I received the following email the other day, and responded with the advice that follows it. Then I started wondering if this is still helpful in 2015. Am I thinking like an old guy? What are your thoughts?
Q. Hello. I am thirteen years old and really enjoy reading the Zits comic strip in the Toronto Star. I love to cartoon and I aspire to be a cartoonist. Can I ask where you got your training to become a professional cartoonist. –Jacob
A. Hi Jacob. Most of the cartoonists I know would tell you they “taught themselves” cartooning by studying and mimicking other cartoons as they were growing up, probably much as you’re doing now. I was a big fan of MAD magazine and some of the editorial cartoonists whose work ran in my local newspaper. Jerry was a great student of comic strips like Peanuts, Pogo and Nancy.
With the internet, you have the great advantage of being able to study everything being done for publication as well as web comics. Whole cable networks devote themselves to showing animated cartoons. Collections of strips published in book form are easily available. It’s a terrific time to be schooling yourself in what’s out there.
For me the best teacher was my sketchbook, which became my training ground as I tried many styles on my way to discovering what sort of work I wanted to throw myself into.
That’s not to say that formal training wouldn’t be helpful, of course. There are a few schools that teach classes specifically in cartooning — Cal Arts and Savannah College of Art and Design come to mind — but everything you learn in art classes will inform your cartooning. I went to Kenyon College, a small liberal arts college where there were no classes specifically in cartooning, but a nice art department and a school newspaper, both of which encouraged me. Bill Watterson graduated from Kenyon, too.
Study the work of other cartoonists you love. Try to get your work out in public somehow, either through a school newspaper or on a website. Stay current with the technology that features cartoons. Fill up sketchbooks. Create characters and stories. Take the art classes available to you. Follow your curiosity.