How Do You Become a Cartoonist?

How do you become a cartoonist?  I didn’t know. Cartoonist is not something you see on career lists. It’s not like being a college president or a deputy sheriff. There’s no application or  interview process. Finally, an answer came to me — an answer so simple it seems silly. To become a cartoonist, you have to draw cartoons. Oh, and you take a big, scary leap and say it out loud.

Hello. Nice to meet you. I’m a cartoonist.   

That was liberating. I’ll say it again. I’m a cartoonist — not a famous cartoonist or even one who’s known by more than family and a handful of followers on Instagram. But I am a cartoonist.

The biggest hurdle to get over if you’re going to become a cartoonist — or anything else — is can’t. You have to forget all the reasons you can’t. Get out of your head the people — including you — who told you to get serious because you can’t be  a cartoonist.

Do you remember when a new box of crayons was Heaven?

Do you remember when you were a little kid? Drawing funny pictures was fun? And a new box of crayons was heaven — especially the Crayola box with 64 crayons and a built-in sharpener.

Kids are natural cartoonists. They never doubt themselves — until someone teaches them to.

My second grade teacher didn’t appreciate art at all. She only loved arithmetic tests. I don’t mind telling you the name of the person who taught me I couldn’t be a cartoonist. It was Mrs. Williams, and she was my teacher at Turnerville Elementary School in Mobile, Alabama.

Turning arithmetic tests into art —

I saw Mrs. Williams’ test as opportunities to become a cartoonist. Those boring rows of addition and subtraction problems needed something. Wouldn’t it be funny if raindrops were falling through them and landing on laughing flowers?

I drew the raindrops and flowers, looked at them, and thought I could do even better. I added clouds. Then, I drew a little girl holding an umbrella. But the numbers were an inspiration.  I turned them into flowers! Good, huh?

Here is a reproduction of my cartoon.

(Give me a break. I was seven.)

Stop drawing this nonsense and get serious!

Mrs. Williams didn’t think my cartoon was at all good. She completely missed the humor — the irony of dry, boring numbers blossoming into flowers.

She held up my paper. “This is a mess. Arithmetic is important. You have to get set serious about it or you’ll never amount to anything!”

Even worse than not getting the joke, she banned my art. I couldn’t draw on my arithmetic tests anymore.

Finally getting to become a cartoonist —

Years went by. And I did amount to something.  I was a businessperson and owner of a staffing firm. Every day I went to work in a big office building — where calculators and computers did my arithmetic.

Then I retired and had time to think about what I wanted to do.  And it hit me! There was one thing I always wanted to do. Now, I could do it! I could be a cartoonist.

Mrs. Williams wasn’t around anymore to stop me, so I could draw all the cartoons I wanted. And I could show them to the world. Social media was way better than having your paper stuck up on the blackboard. And the people there care about cartoons, not arithmetic tests.

Being a cartoonist was easier when we were kids.

Have you noticed that cartoons don’t come as freely as when we were kids. Then, being funny was fun and it was okay to be silly. Now we’re in danger of taking ourselves too seriously. And serious isn’t fun.

The trick is to remember how we felt and get back where we would draw a funny picture and think of all sorts of things it might say — without judging them.

Try it  now. Draw a cartoon. Then, write down every funny or silly thing you can think of.  Or try it with this one. Here’s a cartoon of a guy going down a drain. What’s he saying? 

“Goodbye cruel world?” No? How about, “I know Atlantis is down there somewhere”? Or, “I’m just joining my cartoons down the drain?”

Do famous cartoonists have trashcans?

Along the way,  you’ll create stacks of cartoon and lists of captions. And many will end up overflowing your trashcan.

I wonder if the great cartoonists have trashcans? They seem to draw funny every time and have hilarious lines on the tips of their tongues.  Don’t worry that your tongue isn’t so quick. You’ll spend hours thinking — and don’t ever let anybody tell you thinking isn’t hard work.

I thought long and hard and lightbub! I created my amorous frog. But once the lightbulb turns on and you have what you’re sure is a winner, the next step comes — self-doubt. Stop it! Be a kid again. Be silly. Draw another cartoon.

So, how do you become a cartoonist?

Just do it. There’s no application or interview process. To become a cartoonist, you draw cartoons — and take the big, scary leap and say it. “I’m a cartoonist.” And keep drawing.

Ruthi Birch May 2024

For more experiences after retirement, take a look at this

My next post will be about where cartoon characters come from.



May 1, 2024