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My Advice for the Entrepreneurly Minded Cartoonist

Just about every day I have an e-mail from someone asking me for advice or pointers about their own cartooning endeavors. This usually makes me uncomfortable, because while I'm mildly successful with my own work, I don't really feel qualified to be handing out advice. I usually want to tell people who ask me about being a cartoonist, "RUN!! Get out of here whie you can!"

But here is list of things I usually tell people, more of a motivational and practical value. I guess it could pertain to a lot more than cartooning.

  • Find something you love and have passion for or a desire to do. Not just a fleeting mood to do something. It’s got to be something that sparks inside of you and ignites a fire in your belly that you know is there. I mean, JEEZ, there is just no way I could sit here and make fake bricks, package books, hussle my wares and draw in almost every single issue if I didn’t have a passion for the work.
  • Learn EVERYTHING you can about it. EVERYTHING. If you’re just starting out at anything, keep a list of things you need to learn as you go. Example… OH, you don’t know how to layout a website or html, but you want to have a webcomic site? Don’t rely on services or other people, sooner or later they will leave you high and dry… learn it yourself slowly, one step at a time. Hell, I just taught myself how to install a PHP ad script a couple weeks ago, and edit a MySql database, ALL from info I got from free online. Google is your friend. LEARN IT ALL. Learn the fundamentals and beyond.
  • Study Others - instead of sitting around being bitter at other people’s success, find out what worked for them and why, how, etc. It might not ever work for you, but soon you’ll see patterns that will help you develop your own successes. Study their work– I mean, if you were looking to become a master tiki carver, you might check out a forum online and see how others are learning and what tools they’re using to what effect. And you can see their own trials and errors.
  • Know you’re not the best. But don’t be afraid to claim you are FIFTH in the world at it, and keep trying to be the best at what you do. :) There's no use putting out mediocre work and being happy with it. The more you work at it, you'll improve over time without even noticing it yourself until you look back.
  • Don’t give it up. If it’s something you REALLY want to do. A dream… an obsession. Do it. Man, life is too frickin short not to do the things you love to do. You might not be able to do it all at once, but like someone wiser than me has said “it’s not the destination it’s the journey” — THAT is frickin true, true, true. If someone asked me what the biggest high i got from creating over the years, I’d still say it was being surrounded by minicomics that needed stapled and bound by hand, and knowing that I was probably only making a quarter a piece off of them the next day after driving into Pittsburgh to sell them. All on maybe 3 hours sleep. There’s a feeling of sitting there when all of it is done and you’ve accomplished whatever small task you thought was insurmountable. It’s a nice creative high. If I would have just quit after being frustrated in not making money back then, I wouldn’t be here now. So, don’t give up. Take breaks, whatever, but don’t completely give it up unless you’ve lost EVERY ounce of passion for it. Sometimes you need to give it up for a while and do something else, recharge your batteries. Heck, I think I put Yirmumah down for a few years to do other freelance work, but it was always in the back of my mind, and always the thing people remembered me for doing and asking me when I’d bring it back.
  • Make friends! This coming from me, the guy who could probably instantly make 100 enemies in one day on any given message board. But seriously, build friendships. I don’t just mean make friends to use them for whatever you’re doing– make friends to make friends. Friendships are valuable things, and can provide a nice support structure for one another. Conversations and feedback are wonderful things. You might get lucky enough to find REAL friends who won’t mind telling you that something you’re doing is sucky or you might be barking up the wrong tree. Those can be the most valuable kinds of friends, the honest kind.

Great advise, when I was

algeya's picture

Great advise, when I was thinking in giving up because some bad reviews from everybody even my translator! (something its wrong when people in my team says I suck!
Now AFTER reading your advise gave me a lot of energy for a hundred more strips!


Re: Great advise, when I was

djcoffman's picture

[quote=algeya]Great advise, when I was thinking in giving up because some bad reviews from everybody even my translator! (something its wrong when people in my team says I suck!
Now AFTER reading your advise gave me a lot of energy for a hundred more strips!


That's good to hear.

DJ Coffman

Webcomics for Dummies

moovok's picture

You so should write it, you've been there, get other webcomic artists in to help ya, but it should be a great read! Most webcomic artists always have a question but nobody to ask, so go for it! :D

good advice...

cayetano garza's picture


year of the rat

It ain't the money...

Greg Carter's picture

[quote]post-Kinko's rush[/quote]

"Hello. My name is Greg and I'm a post-Kinko's-rush-a-holic."

heh. I am SO looking forward to MoCCA (and HeroesCon and SPX and...) and I will lose so much money it's not funny and I don't care. I have a new phrase to introduce myself. (Thanks Tim!)

Yep. Great advice on all points, dude.

Greg Carter
UpDown Studio

Greg Carter - Abandon: First Vampire - Online Graphic Novel

The post-Kinko's rush

Tim  Demeter's picture

So true.

Tim Demeter
Reckless Life

Tim Demeter
does a bunch of neato stuff.
Bustout Odds

Word. Well said, DJ.

bobweiner's picture

Word. Well said, DJ.

Krishna M. Sadasivam Cartoonist, "The PC Weenies"

That's a 10

pclips's picture

It'd take a book to completely cover this topic, and DJ, maybe you're the man to write it. Everything you've said here, I'd consider gospel. Classic post. I think I'll start sending people a link to it when they ask for 101-level advice.