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How to Become a Professional Cartoon Artist in 5 Steps

Discover what it takes to become a professional cartoon artist. Learn about the the job duties, education requirements, salary, and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you.

Cartoon artists uses their artistic skills to draw cartoon and comic book characters. They may also develop web animations and create product packaging.

How to Become a Cartoonist

Step 1: Cartoonist Education

Professional cartoon artists typically complete a 4-year degree in art and design or fine arts in order to master the drawing skills and storytelling techniques needed for a career in cartooning. During the course of the 4-year bachelor's degree you may take a number of courses that help you expand on various comics practices and styles. Typical courses include history of cartoons, experimental and narrative storytelling, inking and illustration. During the course of your degree, you may get a head start on your career by gaining professional experience in an internship with a professional cartoon artist. By your senior year, you also work on compiling a portfolio of work that best showcases your drawing style and cartoonist skills.

Step 2: Choose a Creative Direction

There are many different genres of cartooning. Some are single-panel cartoons that include a short caption and range in content from politics to zany humor. Other cartoonists work with a comic strip format. They create a short panel of images that illustrates humorous scenarios or adventure stories. Each cartoon artist adopts a distinctive style, format and voice that influences her or his success and helps market the work.

Step 3: Build Your Portfolio

To create a cartoon, you and your fellow cartoonists might use a variety of different media. In the past, cartoonists would draw in pencil, charcoal or pen and ink, scan the images and send the drawing to an editor to publish. Recent advances in technology allow cartoonists to create work digitally by working in design and illustration software. Then, images can be sent online or as a file attachment. Having a varied portfolio can help you market your skills, not only as an accomplished cartoonist, but also as an illustrator and artist.

Step 4: Publicize Your Work

Professional cartoon artists work freelance, which means you are contracted to work on a specific project for a set amount of time. Newspapers and magazines work with a number of different cartoonists at the same time. They commission a set amount of strips, and if your cartoons are popular, you may have your own weekly or monthly comic strip. Other cartoon artists work less frequently, so you may work additional jobs in a different career. When you're a cartoonist, you may manage your own website to publicize and feature your work. Another option is attending comic book conventions, where you may showcase your professional cartooning skills, reach out to other cartoonists, and contribute to anthologies and magazines. You'll also want to make connections with editors and publishers when possible.

Step 5: Find Cartoon Art Jobs

The U.S. has more professional cartoon artists than available positions. To give yourself an advantage, you might want to build a reputation and get your work out as soon as possible. You might approach school paper editors and newsletter writers, as well as school or community newspapers, about publishing your work. Early feedback and experience can help you build a stronger portfolio and establish connections early in your career. These steps also help you get noticed as a serious cartoonist, which may increase your chances of getting published in larger publications. The following table provides an overview of important career information.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Illustration, cartooning or a related field
Key Responsibilities Create work using design and illustration software, draw and publish cartoons, use a variety of media types, publicize your work
Job Growth (2016-2026) 7% for all fine artists*
Average Cartoonist Salary (2018) $30,000**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; **Payscale.com

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Cartoon artists have some specific skill sets: an artistic eye, a sense of proportion and style, and an understanding of how to create a visual image that conveys an intended feeling or message. Several other careers also incorporate these skills:

  • multimedia artists
  • video game artists
  • photographers
  • graphic designers and fashion designers

Multimedia artists develop animation for films and shows, and video game artists focus specifically on developing visual aspects of video games. Their role is similar to that of a cartoon artist because they must create characters and settings. Most employers require multimedia artists to have a bachelor's degree. Photographers produce visual images; however, they use a camera to capture images, while cartoon artists use their drawing and computer skills to develop their images. It's possible to begin a career as a photographer without postsecondary education, though many photographers do earn an undergraduate degree. Graphic designers and fashion designers also work with visual concepts and develop a theme or image for their projects, and these professionals need to complete a bachelor's degree before entering their career field.