6 minute read

Cartoonist and Animator Job Description, Career as a Cartoonist and Animator, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: Varies—see profile

Salary: Varies—see profile

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Unlike visual artists, cartoonists are artists who communicate ideas through a combination of words and pictures. They use their work to tell stories, instruct and guide, and offer commentary on life and society. Cartoons can be used to present important issues to millions of people in an easily understood form. One of the most important qualities of a good cartoonist is the ability to present an idea in just a few words and a drawing. The drawings usually feature exaggerated actions that somehow reveal human nature. Sometimes cartoonists dream up their ideas, but they often read and study the news to get fresh concepts for their work.

Cartoons can be drawn with pencil, charcoal, and pen and ink. Cartoonists sketch drawings in pencil and then finish them with pen and ink. In comic strips and some other types of cartoons, the words appear in balloons or bubbles drawn above or around the characters' heads. In other cartoons, the words appear below the comic picture. Cartoon art appears in almost all visual media.

Most successful cartoonists develop a distinct style that makes their cartoons unique and recognizable. (© Fonlupt Gilles/Sygma/Corbis.)

Cartoonists often specialize in a certain type of cartoon. Political cartoonists usually poke fun at people in public life and satirize current events, political issues, and pop culture. These cartoonists create caricatures, pictures that exaggerate or distort a person's individual features. Comic strip cartoonists draw comics that utilize recurring characters and tell stories. They write out the plots, or story lines, for their strips before they do the drawings. These plots are usually planned out weeks in advance.

Animators draw the moving cartoons that appear on television, in films, and in video games. Usually, one animator writes the story, creates the characters, and draws the important points in the story. Assistants who work under the close direction of the chief animator fill in the less important drawings. Animators must be able to put their drawings together with soundtracks, story lines, layouts, and special effects. Most animation for the television, motion picture, and video gaming industry is done with computers.

Some cartoonists work as freelance artists and sell their work piece by piece. They usually submit their work by mail or visit the offices of potential clients to show their portfolios. Others prefer to employ agents who will seek out the best markets for their work. Top cartoonists may work for syndicates that sell their work to magazines and newspapers all over the country. Cartoonists also work for advertising agencies, publishers of books and educational materials, greeting card companies, and the government. Animators generally do their work for television, motion pictures, and video games.

Education and Training Requirements

Cartoonists must have excellent drawing skills. They need to be aware of what is happening in the world, especially if they want to be political cartoonists. High school courses in art, history, political science, government, and literature are especially important. Students may attend art school or pursue a bachelor's degree in fine arts from a four-year college. Some political cartoonists get a bachelor's degree in political science or journalism. Cartoonists may go to art school as well to study drawing, lettering, typography, and computer graphics. They learn to create a variety of cartoon types using different tools and media.

A few art schools offer a bachelor's degree in cartooning. Correspondence schools also offer some cartooning courses.

Individuals interested in animating television shows, motion pictures, or video games need to take courses in film, video, and animation. Since computers have become integral to the field, advanced skill in computer graphics is a must.

Getting the Job

While in school, prospective cartoonists can get experience by drawing cartoons for the school newspaper and designing posters for events. Beginners should also submit cartoons directly to magazines and newspapers. Small or local publications are more likely to accept a beginner's work than are nationally known journals.

Early in their career, cartoonists sometimes send samples of their work to a syndicate or an agent. Syndicates and agents help cartoonists find jobs and sell their work. Trade magazines offer ideas on how to find publications that are likely to be interested in a given style of cartoon.

Some companies have cartoonists on their staffs. Interested individuals should apply to advertising agencies, large corporations, television stations, and greeting card publishers for staff jobs. Beginners may be able to find a job as an assistant to a cartoonist, although these jobs are rare.

Those looking for a job in the animation field can apply directly to animation studios. College placement offices can provide further information on the range of opportunities available to beginning animators in the television, film, and video game industries.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Cartooning is a very competitive field. The most successful cartoonists develop a very distinct style that makes their cartoons unique. They consider themselves successful when their work is published by a national magazine or newspaper syndicate. An animator working for a film studio may advance to the post of head of production.

The job outlook for cartoonists is good. Employment is expected to grow as fast as the average through the year 2014, although competition will remain keen. Two-thirds of cartoonists are freelancers, and finding jobs will be difficult until they acquire experience and establish a solid reputation. The best possibilities are expected to be in the field of advertising. Online political Web sites and publications provide another outlet for cartoonists.

The job market for animators is growing. The popularity of animated films and television programs has resulted in a need for creative, talented animators. Even though some animation has been outsourced overseas, good opportunities should be available in the coming years.

Working Conditions

Cartooning is intensely creative work. Cartoonists work under pressure to come up with clever and original ideas, often within a tight time frame. Those who freelance choose their own hours but often work more than forty hours per week. As cartoonists become more successful, they may be able to hire beginning artists to do basic tasks such as lettering or filling in shapes. In film studios, animators meet with other members of the staff. They must be able to brainstorm with other people when necessary and work on tight deadlines while remaining within a budget.

Earnings and Benefits

Earnings of cartoonists vary widely depending on where they work and the type of work they do. Salaried positions for cartoonists are dwindling as employers choose to work with freelancers. Cartoonists can earn anywhere from $200 to $1,500 or more per week. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for a cartoonist was $41,240 in 2004. Artists working on commission creating syndicated cartoons earn much more.

For individual freelance drawings, cartoonists may receive from $50 to $1,500 or more. The higher amount would be for a full-color cartoon that might be used as a poster, T-shirt, a book or magazine cover, or a compact disc cover. Some popular cartoons have been turned into television shows and movies, which can be quite lucrative for the cartoonist.

Where to Go for More Information

Association of American Editorial Cartoonists
3899 N. Front St.
Harrisburg, PA 17110
(717) 703-3069

Graphic Artists Guild
90 John St., Ste. 403
New York, NY 10038-3202
(212) 791-3400

The rapidly growing field of computer animation offers an even better employment outlook. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a median annual wage of $50,360 for salaried animators in 2004. Animators in the motion picture, television, and video game industries earn a median salary of $67,390 per year.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesCommunication and the Arts