Success in cartooning speaker: Tom Richmond

Tom Richmond is a MAD Magazine cartoonist, freelance illustrator and current president of the National Cartoonist Society.


  • Presentation: How to be a successful freelance illustrator

  • Went to school in Wisconsin. Didn’t learn a thing about cartooning. It wasn’t very a positive environment

  • Started drawing caricatures during the summer job in Chicago

  • He wanted to be a commercial artist or anything that paid him to draw

  • Lesson learned: Chicks do not enjoy caricatures

  • Did caricatures every summer

  • Started own caricature booths in 4 theme parks in 3 different states

  • Live caricature gave him a financial cushion to pay bills while trying to break into other art.

  • Started sending stuff out to build freelance clientele.

  • Being a successful freelance artist doesn’t come overnight. Takes a long time to build out client list.

  • Nobody, not even big name artists, makes a living off large magazines like Time. They make money off of smaller magazines with smaller circulations. Small magazines pay good rates and there are more of them

  • Myth: “Magazines are dying” – not true. Big mags, yes, but smaller niche magazines are still thriving.

  • Tom does a lot of different work for Scholastic. They have a dozen or so magazines.

  • Does a lot of sports related illustrations. Teams have their own magazines or publications and Tom has a great reputation among them.

  • Tom gets a lot of work through word of mouth where someone sees his work in other magazines and contacts him.

  • Started sending MAD stuff in late 90’s. Showed his work to Sam Viviano, the new Art Director at MAD. Sam wasn’t impressed, but Cracked Mag was and bought it up quickly. After a couple of years with Cracked, MAD offered to buy stuff.

  • Parodies of TV and movies require Tom to watch them so he can add little gags to illustration.

  • Freelancing is the art of visually telling someone else’s story and getting fired immediately

  • It’s not steady work unless you get on with a magazine (Scholastic, MAD)

  • The secret to freelancing is people skills. You have to be able to work with people.

  • Create a style (or draw in a style) that will be of interest to the art directors your selling to.

  • The hard work is getting people to call you instead of you calling them

  • All portfolios are on the web. Nobody does a classic portfolio anymore

  • How to get people to your portfolio? Direct marketing. Professional directories

  • For beginners – go to a newsstand and find the publisher/address of magazines who buys work complimentary to your work.

  • Print up postcards with info and send it to them continuously. It’s all about people.

  • It takes a long time to build up clientele.

  • Once you get the job, it’s all about working with the client.

  • When the art director asks for a change – run with it. Don’t be difficult

  • If you do a good work for them, they’ll call you back and they’ll tell others. If you do bad work, they’ll never call you again and neither will their associates.

  • PROFESSIONALISM – have to work with people, take criticism, starting over if you love something and they don’t
    *Why join NCS? *

  • NCS is not for hobbyists. It’s for career cartoonists

  • The NCS is primarily a social networking organization. It’s not a union or have shared health benefits

  • It used to be a great way to meet other cartoonists. Now that can happen online.

  • You can be a member of the local NCS chapter even if you’re not a NCS member

  • Question from audience: How long does it take to draw some of the crowd scenes? Answer: It can take a couple of days to do depending on how many caricatures are in it.

  • Question from audience: How do you juggle multiple clients? Answer: It’s tough. You never really want to turn down any work because you never know if it’s your last time with them. It’s all about the deadline. Be honest with the art directors about your time constraints. Don’t miss a deadline. Ever.

One thought on “Success in cartooning speaker: Tom Richmond

  1. Thanks for the great coverage of the event, Alan!

    BTW, I think that quote of mine should read;

    Freelancing is the art of visually telling someone else?s story and getting fired immediately AFTERWARD.

Comments are closed.