Got this in my email the other day:
I am a product design student from Wales, UK and I am working on an assignment where I have to come up with a business plan. I just wanted to know what it takes to set up a business in cartoon illustration, and what it involves, as this is an area I have great interest in. What do you do that sets your business apart from other similar businesses?
I'd be very grateful for any information you could offer.
Thanks very much for your time.
Normally I just ignore stuff like this. I get a fair share of "tell me what all your markets are and how I make money" emails, but the above note seemed nice and it gives me an opportunity to blog about the business side of gag cartooning.
Let's see... Business plan...
I've used the phrase before, but to be honest, cartooning isn't the kind of business where you get your idea, get a loan, set up shop and hope to make a profit in a year or two.
Here's some advice on how I've done it so far (I say "so far" because it's a precarious job and I may very well be wearing an orange apron next week while directing you to the key copying guy), and I'm going to keep it more on the financial end of things:
I worked for a screw manufacturer, a metals distributor, and an auto advertising website for a combined total of about six years before making the leap, and even then it was with the caveat that I juggle cartooning with being a stay-at-home dad.
Being a professional cartoonist most realistically means fitting it in, even when it's your only source of income. I drew cartoons early in the morning before work, on my lunch hour and at night for years. Now I do it while the kids are at school, and on the weekends.
As I said, cartooning isn't business as usual, but there are some things I found helpful starting out:
Even more important is avoiding unnecessary expenses. Don't bother with:
Anyone will tell you most businesses fail early because of accounting issues. Know how much you are making, spend as little as you can initially, and track it to the penny. Generally artists don't like the business end of things. Learn to be good at it, or be an instant success and hire an accountant.
It's hard, it's discouraging, and you're going to fail almost constantly. But if you love it you'll keep doing it because, in the end, no cartoonist really does it for the money.