Monday, December 29, 2008


"Go that way, really fast. If something gets in your way, turn."

Advice is great. You can ask anyone -- a relative, a friend, a complete stranger -- and usually they will have some on hand to give to you.

Since I draw cartoons full-time, sometimes people ask how they, too, can become cartoonists.

"How can I succeed?"

I have some advice, but first, below is a video. That's not me in the video. No, no, no. It's not me. I found it on YouTube. That's an illustrator named Dan Page. I don't know Dan.

What's YOUR definition of success? I am going to assume that you want to succeed commercially, OK? You want to be paid for drawing.

You want to make a living from being a cartoonist.

Now, Dan is right that you need a portfolio. But the people at ExpertVillage, who, I assume, spent good money to get this fellow propped up in front of the camera, did not get the right guy for their How to Succeed as an Artist video. Here is his sum up:
  • build up portfolio,

  • submit your work to the "different groups or companies,"

  • you will receive "an opportunity,"

  • and from there, it's all what you do with it.

Above: Diane Franklin as Monique Junot from BETTER OFF DEAD.

I couldn't help but think of BETTER OFF DEAD's lead character Lane Meyer (John Cusack) who, when asking for guidance on skiing the difficult K-12 slope in the movie, was told advice so general (see that opening quote from Charles DuMar and Monique Junot above) that it was useless.

You have to seize the opportunity, like Dan says, but -- like one of the commenters on YouTube wrote -- "Isn't that how to become a successful anything? This is so general that it doesn't help anyone."

And that's why I'm here.

First off, talent is cheap. I can walk into any art school and see lots of people better than me. Most of those art students will not succeed. This is because talent has little to do with success.

How do you get that opportunity? You know, the one where Dan makes a fist and "seize that opportunity" right at 1:28?

Your talent may help, but persistence is key.

If you want to draw single panel magazine gag cartoons, draw 20 every week, throw away the weak ones and mail the rest of them out. Do this every week.

When I started I knew NOBODY. No editors, no other cartoonists. And I didn't know what I was doing. I got addresses from the magazines I looked at in the library and the bookstore. I took the addresses from the masthead of the magazine. It took me 6 months, but I began selling.

Do you want to draw comic books? Graphic novels? Comic book conventions always have an "artists alley," where you can meet professionals.

Meeting professionals at conventions is the best. I was just in Portsmouth for a comics convention last month and met a good number of pros and soon-to-be pros who were there. Very friendly get together.

Advice from a friend or teacher can be helpful-- but to meet and talk with a professional is sooo much better. Especially if you are looking to be come like them; to make a living from drawing and writing.

That said, I'll be starting up cartoon classes locally in Southern New Hampshire next month. And if there are snow days and no classes, well then -- we'll all ski the dang K-12 together, OK? Not successfully right off the bat, but maybe by July ... ?


Gregory Kogan said...

Inspiring post, Mike. From the videos I've seen (on skateboarding, skiing, and many more), Expertvillage is terrible. I agree that this video is far too general and does nothing whatsoever for the viewer.

Brian Fies said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian Fies said...

Wow, congratulations! That sounds like quite a commitment and undertaking. I'm sure you've touched base with folks like Guy Gilchrist regarding the agonies and ecstacies you'll face as a teacher of the art and craft of cartooning.

I was similarly dissatisfied with Mr. Page's advice based on my own experience and that of people I know whom I'd consider far more successful than I am. Particularly with respect to doing graphic novels, the idea that you prepare a portfolio to show a company you have the chops to "do graphic novels for them" seems almost ass-backwards to me. GN authors are just about the purest auteurs in the arts: they do the writing, drawing, and often the lettering, coloring and everything else, themselves. The way I see it, you don't do a graphic novel for a publisher; you find a publisher to do the printing and distribution for you. And, in point of fact, no portfolio was required in my case. As is the case when any writer submits a manuscript to a publisher, the work speaks for itself. A portfolio, no matter how good, won't land you a contract to do a GN if you don't have at least a well-developed story to pitch. (I do think it helps sell yourself and your work if you can point to a publishing history that demonstrates you're a pro who can work with editors, complete projects, meet deadlines, etc. But I don't think it's necessary.)

His advice also overlooks many people who build careers as independent cartoonists through mini-comics, self-publishing and, especially, the Web. There are routes to success that circumvent middlemen (or "different groups or companies") entirely.

So while building a portfolio is always a worthwhile thing to do, I think this advice applies to only a narrow slice of opportunities available in the cartooning/comics/graphic novel universe.

Nick said...


Sounds like you've got another book in you....

Mark Anderson said...

I'm going to make a video that's even more general - "Do stuff and things sometimes happen."

Great advice from you BTW.

I think persistence it what weeds out the wannabes. And like Brian says, a good product is a good place to start.

I was watching a podcast recently where the host talked about "The 10,000 Hour Rule," which basically says you need to do something for 10,000 hours before you master it, or succeed at it, or whatever.

That seems pretty right on with your start with a stack of paper as tall as you are theory. (Did I get that right?)

Draw a lot, send what you draw, repeat. (I'm gonna get shampoo bottles with that printed on them and give them away.)

Great post as always my inky pal!

Mark Anderson said...

BTW, have you watched "Where Does Ink Come From?"

What a title! I feel like I should be watching this in a school gym while the girls watch "The Sable Brush of Womanhood" in the library.

Anonymous said...

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.

Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.

Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.

Education will not; the world is filled with educated derelicts.

Persistence and dedication are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

-Calvin Coolidge

Snagglefrog said...

Where in southern NH will you be holding the cartooning classes?

Mike Lynch said...

Thanks for your comments.

Greg, sorry to hear that the other Expertvillage vids are lacking.

Brian, I agree: Mr. Page just doesn't know that much about the field.

Nick, thanks for the kind words. And best of luck in the Ukraine. Nick is my brother-in-law. We are following your blog daily.

Mark, you are preaching to the choir.

Fitzillo, thanks for the Coolidge quote.

Snagglefrog, there will be an announcement in the local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat, about the classes. They'll be in the Rochester, NH area.

James Grasdal said...

Patience and persistence. And a really low standard of living. But I'm just speaking from personal experience. I just got into teaching my self about a year ago. Much fun. I tried it about 10-15 years ago and it nearly killed me. I really like it now though.