Cartoonist Carl Koher shares his tips for working independently.
Following these tips for a great freelance cartooning career.
Whenever I hear or read that Playboy, This Week or Look are the "best markets," I feel a little like drowning myself in one of the inkpots. Sure, these books are the better paying markets. No doubt about that. But it seems to me that the "best markets" are whichever books buy most steadily from any cartoonist — whether their rates are $5 or $500 per inked image. I agree with you this philosophy could be nothing more than a fat bunch of sour grapes since my sales hover around the middle market range. But you must admit 40 $15 sales each month somehow offer solace. Any cartoonist who has been plying his craft (oh, all right, let's be important and call it a "profession") for more than five years and cannot make 40 sales a month had better investigate the profits huddled behind rassling a paid job.
Another of my insane theories clears its throat and chants: Too many promising beginners get into the misleading rut of waging a full-scale campaign to rack up sales when they could better be spending some of their drawing time studying The improvement of drawing technique. I'm fairly certain this accounts for the many, many cartoonists whose ability to draw simply does not improve as the years (and the sales) stagger by. Although practice — even that gained through drawing endless roughs to be marketed — does help anybody's drawing, there is nothing like some concentrated study to weed out chronic errors and smooth up a style.
For years, I have wondered why the gag writing element — those who claim a great passion for producing humor copy, anyway — have not gotten together with cartoonists and, in cahoots with each other, produced the short humor essays illustrated with three or four cartoons and slanted to the various markets that want this type of feature so intensely that they are usually willing to pay prices for said features which will wreck havoc with the books' budgets. For that matter, many magazines are delighted to have the chance to buy properly slanted lightly handled copy — and are quite willing to assign the illustrations to a fair-haired cartoony if the humor piece comes in sans pictures.
A young cartoonist dropped in for a visit the other day, and he wanted to know if I didn't think most editors played favoritism to the hilt. I told him I certainly think most of them do — and I don't blame them for doing so. Everybody on earth has special preferences in food, clothing, art, literature, sports and women. Why, then, is it deemed so criminal for an editor to quite naturally have preferences among the various contributors who help him fill those blank areas between the advertisements? The trick is simply to keep submitting your stuff until you've found the two dozen or so editors who are flamboyantly partial to your work. And then ignore all other books until they hire new editors. Whereupon, you get into marketing motion again. Somewhere, there are editors who will think your cartoons make those of Carl Kohler look like pretty wrinkled prunes, indeed.
The April 1958 issue of Esquire carried a fine article by Malcolm Muggeridge, ex-editor of Punch, the British magazine of humor. Every cartoonist, gag writer and humorist in this country should read it and think upon what Muggeridge had to say. The lack of irreverence in today's humor offerings may be a hideous clue as to exactly how stifled humor will find itself in the years ahead — unless quite a number of operating humorists start doing battle right now. The book that refuses to buy humor material which gently spoofs the foibles of its own readership isn't really purchasing true humor, no matter how many illustrated jokes it may publish.
Got a letter from a churl who wants to know: "Do you include a note to the editor when you submit stuff, Kohler?" Well, if I know him or have sold to him previously, yeah, I usually write a 10 page letter. But I seldom enclose a note if I'm hitting a book for the first time. I figure the material should sell itself. Occasionally, I ask a question regarding editorial needs. But you got to do this right or you'll goof the whole deal.
Comes a nice, fat question from somebody in New York City: "I've seen your multipanel cartoons in several magazines and I've wondered how you manage to get so many regular cartoon features going?"
Well, you might write a brief letter, telling the editor you'd like to produce a slanted cartoon feature on a monthly, arranged basis for his book. Mention you'll submit pencil roughs in advance of his deadlines (later, he'll accept ideas from typers) giving him his choice of several. Or allow him to cue you on each month's "theme" around which you'll build suggested situations. Stick in a finished drawing and several pencil roughs. Send out about 25 of these a week and you should be getting okays for regular feature work. Just be damn sure you never sludge a deadline. I don't want to advise you in too much detail, but you probably would have a tremendous success among the books with smaller budgets. For some reason (unknown to me) they are quite enthusiastic about this sort of arrangement cartooning.
If you are interested in getting into Commercial Cartooning in a truly successful manner, the following may (or may not) put you in there bigger than life and twice as instantly: Make up a nice, all around presentation of your published and unpublished work, have it photostated, put the photostats into neat folders, enclose an original inker with each, write a brief note mentioning your availability and mail (or take) the whole furshlugginer works to several advertising agencies. It only takes a connection with one or two decent-sized agencies to give your monthly income a real boost. Anyway, when I was after this kind of assignment cartooning, I never missed a month without at least $100 worth of work on some assignment or other.
Yes, there's a disadvantage: Usually the art director insists that you work as closely as possible with him. This entails trudging down to his office. Some of you churls won't mind this at all. Those who will mind it can return to their drawing boards now and forget that I said anything in the first place. Hell, I'm only trying to think positively. Honest.
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