As print vehicles become increasingly harder to find, it’s a great paradox that the boom in wi-fi tablets has created the optimum showcase for cartoonists: a brilliantly backlit field that enhances the look of rich black-line drawings. And the colors of the so-called Golden Age of comics are washed-out pastels in comparison to the brilliant hues that the new technology offers.
Yet the tactile quality of a printed page, the sheer look and feel of ink on newsprint, will never be completely subsumed or forgotten. In a crowded field where there are virtually no jobs advertised, one entry-level position remains. Every town and village has at least one sad little tabloid funded by its local merchants. Every city has dozens of these neighborhood rags that barely deserve to be called newspapers. I’m not talking about “Alternate Weekly” papers—even there the cartoon venues are already taken. The odds of a newcomer getting a gig with an A.W. are almost as formidable as getting into an actual newspaper. Yet if you break in with a humble Neighborhood paper, you’ll have a much better shot at seeing your work in an Alternate Weekly, your next stepping stone.
The challenge will be to come up with cartoon ideas that have a broad popular appeal. But humor is never truly centrist, so you’ll be forced to learn how to become as edgy as possible without being offensive. That will help you improve your game, as restraint is every bit as vital a tool as unbridled self-expression in this hybrid word/image medium. It will be gratifying and sometimes humbling to get “real time” feedback from people who see your comics in print. Learn from everybody. It’s also a good discipline to learn how to respect a deadline. No matter what’s going on in your life, you’ll have to produce your strip. Give it your best shot! Pretend like you’re working for the New Yorker.If you’re lucky, you might be granted a little ad for all your troubles. Most likely some of the merchants will want you to do spot drawings for their ads, too. Though you might have to fend off criticisms from friends and family (“WHAT? You’re doing it for FREE?”), rest secure in the knowledge that you’re building a tangible portfolio, not a merely virtual one, that will surely lead to better things. It may also be just the ticket to convince you that you don’t really want to be cartoonist. If that’s the case, the sooner you know it, the better.