The value of a hometown cartoonist

Michael Cavna writes about the value of the hometown cartoonist.

Whether you are Portland mourning John Callahan in recent days, or Cleveland missing Harvey Pekar far more than LeBron James in recent weeks, the regional embrace of these two nationally famed cartoonists reminds how much having a cartoonist who has deep local roots and visibility is good for the civic soul.

The political cartoonist and the gag cartoonist and the comic-book writer are all different beasts with differing creative missions, of course. One shared trait, though, is that each can become a consensus touchstone and a source of inspired town pride in a place so often rife with polarizing “official” voices. Through ink, the cartoonist can be a crucial connective glue.

45 thoughts on “The value of a hometown cartoonist

  1. One of the great things I love about comics/cartooning is that it doesn’t necessarily depend on you to live in one of the “Big 2” cities to break in and have a career.

    Local cartoonists are more than just hometown talent, they’re a local VOICE. And we need local voices when it comes to cartooning to maintain the wonderful diversity it’s capable of.

  2. Actually I do have a question for some of you other hometown cartoonists. I currently do a weekly toon for the sunday edtion of a midwest paper. Sunday edition circulation about 50,000.
    The editor loves my work and I think I’m starting to build a little following after 6 months.
    Is $25 per piece a fair price? It seems a little low to me but I agreed just to get the opportunity. When I submitted my last toon for this sunday along with my invoice, I am currently owed for 7 weeks as of my last submission.
    I love the challenge and the opportunity to hone my skills and deal with deadlines all while having an actual audience.
    I am grateful, but I can’t shake the feeling that I am being taken advantage of.
    Since I am new to this and I don’t know any another other cartoonists I thought I would post my question here.
    Am I just being a little whiner or do I have legitimate concerns? Thanks.

  3. $25 per piece sounds a little low to me, but I’m a webcartoonist so I don’t know what fees for work intended for publication should be. $25 per piece could well be a fair fee.

    $0 for seven weeks work, however, definitely isn’t.

  4. Thanks Gar,
    I do know that the parent company that owns the paper has outsourced it’s accounting overseas. I guess my point is that I know the folks who work there must be getting paid on time or they wouldn’t still be there. It’s not the money per se, it’s about respect. I work hard on my part and have never missed a deadline. Seems to me that should work both ways.

  5. $25 each seems super low-priced to me – when I draw a political cartoon, I get paid many times that, but I’ve only drawn a few for unions and individuals, not newspapers, so I don’t know what newspapers usually pay… Do you draw them in a couple of hours or a half hour? If they take a couple of hours, that’s better than minimum wage, I suppose, but not by too much. If they only take a half hour, that’s $50/hr, which is a decent salary. I usually take around 4 – 5 hours to draw mine, so $5 an hour would never work for me, I’ve got a mortgage to pay.

    I did some web research and found out the average animator/cartoonist only makes around 52 grand a year (are wages really that low for political cartoonists? I hope not), so you’d only have to pump out 8 political cartoons each week day to make the 40 per week @ $25 each…

    Well, it’s better than a poke in the eye – I say, go for it! And learn to draw really, really fast, that’ll help. šŸ˜‰

    Good luck!

  6. Thanks Dave,
    I usually average 3 – 4 hours. From sketching to fleshing out, inking. Then I finish it off in the computer.
    As a rookie it probably take me a lot longer than it would a pro depending on the amount of detail.

  7. Keith,
    I draw two editorial cartoons a week for a Gannett owned paper in a mid-size market, 50,00-100,000 circulation. Have been for almost three years now. They pay me $35 a cartoon. I get a check from Daddy Gannett at the end of each month. The rate hasn’t changed since I started.
    One side benefit is that my cartoons get distributed to all of the Gannett newspapers, and some have actually been republished. At no extra money, of course.
    My wife reminded me yesterday that I can’t possibly be doing this for the money, so I better enjoy what I am getting out of it:
    a chance to get my work in front of a lot of eyes, an outlet for something that I can’t seem to stop doing, and enough money to almost cover my health insurance each month!
    Keep drawing, Keith! Something will break for you.

  8. David,
    Thank you so much for your response. That makes me feel like I’m pretty much in line with others out there within our circulation range. I do wish they would a be a little more dependable on the money though. I want to buy a new computer and use my earnings to pay for it.
    Thanks again

  9. David,
    I went to your site. Love your work.
    I do once a week toon for about six months now.
    Once I get a year in the I feel I’ll have enough to start my site and archive.

  10. @Keith In my opinion (and I don’t do political cartoons but do sell to magazines and newspapers) prices should only be that low if you’re producing content that can be resold elsewhere. Otherwise, you’re working for less than the minimum wage. If it’s customized work – you should get paid a decent amount for it.

    @#10Dave – I don’t understand how other publications using your work for free is a “side benefit.” It sounds like they’re getting the benefit.

  11. Thanks Jason,
    I’ve decided I’ll put up with for a little longer. At my first year anniversary we may have to have a little talk.
    I dont havemy own site yet but if anyone is itnerested they can go to
    there is a search bar on top.
    put in my name – keith brown
    and there are some but not all toons archived there. These are on local issues so don’t be surprised if you don’t know the context.

  12. Keith,
    I draw for or have drawn for over 40 papers around SC. Your price is right in line with mine ( I produce one toon per week). HOWEVER, I have had to drop my prices for a few of my papers in order to keep them buying my toons. Economic hard times are a reality. To me, getting paid a little less is better than getting none at all. Also, several of my papers have said that the syndicates are literally GIVING toons away. I lost one because they syndicate thought they were gonna lose the paper. They cut the paper a sweet deal for columns and added the toons in for free. I can’t compete with free. I WON’T compete with free. I’ve had a couple of ‘prospective editors’ tell me I should lower my price because ‘I’d get more exposure in their paper and it should be an honor to be featured in there. HORSEFEATHERS! I politely informed them that I couldn’t buy a biscuit with honor and I had their paper surrounded (I draw for every smaller market paper on every side of them now). Further, I’d beaten their paper and their artists EVERY year for top prizes in the Press Association contests. I hope they enjoy seeing me beat them again ‘coz they won’t be seeing my toons in their paper. Most of may papers pay a fee based on the size of their circulation. Most editors are decent people. As with any profession, there are some that are jerks. When you feel you’ve done enough to merit it, ask for an increase. See where it goes. Best of luck.

  13. Keith,
    After I posted, it occured to me….you should see if your paper will enter your toons in the Press Association contest for your state. Most states have them. It’s a great way to get your stuff in front of a lot of prospective editors and maybe get you some more work. You’d be amazed at how many referrals and inquiries I got from that. Just a thought.

  14. @Jason—
    you are right!
    As someone who is WAY down the pecking order in the world of editorial cartooning, I’m trying to get my work in front of as many eyes as I can, so that maybe I can parley some familiarity and appreciation into more money or more work. The papers that might use my work once or every now and then could be helping me in that regard. But yeah, it is more for their benefit than mine. It’s a little like playing the lottery…..
    @Keith, thanks for your kind words.

  15. @15David – Well, if we take your business plan of exposure leading to sales, you could apply it to your original scenario. The exposure of being in the original paper made the editors of the other “Gannet” newspapers take notice and want to run it in their own. Where your business plan breaks down is the fact that they are using it for free.

    So in theory, you should have been able to parley that initial exposure into more paying work, but instead it simply parleyed into more exposure.

    These other newspapers ARE the very clients you’re trying to reach.

    It doesn’t have to be like playing the lottery. It could be about business contracts and getting paid what you’re worth.

  16. @Jason—
    I’m not disagreeing with you, and I’m not suggesting that you or Keith or anybody else do it that way.
    I was only relaying how I was doing it.
    As it turned out, I was approached by an online magazine that had seen my work, and has started paying me a bit more for it.
    And as for dignifying my plan of action as a “business plan”, that was never my strong point, obviously!

  17. As newspapers try to establish more of a local identity?something that years of running too much wire and syndicate content has eroded?many are bringing back local cartoons. We’ll be seeing more of this in the future.

  18. Thanks Zack
    Same thing bascally happened to me when I did some Illus. for a local mag. Pay is much better although assignments are sporadic.

  19. @Keith Jeez…when I started doing local political cartoons for the Ann Arbor News, back in 1986, they offered me $35 a pop, and then quickly raised it to $75, because they liked my work. By the end of the first year or so, I was in 4 times a week and I could almost live on it(as it happens, with illustration work and other stuff, I didn’t have to have a regular job). I think they were about 50,000 back then. All of which is to say that $25 a cartoon seems almost abusive, especially if they’ve stopped paying you at all. That being said, as someone who’s spent years doing it, I know it’s hard to give up a cartoon gig even if it isn’t doens’t make financial sense.
    After 6 months, if the editor really loves your work, he/she should be willing to give you a raise, but you’ll probably need to ask for it. If you haven’t, do–you may be surprised. Personally, I wouldn’t even consider doing a custom political cartoon for a paper like that for anything less than $100(I’d consider $150-$200 to be reasonable), but if I was in your situation I’d ask for $50 and see what they say. At the very least, you should firmly request the money you’re owed. Once 30 days have passed, I nag people, politely but relentlessly. There’s no excuse for having to wait longer than that, especially when you’re owed by a big organization.
    The problem with cartoonists is that we’re so eager to get published that we’ll often work for free, especially when we’re just starting out. But if they really like you, they’ll want to be fair–and if you let people take advantage of you, they often will.

  20. Terry,
    Thanks for the advice. I guess right now I am still in the any gig is a gig mode.
    As a novice, I still consider the experience invaluable. This weekend will mark my 6th month. Right now It’s a good avenue to build my own personal protfolio.
    When I started this venture and the Editor offered me $25 I said I would try it or a while. I guess just how long I’ll keep trying it is up in the air.

  21. Hey Keith:
    Are you getting any reaction from your cartoon with readers? If you are that might be all the ground you need to ask for a raise.
    I agree $25/customized local cartoon is low but like you said you were just starting out. Ten years ago I did some work for a small, local paper and was only paid $15/cartoon. After only doing four or five I quit submitting because the output wasn’t worth what I was receiving. In hindsight I should have asked for more money but live and learn.
    I’d ask for a raise and at the very least get your money for what you’ve already contributed. Do you invoice this client? Add a 2% surcharge every month the cheque is late.
    Remember, even though you’re cartooning and it’s fun this is a business. Treat yourself like a business person!
    One thing you might want to negotiate with this client is to have an area where people can click on your cartoon from their website. As you mentioned to us we had to put your name in a Search bar, there must be a simpler way to drive traffic to your cartoon.

  22. Chris,
    Thanks for you response. For those following this I got a check today that get’s us almost caught up and yes I do invoice.
    As far as reader reaction, my only real barometer is the responses on the website. Usually they are positive, but it’s the same handful of people who take the time.
    I did receive a letter to the editor in which I was deemed inappropriate and unChristian! That’s priceless, I almost feel like a member of the fraternity.
    I think they are generally well received from the response I get from the editor, publisher and other general staff at the paper. I live thirty miles away from the town so I’m not in the mix everyday.
    Chris, it sounds like you went to site, is that correct?

  23. Receiving hatemail really is something of a rite of passage. You should get the letter and put it in a frame with the comic it refers to.

  24. Gar,
    Yes, I should. It was an electronic e-mail that was printed on the web-site. I think I’ll get my editor to print me a copy and put it with the toon as you suggest.

  25. I was getting $150 doing a sports webcomic for CBS Sportsline.
    Ask them for AT LEAST $50 per comics. Doing work for free is BAD, BAD, BAD!!!!!! Don’t EVER do it. If you want to work for free –work for free and post the stuff on your own website. People working for free is THE reason artists for all stripes can make a living.

  26. @Mike Beckom,
    I’m sorry for the late response as I have just noticed your posts. Thanks for the advice. My editor did mention entering my work in contests next year.
    I appreciate all the advice from everyone. I will probably just keep on as it’s good experience while I developement my style further. When I look at the work of a lot of the other posters on this site I find myself wondering how I ever got here in the first place. I have a long way to go before I reach your level. I don’t want to work for free but I also don’t want to get dumped for another starving cartoonist who can draw circles around me. I think maybe after the first of the year I will try and lobby for a little more money. I did finally get them to comp me a subscrption the the sunday paper. I guess that’s a small victory. Thanks everyone for all of the comments and advice.

  27. @JG,
    You’re right. Why is it that in most creative endeavors,
    everybody LOVES your stuff…until it’s time to get paid for it?
    Same thing in the bands I’ve been in, etc. I don’t think people appreciate the amount of thought and time we put in to our efforts. There are several other weekly local column contibutors as well. I wish I knew their status as far as amount paid and reliablilty of said payments.

  28. “(W)rite without pay until somebody offers pay. If nobody offers pay within three years, the candidate may look upon this circumstance with the most implicit confidence as the sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for.” — Mark Twain

  29. It could be worse Keith, you could have an obscure webcomic which you work really hard on but have no idea how to market šŸ˜›

    If you’re happy enough working for practise and exposure that’s your own business and good luck with it. I guess keep sending out portfolios, see if you can get some paying gigs off the back of the name-recognition you’re currently building up.

  30. You guys are right and I really don’t want to complain, I just want to make sure that I am inline with everyone else.

  31. I don’t agree with Mark Twain. šŸ™‚ Don’t do ANYTHING without pay. Artist don’t get paid because too many of us do things for free. Plumbers don’t do it, Loan Officers don’t do it?neither should we (Artist). Keith, this is capitalism, charge what you want–just don’t work for free, imho. Value your work.

  32. Hell, even BAD Plumbers and Loan Officers don’t work for free. LOL. Only Artist are dumb enough to work for free and then complain about money. Crazy.

  33. Actually, JG, Twain addresses that specifically — he says that every craftsman serves an apprenticeship and that for writers (it would also apply to artists), to show up on Day One and expect to be treated differently is absurd.

    I wrote for college publications for free and I started in the real world with book reviews for which pay was that you got to keep the book, eventually moved up to $5-plus-keep-the-book and gradually grew into a self-sustaining professional writer.

    Twain says it better — just substitute “artist” for “writer” in this:

  34. That was then?this is now. Don’t do any work for free. People
    in India don’t even work for free dude. šŸ™‚ It sets up a very bad
    trend that Creatives have to keep fighting.

    Mark Twain does not live in the 21st century. Also remember,
    Twain was born of the “merchant class” and became an “elite”
    in his 30s so his outlook on things was “quite different” than
    most in 1800-1900 America.

    If Twain lived now he would have a different take on “working for
    free.” Artist are not “craftsman.” And we Artist don’t have an
    apprenticeship process like others. To show up on “Day One”
    and expect to be paid for your toil is capitalism 101 in 2010.

    A student giving away work to a college publication for free is
    one thing, giving your work away to a for-profit company is just

    Creatives (Artist and Writers) need to stop being silly?stop
    working for free. No other profession does this?work for free
    all the time. Working for free reinforces the idea that art is not
    work?that it’s a hobby or a plaything. That it is in not really

  35. JG,
    Thanks. I guess it took another cartoonist to actually get the joke.
    The puchline was going to be “You know those are fake” but the editor asked me to tone it down a little. I guess it really didn’t matter after all.

Comments are closed.