How to become a freelancing cartoonist?
September 26, 2012 4:24 PM   Subscribe

I want to become a cartoonist. Can anyone give me some helpful advice or point me in the right direction?

Is it a realistic goal to want to become a cartoonist?

I took some college classes back in 2006 and developed my artistic talent. Since then, I've been teaching myself how to work digitally with programs like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. I've started a blog where I post a lot of my artwork and set it up as a portfolio for myself. I've read numerous books on becoming a freelancing illustrator, and I pick up the annual Artist & Graphic Designer's Market every year. I've been seeing a lot of improvements in myself and I feel like I want to make a career out of my work. I'm always proud of everything I do and it makes me feel very confident in myself.

Lately though, my passion has taken a backseat. I've been working day jobs, trying to save enough money to move out to an area where I can possibly freelance or find jobs related to what I want to do. For the past few years I've taken zero action in achieving my goal. There have always been obstacles such as lack of confidence, depression or money. But I feel right now, with a secure decent-paying full time day job, is a good time to start working on it.

I've had zero experience with freelancing, and I really don't know where I would start. I know I want to become a cartoonist, seeing as how most of my work can be "cartoonish". I currently live in New Jersey and have thought about moving out to a nearby city, such as Philadelphia, to network with other artists.

What would be some good ideas to get myself out there? I've thought about starting a web comic but how successful can running a web comic be? What are some books that teach me how to market myself
posted by morning_television to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Hey, this comment is pretty comprehensive. It's a lot of small steps you can take to network and get your stuff out there. It's geared to illustration but it's pretty much what you'll need to do.
posted by hellojed at 4:45 PM on September 26, 2012

For starters, you'll need to have a clear idea of what kind of work you want to do, and what jobs you want to get. In your question, you mention illustration, cartooning and web comics. There are people who do all three, but it helps to have something that you're focusing on, particularly when you're starting out and still learning. Do you want to do narrative work? Do you want to draw stand-alone illustrations? Is your work funny? Beautiful? Quirky? I can't really answer any of these things for you without seeing your work, but you should be able to make some broad-strokes observations about your own strengths and weaknesses, as well as the kinds of projects you enjoy and the ones you're less enthusiastic about.

If you want to do narrative or comedic work, then a web comic is actually an EXCELLENT way to get your work out there and attract the attention of potential clients. Most of the professional comics creators I know, many of whom also do illustration work on the side, started out by doing mini comics and web comics. Particularly those who hadn't already made a name for themselves in another, related industry like animation.

Comics, especially regularly updated web comics, are fantastic for new artist who're trying to improve their craft and connect themselves with the community. If you aren't narratively inclined, then a themed illustration blog can also be a great way to find an audience for your work -- creative redesigns of 80s cartoon characters, video game illustrations in the style of famous painters, your cat drawn in the styles of comic strips, seriously people do all kinds of weird and hilarious stuff. One of the most successful art Kickstarters of all time was for a guy doing Ukiyo-e style prints of video game characters.

As for moving to a different city to network with artists? First, check out what's going on closer to home. Lots of smaller cities have local artist collectives that organize life drawing sessions, group anthologies or small shows. If you want to meet people further afield, I would concentrate on building up a body of work and exhibiting at a few, small cons first to get a sense of what the comics community is like and where you fit into it.

Honestly, I spend much more time talking to my comics friends online than I do in person, including those who live in the same city as me -- we're all really busy! We use twitter and Facebook to network and chat with each other. Twitter has become one of the best ways to get to know other artists in a casual setting, and I've met lots of great people that way.

Anyway, that's a start...please feel free to memail me if you like!
posted by Narrative Priorities at 5:14 PM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

One other thing that I should probably stress -- the most frustrating part of making a name for yourself in comics or illustration is that the process can take a very, very long time. Some folks get lucky, but most people just starting out have to consistently update their web comics or blogs for a year at least, all the while reaching out to other people in the community and promoting themselves in smart ways, before they really start to get anywhere. Many comics that seem like overnight successes are actually a new project by a creator who's already established themselves to some extent. My friend EK Weaver's web comic had hundreds of readers right out the gate, but she had been a moderately famous fan artist for almost a decade when she started it.

I hate to be like this because I know it makes me sound old, but patience and hard work really are the key to getting anywhere in comics.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 5:23 PM on September 26, 2012

Response by poster: I have a link to my blog/portfolio in my profile. I had it originally in the question but it got removed. Any feedback is appreciated.
posted by morning_television at 6:52 PM on September 26, 2012

Check out Behind the pen.
Ok it's not serious, but good for a few laughs :-)
posted by Mai2k3 at 7:18 PM on September 26, 2012

The industry's changed a lot in the last decade or so, but one of my favorite books was all text, "Your Career in the Comics." It has insight from people in various levels of the business, as well as many high-profile cartoonists (including Watterson).

If you're considering a comic that includes writing aspects, don't rely on just a unique art style. Full, memorable characters are crucial. Study how other comics handle character interaction, pacing, timing, flow, framing, etc. And work on keeping dialogue as efficient as possible so readers aren't overwhelmed or lose interest. And be legible!

And if it's a humor comic, extract gags out of everything you consume, witness, and experience in life. Figure out which characters would be involved in delivering a gag, and that will help develop their personalities over time. In other cases, the setups and jokes will come from the characters themselves.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 8:28 PM on September 26, 2012

Morning_television, I took a look at your blog! Your estimation of yourself is pretty accurate, from what I can tell -- you've obviously taught yourself a lot, and you've visibly improved over the course of keeping your blog. Good stuff!

To expand on my advice above: keep maintaining your blog as a catch-all for everything you're doing, but pick one thing that you're most interested in and try to concentrate on that for a while. Probably create a separate space for it as well that's dedicated to that specific project, and consider cross-posting to Tumblr (make sure you have a small watermark with your name on it in the corner of every image if you go this route, sometimes people aren't great about keeping attribution.) If you can, pick a project that involves learning new skills or trying out unfamiliar styles -- something that will really push you, but will be fun and interesting for you to work on as well. See if you can update it a minimum of once a week. When you have a decent backlog, post it to MeFi projects and see what folks around here have to say. Look around for other people doing work that's similar to yours, and figure out how they're promoting themselves (effectively). Do that stuff to!

I know this sounds like a roundabout way to get illustration or comics work, but I swear to god, this is where most everyone starts. You start (and finish, if applicable) long-term-ish projects to work on skills and discipline; you build up a tight portfolio full of work you're really proud of that shows people what you can do; you start applying for gigs, going to open portfolio reviews, submitting to publications, maybe even querying agents; you go to cons and zine fests and get tables and make minicomics or prints or tee shirts and get to know other people and figure out who your friends and colleagues are going to be and put your stuff into the hands of editors you think will like your stuff; you just keep drawing and making art and putting it where people can see it.

You obviously have the raw skill set. Work on focusing it for a while on something you're excited about, and it will pay off. If absolutely nothing else, you'll feel your skills and your confidence improve, which will make EVERYTHING else much easier.

Good luck, sir! I hope some of this was helpful!
posted by Narrative Priorities at 10:09 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been making indie comics for about 9 years now. Quick advice: Make comics, keep making comics. Nothing will teach you more than the actual act of making them. It's not ever going to be about perfection, aim for completion, and move on to your next project.

My webcomic is in my profile, and if you want I can meMail you more info.

Yes, I go to zinefests, anime cons and 24 hour comic days. No, this is not my fulltime work (though all that practice has translated into some illustration gigs)
posted by dreamling at 11:02 PM on September 26, 2012

One aspect of cartooning many people seem to ignore is the writing. A huge amount of a cartoonist's time is put into the writing of a strip/panel, and not in the actual drawing of the thing. A cartoonist will write and reject many ideas before a pen is applied to paper.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:59 AM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know Scott Adams has written on this a few times at least, I think This Is One, though it's not on his site. In any case, he has some good advice.
posted by Blake at 6:08 AM on September 27, 2012

Doing a weekly webcomic got me my first jobs at the big comic book companies- but it took a long time. No one wants to hire someone they don't know and don't trust. They have to know you and trust you BEFORE they give you money or depend on you for a deadline.

Do web comics. Do lot's and lot's and lot's of comics in general.

But here is one important thing- Being a successful cartoonist is different from making enough money to live on from comics. If what you want is to be comfortable in the next five years and only work on comics... you've got some really shitty odds against you. If you want to make comics for the sake of making comics, then absolutly make comics like the dickins.
posted by Blisterlips at 9:00 AM on September 27, 2012

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