Drawing a Blank Check for the People that Make you Smile.

How Animators, Cartoonists & Illustrators get screwed by the media, help the media and also pay their rent.


This is a flying toast by Karl Dotter (me) I draw comics and illustrations in Oakland. I make a living as a designer ( and sell small comics on a yearly basis at conventions) This article is dedicated to the people that draw for a living and that, most of the time, don’t receive a proper living wage for their hard & meaningful work.
Dear Reader:
Mashable wrote a widely shared article titled Why Cartoonists Are Flooding YouTube, Risks and All. This is my response. This was written long ago when Medium was…a new medium. (I’ve edited a few things since then)
Why would you give away hard work for free?
Ideas are meant to be free but people need to pay their rent and bills to survive and make the next free thing.
Sure, you can’t make everything free but you can move people to laughter and tears with media. We all create new media today. You’re reading something now that is part of a new platform for freedom of expression called @Medium. (It seems to be based on freedom of expression.) This article is about freeing the consumer and the content makers in 2014 and beyond. Hope everyone appreciates the sentiment. (It needs a lot of editing, contact me at karl@pairdesign.co for edits.— KD)

So, I’ll get this out of the way: I draw a lot of toast as a cartoonist and I give it away to small businesses and individuals for free to prove a point: to encourage their behavior.

I’ve recently decided to donate a skateboard and artwork to San Francisco’s Trouble Coffee because I want to share some love to the amazing spirit of the community the founder keeps building. Maybe this is all short-sighted. No one wants physical stuff anymore! (Well, Giulietta Carrelli, the founder of Trouble Coffee, said yes to the skateboard.)

In the past, I’ve gotten into the habit of giving my art away…for a purpose. For example, a friend quite their job to become a full-time writer and I found myself drawing a small thoughtful toast drawing for them with a scribbled quote of the words they said to me as a reminder for them to keep going. Sure, it’s a just a small scrap of paper but in a way it’s more powerful by being one of a kind and for only one person.

This is an example of how making art can be purposeful as a small interaction of encouragement that anyone can practice. Why not try to create tiny bits of happiness for an audience of one with whatever it is you do to creatively express yourself…before shouting out to a sea of millions?

The Skateboard (Toastboard + Chalkboard) A fun collaboration built by my friend Brendan Thomas (@beewerd)
On the flipside: I make sure to sell my artwork: comics, paintings and illustrations while also making a living as an Independent Product Designer in Oakland (Previously I was a Designer at Goodreads & Amazon & a Design Teacher at CCA). I’ve always wanted to be a Cartoonist since I was a little kid, and I am one, but it just doesn’t pay the bills in the bay area or most places on this earth.
It takes a lot of discipline and struggle to be a fulltime Cartoonist. You don’t make a lot of money and you slog through a lot of negativity before you get good. This post is dedicated to all the Cartoonists I’ve ever met and have never met that work hard every day on stuff for free or for a low wage.
This post is kind of like the free toast I like to draw but as a free reminder that there’s a dark side to all the free’ness out there, and to look a little closer to make sure you support the people behind the real media makers driving the medium :) I’m giving this little piece to all the cartoonists and animators. You. Yes, you. You figured out how to earn a living wage in a job that doesn’t pay the rent always, but seems to sometimes make hundreds and thousands of people happy… for free. Thanks.
Karl Dotter, Cartoonist & Designer, Oakland, CA
My childhood dream of free cartoons became true with the creation of Youtube. When I was a kid I’d wake up early to watch Saturday morning cartoons at 6am, every week. I’d watch the entire block of 1980's cartoons you see below including Pee Wee’s Playhouse and the “After these messages we’ll be right back” bumpers & advertisements.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ql3qvz4yjfo
Now animations & cartoons are free on Youtube and available any time of day with their own bumpers & advertisements that make millions for Google and other media companies. If you’re lucky as an animator: you’ll get direct revenue, royalities, a paid contract or a fulltime salary. Let’s imagine that you don’t make anything…that’s the common scenario of many talented people.

The Problem

Cartoonists and animators aren’t functioning like media companies or startups. These businesses generate advertising revenue based on their own in-house creations or by creating platforms to view and consume the very media that we are so proud to say is free (mostly this is true.) There is no “fuck you, pay me money” that exists for these working artists that earn pennies to the media industries millions.

Not that long ago…Wayne White and Gary Panter were artists that got hired to work on creating Pee Wee’s Playhouse in the 1980's. They got paid. Now, if you’re lucky you might get a job making illustration, comics or animation that is directly funded by larger studios and helps you pay that darn rent.

You could apply to work at Google Doodles, MTV: Liquid Television, Cartoon Network or Nickolodean Animation Studio.

If you’re not into working for big companies you might freelance, find a smaller shop or create your own.

Disclaimer: I’m not an animator, but I am a cartoonist. Please feel free to add comments or notes for me to add or edit.

Pardon my language but…“Fuck You, Pay Me” money needs to happen for a lot professions — not just animators and cartoonists. For this post, let’s just focus on animators, cartoonists and graphic journalists. I can’t speak for them fully, but let me take a guess based on my observation as a cartoonist and as someone who has worked for media companies: these people might be sick and tired of not earning a living for making millions of people smile and laugh every day. Does this sound familiar to you? Would love to hear your story.

In the Past

My favorite cartoonists and their comics have either been stripped from newspapers, magazines and other media. More common than that: they never got a chance to be in any major media, had no interest in selling their work commercially or only worked indepedently or for smaller publishers. Modern and respectable cartoonists pushed the medium of comic strips in the past, there’s no question that Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes paved the way for better newspaper strips but then the industry itself died away for comic syndication in print. Maybe there is a ton of money that syndication is still making but I’m not aware of artists that want to give up their character rights versus have full ownership of merchendise and other rights.

Comics in newspapers have been depressing in the past few years in comparison to the early 90's and the amazingly beautiful history of full page Sunday comics from the early 1900's of Little Nemo to the later Calvin and Hobbes era Sunday funnies. (but that’s a different story that you can find out about in a new movie called Stripped. (http://www.strippedfilm.com)

The New Wave

I still love print but look at where illustration, comics and animation are shining, on the internet. The time is nigh to make money as a mini-comic maker or challenge big cable networks like Time Warner by breaking away from things like Cartoon Network to form Cartoon Hangover on Youtube.

Bay area cartoonists and journalists like Susie Cagle (used to use Medium, and now uses Patreon) as a way to make money. What’s the future of a living wage for other journalists, cartoonists and animators? I don’t know but, support your local cartoonist like Susie!

I swear that cartoonists are not that special, but they do represent people who create new content. That goes for: artists, musicians, writers…etc. All of that content is reduced to dollars and cents and don’t amount to a living wage for these people. I’ve seen cartoonists work in other industries to survive while they make their work on the side.

The Reality
Observationally, we all have 2-3 jobs to support the one we love doing. I’m a designer that makes comics and art on the side. Other cartoonists and artists I know have supported themselves as: teachers, mosquito abatement workers, librarians, bike messengers, video producers, engineers and journalists. Do you see a pattern here? I think this is the main problem with the profession of being an illustrator, cartoonist of any other type of visual storyteller. The best cartoonists work on it fulltime and support themselves via freelance. But the best cartoonists started by working 2 jobs and with a crappy two-stapled mini-comic or zine at a small convention selling it for 2 dollars or giving it away for free.

The Love

“The key to eternal happiness is low overhead and no debt.”
—Lynda Barry
Lynda Barry is amazing.
Yes, Lynda Barry is amazing (and has been both successful as a teacher, artist and professional cartoonist) But this post is a love letter to a smaller list of cartoonists that make a living out of making comics that really are making a small living and staying true to themselves like Lynda Barry. They do work for others (and selfishly) have struggled to find a bit of an impact and audience that is both meaningful and far reaching. These people make the profession of Cartooning look like a serious life persuit that is worth doing. To name a few…
Tom Heart, founder of Sequential Artists Workshop

Tom Hart, Teacher and Cartoonist. Hart taught at the School of Visual Arts in New York and then started the Sequential Artists Workshop as a way to make an art school both affordable & deeper into building a student’s path to a professional career. http://sequentialartistsworkshop.org

John Porcellino started King-Cat Comix & documents his life in words & pictures for everyone to see. This is how he pays the rent.

John Porcellino, Cartoonist. Porcellino started King-Cat Comix, writes and draws true stories, and teaches. He’s a modern day Ralph Waldo Emerson (mixed with a little Repo Man and a punk rock heart.) He runs Spit & a Half distribution of amazing artists work with the lyrics from the Minutemen song, Shit From an Old Notebook: “Let the products sell themselves! Fuck advertising / commercial psychology / psychological methods to sell should be destroyed!” — The Minutemen”

Lark Pien writes and draws childrens books & more.

Lark Pien, Cartoonist & Children’s Book Author. Recently worked with Gene Yang on the graphic novel, Boxers and Saints. She also makes amazing work as a printmaker & illustrator.

Andy went to Center for Cartoon Art Studies and works as a fulltime freelancing cartoonist. A true example of what it takes.

Andy Warner, Cartoonist. His comics have been published by Slate,American Public Media, Symbolia, KQED, popsci.com, Generation Progress and The Cartoon Picayune. He is the co-founder and co-editor of Irene.

Also, a shorter list of some of my other favorite cartoonists that you should support:

To Joey Alison Sayers, Kane Lynch, Sophie Yanow and Leef Smith of Mission Comics for paving a smaller path for local (Bay Area: East Bay & San Francisco Community!) ways to make a living at the profession in a more personal way and by supporting their local bay area cartoonists with an amazing drawing group called Dirty Drawers.

To Nina Kester , Daron Akira Hall , Chang Kim and Micah Baldwin for helping create comics platforms for artists (like Cartoon Art Museum, Tapastic and Graphicly) to have a community and fanbase.

Also, Susie Cagle and Dan Archer for pushing graphic journalism, both online and offline. Publishing & fundraising platforms seem to get better because of your work.

Thanks to everyone else who I missed. There’s a ton of cartoonists, writers, animators, artists, screenwriters, authors and makers out there, but these are just a few in a tiny profession of cartooning that make a living and are helping move the medium forward in this weird world wide web of comics.

Thanks for reading this little piece of…(is it a piece of toast or is it trash?) To be honest…I hope you don’t like it, or heart it, or recommend it…social media doesn’t help us move forward in our society as much as action. I hope…. that you just read this post, sit with the ideas and stew on how you will ACT (not just tweet). Please make your own new content. It’s our only hope. ❤ — @karldotter