Common Questions of Freelance Cartoonists

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Illustration by MOTHER EARTH NEWS staff
Cartoons that are specialized to certain businesses in both the picture and gagline are most likely to turn profit.

Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of mail from semi-professional and aspiring cartoonists, in which the same plea for more detailed scam on the avaricious art of selling advertising cartoons is repeated — over and over.

Although I’ve pretty well switched completely into the humor-writing field, I still have plenty of cartoony blood oozing through my veins — and I am greatly interested in seeing a lot of potentially successful ad-cartoonists make the grade. Especially since there is about 10 times the money and a thousand times the chance of making instant sales in the fascinating business of supplying fresh ad cartoons to businessmen, commercial houses and general industry — all of whom are ready and eager to fling money at the cartoonist who can offer them exactly the right advertising artwork they need for their products and services.

What is an Advertising Cartoon?

Any drawing in which either the cartoon or the gag line carries a commercial message — and the best kind slathers a commercial message in both gag line copy and in the picture.

Must I Work Through an Agency?

Hell, no. When you sell ad cartoons you are your own agency, in a sense. Although there is a lot of very nice gold to be gotten by accepting ad cartoon assignments from agencies, the easiest (and, in my opinion, the best) way is to simply contact your own clients, sell them on your ideas for drawing public attention to their service or product — and collect your own fee.

Must I be Liscensed?

Yes, if you plan to set up a regular ad cartoon service and operate as fully as any other type of advertising agency. In most cities and towns this license fee rarely amounts to much more than a standard 25 dollar commercial selling permit and having it is more than worth the cost. Possession of the license keeps the Merchants Association, the Chamber of Commerce and the other local associations very happy with you. It may also pave your way into businessmen’s luncheons, etc. and you will want all the recognition and acceptance you can get. Leave rebellion of convention to the starving magazine freelancers.

Should I Advertise My Service?

If you think it will help — but there has never been a more successful method of getting clients than by going out and cornering them, in person, with cartoons or a sketch pad in your hot little hand. Men who cannot draw look upon artists with a strange admiration. You impress them and — if you can impress them favorably — you’ve got the campaign half-won. The other, remaining half is providing material that will please the client.

Should I Have a Phone?

Yes, if at all possible. You’ll find yourself getting a lot more repeat orders if your clients can easily contact you. Contrary to freelance magazine cartoonists’ thinking, few of today’s buyers like to bother writing letters.

How Much Should I Ask?

Well, that should hang upon the outfit that is buying your work, how much they’re buying and how often they will be buying it. A good, safe base rate for a straight line cartoon without tone is $10. If you have developed your style to the point where your magazine sales prove you to be a real pro, I’d make my base rate $20. Remember, there’s more money floating around in the advertising field than there is to be had in the entertainment-cartooning (if there is such a thing since cartoons in magazines are indirectly there for the advertisers) field. I think $10 should be absolute minimum, even if your client has a small business. This is 1957, not 1931.

Should I Have Letterhead Statements?

Definitely. It not only looks more businesslike (something in which your clients believe and will, therefore, judge you upon), it tends to help the client remember you. And that’s important.

What if I’m Not a Very Talkative-Type Guy?

You don’t have to be. If you’ve studied your client’s business before approaching him and have gotten some real punch in your samples, you can be a deaf-mute and still make plenty of good sales: The ad cartoon should be good enough, in its own right, to make the sale. Contrary to most conceptions of salesmanship, you aren’t selling yourself. You’re offering the opportunity for a client to purchase a hot idea, conveyed in an unbeatable medium, for the right price. Never succumb to the notion your client is doing you a favor. Quite the opposite. Idea men are actually rare. Which is why they are so sought after. You’re doing the favor — even if you do expect to be paid for doing it. Great business, eh?

Should I Charge Extra for Redraws?

That’s entirely up to you. In some cases, it’s better business to redraw without extra charge. In others, you’ll lose money without charging additional for any changes in the artwork. You’ll just have to learn how to tell the difference by gaining your own experience. And don’t let a few mistakes or failures worry you: If I had one cent for every job I’ve goofed, I’d be a very rich pinhead. Remember this: The more you give for the price charged, the more clients you’ll have.

Do I Need Fancy Paper and Supplies?

No. You can successfully sell ad cartoons on the very same type of 20 pound bond paper used in doing magazine cartoons. Stay away from impressive matt jobs. A cartoon looks better the simpler it’s drawn and presented. You’ll make much more profit (in most cases) if you stay out of the color bit, too.

How Do I Start?

You pick up a phone directory, pick 10 potential clients, study their ads, make some fine, slanted, commercial-type gags, draw ’em up cleanly, carefully, put on your hat and … Do it!