line work

If you're interested in gag cartooning, but have only received rejection slips from the major magazines, maybe you'd like to try cartooning for niche markets. If somebody publishes a magazine about one of your hobbies or activities, you have a potential market for your gag cartoons.

In over four years of submitting gag cartoons to major markets, I've collected a pile of rejection slips while making infrequent sales. During the same time, I've sold scores of cartoons to over a dozen small chess publications. Few cartoonists know chess like I do. When I was an active player, I played hundreds of tournament games, studied the best games of the past and present, and somehow achieved an Expert-class rating. I've found success--and lots of fun--cartooning on a subject I know well.

Another subject I know well is how to break into a small-magazine market--or create a market where there is none. Here's how:

Step 1: Your Sample Cartoons

Start drawing some cartoons about your hobby. You'll use these cartoons as samples of your work, and you'll be judged by them, so do your best. You want to end up with 6 to 10. Aside from showing your drawing and sense of humor, these cartoons must show that you know the subject. Unless it's essential to the gag, I rarely draw recognizable chess pieces in my cartoons. But in my sample cartoons, I drew accurate pieces in the correct starting position. Whether your hobby is mountain-climbing or stamp collecting, get the equipment right.

Step 2: Your Mailing List

While you work on your sample cartoons, compile a mailing list. Check the masthead of a magazine on your hobby and write down the address. If a cartoon editor or art editor is listed, write that down. Otherwise, write down the editor's name. Go to the library; search for other magazines on the subject. Write down the information. You may also want to request sample issues to get more information. Also look at the magazines' ads, including the classified ads. Smaller magazines may be advertised.

Maybe some of these magazines use cartoons. That's great. You can check out the style of humor.

If a magazine does not use cartoons, that may be even better! The editor may just be waiting for somebody who knows the subject to submit cartoons. Or you may have to convince him that cartoons can be a valuable contribution. Either way, it's a great opportunity.

Step 3: Your Pitch Letter

Write a pitch letter. Here's your chance to let your ego off its leash. Tell the editors why you know the subject. If you have cartooning credits, list a few. If you don't have credits, don't worry. The main thing is to tell that you are familiar with the subject. You may also want to explain why cartoons are so wonderful. If few magazines on your mailing list use cartoons, spend some time pitching cartoons in general.

If you don't have letterhead for your cartooning business, now is the time to make some. Don't spend a fortune, though. Good quality photocopies are fine. For my first cartooning letterhead, I drew a chess piece--to tie in with the theme of my cartoons. The letterhead must include your name, address, and phone number (fax number, too, if you have one). The whole idea is to make it easy for editors to contact you. An editor who has never used cartoons before will respond only if it's easy.

Making responses easy leads to the number one rule of gag cartooning. Always send an SASE. In this case, "always" means always.

In my first chess mailing, I bent that rule. I sent self-addressed stamped postcards for editors' replies because postage is cheaper on postcards. Postage will be your major expense as a gag cartoonist. Save where you can, but always send an SASE--even if it's not an SASE.

Step 4: Your Sample Sheet

Finished your sample cartoons? You want to show these samples to the editors, but you don't want to overwhelm them with paper. So reduce your samples on a photocopier. Then use your eye for design to arrange several samples on a sheet of paper. Again, include your name, address, and phone number, because this sample sheet could get separated from your letter.

Make enough copies to send one to every magazine on your mailing list. A colored paper may help your cartoons look festive--and color will attract attention. But the essential thing is good cartooning. If you have lots of samples, you can conserve paper by using double-sided photocopies. One double-sided sheet of samples is plenty. Save your other cartoons for the batches you'll submit soon.

Step 5: Your Next Cartoons

Now you're ready to . . . draw some more cartoons. Yes, that was the first step, too. As a cartoonist, you'll return to that first step continually.

When I sent out my first mailing I got more replies than I was ready for. I hadn't drawn enough cartoons, but I'd written lots of gags. I picked the easiest to draw and quickly turned out a lot of cartoons. Be ready for success--have at least one batch of cartoons ready to send as soon as somebody phones. (Don't put all your sample cartoons in a batch. You want to give the impression that you're a bubbling fountain of creativity.)

Note on batches: Most cartooning authorities suggest you send about a dozen cartoons in a batch. I think it's okay to send smaller batches to niche markets. If editors aren't used to dealing with cartoonists, they may be overwhelmed by a thick sheaf of papers. They may lose your cartoons, or return them after 9 months. Besides, I wasn't ready for all the requests I got after my first mailing, so I sent small batches. It worked, so I've done it ever since.

Now you're ready. Send your pitch letter, sample sheet, and SASE to every magazine editor on your list. One last thing. Be sure you put the editor's name and address on the SASE. If you don't, you might get an unsigned reply like this:

Loved the samples. I'll pay $250 per cartoon. Send 10 immediately.

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Originally published in The Aspiring Cartoonist (1995; Vol. 1, No. 4).

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