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The Changing World of Freelance Illustration

Friday, June 20th, 2014

This was a recent column of mine in a recent edition of the National Cartoonists Society publication “The Cartoon!st”:

One of the things I love the most about the NCS is that our members cover the gamut of all facets of professional cartooning. Syndicated comics, comic books, animation, web comics, book illustration, gag cartoons, greeting cards… you name it and some of our members do it. I find it fascinating to hear and learn about the trials and tribulations of the different ways people make a living in this industry. I do mostly freelance illustration, which is an exercise in feast, famine, panic, and anxiety.

Like all aspects of popular media, the world of freelance illustration is changing. I used to do the vast majority of my work in magazines, but these days I am finding myself doing jobs for all sorts of different clients. Not that I wasn’t always open to doing different kinds of work, but the need for traditional illustration to accompany articles in print is shrinking and it’s become more important than ever to branch out into other outlets to stay busy. There are just fewer major magazines out there these days, and the budgets of the ones still around are less than they once were. There are still a lot of publications needing illustration, but most are niche magazines with mid to low circulations that cater to a very specific audience—publications for industries or specific hobbies like actuaries or snowmobiling, for example. These magazines still buy illustrations but they have smaller budgets and are harder to find and market to. Now more than ever it’s important to not be afraid to get “outside the box” and find work in different parts of the industry. Fortunately humor is something that is universal, and any form of media can and does need cartoonists/humorous illustrators to create visuals that invoke a chuckle while conveying whatever message they client is looking to get across.

Just to give you an example of the kind of wild swing the sort of work a freelancer might do, here’s a list of the types of projects I’ve done or am doing in the last 12 months: magazine illustrations, book illustrations, comic books, TV animation character design, product art for posters, T shirts and other merchandise, illustration for smartphone/tablet apps and assorted other jobs. In the past I’ve done character designs for CGI animation for films, concept drawings for toys and other products, storyboards for commercials and films, art for advertisements from prints to billboards, products labels, CD covers, art for computer games, movies posters, and many other diverse projects.  As I write this I am working on, among other things, a 44 page comic book for an independent publisher and doing the art for a birthday party invitation. That last one may seem odd but “odd” is the name of the game these days. Actually it’s no ordinary birthday party, it’s for a big media mogul who has bands like AC/DC play his birthday party and hires MAD Magazine illustrators to do his invitations. That’s a great example of the weirdness of making a living as a freelancer… if they pays you da money you does da drawrings.

Another avenue that is becoming an important part of being a freelancer is concept art. More and more jobs I do these days do not involve my finished art being the end result, but rather being part of a larger process. Doing concept drawings for products, commercials, and TV and movies has become a big part of many freelancer’s source of income. I recently explored the possibility of getting an illustration “rep” and had a conversation with an agent from one of the biggest rep firms in the business, Gerald and Cullen Rapp. He told me that much of the work they get for their artists these days involves concepts and visual design rather than finished art. This issue’s cover story (meaning The Cartoon!st) features a cartoonist whose bread and butter is that sort of work, Cedric Hohnstadt. His career trajectory is another excellent example of how traditional illustration is evolving into work that is part of a multimedia creative universe. Like most forms of creative work, freelance illustration is experiencing a tectonic shift right now, but also a renaissance. The demand for art and the people who create it isn’t going away. If anything, it’s increasing. What’s changing in the way it’s used, who wants it and how those people find the creators they are looking for.

The eternal bane of all freelancers is fear, mainly the fear that the job you are working on is the last one you’ll get for a month or longer… or forever. This usually leads to an inability to say “no” to jobs that maybe don’t pay as well as they should or that you shouldn’t take on as the deadline is too tight or you have too much on the board as it is. No matter how busy I am, I experience a physical pang every time I turn down a job that is offered to me. A freelancer is always afraid that the phone is not going to ring again for a long time, and he or she can’t say no to a job no matter how overworked they are.

That’s one part of the business of freelancing that hasn’t changed, and never will.

Bid On My Original “Usagi Yojimbo” Art to Benefit the Sakais

Monday, June 16th, 2014

I’ve written here about the ongoing auction by the Cartoon Art Professionals Society to benefit the Sakai family. My contribution is now on the auction block (see above). It’s an ink and watercolor piece the will be part of the Darkhorse Comics special book, “THE SAKAI PROJECT; Celebrating 30 Years of Usagi Yojimbo”, Being release in July, 2014 (at San Diego Comic-Con) with all proceeds going to Stan & Sharon Sakai.

If you have any interest, please go and bid as the money is going to a good cause. Stan’s wife Sharon is have serious health problems and any financial help they can be given is a major help. I don’t think this little piece will go for very much, so you might be able to get a good deal. Plus, how often do you see Usagi and M.C. Hammer together? If you rightly are thinking “meh”, go check out the other items up for auction by real artists!

Internet Woes

Friday, June 13th, 2014


Yesterday the internet connection in the studio, and the Richmond household for that matter, abruptly went belly up. A technician visits later today to figure out the problem. In the meantime the blog may suffer. My apologies.

Special Guesting at Grand Rapids Comic-Con

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

gr-comic-con-text-logo-color-banner4

I’ve been invited to be a special guest at the Grand Rapids Comic-Con this fall. The event is taking place November 21-23rd at the Deltaplex on 2500 Turner Ave. NW in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Lovely Anna will be my booth babe, and I’ll be hawking my prints, original pages of MAD art, books, and doing sketches and caricatures all weekend.

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I’ll also be doing a presentation at some point during the con, and it will be a combination caricature drawing lesson and how caricature and MAD Magazine fit together… so not my usual boring talk about my work. Should be fun! Hope to see some of you there!

Schools Out… Forever!

Friday, June 6th, 2014

Tom-Graduation

The Lovely Anna pointed out on Facebook the other day that 21 years ago our oldest daughter, The Animated Elizabeth, started an early special education program through our local public school district. Since that day we’ve gone through over two decades of shivering at the school bus stop, choir concerts, plays, musicals, awards ceremonies, lock-ins, class trips, and the graduations of Elizabeth (sort of), and daughters The Dramatic Victoria and The Effervescent Gabrielle. That all ends tomorrow when our youngest, Number One Son Thomas, graduates from Eastview High School with honors. He’s off this fall to St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN, to study computer science with a President’s scholarship, and separate scholarships for choir and theater. The above is something I did for his graduation poster. The playbills represent all the Eastview musicals he was in, from a chorus member in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” to the male lead in “Legally Blonde”. He’s come a long way… I did this for his school notebook his first year of middle school:

That’s it. No more prep school. The days of elementary school holiday shows, middle school band concerts, high school musicals and choir concerts and everything in between is over. Elizabeth will be with us forever, of course, so we will never truly be empty-nesters, but our house has become quieter and more cavernous as each of our “typical” kids goes out into life to make their mark. It’s a sad thing, but also as proud a moment as a parent can have. The important part of our job is over, it’s all support system stuff now. I think we’ve raised some amazing kids, and while the house seems a lot lonelier now, I am excited to see where they take their lives. I’m very proud of them all.

I just wish one of them decided to pursue drawing so I could hire them to do all my work and I could just sit by the pool and sip Mai Tais all day. Oh well.

 

Cross-Fit to Be Tied

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

popeye lives

Forgive me as I digress a little about working out. Back to art on Wednesday.

Last week while wasting time on Facebook I ran across a link to this post about the evils of cross-fit training. In the article, the author derides cross-fit training as being unsafe, unhealthy, leaving you wide open to injury, and being in general a very bad idea. The Facebook post was followed by a lot of people agreeing and saying things like “why would I want to fail everyday?”, “I ripped my arm out of the socket doing cross-fit!”, and the ever popular “cross-fit sucks!!!”. For those of you who might not know what cross-fit is (and who are miraculously still reading this) it is a style of workout where you do circuits of compound and functional movements, often ones involving complex techniques like Olympic lifts combined with intense cardio like box jumps, kettlebells, sprints, etc. They are designed to be maximum intensity with little or no rest time in between sets of the circuit, and lasting however long the torture is supposed to go on.

I am not the biggest fan of cross-fit training, but that article really is misleading. What it says could be applied to any kind of exercise routine: if you don’t know what you are doing or badly overdo it, the results will be disappointing at best and harmful at worst. Yes, many cross-fit routines incorporate movements like deadlifts, snatches or cleans that frankly take a lot of time and practice to master with good form, and cross-fit requires them to be done at breakneck speeds which makes you lose whatever form you might have been able to uphold in the first place as you tire. Some cross-fit trainers seem to expect clients with no where near the necessary capacity, understanding, or fitness levels to do crazy stuff like power-cleans or kettle-bell snatches combined with 3 or 4 other constant movements with only 30 seconds of instruction first. You can say the same for some trainers in weightlifting, cardio or function training programs. There are always people out there who aren’t smart about their workouts, and think the reason they aren’t getting the results they want is they are not working hard enough… and people who are unscrupulous enough to get paid to tell them that exact thing.

There is a place for cross-fit in anybody’s exercise routine, but like anything else you have to do it smart. You can’t just do cross-fit all the time, just like you can’t just do weightlifting for hypertrophy (building size) all the time. Eventually your body stops responding, and injury is often the result of the same type of training for too long. The smart workout warrior changes their training often to keep the body guessing and not becoming stagnant with results. You do not overdo anything. You take the time to learn proper form, and you push your limits a little at a time. That gets sustained results, and avoids an injury setback.

I work a little cross-fit into my workouts here and there. If I am working on endurance lifting, I’ll probably do a bit more cross-fit as it works well with high-rep counts sets. When I am training for strength and power, I might have a day where I back off on that and do more cross-fit stuff, or I might work a cross-fit circuit into my day’s routine, concentrating for example on leg cross-fit movements on leg day, chest cross-fit on chest day, etc. I don’t attempt movements I am not familiar with the technique for, and certainly not to utter failure.

Cross-fit can be a powerful fitness tool, if done right and smart. Just like any type of training.

San Diego Reuben Wrap-up

Friday, May 30th, 2014

Reubens 2014 Final Design_lo resOfficial Reuben Weekend Art by Ed Steckley

This past weekend the National Cartoonists Society, an august organization I am privileged to be current President of, had its annual Reuben Awards Weekend in not-so-sunny San Diego, CA… well, we did see some sun on the final day of the festivities, but for most of it we experienced what native San Diegans call “May Gray”. That hardly got us down, however. The weekend was a lot of fun. They usually are, but this one seemed to be turned up a notch. Most of the events took place at the beautiful Omni hotel right at the start of the famous Gaslamp District.

Friday, May 23rd

The ball got rolling Friday with a terrific slate of guest speakers. As NCS president, I have many things I have to do and oversee throughout the weekend, so I rarely get to catch many of the speakers, but I did get to see the majority of the first three of the day who I thought were great, and I heard nothing but raves about the others:

Eddie Pittman- Freelancer, animator and creator of the online graphic novel Red’s Planet, Eddie shared his work from various Disney features like “Mulan” and “Lilo and Stich”, to TV’s “Phineas and Ferb”, to his excellent web comic (which was nominated for a divisional award).

Chris Houghton- The second recipient of the Jay Kennedy Memorial Scholarship for cartooning, Chris is a great success story. He’s worked on several animated TV shows, comics, MAD and more, including his own comic Reed Gunther.

Greg Evans- The Reuben Award-winning creator of the syndicated comic strip Luann, Greg shared stories of some of his early tries at syndication, and about his 29 years doing Luann.

Suzy Spafford- The creator of the art brand “Suzy’s Zoo”, Suzy talked about built a line of greeting cards into an international licensing business… including a peek at an upcoming kids TV show concept.

The sun peeked out a bit for our poolside/patio/foyer hosted NCS Reuben Welcome Party on the 6th floor of the Omni, where attendees got to say hello to old and meet new friends while enjoying drinks and a wonderful buffet dinner. We had a “new member/first time attendee” pre-event cocktail hour, where NCS board members past and present welcomed new faces and introduced them around.

An NCS tradition, the party moved into the L Street Art Gallery adjacent to the hotel for both praise and cringe inducing Karaoke performances.

Saturday May 25th-

We always host a big NCS Buffet Breakfast for those who didn’t go too crazy with the karaoke and cocktails the night before… well, for them too.

The NCS Business Meeting followed. This is a closed door, members-only meeting, so as usual we asked that no one disseminate any information on what was discussed. That said, the NCS will be making some announcements soon about some big changes coming to the awards process, and some terrific initiatives from both the NCS and The NCS Foundation, the charitable arm of the Society. Lots of exciting things coming up.

One thing I can share is that the board decided to rename the NCS Divisional Awards. It’s long been a misnomer that these divisional awards, the ones like “Best in Comic Strips” or “Best in Editorial Cartoons” were referred to as “Reubens”. They are not. The “Reuben” is the big award for “Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year”. The others are not Reuben Awards… but they are now. The Board voted to rename them “Silver Reubens”. So, from now on all those people who have wrongly been saying so and so had “won a Reuben” will be partly right, although color-blind.

Our line-up of speakers on Saturday afternoon were every bit as awesome as Fridays:

The Rube Goldberg Panel- Rube Goldberg’s grand-daughter Jennifer George led a panel on the career of one of the founders of the NCS, and shared the terrific new book on Rube from Abrams ComicArt: The Art of Ruben Goldberg.

Sandra Bell-Lundy- Sandra is celebrating 20 years of syndication for her daily comic strip Between Friends, and she shared stories about her road to syndication, her influences, and some reader’s responses to her comics.

Bunny Hoest-Carpenter and John Reiner- These two beloved cartoonists were being honored with the prestigious Gold Key award this weekend. They gave a presentation on their respective long and amazing careers, up to their 30 year collaboration on The Lockhorns.

Russ Heath- Moderated by writer Mark Evanier (who I understand has some minor experience moderation panels about comics), we were lucky to get to hear the great Russ Heath talk about a career in comics that might be truly unparalleled. From humor to war to superhero comics, advertising, etc. Russ has excelled in almost every genre of cartooning there is. His being honored with the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award is well deserved.

After a cocktail hour and The Reuben Award Banquet dinner (black tie as always) The big Reuben Award show is always entertaining, but I must say director Bill Morrison and Master of Ceremonies Tom Gammill really knocked it out of the park this year. The winner of the Jay Kennedy Memorial Scholarship Renee Faundo was on hand to be honored, ACE Award recipient “Weird Al” Yankovic gave a very funny acceptance speech, Gold Key winners Bunny Hoest-Carpenter and John Reiner were presented with their awards with a touching intro by Ed Steckley and a hilarious story about Bunny from the great Lynn Johnston, then the incredible Sergio Aragonés didn’t even need a translator (much) to present the Milton Caniff award to Russ Heath.

One of the highlights was the live playing of a solo violin during the “In Memorium” segment right before the break. It was a very poignant and classy way to say goodbye to a lot of cartooning greats we lost this year.

The second half is where the hardware really gets handed out. If you didn’t see it, here’s a list of all the evening’s winners. The big award, The Reuben for “Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year”, went to Wiley Miller, creator of the syndicated strip Non Sequitur. Wiley gave a moving acceptance speech about the support his mom gave him in pursuing cartooning when the rest of his family and friends tried to convince him to choose a more traditional career. I guess we have a lot to thank Wiley’s mom for too, his comics are fantastic. A well deserved honor. It is too bad that the other nominees, Stephan Pastis, Hilary Price and Mark Tatulli, couldn’t have taken home a Rueben also… but their time will come I am sure.

We then partied into the night at the President’s After Party back at the L Street Art Gallery!

Sunday, May 25th-

I’ve written here many times about the USO tours many NCS members have participated in to veterans hospitals here in the states to the far flung reaches of the planet into war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan. A large group of artists got to participate in the experience when we boarded a bus in the morning and took a short trip to the Balboa area to draw for wounded warriors and staff at the Naval Hospital. It was too short a time, but I think everyone enjoyed the experience. What an appropriate way to spend part of memorial Day Weekend.

That afternoon we did our annual public-outreach event in conjunction with the NCS Foundation, this time aboard the USS Midway aircraft carrier/museum. Here over 100 artists signed autographs, did sketches, met with fans and in general had a great time.

We had a truly epic Farewell Gala that evening also aboard the USS Midway. In fact, we gathered right on the flight deck in the shadow of the “island” command tower. A great dinner, great music by Pulitzer-prize winning editorial cartoonist Micheal Ramirez and the DeLuz Band, and of course great company. The event was sponsored in part by the USO and IDW Publishing, and we hosted 38 wounded warriors and their families who enjoyed dinner and got plenty of drawings, autographs and thank yous from our members.

One final President’s after-after party back at the hotel wrapped up another great Reubens.

The parties are a lot of fun, of course, but I will always look most forward to getting to spend time with some very good friends during these weekends. Unfortunately as hosts, Anna and I have spent the last three Reubens running the show and that has cut drastically into our time to just chat and enjoy the company. Next year the Reubens will be in Washington DC, and it will be my last as president (and host) so perhaps in 2016 I can enjoy that a bit more.

Also, I never have time to take any pictures… as you can see. Check some out here at the Daily Cartoonist.

The Dreaded Deadline Demon

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

I know I promised a Reubens wrap-up today but I am swamped trying to catch up with freelance work I have put aside for the last week or two. Tomorrow, I promise.

Back from the Reuben Awards

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Getting back home later tonight from San Diego and the National Cartoonists Society’s Reuben Award Weekend! Full wrap up coming Thursday. Too tired for anything else… plus my liver hurts.

Monday MADness- Wall Webbers!

Monday, May 26th, 2014

This week’s Monday MADness is a look at a piece I did for MAD Kids, the short-lived pre-teen version of MAD. The first of the Sam Raimi “Spider-Man” movies had just come out, and these large spot illustrations were called “Wall Webbers”.

In the magazine, these were two page spreads containing two main images (and some accessories). The art department at MAD added dotted lines around them so they could be easily cut out, and indicated where a piece of yarn was supposed to be inserted. Then they could be taped to a wall and the yarn stretched from Spidey to the other image to complete the gag:

wallwebber3.jpg
A web clothesline

WallWebber2-2Spidey catching a ride with Superman

WallWebber1Yarn goes from Peter’s nose to May Jane’s face (use green yarn)

WallWebber4The old “webbing to the crotch” gag

I added the background color just for fun in my finals, but they were layered so they dropped that out (I think) when it was printed. That last one was supposed to allow you to paste your picture in to be Spidey or the Green Golbin.

I miss MAD Kids. It was a fun thing to work on.

 

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