work out.

Lynch said he writes about 30 “gags” per week. “Ten or 15, I’ll throw out.” He’ll “draw up” 10 or 15 and mail them to the Wall Street Journal. Next he sends them to the Harvard Business Review, then Reader’s Digest, etc. When cartoons are rejected, he repackages appropriate material to send to another market. At a given time, he’ll have hundreds of cartoons sitting on desks where people are hopefully looking at them, he said.

“I try to stay away from, certainly, overly familiar cartoons — the dumb secretary and dopey boss — and try to be more clever. Because your editors have seen all that and they’re looking for something fresh,” Lynch said.

At the same time, “I love cartoon clichés ... I still remember when I sold my first desert island cartoon. That was so exciting,” Lynch said. A cruise ship floats by a dozen people on a desert island, and someone on the ship points out “the most sequestered jury in the world,” Lynch said.

You can instill an element of surprise in cartoons, he said. In one of his, a woman walks in to find her other half in bed with another woman. The man says casually that she would have seen it coming if she followed his blog, Lynch said.

“I do find that sometimes racier cartoons or more confrontational cartoons don’t find markets here, but thankfully there’s a big English-speaking market in Europe,” Lynch said.

Another example is a guy knocking on a door who says, “Excuse me, have you heard what may or may not be the word?” He’s a proselytizing agnostic.

Lynch is currently the National Representative for the National Cartooning Society [sic]. That means his job is to “organize the unorganizable” cartoonists, he said.

He’s lived in New Hampshire for more than a year now. He and his wife vacationed in northern New England and Lynch met some cartoonists, and his wife, who plays Irish fiddle, met musicians. She still does graphic design for a company in Manhattan and performs two or three nights per week.

“There’s probably less than a thousand people in this country who are making their living by cartooning,” Lynch said.

“Everyone gets along and everyone tends to be interested in what the other person is doing,” he said. Lynch said he knows most of his competitors, and some of his best friends are the artists whose work is seen regularly in the New Yorker or Wall Street Journal.

Much of Lynch’s bread and butter is in cartoons tailored for business topics. “It’s very easy to make fun of these guys,” Lynch said, citing Goldman Sachs as an example. As long as you are generally aware of what’s going on, you don’t need a special background in the industry, he said.

Cartooning might be unique in that it merges visual art and writing. “That’s why I never like the caption contests that are very big,” Lynch said. There’s a world of people who can draw and paint, and a world of people who can write, but it’s rare that people do both, he said.

Lynch started a blog noting what’s going on in the cartooning community, which offers him a way to promote his work (along with his site, At, he’s posted various cartoons that look like he pretty much draws what he sees (which is pretty darn hilarious when he’s making fun of strangers in airports).

"Oh yeah. It's over. She just sent an obscene emoticon."

“I’ve never been into style. A lot of cartoonists and artists really worry about it,” Lynch said. Edinburgh-based cartoonist Rod McKie remarked to Lynch that Lynch’s work looks “so contemporary” because Lynch draws people he actually sees, Lynch recalled.

“I think that regardless of what you do ... you have to be observant to a degree,” Lynch said.

“I also find that I don’t spend eight hours a day watching television,” Lynch said. He’s lucky to watch it 90 minutes a week, and that’s mostly just because he works a lot. “Cartooning is a job, but it’s a job that I love,” Lynch said. The finished product might look simple, “but there’s a lot of choices behind the scenes,” he said.

Lynch can usually tell within five minutes if someone is a part-time cartoonist, he said.

Among their other concerns, full-timers are self-employed and need to cover the business end of things, like managing their taxes, billing and contracts. The average cartoonist lasts six months and throws in the towel, he said. Part of the reason is that there’s not really a template for the job. That’s also why he started the blog, Lynch said. People have questions about how to deal with rejection, why things aren’t anything selling, where to find markets and “what do these people want?”

It took Lynch six months to make a sale, he said. Throughout that time, he was sending out 15 cartoons per week. One of the things editors are looking for is reliability, Lynch said. Perhaps his persistence demonstrated that because after six months of nothing, he made seven or eight sales in one day, amounting to a couple thousand dollars. As an independent artist, Lynch owns his cartoons, which puts him in a position to control how they are used, he said.

Lynch has fallen into teaching cartooning and now teaches kids and adults in New York and New Hampshire.

“Despite how visually bombarded every kid is,” Lynch said, he’s found that many have never seen anyone draw in front of them. On the other hand, he was teaching in a museum in New York this summer and by the third day his students were drawing almost as fast as he was. It makes him wonder how he’ll compete 10 years from now, he said.


Brian Fies said...

Wow, you're pretty impressive on paper! Nice article, one for the scrapbook.

Eli Stein said...

Interesting interview, Mike -- good stuff. By the way, I still consider myself a part-time cartoonist, even though I've been doing it since 1956 (year of my first sale).
Eli Stein

Tyler Garn said...

Good one Mike. As always, your advice is a great asset to new fish like me.

Anonymous said...

Great cover and article, Mike. Always good information here.

richardcthompson said...

Nice piece, Mike, it really humanized you. And an excellent selection of Classic Lynch Cartoons. Gee, I wish there was a paper called The Hippo around here. Maybe if newspapers had happier names they'd be doing better

The Cartoonist said...

Well done! Great and very interesting article.

Mark Anderson said...

Hey, sorry it took me so long to get to reading this, but I wanted a nice quiet morning and some coffee to really be able to dig into it.

Wow! That really came out nice! And I love the cover art!

I think the thing that stuck out most to me was the 1000 or so of us actually earning a living. Wow! just a thousand or so! That's one I'm gonna be thinking about all day.

Anyhoo, congrats on the GREAT article! You rock, sir Lynch!