Got this email from a young cartoonist a while back:
My name is (name omitted) , and I just graduated from Baylor University in May with a degree in English Lit. While there, I also cartooned for our campus paper, The Lariat, for a good five semesters or so. I just narrowly missed getting to work with our new assistant media adviser, (name omitted), but she has mentioned that she knew you from school and that you’re open to advising students looking into cartooning as a field. To that end, I’m writing to see if you have any practical advice on making a living off of drawing. I’ve visited Andertoons and read your FAQ (so trust me, I plan to “draw, draw, draw”!). But do you have any stories or advice regarding the path you took? Maybe mistakes you learned from or things you got a jump on? I figure any advice I can get from those who have gone before would be super-valuable.
I’ve offered cartooning advice before, and regular readers will know that I don’t often tend to wax poetic about art and inspiration and all. I’m assuming that’s a given.
When I look back, the help I needed most starting out was nuts and bolts advice. So, some cartooning Dos and Don’ts for you:
DON’T – Bet it all on syndication
That’s not to say that the syndicates aren’t all very nice, but it seems there’s fewer and fewer breakout strips, and the newspaper industry isn’t in the best of health anyway.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s always room at the top (and I haven’t looked at your work) but the odds are pretty long on making a good long term living with a syndicated strip. You might be better served to…
DO – Promote yourself
I’m going to assume that your cartoons are really good, so that means you’re about a third of the way there. Get a website working well and get it noticed. Blog. Tweet.
Look at your competition and see what they’re doing and do it better and more often. Eventually you won’t have to do as much of this, but count on thinking about it a lot for the next year at least. That being said…
DON’T – Create only what you think will sell
Doing what you think will sell because you need/want to make money is the wrong way to go. It comes off false and readers sense it. That being said, trying to sell ninja princess bunny cartoons to business publications or professionals looking to pep up a powerpoint isn’t a good idea either.
There’s a fine line between acknowledging available markets and creating appropriate material for them, and cynically creating cartoons leveraged more toward sales than humor. Do what you think is funny while keeping an eye on the markets. You’ll be happier, funnier and make more in the long run.
DO – Be a business
Learn what an invoice is and make yours clear and professional. Get up to speed on some basic accounting. Invest in good materials and equipment. Have your W9 ready to fax over.
Be professional on the phone. To a client you shouldn’t be Johnny Someguywhocandraw, you should be Johnny Inc., who knows what they’re doing.
OK, that’s about he best cartoon advice I can give. There’s a ton of other really good cartooning blogs out there for more help and inspiration.