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Making Money In Cartooning: It's Not The Newspapers

Jan 13, 2008
There was a time when a cartoonist had to be newspaper syndicated to "be somebody" (with apologies to Steve Martin in "The Jerk"). But even then, as now, the real money was not in newspapers. Besides, the chances of becoming a part of a major newspaper syndication are close to a million to one. One should just buy lottery tickets.

So how does the cartoonist make his or her money? The most lucrative part of cartooning is a little-known but huge business called "image licensing". Image licensing has been around a long time. It is known to be about an 80 billion dollar a year business, yet so few people know about it. That could be because, though the end user is the general retail buying public, this demographic of our population rarely sees or cares to see what goes on behind the scenes.

Art licensing can work in a variety of ways. It can be an individual artist approaching a manufacturer with an image that the artist feels will make the manufacturer's products sell better. Sometimes a deal is made, more often not. When it is, the artist receives a negotiated royalty, a percentage of each sale. There are other types of licensing that work with sponsorships, such as an oil company sponsoring Nascar and they get to put their logo on an actual race car.

When an artist is in negotiation with a manufacturer, it is usually through a licensing agency. They have their own association called LIMA.

Occasionally a licensing deal works backwards. A manufacturer, of say, school notebooks will approach Hanna-Barbara and ask for the exlusive rights to license Fred Flintstone (or the entire family) onto a notebook or series of notebooks. This is a little more complicated, but is done all the time and is quite lucrative to both firms.

I startes as an unknown cartoonist thinking I would be syndicated within the first months or so because "my concepts were so good and different". I was fortunate to learn that was my ego talking. So I approached a several trade journals in need of theme cartoons with their articles and sold them for what I could. I slowly built a portfolio and finally was able to take it to a manufacturer/drop-shipper who was willing to take a chance and make the products with a royalty split. I did not have a licensing agent so my attorney handled the contract for me. It is always a good idea, if your strength is in art and not numbers to have a professional in another area (like an attorney or agent) do that part of the job.

As time went by, I found more manufacturers who made different products than my first ones and was able to make deals with them, using the same contract template.

The old-school tradition of cartooning was dictated by the big syndication firms. First you become syndicated, then you get to sell your products and create wealth. Those days are gone thanks to the Internet. One can enter the field in the way one feels comfortable. I am yet to be officially syndicated though my cartoons appear worldwide on a daily basis.

I highly recommend for any artist, writer or cartoonist to explore the Internet for options beyond newspaper syndication. There are so many opportunties, one can almost pick and choose. Will fortune and fame happen overnight? It could, but I sort of doubt it. In most cases, mine, at least, it took ten years just to really get started.

In 1997, I began my cartoon venture metal warehouse in rural Mississippi. I could not even afford a website and didn't even know how to work the Internet, much less a computer. I bought some of those "For Dummies" books and learned as I worked. Now I have eight domains, seven stores with almost 80,000 products in about 100 different categories , and the most visited offbeat cartoon site on the Internet, Londons Times Cartoons with over 8500 original images and almost 9 million visitors. That's not so bad for ten year's work, at least not for me.

One has to pay their dues, it is said. But it is worth paying those dues. Believe me.
About the Author
Art Director Rick London and his illustrative team has created over Over Eight Thousand Cartoons original offbeat cartoon, Londons Times Cartoons Cartooning: Where Is The Money?
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