The Business of Cartoon Art by AnnieStrack


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									The Business of Cartoon Art By Annie Strack © 2007

We are all familiar with the cartoons of Arthur Geisert, having seen them grace the pages of this magazine for years. Most cartoon artists draw their art, but Arthur takes his creativity one huge step further; each of Arthur’s cartoons are printed using the traditional copper plate etching method, making each print of every cartoon a hand pulled original work of art. This technique of print making was developed in northern Europe around 1490, and the process has remained virtually unchanged since then. Arthur recently moved to Bernard, Iowa, where he is converting a small one hundred year old bank building to an artist studio and home. Presses, drying racks, water trays, and other equipment necessary to create original hand pulled prints takes up most of his 700 square foot space, leaving the old 6’ x 9’ vault as his bedroom. Although he sells his creations to prestigious publications such as the New Yorker magazine, the St. Louis Dispatch, the Lutheran, and the Des Moines Register, Arthur considers his cartoons to be a casual sideline of his business. His primary career is writing and illustrating children’s books for the publishing house Houghton Mifflin, which publishes an average of one of his books each year for the last twenty five years. Each book takes about a year to write and illustrate, and most of the books have been translated to numerous languages and are in distribution around the world. Two of his books are on the New York Times list of 100 Best Illustrated Children’s Books of All Times. The illustrations for these books are also created using the etching method, with each etching then hand colored. Arthur no longer markets his art through the traditional venues such as galleries and shows, preferring to spend his time and energies creating new work rather than marketing and selling older works. Occasionally Arthur licenses use of his designs for products such as tee-shirts, mugs, or posters, but his demanding schedule of book publishing provides him with a full career and leaves little time for pursuing diversions such as these. Arthur’s tip for emerging artists is persistence. He regaled to me his tale of how he submitted his manuscripts for ten years, amassing a tremendous collection of rejection letters before he found a publisher. When his wife asked him how much longer he was going to keep trying to get his books published, he replied that he would be ready to quit when the weight of all those rejection letters equaled his body weight. Arthur confided that when this scenario was in danger of actually happening, he managed to buy himself more time by thinning out his rejection files one by one, tossing out the envelopes and keeping only the rejection slips, and by doubling his beer intake! Another traditional cartoon artist, Tim Banfell is the creator of “Wrong Key,” a weekly comic strip that revolves around the characters of a fictional, small island. He describes his strip as “A place where readers can take a mini-vacation each week, and join the


islanders as they wade through the high and low tides of life. The characters deal in fun topical humor with an island perspective. Actually, it's more like subtropical humor.” Tim works out of his home near New Orleans, but for inspiration and comic strip ideas he makes weekend runs back to his native Pensacola to conduct creative research; such as fishing or hanging out at the beach. Like many artists, he started at a young age and has been drawing cartoons since he was six years old. He had some formal art training but mostly credits God for his talent, and he considers himself lucky to have the skill to draw well. He finds his “goofy imagination” keeps his creativity flowing, and being an avid reader feeds his imagination even more. “I’ve always loved to draw cartoons. I inherited the talent from my Mom,” Tim said, “When I was a kid she drew my favorite cartoon character, Popeye, on a piece of plywood and my Dad cut it out. It was one of my favorite toys and I still have it today hanging on my office wall.” The experience of growing up in a family of beachcombers and fishermen was the inspiration for the strip, and most of his characters are based on family members and friends. Also a self professed Parrot Head, he finds additional inspiration in Jimmy Buffett tunes and occasional trips to Key West. Although he has been doing professional graphic design work and cartoons for 24 years, the cartoons are still a sideline business to his career as a professional graphic designer. Tim has contracts to sell his weekly strip to seven newspapers, and receives a weekly income from each publication. His strip is self-syndicated, which means that he does all his own marketing and selling of his work. He finds new clients by researching prospective weekly publications on the internet, and then sending them samples of his cartoon for review and consideration. His cartoon strip, “Wrong Key,” is currently contracted for weekly publication in: Boca Beacon - Boca Grande, FL Key West Keynoter - Key West, FL Florida Keys Keynoter - Upper Florida Keys Gulf Breeze News - Gulf Breeze, FL SPLASH! - Pensacola, FL metro area The Ocracoker - Ocracoke Island, North Carolina The Pelican - Perdido Key, Orange Beach, Gulf Shores, AL Tim also does various free-lance art projects, including art for New Orleans’ celebrity outdoorsman and renowned chef, Frank Davis. He’s designed all of Frank’s product labels for his seasonings, as well as the cover for one his books “The Frank Davis Tackle Box Bible.” Self-syndicating a comic strip is a time consuming marketing effort, and Tim would like to be syndicated by a national agency, which would lead to having his work printed in many more publications. Although each publisher pays a weekly fee to publish a cartoon strip, those


individual fees are small; so financial success is dependant upon syndicating the strip to numerous publications. Tim is also working on writing a book of his favorite strips, which he hopes to market to gift shops in Florida and other coastal areas. Although his cartoon “Wrong Key” is copyrighted, he has not yet expanded his marketing to sell his images as anything other than a comic strip for newspaper and magazine publications. Another successful artist is Jim Tweedy, creator of the “Friendly Doggies” series of cartoons and prints. A professional artist for nearly thirty years, his early art education began at a young age, learning to draw beside his father who was a Disney animation artist. Jim went on to spend 5 1/2 years in art school, and also credits his previous career of working in advertising for a couple of fortune 500 companies for developing much of his business acumen. Jim works every day in his studio in Mandeville, Louisiana, and although he has disciplined himself to finish a painting every day, he finds that the multiple demands of running a business often distract him from painting. He has a self imposed rule not to go to sleep at night until he has finished a painting, so he usually brings his work home and continues working late into the evening. Jim prefers to sell his cartoons and related merchandise wholesale, and has a business partner in the merchandising end of his business. Together they formed “Friendly Doggies Merchandise,” a company that focuses on producing and marketing his cartoons on products such as tee shirts, greeting cards, etc. They also produce a line of Collegiate Licensed cartoon art, which exposes his art to the sports collectable audience and taps a lucrative and growing market. In this new product line, Jim incorporates sports’ team mascots and school logos into his art to appeal to the niche market of sports fans. He has equipped his studio and office with modern machinery and technology to expand his business, such commercial screen printing equipment and embroidery machines for clothing, and he uses contracted firms for other tasks such as giclee printing and advertising. He prefers to produce his prints as open editions, and wholesale bulk orders to galleries. His most popular print, “Self Portrait,” is currently in its third printing edition of fifteen thousand. Among his plans for further expanding his business, Jim is working on a new line of sculptures called “3-D Twee-D.” Although he’s not currently syndicated, he would like to be at that point sometime in the future and has already designed a newspaper strip with hundreds of cartoons prepared. “I reach a lot of people through the internet using my website. I write to companies and send them the website instead of a brochure. I do internet searches, etc. Then I'll send them to my website and follow up with a phone call. Most of them are glad to hear from me and will order even a little something to get started.” Jim sell’s most of his work through galleries in the New Orleans French Quarter, Houston, and in California. He also travels to major art festivals across the country, and is currently shifting his focus towards the wholesale pet industry with a marketing campaign that includes participating in pet industry trade shows and an advertising blitz in related national magazines.


“The whole pet industry awaits,” he said. “I believed we're poised for success. I believe in the "ready, aim, fire" method. I think too many people fail because they go, "ready, fire, aim." We're ready and we're aiming right now.” Jim doesn’t employ any hard sales tactics, and prefers to just be himself with people and let the sales happen naturally. However he does employ some creative techniques to help the merchandise move. For example, he recently started editing his most popular prints in PhotoShop, removing the specific names of the characters in his cartoons and leaving a blank space in the caption that he can customize for each client. “Then, by reprinting them without the names, I’m able to tell the clients, say at an art festival; ‘Hey, guess what? I can customize that print with the name of your choice in it.’ Guess what? Almost none of them can say no to that!” He said, “Speaking of art festivals, that's a great place to sell, but I don't get the sitting down in the booth reading a book while people walk in and out looking at your art. I stay on my feet and talk to everybody that comes in. The sitting down looks negative. I think the client feels like he's bothering you. Stand up and greet everybody that comes in!” Just like these cartoon artists, not all artists work the same way, or market their work in the same way. Each of these successful artists has defined their own goals, and each has identified their own path to achieve those goals. Cartoon artists, like all artists, seem to share a specific trait; their minds are always overflowing with creative ideas. Cartoonists go one more step, and wrap that artistic creativity with humor. Maybe you would like to give it a try, too? Visit these artists’ websites at; and ### This article first appeared in the October 2007 issue of Art Calendar magazine. Visit Art Calendar on the web at Annie Strack is a professional artist specializing in seascapes and maritime paintings, and has been a contributing editor and feature writer for Art Calendar since 2005. Visit her on the web at


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