The modern freelance cartoonist is also, de facto, a self-promoter. You want and need to tell people about your cartoons and comics. After all, people can't buy your cartoons or hire you if they don't know you exist. The question is how best to spend your time, effort, and money to get the word out?
I've dipped my toe in older, more traditional marketing waters (agencies, postcards, cold-calling...), but by far the most success I've experienced has been online. This can't be surprising, but it warrants the occasional revisit, and I like to think I bring some real experience to the table. I've been blogging since before my developer had heard the word "blog," and tweeting well before everyone knew the 140 character limit.
So here are some online options for the savvy freelance cartoonist and how I use or don't use them (your results may vary):
Please tell me you have a website, or a blog, or something. If not, stop reading this article right now and go take care of that. It doesn't need to be fancy, but it needs to look professional. You can't promote yourself if you don't have somewhere to send people.
Blogging has been around a while, and it's probably out of fashion, but it's also an easy and effective way to create, present and organize a lot of content. If you have a site, a blog is a great addition. If you need a site, a blog can be a great way to do that too. I like WordPress personally, but there's always Blogger or Tumblr.
I used to try to put a little something out every day, but this year I've been trying one really good in-depth post per week and I've been happier with the results.
One of the ways I promote my cartoons from my site is to allow various embedding options and RSS feeds. This is the sort of thing where you'll probably need a good developer to make it work, but making it easy for people to share your cartoons helps a lot.
Here's an example of a cartoon from my site that I embedded in this blog post:
Click on the cartoon and you go to the page where you can buy it. There's also a text link to give the search engines something to chew on. I also have an option where people can embed a daily cartoon thumbnail in their website or blog's sidebar. It's fun content for them, and some attention and a link for me.
Add to that my twenty or so RSS feeds sorted by topic, and there's plenty of ways for people to get their daily cartoon fix.
Again, these options are more along the hire-a-good-developer route, but if you can do any or all of them, I'd recommend it.
This is an area where I can dovetail some of my efforts. I take the daily cartoon RSS feed and route it through Feedburner to repackage it as a daily subscribable email. It requires almost no maintenance on my part and it's a cinch to set up.
Email is one method you should not discount or take for granted. When I recently changed how my images were being hosted and it created a small glitch for my daily email cartoon subscribers, the deluge of emails asking when it would be fixed was staggering. The inbox is a place you want to be.
There's all flavor of social media out there, but the one that fits my personal palate best is Twitter. It's fun, quick, and easily sharable, just like a cartoon.
To organize people I'm following and to get tweets out quickly I use Hootsuite:
As far as tweeting goes, my general strategy with Twitter is 20% me, 80% other people. Using Buffer I schedule a daily cartoon tweet for mornings, and then 4 other retweets of stuff I like throughout the day. I again dovetail the process using IFTTT to push starred blog posts from Google Reader into my Buffer queue:
I also tweet more depending on the day and my schedule. And Twitter's integration into iOS makes things even easier now. I love me some Twitter.
I should do more with Facebook, but to be perfectly honest, there's something about it that just rubs me the wrong way.
There are people who are doing great things here, and you should probably figure out what they're doing and how, but for the time being I'm just forwarding my tweets here.
I was hot on Google+ for a while, and considering it's almost certainly influencing Google's search results in all sorts of ways I should be putting in more time here. But I haven't seen a lot back for my efforts, and there's only so much social media I can tackle in a day.
Pinterest was another thing I was really excited about. A few months before it really hit big I noticed it in my Google Analytics as a referrer and checked it out.
For a while I was seeing a lot of traffic from it, but as it grew and people began to figure out how to game it a little more, that's dropped considerably.
That being said I still like the occasional pinning binge, and I do see my cartoons appear on it regularly:
But as a place to put a lot of effort, I'm not convinced.
Video is a fantastic way to connect with people, and YouTube is obviously king in this arena. My strategy here is to create around one good size video per month while, more or less, doing what I normally do.
For example, with a camera mount clipped to my lamp, an iPhone, and a little time in iMovie, I made this short video of myself inking:
Not bad, not a lot more work, and, I think, very effective.
Although Flickr seems to have floundered in Instagram's hipstery shadow, I still think it's one of those important places you should have a presence.
I've used it mostly as a way to host pics of my large collection of cartoon themed trading cards. I'd blog about a set, show one pic, and then route people to Flickr to see the rest.
Do I see a lot of traffic from Flickr? Not really. Do I think it influences search results? Somewhat. Do I hope Marissa Mayer and company restore it to its former innovative glory? Definitely.
In addition the usual suspects above, a good freelance cartoonist should be looking for other more unique opportunities to partner with other sites. For example, every Friday for the past couple of years I've had a business-themed cartoon at Small Business Trends. They get relevant and entertaining content, I get some great links and access to a large readership. Everyone's happy:
I also have a daily cartoon over at GoComics where I'm at just around 3000 subscribers as I write this:
I also submit regularly to Illustration Friday:
Find what works for you, do it regularly, and get noticed.
Normally when I shade a cartoon I use my good old Prismacolor cool greys. But lately I've been doing a lot of custom cartoons where a client could ask for changes to the final art, so I shade in Photoshop using some custom patterns I made from those aforementioned Prismacolors.
It's not glamorous, and there's certainly more educational Photoshop tutorials available, but if you want to see a cartoonist laying down some shading while watching MST3K: The Movie, here you go:
Hi there, this is Mark Anderson from Andertoons.com and I am going to show you how I shade a cartoon in Photoshop. The first thing I do is I use an action that I had created to move all of my layers around, I will show you how to do that some other time, but what it does is it moves the ink to the top layer and then creates some layers underneath that makes the ink layer a multiply layer. I also created some patterns here for myself using my markers and the paper that I normally use and I scanned that in and created some patterns to emulate what I would normally do.
The reason I am not shading this using my regular marker and papers that I would use for my regular cartoons, is this is a custom cartoon that I am doing for a client, so I like to use my Photoshop markers so that I can create layer after layer after layer and then if the client requires something different or like a person’s hair color changed or we need to do this or that, I can go back and change it without having to redraw the original art, so that’s why I am doing this.
And of course I’ve got Mystery Science Theater 3000 The Movie playing over here on the right side. Shading isn’t my favorite thing to do, it’s sort of a necessary evil, so when I have a lot of shading to do - poor Dr. Forrester - I put a movie on sort of in a little window there to, that I can listen to or you know tune into here and there again.
So here I am shading, let me get back to the actual shading part; I use again my pattern brush and the eraser, those are the two tools that I really use when I create different layers. So this first layer here is sort of a light grey, I think it is a 30% grey, for her hair and for the computer here. Now I have created another layer and I am going to use a slightly darker pattern for the chair, so it is pretty simple, you just sort of lay the shading in as nicely as you can - now I see the, because I put that layer underneath the other layer when I color over by that computer that shading goes underneath that layer so that you can’t see it.
This is pretty standard Photoshop coloring shading sort of thing, but if you do not, you know if you do not know you know how…I am going to choose another slightly darker color for his chair to sort of make him pop a little bit. I’ve noticed sometimes I have problems, I use a Wacom tablet, and sometimes it seems like it has a problem, maybe it is Photoshop, maybe it’s the tablet recognizing like that I want a variable brush size and I have all the settings set up correctly I am pretty sure, and sometimes it just, it does not seem to recognize it, I don’t know what that is - if anybody knows, if there is something that I am missing here let me know, I would appreciate it.
So I am sort of erasing around his arm here and getting this shading more and more correct and this is going pretty well, there is actually not a whole lot to shade in this cartoon, which is why I chose it, sometimes especially with a crowd scene, or something like that there can be a lot a lot a lot of shading and I did not want to show you half an hour of ‘look, I am shading, now I am erasing, now I am shading, now I am erasing, now I am shading, now I am erasing’, this is already going to be tedious enough, but I will try to make it interesting for you.
So I think I am on my third layer now, and again I’ve taken that third layer and put it underneath the first two, the ink layer on top is set to multiply so that you can see things under the ink. And then I do my shading layers underneath that and they are all set to normal and then I have a background layer of just pure white. And then of course I have other layers for laying in the captions, and other things. There was another layer for that eBay logo but I had just merged that in there.
Okay, doing a little detail there on the desk making sure that that all makes sense. I left her shirt and her phone white because the desk and the chair have already been shaded. Okay I am just doing a little bit of detail work on the supposed eBay page. It doesn’t need to be detailed there, in fact it’s better if it is not because you don’t want people asking ‘oh what is she looking at, is she looking at a purse, is she looking at a toy, or is she looking at, what is she looking at’, it does not really matter you just need it to register as eBay, also that eBay logo is really big, I know, but you need it to register and read quickly, so you sort of fudge how big it actually is, so that the reader can actually read it and understand that she is on eBay, for the purpose of this cartoon.
Okay, now I am doing his tie, and I am sort of erasing his hand out of the tie - I try to be as detailed as I can when I lay in the shading because then it, it sort of, you can either be detailed when you put in the shading, or you can worry about the detail when you are erasing, and I sort of go in-between there. You try to stay in the lines as much as you can, that’s, that would be a nice feature on Photoshop is stay in the lines, although most of my lines don’t connect, so that’s not really going to work, but it would be nice if it could sort of intuit that.
So for the Adobe people get to work on that or if someone knows, again if you know how to do that and I am just missing it, let me know, drop me an email. Okay, doing the desk here, we are getting towards the end of this one; this is a pretty quick shade. Here I am sort of doing that, doing his desk here, I will go ahead and do some erasing, sort of get that edge there so that it does not look too jagged or you know. I am erasing here on the top of the desk, still watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 the movie. This is all the intro they haven’t started, the movie is really good if you have not, this Island Earth, this is a great, it’s not an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 but it is the movie that they made, really fun.
Alright back to, back on task here. I did some shading and some erasing that I didn’t like, so I you know controlled, I think it is Ctrl+Shift+Z to go back a couple of steps, so I am taking another shot at that. I would prefer to do all of the shading like right on the actual paper with the actual art, but like I said you never know, I have had enough times where a client has come back and wanted something changed that I’ve sort of learned my lesson, so it is not as organic a look as I would like, but what you make up for in being able to go back and fix things, totally-totally makes this worth it.
So looks like we are just about done, so this is the final version of this and I think it was only two, three, four layers of shading and I think that looks pretty good, so I will add the caption later, save this for the client and send - oh and look the movie is starting - so I think that is my cue to leave, thank you for watching, make sure you visit Andertoons.com for lots of great cartoons and other fun stuff. And have a great day.
St. Patrick's Day is coming up fast, so I thought this week I'd show you how to draw a cartoon leprechaun in only twelve easy steps.
Not bad, eh? Just 12 little steps and you've got yourself a really nice leprechaun cartoon!
More tutorials are coming soon, but if you're still in the mood for drawing, feel free to check out my elephant tutorial here.