Cartooning Q & A (To Mr. Sergi’s Class)


Recently I received an email from 5th grade art teacher, Mr. Sergi. He said he does a unit on cartoons and his students are curious about tools of the trade, career info, publishing norms, etc…

I’ve actually meant to do a post like this for a while, so for kids out there interested in cartooning as a career, here’s the quick and dirty on my process and experience:


Every artist is different and I recommend that you play with as many pencils, pens, papers, or whatever as much as you can. It probably took me a good two years to find the tools I use now, but putting in that time is part of finding your style. I know cartoonists using pencil, crayon, ink & pen, and ball point on papers ranging from watercolor to copier quality.

But, since you asked, I use Faber-Castell Pitt brush pens and Prismacolor cool gray markers on Borden & Riley bleedproof marker paper. I still do all of the art the old fashioned way, but of course I use my computer for scanning, cleanup, and playing Hordes of Orcs.


You of course need to be a decent artist to be a cartoonist, but even more important is the writing. Good writing can carry bad art, but not the other way around. Study comedy and figure out how it works. And once you’ve done that, edit yourself well. Brevity is wit.


“How big should I draw my cartoons?” is a question every beginning cartoonist asks. If you’re looking to be a comic strip cartoonist, you’ll want to look at the dimensions of current strips and size that up as needed. For gag cartooning (what I do), or web cartooning, there’s really no preset dimensions to worry about. Just draw as much or as little as you need to get the joke across.


Everyone’s style is going to be different, and I don’t think you necessarily need to go to art school to be a cartoonist, but you do need to draw well enough so your cartoon reads quickly and effectively. The best advice I can give is to draw constantly; it doesn’t get any simpler than that. The more you draw, the more happy accidents occur and your individual style emerges. Draw, draw, draw, eat a sandwich, then keep drawing.


Newspapers are having a rough time of it, and magazines aren’t doing a lot better. Where I used to make most of my living selling to traditional print, most of my income now comes from selling my cartoons online. Where will cartoonists earn their livings in the near future? It’s hard to say, but don’t believe anyone who tells you you can’t earn a living at it. Do good work, do a lot of it, and keep an open mind.

So that’s cartooning in a nutshell for me. I hope you and your teacher get something you can use out of this, and I wish you all kinds of luck cartooning. I can’t think of a job that’s better than drawing funny pictures all day.

Cartoons Help Vocabulary

MortarBoard.gifRegular readers know that my lovely wife is a first grade teacher. She’s taking a class right now about literacy, and she shared some recent reading with me from an article entitled Expanding Vocabulary Instruction to Foster the Development of Word Consciousness by Susan Watts and Michael F. Graves:

Comics strips provide another option. Comics strips supply inviting reading material in which word meaning are essential to the humor. Puns, idiomatic expressions, and words with multiple meaning often provide the core of humor.

So basically word-play in cartoons an comics helps to promote robust vocabularies in children. Woo! Go comics!

School Cartoon in Commonweal

Hey, just a heads up that I was in the October 20th issue of Commonweal!

Here’s the cartoon:


This is a really really early cartoon of mine. In fact, in my inventory numbering system, it’s number four. Yeesh!

Just for fun, here’s a similar, more recent, cartoon in both caption and art to compare:


In the first you can see that I used a ruler for the chalkboard. Anymore I don’t really worry about straight. I like the character of my slightly askew and wiggly lines much better. Plus it’s a heck of a lot faster!

Also, in the first you can see the chalkboard was blackened entirely by hand. Not in the more recent – that’s all Photoshop CS2!

The writing on the first board? White pencil. The second? Reversed in Photoshop.

I’m not sure when I gave up on the Charlie Chaplin splayed feet, as seen in #1. But I think you’ll agree that #2 looks a lot more natural.

There’s more to critique, I’m sure, but I think I can sum it with this – I’ve come a long way, baby!

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My Day At School

On Monday I had the pleasure of sitting in on my wife’s first grade classroom. She’s getting her masters degree and needed an observer for later comment on a specific lesson.

Here’s an excerpt from her paper on the lesson…

I asked my husband, Mark, to come in to observe me teach the first day back after spring break. He visited my classroom not infrequently in my first years of teaching because he was still in college and would stop in when he was on a break. Mark really hasn’t been in since we got married, though, once his own work schedule infringed on that free time. This observation was nice timing for us. Mark is a stay-at-home dad who also works as a cartoonist. Spring break was a good time for me to better realize why he is so tired at the end of the day; our son is easygoing, but he is twenty-one months old, which means he talks all day long, tries out the word no rather vehemently at times, and is on the go for most of the day. Since I had just had the opportunity to understand Mark’s typical day better, it was nice for him to have a similar opportunity.

I read this Thursday morning while printing it out for her evening class and was sort of touched. It’s always interesting to get such a clear look inside another person’s head, especially when it’s someone you know as well as my wife and I know each other.

She hadn’t necessarily intended me to read it, so I was very pleased to read about her observations on my stay-at-home dad/cartoonist role, and it prompted this blog.

Often I think I take my wife for granted. Let me tell you, I’m not always the easiest to get along with; sure I have a good sense of humor, but it’s often balanced by severe fits of spontaneous unprovoked grumpiness.

In addition to putting up with me, she takes care of all of the household finances, laundry, keeping track of important family dates, a fair amount of cooking and probably a hundred or so other things that I’m not going to remember here.

She’s also a great teacher. She teaches a bilingual first-grade class and cares deeply about her students, often visiting each of their families at home at the beginning of the school year to introduce herself and make everyone feel comfortable.

There’s really no significant cartoon content in this post, but I just thought it was important for everyone to know how great my wife is. She’s not just a brilliant mother and teacher, but the best partner a guy could imagine in just about every way.

My wife sums it up nicely at the end of her paper:

While it was interesting for me to see my classroom and teaching through Mark’s eyes, I think he also found it interesting to come back into my classroom instead of just relying on my descriptions of my days. I think it has been a good week for Mark and me to better appreciate what the other one does.

I love you, honey!