Sunday Mailbag

November 29th, 2009 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: Did you go to art school? If you did, which one? When I’m older, I want to go to an art university but I don’t know which ones are really good yet, or which ones teach cartooning. Do you even have to go to college to be a cartoonist?

A: Yes, I went to art school (The College of Visual Arts, St. Paul, MN) but never had a cartooning class. I was taught traditional drawing, painting and illustration… there was virtually no such thing as a university that taught cartooning back in the 1980’s (except perhaps the School of Visual Arts in New York City). In fact cartooning was mostly frowned upon at my school, where I was told that for every successful cartoonist there were 2,000 who worked at some retail store or waited tables to make a living.

However it’s good for a cartoonist to develop their more realistic art skills as it only strengthens their cartooning. Cartooning and realistic drawing are not mutually exclusive… although some forms of cartooning are more about writing than they are about drawing, it never hurts to have a stronger drawing skills. I never had a single moment of structured education on the art of cartooning, but simply applied the things I did learn to my more natural drawing inclinations… which were humorous by nature.

Some people beleive that college is not necessary to be an artist. Technically they are right. Art school is not like going to college to be a doctor or a lawyer. Your diploma or where you went to school means nothing. Nobody cares if you went to Harvard or Po Dunk Community College… they only care about your work. Therefore you don’t need to go to a prestigious or expensive school, or have a degree in anything. You just need to find a school that will teach you various techniques and help you develop your abilities as an artist. It’s always up to the artist to put in the work and effort to get the most out of their education. Graduating is a terrific accomplishment but it means nothing in the end to your professional career. Only in certain aspects of the cartooning profession does where you went to school make a difference… like animation. If you graduated from Cal Arts as opposed to Po Dunk Community College, you will probably get a few more interviews from animation houses, but ultimately it’s still the work that makes or breaks you. That is really true of almost any profession, but it’s rare that any doors get opened for an artist based on the name of the school on their diploma. In my 25 years as a freelancer I’ve never once been asked where I graduated from.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating not seeking an education past high school if you want to be an artist. Far from it, further education is the best road to take. It’s just that it is the learning that is important, not the piece of paper at the end or more correctly the name of the school on that piece of paper. And the learning never stops. You should continue to work hard at your skills your whole career… the great ones did and do.

Today there are a number of schools that offer cartooning course and majors. The ones that immediately come to mind are:

  • Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, GA
  • Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Minneapolis, MN
  • School of Visual Arts, NYC
  • Academy of Art University, San Fransisco, CA

I’m sure there are a few others, like the Joe Kubert School in New Jersey, as well as schools who have major animation and illustration programs like Cal Arts and Ringling. However lots of colleges offer art programs that allow you to work at your own area of art. i.e cartooning. They are out there, and even if that diploma ends up gathering dust on your shelf it’s the journey you took to get it that counts… not the piece of paper itself.

Thanks to Robert Garcia of San Fransisco, CA for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


  1. ..::Gennaro::.. says:

    I think I would go to Cuba to get the cartooning school, but the N.Y. School Of Visual Arts may be always an option…

  2. Zugg says:

    The Center for Cartoon Studies, in Vermont, was specifically created and designed for cartooning development. It appears to have an “artistic” bent, as opposed to a straight vocational approach.


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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