The Freelance Cartoonist And Self-Promotion

The modern freelance cartoonist is also, de facto, a self-promoter. You want and need to tell people about your cartoons and comics. After all, people can’t buy your cartoons or hire you if they don’t know you exist. The question is how best to spend your time, effort, and money to get the word out?

I’ve dipped my toe in older, more traditional marketing waters (agencies, postcards, cold-calling…), but by far the most success I’ve experienced has been online. This can’t be surprising, but it warrants the occasional revisit, and I like to think I bring some real experience to the table. I’ve been blogging since before my developer had heard the word “blog,” and tweeting well before everyone knew the 140 character limit.

So here are some online options for the savvy freelance cartoonist and how I use or don’t use them (your results may vary):

Your Website

Freelance Cartoonist Website

Please tell me you have a website, or a blog, or something. If not, stop reading this article right now and go take care of that. It doesn’t need to be fancy, but it needs to look professional. You can’t promote yourself if you don’t have somewhere to send people.

Your Blog

Freelance Cartoonist Blog

Blogging has been around a while, and it’s probably out of fashion, but it’s also an easy and effective way to create, present and organize a lot of content. If you have a site, a blog is a great addition. If you need a site, a blog can be a great way to do that too. I like WordPress personally, but there’s always Blogger or Tumblr.

I used to try to put a little something out every day, but this year I’ve been trying one really good in-depth post per week and I’ve been happier with the results.

Embeds & RSS

Cartoon Embeds & RSS

One of the ways I promote my cartoons from my site is to allow various embedding options and RSS feeds. This is the sort of thing where you’ll probably need a good developer to make it work, but making it easy for people to share your cartoons helps a lot.

Here’s an example of a cartoon from my site that I embedded in this blog post:

Click on the cartoon and you go to the page where you can buy it. There’s also a text link to give the search engines something to chew on. I also have an option where people can embed a daily cartoon thumbnail in their website or blog’s sidebar. It’s fun content for them, and some attention and a link for me.

Add to that my twenty or so RSS feeds sorted by topic, and there’s plenty of ways for people to get their daily cartoon fix.

Again, these options are more along the hire-a-good-developer route, but if you can do any or all of them, I’d recommend it.


Cartoon Emails

This is an area where I can dovetail some of my efforts. I take the daily cartoon RSS feed and route it through Feedburner to repackage it as a daily subscribable email. It requires almost no maintenance on my part and it’s a cinch to set up.

Email is one method you should not discount or take for granted. When I recently changed how my images were being hosted and it created a small glitch for my daily email cartoon subscribers, the deluge of emails asking when it would be fixed was staggering. The inbox is a place you want to be.



There’s all flavor of social media out there, but the one that fits my personal palate best is Twitter. It’s fun, quick, and easily sharable, just like a cartoon.

To organize people I’m following and to get tweets out quickly I use Hootsuite:


As far as tweeting goes, my general strategy with Twitter is 20% me, 80% other people. Using Buffer I schedule a daily cartoon tweet for mornings, and then 4 other retweets of stuff I like throughout the day. I again dovetail the process using IFTTT to push starred blog posts from Google Reader into my Buffer queue:


I also tweet more depending on the day and my schedule. And Twitter’s integration into iOS makes things even easier now. I love me some Twitter.



I should do more with Facebook, but to be perfectly honest, there’s something about it that just rubs me the wrong way.

There are people who are doing great things here, and you should probably figure out what they’re doing and how, but for the time being I’m just forwarding my tweets here.



I was hot on Google+ for a while, and considering it’s almost certainly influencing Google’s search results in all sorts of ways I should be putting in more time here. But I haven’t seen a lot back for my efforts, and there’s only so much social media I can tackle in a day.


Pinterest 1

Pinterest was another thing I was really excited about. A few months before it really hit big I noticed it in my Google Analytics as a referrer and checked it out.

For a while I was seeing a lot of traffic from it, but as it grew and people began to figure out how to game it a little more, that’s dropped considerably.

That being said I still like the occasional pinning binge, and I do see my cartoons appear on it regularly:

Pinterest 2

But as a place to put a lot of effort, I’m not convinced.



Video is a fantastic way to connect with people, and YouTube is obviously king in this arena. My strategy here is to create around one good size video per month while, more or less, doing what I normally do.

For example, with a camera mount clipped to my lamp, an iPhone, and a little time in iMovie, I made this short video of myself inking:

Not bad, not a lot more work, and, I think, very effective.



Although Flickr seems to have floundered in Instagram’s hipstery shadow, I still think it’s one of those important places you should have a presence.

I’ve used it mostly as a way to host pics of my large collection of cartoon themed trading cards. I’d blog about a set, show one pic, and then route people to Flickr to see the rest.

Do I see a lot of traffic from Flickr? Not really. Do I think it influences search results? Somewhat. Do I hope Marissa Mayer and company restore it to its former innovative glory? Definitely.

Other Sites

In addition the usual suspects above, a good freelance cartoonist should be looking for other more unique opportunities to partner with other sites. For example, every Friday for the past couple of years I’ve had a business-themed cartoon at Small Business Trends. They get relevant and entertaining content, I get some great links and access to a large readership. Everyone’s happy:

Small Business Trends

I also have a daily cartoon over at GoComics where I’m at just around 3000 subscribers as I write this:


I also submit regularly to Illustration Friday:

Illustration Friday

I haven’t even mentioned Reddit, StumbleUpon, or Kickstarter, and as soon as I click Publish this list will most likely be obsolete, but it’s a good place for a freelance cartoonist to start.

Find what works for you, do it regularly, and get noticed.

The Modern Freelance Cartoonist

The life of a freelance cartoonist is never boring. Fun, frightening, exhilarating, frustrating, goofy, overwhelming, and surprising, sure, but never boring. For me the key has been balancing catering to all kinds of media and markets while keeping my own art and writing style intact. Here are just a few of the ways the modern freelance cartoonist can draw funny pictures for a living:

Magazines – Spec Cartoons

Freelance cartoonist example 1

A cartoon I sold to Reader’s Digest

The first markets I ever sold to as a freelance cartoonist were magazines. I’ve sold to lots of titles, big and small, and it was a great way to learn the business, sweat rejection, and burnish my cover letter credits.

Selling to magazines means creating tons of cartoons on spec, which on it’s face seems like a bad deal. But the more you churn out, the better you get, and the better you get, the more you sell. Still, only a very small portion of your spec work will sell, but you are also slowly building a large library of cartoons you can eventually sell online.

Sadly, even when I was starting out the number of titles buying cartoons was dwindling, and now there are only a very few good recognizable markets left. It’s good work if you can get it.

Magazines – Custom Cartoons

Freelance cartoonist example 2

Custom cartoon for corporate tech magazine

Most of the magazine work I do now involves the creation of custom cartoons about very specific topics for niche publications. What I like about this type of cartooning is 1) you’re working with a client who’s involved in the process from the beginning, 2) it’s challenging, and 3) you know you’re going to sell this cartoon and you know for how much.

I think the most difficult part of this kind of work is remembering that you’re not helping the client by simply doing exactly what they ask. A good freelance cartoonist is also an advisor who guides the client to the best possible outcome.

Remember, they know their business, and you know what’s funny. Meet in the middle and everyone’s happy.

Cartoon Greeting Cards

Freelance cartoonist example 3

A cartoon repurposed as a birthday card

This is another area I used to work in more, but don’t so much now as the smaller companies are tightening their belts, and larger companies are almost impossible for a freelance cartoonist to break into.

Looking back I think had I focused more on creating cartoons specifically for cards instead of looking at it as a way to repurpose existing work I might have enjoyed more success, but there’s only so much time in a cartoonist’s day.

Cartoons For Books

Freelance cartoonist example 4

A book cover cartoon illustration

Be it pressed wood pulp or PDFs, books are a great place for the modern freelance cartoonist to sell cartoons.

I sell a lot of existing cartoons to textbook publishers on a variety of topics (that large spec library at work), and again I create custom cartoons to fit.

Freelance cartoonist example 5

A cartoon for College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step by Robin Mamlet and Christine VanDeVelde

Books aren’t going anywhere, and many of them are going to need cartoons.


It’s not hard for a freelance cartoonist to create a webcomic. Draw it, publish it, you’re done. But making a living at it is a whole different thing.

There’s only a handful of cartoonists earning their money primarily from a webcomic business model, but it’s theoretically possible. As for the rest of us, if you can repackage/republish your cartoons this way it can provide some additional revenue for a small amount of additional effort.

And who knows, maybe you’ve got the next Penny Arcade on your hands.

Cartoon Calendars

Freelance cartoonist example 7

A cartoon for a hospital gown manufacturer’s calendar

I wouldn’t say there’s a lot of work for a freelance cartoonist in cartoon calendars, but it’s something to consider.

Many large publishers create the standard monthly and day-by-day cartoon collection calendars each year on a variety of topics. And corporate clients often use calendars with customs cartoons about themselves or their industry as year-end gifts and marketing devices.

Calendars at least warrant a look.

Custom Comic Strips

Freelance cartoonist example 8

A custom comic strip for Infoblox, an automation technology company

You can probably tell by now that I do a lot of custom comics for clients. They’re popular in a content marketing capacity (blogs, social media, email newsletters…) because they’re fun, attention grabbing, and easily viral. Custom comics can be a good opportunity for today’s freelance cartoonist.

There are certainly any number of additional options – self-publishing, apps, comic books, syndication – to help pay the bills, and I’m sure some enterprising person is dreaming up a shiny new opportunity as I write this. For me the key to earning a living as a modern freelance cartoonist is to keep looking for new markets, and keep making yourself laugh. Or to quote Steve Jobs quoting the The Whole Earth Catalog, “Stay Hungry. Stay foolish.”