Why I’m A Cartoonist

I’m a cartoonist. I draw funny pictures with funny words that I send out into the world to earn my living. I love my job unquestioningly. That is until recently, when I ran across a TED Talk by Simon Sinek about how great leaders inspire action.

Now, I am neither a great leader, nor particularly inspiring, but it looked like Sinek was going to discuss Apple, and being a fanboy of the fruit, I watched it. But I got more than I expected; for just a moment it actually made me question why I’m a cartoonist.

Every single person, every single organization on the planet knows what they do, 100 percent. Some know how they do it … but very, very few people or organizations know why they do what they do. And by “why” I don’t mean “to make a profit.” That’s a result. It’s always a result. By “why,” I mean: What’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care?

So I asked myself, why am I a cartoonist? And, thankfully, the answer came quickly and clearly – I love making people laugh.

OK, that sounds trite, I know, but it’s that simple. And the more I thought about it, the clearer it became. It’s not just that I enjoy making people laugh, or that I’d like very much to make you laugh, I love it. I crave it. I’m a laugh junkie.

When I was little my mom gave me a joke book that became the bane of my family’s existence. It was as thick as the Sears fall catalog, and the jokes were terrible, but I toted that joke book around, reciting them over and over to anyone within earshot just waiting for that laugh.

When I became a musician I chose the trombone, which, when you think about it, is empirically the funniest of the instruments. (It’s the voice of Charlie Brown’s teacher!) And when I played jazz, I loved nothing more than to work in goofy kid songs or Christmas carols into my solos.

Later, when I worked a series of day jobs, I played pranks on my co-workers, designed oddball contests and rewards, and I wasn’t above the occasional interpretive dance, all in search of that big laugh.

I love to make my mom laugh, I love making my wife laugh, and I LOVE making my kids laugh. I will do and/or say anything to get a laugh.

So, yes, I know what I do – I’m a cartoonist. And I know how I do it – funny pictures, funny words. But Sinek’s talk reminded me anew why I’m a cartoonist. And that’s a good reminder indeed.

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 Andertoons.com 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 “tomcartoonist@yahoo.com,” 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 Authorize.net 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 Andertoons.com 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.

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.

The Gag Cartoonist’s Business Plan

PlanGot this in my email the other day:

Hi there,

I am a product design student from Wales, UK and I am working on an assignment where I have to come up with a business plan. I just wanted to know what it takes to set up a business in cartoon illustration, and what it involves, as this is an area I have great interest in. What do you do that sets your business apart from other similar businesses?

I’d be very grateful for any information you could offer.

Thanks very much for your time.

Normally I just ignore stuff like this. I get a fair share of “tell me what all your markets are and how I make money” emails, but the above note seemed nice and it gives me an opportunity to blog about the business side of gag cartooning.

Let’s see… Business plan…

I’ve used the phrase before, but to be honest, cartooning isn’t the kind of business where you get your idea, get a loan, set up shop and hope to make a profit in a year or two.

Here’s some advice on how I’ve done it so far (I say “so far” because it’s a precarious job and I may very well be wearing an orange apron next week while directing you to the key copying guy), and I’m going to keep it more on the financial end of things:

1) Keep your day gig as long as you can

I worked for a screw manufacturer, a metals distributor, and an auto advertising website for a combined total of about six years before making the leap, and even then it was with the caveat that I juggle cartooning with being a stay-at-home dad.

Being a professional cartoonist most realistically means fitting it in, even when it’s your only source of income. I drew cartoons early in the morning before work, on my lunch hour and at night for years. Now I do it while the kids are at school, and on the weekends.

2) Things you should buy

As I said, cartooning isn’t business as usual, but there are some things I found helpful starting out:

  • A decent computer – My first was an Emachine that came with a printer, monitor and scanner for $500. It was a piece of crap, but it worked. Get something you can afford that gets the job done. You can get that tricked out Mac later.
  • Some sort of website – When I started out blogs didn’t exist yet, so I built my first site myself. It was horrible. Now there’s all sort of options from a blog with ComicPress to Tumblr to Rapidweaver. Keep it on the cheap, but make it look professional.
  • Reasonable art supplies – Cheapo printer paper, a pencil and something other than a Sharpie will get you a long, loooong way.
  • The Complete Cartoons of the New Yorker – You can get the paperback for about $30. When I was starting out I raided about every library in the state and read every book of cartoons I could find. This is more or less a one stop gag cartoon education.
  • Mountain Dew – You’re gonna be up early and stay up late. Coffee is good too.

3) Things not to buy

Even more important is avoiding unnecessary expenses. Don’t bother with:

  • A drafting table – It’s nice and it makes you feel professional, but no one cares what you drew the cartoon on. I worked at a coffee table in my living room for almost a decade
  • Mailing lists – Don’t waste a grand and upwards for hundreds of markets that couldn’t care less about cartoons. Use the library to find the biggies, read cartoonists’ blogs and websites, and just plain hunt around.
  • Business cards – I had 1000 printed up and used about five. Plus, your style is going to be changing a lot early on. A total and complete waste.
  • NCS membership – You need to be earning at least half of your income off cartoons to even apply, but as much as it’s a great place to meet other cartoonists, it’s largely social, and certainly not neccesary to work as a cartoonist.
  • How-to-cartoon books – It’s not rocket science here folks, and if you can’t draw a little already, you shouldn’t be looking at a career in cartooning. Most are outdated.

4) Watch your money

Anyone will tell you most businesses fail early because of accounting issues. Know how much you are making, spend as little as you can initially, and track it to the penny. Generally artists don’t like the business end of things. Learn to be good at it, or be an instant success and hire an accountant.

5) Stick to it

It’s hard, it’s discouraging, and you’re going to fail almost constantly. But if you love it you’ll keep doing it because, in the end, no cartoonist really does it for the money.