A New Philosophy of Cartooning

A New Philosophy of Cartooning

I entered the business of cartooning in March of 1997 having no idea what was to come. Before I embarked upon this “mysterious venture”, I decided it would be to my advantage to consult with top cartoonists around the country. I was surprised how many of them were “open and available” to speak with me were. Fortunately, I was both too young and naive to know NOT to bother “the masters”. So when Charles Schulz picked up his phone, I started asking the five journalistic W’s (Who, what, when, why, and where). His (and others) advice turned out to be just what the doctor ordered. I was starting to “develop a philosophy” of cartooning even though I had not even yet begun my amazing adventure into online cartoon merchandising.

Why did Schulz become a cartoonist? Like me, he’d tried just about everything else and didn’t do it very well. I asked him if there was any money to be made in such a venture. I could almost “see” his smile on the other side of the line. He assured me there was plenty, but not to expect it in newspapers. He told me that even if you do get syndicated, the money is still just pennies per newspaper and that the smart way to approach it, that is, to look at it as a career, is licensed merchandise, such as tees, caps, mugs, etc. He told me he made millions more in licensing than in publishing.

I told him I did not draw very well (which is true) and, that I wanted to try something very new and different. It was to be a color cartoon in which the artwork, for the most part was more “fine art” than cartoon art, and that I wanted a “different look and feel to each cartoon, but a theme, focused on wordplay and picture-play in which, at times, the viewer might have to take a second or two to “get it”.

Schulz assured me that nearly 20% of all cartoons we see in the newspapers are “team efforts” that is, an artist and writer, and that if I did not feel my own artwork was “up to snuff”, to recruit an artist to draw my concepts. He also encouraged me to read as much as I could about Walt Disney because what I was about to attempt was actually a “Disney model without animation”; he actually called it “Disney meets Gary Larson”, which was a bit flattering to say the least.

I also spoke with several other cartoonists, most of whom created in the same genre as Gary Larson’s Far Side, such as Leigh Rubin (Rubes), Dave Coverly (Speed Bump), and Jon McPherson (Close To Home). I was amazed, again, at how open and available they made themselves. In fact Leigh and I became good friends and talked regularly on the phone. He was already one of the world’s leading cartoonists, and I was just starting. That didn’t matter to him. I will never forget that kind of generosity and his willingness to lead me in a direction that made it work for me. And of course the same is true for Charles “Sparky” Schulz (Sparky by the way was what he liked to be called. That was the name of his favorite dog, a Schnauzer; and I knew I liked him right away. I have a tendency to “hang with” fellow animal lovers, and Schulz also had an uncanny biting wit, often held back in “Peanuts”, even though it was always funny, was meant for family audiences, his target. In real life, he displayed a sense humor that reminded me a great deal of some of my British favorites such as John Cleese of Monty Python.

There seemed to be a common thread regarding “the philosophy of cartooning, amongst all of the masters. That is, “Sure, you must make a living in this world, but keep the day job. Cartooning is a labor of love, and, only 1% or so actually end up doing it for a living. One must approach it with a very open mind and a love for making people laugh, and to be flexible, as the Internet at the time, was changing the whole nature of the “cartoon business”.

All of this advice turned out to be pragmatic. The Internet changed everything. Licensed merchandise became even more of “the key” to making it work than Sparky Schulz had felt; and he had seen it coming. Today, though my cartoons appear in publications worldwide; mostly trade magazines, college textbooks and on websites, the majority of my take is from the sales of funny gifts and collectibles. When I look back over the past twelve years it has all becomes a blur. I have had the opportunity to work with some of the finest illustrators in the world, who could comprehend and render my concepts and writings, Thinking back to the words of the cartoon masters it is still a labor of love.

Although I am one of the few lucky ones who has been able to eek out a living via cartoons, even if I didn’t I would probably still be doing it, or something creative, merely because I don’t care for water fountain gossip and power-ties that choke my neck while doing work I despise (or simply can’t do very well). In the end, if someone is entertained, or feels better because of something I have created, or a job or jobs are created because I thought of a cartoon and it was created, I go to bed thinking, “No, I didn’t save the world (as I felt surely I would in the ’60’s), but I hopefully, when I leave it, it will be a little bit nicer place to live.

Rick London is a writer, cartoonist and designer. He is the founder of Google’s #1 ranked offbeat cartoon Londons Times, founder of the Shoes That Amuse the world’s only woman’s shoes featuring famous philosophers and their love quotes, and is designer of Mariel Hemingway Licensed & Co-Founder of SEO firm PenAndInkInc.

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