So you want to be a cartoonist – the best job in the world!

ronald searle cartoon
Ronald Searle – one of his classic quirky cartoons (from his book – ‘There’s Something in the Cellar’ See his irreverent take on America in the 1960’s here…

Why would anyone want to be a cartoonist ?  Possibly the loneliest job you can think of.  Stuck in a dim, dusty room, burning the midnight oil slaving over a hot drawing board. Hands cramped from drawing and tattooed with ink.  

Trying to think of a new fresh and funny idea and the only drawing in the offing is a blank.  Staring at the clock as the deadline draws ever nearer. A bin full of earlier attempts- screwed up and growled at.  A pile of editors rejection slips from cartoons that didn’t make it and a pile of bills that won’t get paid if some magic can’t be conjured up to finish the current project on time.  

Sounds like a non starter of an occupation – but the rewards are indescribable if you are of the creative persuasion. So you want to be a cartoonist – why on earth would you want to anything as daft as that?

There is something simply magic about the feeling that you get when you finish a cartoon that you are really happy with.  It’s a strange situation to be in because if you are a true artist that feeling is worth more than any fee you receive for that piece of work.  In fact, when you have done an exceptional drawing, there is great satisfaction not only for yourself but also in seeing the clients reaction.  That euphoria soon disappears as you have to hand over the artwork.  It’s like losing a good friend!

The First Giles Annual – 1946

If you really want to make a living out of cartoons you are up against it.  There are not many well paid positions in the media and you can count the number of successful, high earning cartoonists on one foot.  Only the very best get a salary and even then it can be a precarious business being at the whim of a newspaper editor.  Some have done it very successfully.  Giles (Carl Giles) is my favourite cartoonist and was employed by the UK’s Daily Express for over 40 years.  He was so successful that he was regarded as a national treasure and held in high esteem by the Royal Family.  

Giles annuals were produced every year from 1946 on and still appear even now many years after his death.  These are highly collectable and the earlier editions can fetch a small fortune when signed by Giles.  If you wanted to buy an original Giles cartoon you  would be looking at well over $3000/£2000 and one featuring  the famous matriarch Grandma from his ‘Giles Family’ could fetch more than double that price. See the latest Giles Annual right here…

Winnie the Witch series of children’s books written by Valerie Thomas and illustrated by Korky Paul

There are other greats such as Shultz who created the famous ‘Peanuts’ cartoon strip and Ronald Searle who had a bizarre and instantly recognisable style.  But to currently earn a living out of this craft  is very difficult.  There are some gifted cartoonists that do very nicely out of the book market.  

On good example is Korky Paul who illustrates the ‘Winnie the Witch’ series of children’s books which has a huge following and rightly so.  His quirky style and huge amount of detail make his cartoons a long lasting enjoyment.  I spoke to him at the Hay Book Festival in the UK in 2013 and was amazed when he said that he produces the cartoons  at the same size that they are printed in the books – truly staggering considering the fine detail.  If you are not familiar with his work you don’t know what you are missing.  See books available…

The current daddy of them all is Quentin Blake whose quirky, ‘scratchy style’ of children’s book illustrations give the impression of being easy to draw. Not so!  I have watched Quentin twice at the Hay Book Festival held each May in in Herefordshire, England.  I was spellbound with his unparalleled brilliance in getting so much personality out of a piece of paper with an amazing economy of line.  

Try to copy his style and you will struggle miserably to emulate Quentin’s beautiful warmth, quirk and abundance of character.  There have been some serendipitous alliances in art history but surely Roald Dhal and Quentin Blake must rate as one of the best!  The creator of the BFG, Matilda and the Fantastic Mr Fox, must have thought he had hit the jackpot when Quentin walked into his world!  Likewise it must have been a dream gig for a cartoonist to illustrate the writings of a genius.

After all the negatives that are stacked against a career as a commercial cartoonist there is one massive positive that I mentioned at the beginning of this post.  The sheer delight of being able to produce quality work makes it well worth the effort.  If you do get to a reasonable standard you can still make money from the occasional commission or from products that you could create with your artwork such as greetings cards and the sublimation market (images transferred to objects such as mugs and phone covers using a sublimation heat process).  

Sometimes you can get a lucky break – This happened to me when I wrote into a music magazine with a letter to the editor and included a cartoon to go with it.  The result was a phone call from the editor inviting me to become the magazines resident cartoonist.

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So if you are determined to be a cartoonist – my advice is go for it!  You will have tons of fun getting there and even if you don’t manage to carve career out of it you will always have a skill that gives you and others pleasure.

top-5-graphics-drawing-tablets-for-cartooningIf you are considering an artistic career either as a cartoonist or graphic designer (or both!!!) take a look at my comprehensive articles and reviews of graphics drawing tablets and pads which are fast becoming the artists choice for illustration production.