Sunday Mailbag- Caricature Art Devalued?

September 3rd, 2017 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: I do caricatures more as a hobby right now but hope to do more of it as part of a business. As I explore the market I would like to throw this out for debate: I wonder if the appreciation for the value of caricature and cartoon art has decreased over time due to the fact that there is so much fragmentation in how people can view art now. Art can be quickly accessed and viewed on the internet, mobile phones, YouTube, TV, e-books, e-mags etc. Is traditional caricature and cartooning now considered more “old school”? Comic strip characters are no longer the rage they used to be, as the newspapers they were in got replaced by the internet. The same with political cartoons. There are free mobile caricature apps that can take your photo, quickly filter it into a style, add a hobby pose and you can share it quickly and people get a laugh out of it. Yes, these apps most definitely are not real art forms, but they certainly help cheapen the field. Thoughts?

A: This is more of a discussion topic than a question, but I thought it was interesting and couldn’t think of a better place to address it than here in the Mailbag.

Is caricature more undervalued today that in the past? I do not think so, at least in the sense that people can still recognize the difference between good and bad work. It might seem like they cannot because there are no filters on the internet to weed out the lousy work, so you see a lot of bad caricature art. That is no different than it’s always been, the difference is thanks to the internet even bad caricaturists can post their work to the world. The internet has no art directors working on the content published. We see the cream and the crud in equal measure. There’s nothing wrong with that, by the way. Good work is good work, and thanks to the internet we are able to see more of everything, including the good stuff. That is only a good thing.

In a way the internet has desensitized people to connecting quality cartoon art with the kind of humor cartoons have traditionally been the voice for. You can thank memes for that. Memes are cartoons created by people who cannot draw. The speed at which satire/humorous commentary hits our eyeballs is of far more importance to readers than having a beautifully drawn cartoon conveying the same or similar message. Memes are pure writing and concept, and zero craft. Since the laugh/reaction is really what it’s all about, readers do not seem to care that it took the creator only a few minutes to slap that together. Admiring the craft and skill of a creator is not part of the equation.

That doesn’t mean that no one can appreciate great cartoon or caricature art anymore, however. As I said before, good work is good work. The apps you mention that “create” caricatures are a non-factor. They don’t really create anything. Yes, people can use them to get a laugh, but those people that do were never actual potential customers in the first place. If you somehow cast a spell that prevented anyone from using one of these programs and forced them to pay you to draw a caricature if they wanted one, 99% of them would no longer want one. Everyone loves free, but just because they take something free does not mean they would have paid for the same thing given no free choice.

As far as being able to earn a living at caricature, the internet is both the boon and bane to income. It’s a boon in that you can make your work accessible to literally billions of people. It’s a bane in that while your work is accessible to all those people, all but a very tiny fraction ever are aware of it or see it. Worse are the people offering to do it for dirt cheap on places like Fivver. Many are the internet equivalent of Time’s Square caricaturists, doing shoddy work for pennies.

None of this should put you off of throwing your hat in the ring. The marketplace will support the work it chooses to support. A certain portion of the market will pay the hacks on Fivver, and others will recognize better work is worth more money. Concentrate on your work and market yourself fairly, and your success will be whatever it is. The better work you do, the more success you will have. Good work eventually is rewarded.

Thanks to Richard Linden 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. Mynderd Vosloo says:

    Tom, your very last sentence says it all !


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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