Specified Cartoon Work

By doing the artwork on house-created gags, you can turn a big profit with minimal brain drain.
By Carl Kohler
January/February 1970
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If you can get the editor to write the gags and you just create the cartoon, there's a lot of money to be made in cartooning.

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You cannot possibly realize how courageous I'm being by simply writing for this journal of the talented. Everytime I whomp up something for these pages, mail starts flooding my mailbox — all of it telling me what a dolt and laggard and poseur I am. Naturally, I'm learning caution.

However, all this talk about not doing cartoons for less than $10 was just too much for me. I've tried and tried hard (it wasn't easy) to ignore it, but I've succumbed at last and must laugh right in your face.

And why am I presuming to be so rude?

Because — as of this morning — I turned out 20 cartoons that will sell for $5 each. It took me all morning to draw them. Kind of crazy, eh? Spending an entire morning earning a lousy $100?

Furthermore (and get this now), the editor wrote the gags. Pretty stupid setup, eh? What's more, I've got about five such editors — all of them editing very specialized books that badly need at least four technical cartoons a month, each doing their own gag writing — and assigning the artwork to me.

It can't be done? Want to bet cash on it? Hell, there are many such editors who would be delighted to have a cartoonist (one whose style they prefer, of course) do the artwork on special gags. This is becoming a very commonplace method, in freelance cartooning — just in case you've been so busy spec-freelancing you've failed to hear about it.

Nobody in their right mind draws except on assignment anymore. That is, for 80 percent of their bread-and-butter money. Naturally, everybody (I guess) still whomps out a few to "hopeful" markets . . . and they should. But ignore all the assignment work in the middle and minor books? Not me, friend. And you shouldn't either.

But back again to this brave plan for raising rates. It may work beautifully for some of you . . . at some books. However, you can safely wager there will be many, many books that will view such shenanigans with a cold eye. And those are the books I plan to approach (by mass query) with the notion of doing their cartoons on assignment if they'll write the gags.

Have you ever thought of working for $5 per, say, for a few months and then, in a nice businesslike way, requesting a modest rate raise to $7.50... and several months after that, to $10? Of course you haven't. You're a freelance cartoonist, not a sane businessman! But it works — assuming the editor really likes your work. And if he doesn't like your work that much? Then you aren't building any future by working for him in the first place.

Editors are people. People do not take to change (especially sudden change) very kindly. But work them up to it, gradually, and you'll be astounded at the results. This simple advice is not original. It's been written hundreds of times by cartoonists much more gifted artistically than I'll ever be — and whose shrewd business sense makes me appear naive by comparison. And this simple (but sage) advice works.

Years and years ago, Lew Card wrote: "You'll make more money with your typewriter than you ever could with your drawing board." He was 100,000 percent correct. Trouble is, just because he invented the typer-system of cartooning, everybody naturally thought he was talking entirely about typers — which he wasn't. Not entirely.

He meant queries, too.

A query is such a nice, uncomplicated item. It only costs pennies to send and it saves you a whale of a lot of time and labor . . . and often produces rather wonderful results.

Yet, sending out 200 to 1,000 queries is damned hard work. And (I'm inclined to believe) most cartoonists would prefer to risk time drawing cartoons and risk postage by marketing them on pure (or near pure) speculation. That insanity seems to be a fairly uniform attribute of the cartooning critter regardless of style or stage. This has given too many editors the cruel upper hand.

I have nothing against $10 sales. Like any other working pro, I make a lot of them and I love them — if I can't get more. But I like the $5 variety too — provided I don't have to write a gag for it — and so should you on the same premise.

For instance: Ever thought of combing the small, specialty books with an offer to do a regular, monthly feature character panel for them? Offering a trade character doing hilarious things familiar to the guys in that particular trade — and asking, say, $7.50 for such a specialized item?

Try it. It might surprise you how many editors would love to have a feature they could count on coming in, with the proper slant, every month. Eventually, you'll get $10 or $15 for it. Multiply that by 20 or 30 editors and you can tell the boss to go to hell while you retire home to freelance fulltime.

It's been done. I know several guys who are beginning to do it, just that way, right now. But remember, write queries (enclosing a sample of the particular character you have in mind, which should vary with each magazine) first.

I better quit before I find I've written a full chapter on the spec-less methods of selling cartoons.

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