By Serena Makofsky
Cartoonists work in a variety of fields, from comic book to graphic novel publishing, comic strip syndicating to illustration. They may work for animation projects on TV or film. They may also work in a design-related field, providing cartoon sketches for products, games or toys. Although it takes time and patience to build a successful cartooning career, an established cartoonist can make a middle-class living, while the top cartoonists can earn spectacular salaries. For many cartoonists, freelancing is a way of life, so their earnings depend on how many gigs they can book, how much they charge and how much they work.
Some of the most popular careers for cartoonists involve creating strips for magazines or newspapers, doing editorial cartoons and drawing comic books and graphic novels. One of the key growth areas for professional cartooning is being a storyboard artist for animation, providing content for the multitudes of cable channels and online media. The prevalence of cartoons means that many marketing and advertising firms also hire cartoon-style illustrators to work on their accounts.
Pay for the cartooning disciplines vary greatly. A syndicated newspaper strip pays the artist half of the fees collected from newspapers, so pay depends on the number of papers the strip runs in. Some established artists earn 60 percent of the fees collected from newspapers by the syndicate. A storyboard artist for animation usually earns at least $1,000 per week, with the average reported to the Graphic Artists Guild running closer to $1,800. Magazine cartoonists can expect about $300 per black and white cartoon for the major magazines, with the “New Yorker,” the top market, paying $675. Minor magazines pay less. Comic book companies such as Marvel and DC pay in the range of $150 to $250 for a page of pencil art, while inking rates run a bit less.
The average cartoonist can thrive in the fields of storyboarding and character design for animation studios. The work setting may be traditional, or it may be high-tech, geared toward computer animation. Freelancers have a more challenging time when the economy is bad, but sometimes benefit from publications trimming permanent staff and needing to find contract workers.
Aspiring cartoonists will more easily establish a cartooning career in media centers such as Los Angeles and New York. International locales such as London, Toronto, Tokyo and Paris also have major animation studios and businesses that hire cartoonists. Although the Internet makes it easy to communicate and send art files over distance, there is no substitute for personal contact in establishing oneself in the cartooning field.
Many cartoonists enjoy fruitful careers, but it is not a field for the faint of heart. Cartooning is a very competitive field, full of talented individuals. Many cartoonists, especially freelancers, spend just as much time pitching ideas, meeting with clients, promoting their work and engaging in other marketing tasks as they spend on actual drawing.