- sending gag cartoons to magazines
- drawing a comic-book adventure
- finding a publisher
- approaching a syndicate
- encouraging a beginner
A: Age and experience make a difference when seeking a job as a cartoonist. You should begin by assembling a portfolio of your work so you can easily explain and show to a company the kind of work that you can do. A graphic-arts school and some university art courses present assignments that can become elements of your portfolio. Samples of published freelance work are valued in any portfolio. If you are a freelancer, this also applies.
Q: What is a freelancer?
A: A freelance artist creates custom, original work for a variety of clients. A freelancer has every right to set the terms of sale, to limit the usage, to retain copyrights and to negotiate with a prospective client or end user. Of course, the client has every right to say no thanks! Several fields in cartooning are ideal for freelancing. (The alternative to freelancing frequently is called work-for-hire -- that is a job, where somebody else supplies you with a desk, the tools you need, and a paycheck at the end of the week.)
Q: I'm not looking for a job, I just want to get my cartoons published.
A: If you are drawing single-panel "gag cartoons," collect good photocopies of them in a large envelope and send them to a magazine that you know publishes cartoons as a regular part of its fare. Place your name and some sort of an identifying system (a code) on the back of each cartoon. If you want the work returned, include a large self-addressed, stamped envelope. Include a cover letter that briefly explains why you are sending the editor these cartoons. Editor names, addresses, and criteria for many publications can be found in the book "Artist's & Graphic Designer's Market", published annually and available in libraries.
Q: What should I say is the reason I am sending the cartoons?
A: In most cases you would simply state that you are sending your cartoons "for sale at the magazine's regular rate." Most any magazine that you find on your local library shelves has a budget for illustrations and cartoons. If the cartoons you submit meet the editor's needs, he will pay you his magazine's standard fee. (The familiar magazines will not cheat you, but neither will the editor offer you advice, encouragement, instruction or alternatives.) A magazine editor is not a teacher; that's not his job.
Some beginner cartoonists are overjoyed at getting a simple note of comment from an editor. In most cases you will receive a preprinted "rejection slip!" Generally the magazines with the largest circulation, with the most advertising pages pay the most money for articles and illustrations. You might expect to receive as little as $5 or as much as $600 -- but not too many fellow cartoonists are going to tell you what those magazine titles are right away.
Q: Well, then, where do I go to get the guidance, help, instruction that I need?
A: You are not likely to find many courses in cartooning. In most art schools cartooning is a stepchild of the illustration department. If you want help in cartooning, you will have to complete your school assignments with enthusiasm and then seek out an instructor with some experience, or at least a tolerance for, cartooning. Beginner cartooning classes are offered from time to time at Libraries, Park Department Recreation Centers and some Community Colleges. In larger cities cartooning classes may be offered at Career/Experimental Colleges. Many of these classes will be directed toward the young person or the hobbyist. Investigate each class. The instructor may have some actual professional experience. Do not expect to find cartoon classes at a standard four-year college. Some private art schools have occasional classes in cartooning, but their primary focus is to give serious art students a well-rounded perspective in all phases of commercial art. Your most likely source is to become self-taught, from books and manuals in the library and for sale at large bookstores. In the library, look for dewey decimal-system numbers 641 and up. Also, rub elbows with cartoonists through a club, association or guild ... like CARTOONISTS NORTHWEST!
Q: I have drawn my own comic-book story and want to find a publisher . . .
A: Have you drawn a 32 page story 9 (or longer) with plotline, good character development, action and suspense? Or have you just designed a new cape for a superhero character? Is it really quality work, suitable for a stranger, a businessman to expect to make money from it? A publisher is neither a teacher nor a motivator. The publisher looks at your work with an eye to whether it will attract sales on the newsstands or in stores. If he doesn't think so, he need not explain anything to you. It is not usual that a beginner cartoonist can develop publishable work on his first try, or second, or third.
Q: I want to submit my comic strip ideas to a newspaper syndicate. Where do I start?
A: If your comic strip is designed for publication in a daily newspaper, find the summer "Syndicate Directory" issue of the weekly trade magazine Editor and Publisher ($75 yr. sub). This directory is likely to be stored in your library's old-issues bin or it can be ordered separately from the Washington, DC, publisher for about $8 (get the address from the magazine). This issue is a great $8 investment. This directory will tell you what comic strips a syndicate already distributes. That's strategic, because if you have "the new Doonesbury," you don't want to send it to the Doonesbury syndicate, you want to send it to a competitor. The syndicate directory gives the addresses of more than 400 syndicates of varying scope and influence and profitability. Select a couple of them that interest you and write for their submission requirements, including a self-addressed stamped envelope.
Q: What's the best syndicate?
A: The one that picks your work. Look at the tiny copyright line in the comics in your local newspaper; you'll see the names of several working syndicates. The six syndicates most successful in placing comics in large newspapers across the country are Universal Press Syndicate, United Features Syndicate, King Features, Tribune Media Services, Chronicle Features, Los Angeles Times-Washington Post. But the odds are stacked against you at these syndicates.
Q: How high is the stack?
A: King Features, for instance, estimates that it gets up to 2,000 submission packages a month, but only about 150 get any serious consideration, and those are cut down to 50 or so in a short time. Of this, only two or three comic strips will actually reach fruition. And two years later, three of them will have been canceled. A smaller syndicate may be more approachable. But a smaller syndicate may have a difficult time attracting the attention of the best newspaper editors.
Q: What are syndicate submission requirements?
A: They vary but the larger the syndicate and the more businesslike it is, the more specific requirements it requires -- discouraging amateurs. You might be asked to submit 30 days worth of your comic idea in finished art form and supply a typewritten character-development page to show where the story will go, along with a statement as to what age and type readers your comic strip is geared. You will not discuss money during the submission process. Don't even ask. If your work is approved, eventually, the syndicate will offer a preprinted contract that requires you to produce the feature without the syndicate's help and with the profits to be divided 50-50 or 60-40 or such thing. It is not likely that you will be offered a salary, only a vague projection of what sales could be. The most reputable syndicates will suggest that you consult a lawyer before signing a contract.
Q: Who needs an attorney?
A: There are a multitude of specific details that can be negotiated. Examples: Will the artist own the character or will it become the property of the syndicate? Will original art be returned or retained? Will profits occur only after introductory expenses have been recouped? Will the syndicate also merchandise other items, negotiate book deals or movie sales? In most cases you will want to go along with most of what the syndicate suggests -- it is their business and it's in your best interests to let them make money off of you. But you can be cautious if you want.
Q: I draw a darn good Mickey Mouse. When can I move to Anaheim?
A: There are lots of good Mouse drawers in the Philippines, Taiwan and China, so get in line.
Q: What are the addresses of the best comic-book publishers?
A: Do your own research. Every comic book has an index inside, page 1 or 2, or back cover, that tells the publisher's address. For a larger selection of publishers do your research at a comic-book specialty store rather than at the neighborhood convenience store. Also, use the Internet to search for their address.
Q: My son/daughter/niece/nextdoor-neighbor/kid-I-know is a talented cartoonist. What can I do to encourage/market/expose his/her work?
A: Give praise when praise is due. Post it on the refrigerator door, let grandma put it in her memory box. Advise the budding amateur to "keep drawing." (Drawing for money is a long way off.) Encourage further study such as with anatomy courses, perspective drawing, lettering courses, painting, marketing, ethics, and computer graphics.