Cartoonists & Failure 1

A few months back I spoke at the Success in Comics seminar and the part of my talk people commented on most was when I talked about failure.

Depending on how you define success, I guess you can say I’m a successful cartoonist. I’m never going to be a Schulz or a Penny Arcade, but my art and writing is pretty good, I’ve been published fairly widely, and I earn a living drawing funny pictures. Not bad.

I must have done everything right, right? Not so much. When I take a good hard look at it, probably 95% of the things I’ve tried ended up failing. But the other 5% turned out really good.

If I had a mantra, it would be this: fail big, fail messy, and fail often. I’m not saying you should make stupid or rash decisions, just stop being afraid of things not working out, because, realistically, for the most part they won’t. But if you’re not failing, you’re not trying.

So, in that spirit, here’s just a few of my most notable failures. Enjoy:


Cartoonists & Failure 2

Like most cartoonists, I tried my hand at syndication for a few years. I did a strip about a young married couple (top,) and another about a dog and his owner where the dog was the breadwinner and the guy was more the pet in the relationship.

You can see me figuring out my style, and the writing is clunky. They were right not to give me a contract (although Jay Kennedy wrote me some lovely comments). Ultimately a strip was not a good fit for me.


Cartoonists & Failure 3

When CafePress started out I was sure it was going to be all kinds of money for me. My wife and I spent an entire summer coloring my cartoons, uploading them, putting them on t-shirts, mugs, etc… I think I earned maybe $50 when it was all said and done.

I’m sure someone is succeeding on CafePress, but it isn’t me.


Cartoonists & Failure 4

For a while I thought selling books was the way to go. I did one on Lulu, printed up some SPX-ready minicomics, some themed collections for the art fair crowd (more on that later), and even an iBook. They sold OK, I made my money back, but for the amount of work I put into them, books have been a bust.


Cartoonists & Failure 6

I’m not a big fan of Facebook. I’ve recently gotten my act together with an Andertoons page, but for the most part I don’t like/trust it. Still, when they debuted apps a few years back I paid my developer to figure out FBML and build a daily cartoon thingy. It never went above 50 users, never sent me any business, and cost me a fair amount of money. Sigh.

Art Fairs

Cartoonists & Failure 7

For time and money spent, my art fair set-up is probably one of my biggest failures. I spent more than $6000 on the tent, tables, frames, signs, supplies, entry fees, and more. I also spent a summer of 90-100 degree days sitting outside while people read and laughed at my cartoons before moving on sans merchandise to the hand-made earring or what-can-I-make-out-of-beer-cans booth next door. Add in the set-up, tear-down, travel, and the time I held onto my 10-foot steel pole frame in a 50 MPH thunderstorm so my entire investment wouldn’t blow away and you’ve got one serious failure. (Remind me to tell you about the flood sometime too.)

New Yorker

Cartoonists & Failure 8

I’ve done my time trying to sell the the New Yorker too. I submitted for years and never got so much as a nibble. I’ve even met cartoon editor Bob Mankoff a few times:

Cartoonists & Failure 9

Once he told me that my art was good, but my writing was terrible. Another time he said my writing was good, but my art was terrible. (He also once thought I drew Family Circus.) But I think mostly he’s afraid of me. I’m a big guy, and I suspect when he sees me coming at him excitedly he’s worried I’m seeing this:

Cartoonists & Failure 10

So there are just a few of my most spectacular failures, and a picture of Bob Mankoff as a sandwich. When you add in the dozens of smaller and less entertaining failures, I’ve done my share of falling down. You really should give it a try. It’s better than you think.

BTW, if you liked that, here’s a few more blogs you might like:

How To Draw A Cartoon Leprechaun – Tutorial

St. Patrick’s Day is coming up fast, so I thought this week I’d show you how to draw a cartoon leprechaun in only twelve easy steps.

When you’re done, feel free to email, tweet, pin, share, or glarble (I made that one up) a pic of your cartoon leprechaun and I’ll post them here at the blog.

Good luck!

how to draw a cartoon leprechaun

Not bad, eh? Just 12 little steps and you’ve got yourself a really nice leprechaun cartoon!

More tutorials are coming soon, but if you’re still in the mood for drawing, feel free to check out my elephant tutorial here.

16 Awesome Websites, Apps & Tools for Web Cartoonists – Business Advice

Recently I wrote about the cartooning tools I use. You know, pens, pencils, paper, and the like. Anyway, at the end I said:

There’s a whole separate set of tools for running the business, and probably another for running the site, but those are posts for another time.

Well, it’s time.

I’m going to show you the various websites, apps, and tools I use to make the business of running work.

Note – while most of what I’ll be talking about are sites and services available to anyone, I will discuss a few that are Mac specific. I’m also not going to reveal absolutely everything I use, but there’s plenty here to keep a cartoonist busy.

OK, let’s begin with a few from Google…

Google Analytics

Google Analytics

Platform: Web   Price: Free   Ease of use: Intermediate

This should at the very least sound familiar to you. If you’re running any sort of site for any amount of time you’re going to run across Google Analytics.

Simply put, you insert a snippet of HTML into your site and you get a good look at who’s looking at what, when, how, and more.

For the most part I like the data I get here, and I’ve been using it for years, so I can compare stats over time. But some recent changes (I’m looking at you, search queries) have made it slightly less useful.

I’ve tried some other ways to look at my site’s data, but Google Analytics is what I’m used to, and it’s still very powerful.

Google Apps Email


Platform: Web   Price: Free    Ease of use: Novice

So, your email is probably something like “mycartoons@gmail” or “,” right? (Please tell me it’s not an AOL email. That’s fine, but if you’re looking to up the professionalism, you’ll want an email like “tom@toms-cartoons,” and Google’s Apps Gmail is an easy way to do it.

It’s been a while since I set it up, but I remember it being relatively painless. Plus it integrates nicely with your both your home computer and your smartphone.

Mac users – give Mailplane a try. It’s a perfect combination of Gmail and a desktop mail app.

OK, one more from Google…

Google Reader


Platform: Web   Price: Free    Ease of use: Novice

If you’re going to working online you’re going to need to be up to date on any number of blogs, and Google Reader is a dead simple way to do it.

Subscribing and organizing is easy, and the interface, though utilitarian, works nicely.

Mac users – Reeder pretties up the desktop experience, and Flipboard is beautiful on your iThingy.

OK enough Google. Let’s get down to running your cartoon website.

Rackspace Cloud Server


Platform: Web   Price: Depends on usage   Ease of use: Advanced

There’s all kinds of web hosting out there, but when you’re really serious about keeping your cartoons up and running, a Rackspace Cloud Server is the way to go.

To be fair, this is something my developer set up for me, but on the very rare occasion when there’s been a service hiccup, the folks at Rackspace have been able to talk me down to a safe landing.

You’re going to pay for quality here, but you’re running a business, right?



Platform: Web   Price: $7 mo.  Ease of use: Advanced

Github is a little difficult for me to explain, but I like it. Here’s how Wikipedia describes it:

Github is a web-based hosting service for software development projects that use the Git revision control system. The site provides social networking functionality such as feeds, followers and the network graph to display how developers work on their versions of a repository.

Here’s my experience – I can queue up and communicate about future projects and current problems with my developer(s) quickly and easily. It also helps to track and document changes to code so you know who did what when. I’m also able to do some coding in Github, but I’m still getting up to speed on it.

Obviously I’m no expert on this, but if your developer suggests it, I’d go along.



Platform: Mac   Price: $2.99   Ease of use: Intermediate

My cartoons and other images are hosted on Amazon’s S3, which keeps Andertoons running speedily. And while you can upload and download images via Amazon’s interface, the 3Hub app is more Mac-like.

Drag and drop simple, and setting headers and permissions is a snap.



Platform: Web/Mac/PC   Price: Free up to 2GB   Ease of use: Novice

When I was on vacation for two weeks with the family unit last summer, I used Dropbox to deliver a cartoon from my iPhone to a client while we watched red pandas playing at the zoo.

That alone would make Dropbox worth it, and I could list anecdote after anecdote about how I use it, but you really need to try it out and see for yourself.

Be warned, you won’t be able to get along with out it.



Platform: Web   Price: Depends on usage   Ease of use: Novice

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on Paypal because it’s something you’re probably very familiar with, but I use it often for invoicing clients, paying vendors, and ordering LEGO.

Platform: Web   Price: Depends on usage   Ease of use: Advanced

I do a fair amount of e-commerce at the site and is what I use for handling credit cards. I’ve been using it so long and I’m so used to it that I can’t really speak to the ease of signup or set-up, but they’re very stable and reliable.

One recommendation – when you’re filling out the initial paperwork you’re not going to want to use your name as the company. Use your website URL or company name instead. That info is going to show up on people’s credit card statements, and I’ve had the experience of more than a few people calling to say “Who is this Mark Anderson and why is he charging $30?!?!”

It took a bit of paperwork wrangling so showed up instead, and if you can avoid that I’d recommend it.

Cross Browser Testing

browser testing

Platform: Web   Price: $29.95 mo.   Ease of use: Intermediate

I don’t use Cross Browser Testing a lot, but when I’m rolling out a new site or some important change, it’s a good way to make sure that someone running an old browser on an older OS isn’t seeing a lot of gobbledygook instead of cartoons.

Pricing is a little higher than I’d like, but the peace of mind is more than worth it.



Platform: Web   Price: Free   Ease of use: Intermediate

I’ve been blogging about cartooning for a looooong time. I think I started at Blogger, moved to Movable Type, then TypePad, then over to WordPress which is what I’m using now.

You can pay to have WordPress take care of the heavy lifting of hosting and all that. but I host it at Andertoons. Themes, add-ons and upgrades are easy peasy, and it makes blogging a breeze.

One more thing – don’t believe anyone who says blogging is dead. Good content (especially cartoons!) delivered regularly never goes out of style.



Platform: Web    Price: Free  Ease of use: Novice

If you’re running a website, you’re doing social media (or you won’t be running a site for long). Hootsuite is a great way to keep your social stuff organized and updated.

Twitter, Facebook, stats, URL shortening, scheduling, RSS, mobile apps, it’s got it all.

I use the free version, but that Pro plan is looking better and better to me.



Platform: Web   Price: 10 queued tweets free   Ease of use: Novice

Once you really get into tweeting it’s easy to overdo it. You tweet, retweet some friends’ cartoons, retweet some interesting links, and pretty soon your followers are begging for the fail whale to return.

Buffer is like a sensible friend that helps you step back and take a good look at what you’re sharing. It schedules your social media at a reasonable pace and at times when your friends and followers are most likely to actually read them. Plus there’s a handy bookmarklet!



Platform: Mac/Windows   Price: Varies   Ease of use: Novice

The more you do online, the more passwords you need to create. And the more you create, the easier they are to forget.

1Password generates unique random passwords for pretty much anywhere you go online that you can unlock and autofill with one master password.

Pure awesomeness. And although it might take you a while to get used to that one longish oddball password you create, after a while your fingers will fly over the keys while you smile happily.



Platform: Mac   Price: $14.99   Ease of use: Novice

Renamer is an app I only use every so often, but when I need to add a letter to into the filename of say 6000 cartoons, I thank the app gods for its existence.



Platform: Mac/Windows   Price: Varies   Ease of use: Intermediate

I started doing my accounting with a self-made spreadsheet. Then Quicken & TurboTax. Now it’s Quickbooks and an accountant.

I know the Mac version is supposed to be severely lacking in feature compared to the Windows version, but for what I need it to do it’s fine. Easy to use, easy to coordinate with my accountant, but more expensive than I’d like, and no easy way to take my data elsewhere.

A necessary evil.

Well, that about sums it up

As I said at the beginning, I haven’t listed every trick up my sleeve, but if you’re serious about the business of web cartooning it’s a fairly comprehensive list.

A Cartoonist’s Tools

I think every cartoonist is sooner or later asked “what kind of pen do you use?”

My normal response is usually that there is no “right” or “best” pen. Each cartoonist finds, usually through years of trial and error, the correct tools for themselves. Some prefer pen and ink, some like the cheapest ballpoints. (And remember, even the best art needs good writing first.)

But I also remember starting out, getting answers like that, and wishing I’d gotten a different answer; or at least a place to start. And it’s in that spirit that I’m going to go through pretty much everything in my office and explain how and why I use it.

Just remember, your results may vary.


paper sketches

For sketching I use a 24 pound bright laser paper. Pretty much whatever is on sale. I could certainly go cheaper, but I like the way that combination feels to me.

For final art I use Borden & Riley bleedproof paper for pens. It’s economical, and it stands up well to marker saturation.

paper art

I try to fit as many cartoons on a single piece as I can and then cut them out for scanning. You end up with all sorts of oddball shapes, but since I’m creating for reproduction, I don’t much care.


I’m really picky about my pencils, and ForestChoice #2‘s are my hands down favorites. They work great, feel great, sharpen great, they’re just perfect! I buy the 144-count box.


If you like pencils like I like pencils, do yourself a favor and try these. They’re so good!!



I use a few different pens for the final art: a Faber-Castell Pitt Artist brush pen, and varying thicknesses of Pigma Micron pens. Both stand up well to my punishingly heavy hand, stay black, and dry quickly, which I have to have because I work really fast.



I’ve used Prismacolor cool greys for years and years, but lately I’ve been opting to use some virtual markers I created in Photoshop from scans of my Prismacolors on the Border & Riley paper. They’re not quite the organic feel of the real thing though, so I’m kind of on the fence here.



I preface this with the reminder that for probably half of my career I worked hunched over a coffee table in our living room. But when we moved to a larger house and I got an office I splurged on this Alvin drafting table. It’s nice to be able to work without sitting on the floor.



And while we’re talking about sitting, my Swopper stool was another I’ve-got-my-own-office  splurge. It takes a little getting used to, but my back continues to thank me.



I built my own taboret (I had to look up the word “taboret.” I was going to call it my drawer thingy) out of various Elfa pieces at the Container Store. Easy, sturdy, and cost effective.

Light Desk


The way I work is to do a messy sketch, and then ink over it on my light desk. For years I used a much bulkier one, which was sort of hard to work on with my table, so this newer thinner LightPad is a Godsend. I still have trouble making the back “sticky” enough to store it on my desk though.



Your standard sturdy Luxo combo. This thing is awesome and I adore it.



I’ve waxed poetic about my Mac before, and usually someone chimes in and tells me I’m paying for the name and I’m a jerk and all that. But when my last iMac had 2 weeks left in AppleCare, and the Genius Bar couldn’t figure out my problem, they gave me a brand new iMac and a new AppleCare to go with it. No questions asked.

Apple, you had me at hello.

BTW, I also run a MacBook, 2 iPads and an iPhone. Call me a fanboy, it all works.


I had my last Canon scanner for more than 10 years, and I loved it dearly, but this fall it finally scanned it’s last Andertoon. I replaced it with another CanoScan and the results are just as good in like 1 third of the time:


I also run this Fujitsu ScanSnap for auto scanning reams of paperwork, receipts, and cartoon cards. Love it!


Wacom Intuos 3


I still do so much work with actual ink on paper that I have yet to pony up for a Cintiq a new Intuos, or that Inkling thing. But when I need it, it’s a reliable workhorse. I couldn’t get along without it.

Photoshop CS5


I have some sort of bundle of CS5 stuff, most of which I rarely use. I’m also betting that I use only about 5% of what Photoshop is capable of, but there you go. I did do some playing around in Flash a while back, and occasionally I poke my head into Illustrator to change some line art into vector, but mostly it’s a lot of Photoshop layer coloring, resizing, etc…

So that’s it. That’s what I use to create my cartoons. Someone just starting out certainly doesn’t need all of this. Pen, paper, and a computer with a scanner is pretty much the minimum though.

There’s a whole separate set of tools for running the business, and probably another for running the site, but those are posts for another time.

(Just in case you’re curious, here’s a video showing how I draw my cartoons, and here’s a more in-depth look at my cartooning process.)

So, what tools do you use?

Beware: 7 Phrases That Drive Professional Cartoonists Criminally Insane


Never ever under any circumstances say any of the following phrases to a professional cartoonist:

1) Can you look at my work and tell me what you think?

I could, but it doesn’t really mean anything. Send your cartoons to an editor. If they hand you a check ya done good.

2) We pay on publication.

Super. And I’ll pay for your magazine when I’m done reading it.

3) I saw this cartoon once. Can you help me find it?

Yes, because I know all and see all!

Honestly, if Google can’t help you, what makes you think I could.

4) Ha-ha! You should do a cartoon about that!

No. I shouldn’t. Because that’s crap.

5) Hi, you don’t know me, but could you tell me who’s buying at (insert cartoon market here) and how much they pay?

Sure! And here’s my address book, my taxes for the last ten years, and where I buried me treasure! Yar!

6) I have an idea for a great cartoon for you.

Trust me, you don’t. Please stop right there.

7) We have well over a hundred readers. This would be great exposure for you.

When I’m in Reader’s Digest I’m read by millions and I get a nice fat check. I think I’ll stick with that.