Continuing this very enjoyable series of interviews with many of my favorite working cartoonists, here’s my conversation with magazine cartoonist extraordinaire Crowden Satz:
1. Your background is in engineering education – at what point in your life did you realize you wanted to make cartooning your profession?
My whole life I’ve been equally split between art and science. My family was more technical than artistic and so I grew up with the idea that technology/science was more “important”, more worthy of respect. I also had the idea in High School that since I enjoyed art I shouldn’t pursue it as a profession because that would make it a “job” and I’d end up not liking it so much. Didn’t have anyone to point out some of the logical fallacies behind that point of view and so I kind of shunted art aside when I got to college. Got a few degrees and spent a goodly number of years climbing the academic ladder in engineering and pursuing my teaching muse. But the siren call of art kept pulling at me and it started popping out more and more. I carved, I got into photography, I painted, etc. It was a few years ago when I realized that I’d made a reasonable career as a professor and if I wanted to do a restart and begin a whole new career, then it would be better to start out on that path sooner rather than later. So I did!
2. Do you have a cartoonist hero that inspired you? If so, who and why?
I’ve had a lot of influences, as has pretty much every other cartoonist. As a young kid I loved Peanuts but simply because it was amusing, not because it was inspiring to me. NOW it’s inspiring! I’d say the most important motivation for me was Gary Larson’s work. Being a sciency guy, it was bound to appeal, and it was his stuff that got me wondering “could I do that?”. In fact, I remember the first time I wondered that and remember getting a pad and pencil and sitting back in my bed and working up a few gag panels. I shudder to think of their quality but those who saw them laughed loudly enough to provide encouragement to keep plugging away. I’ve been greatly inspired by the draftsmanship of Breathed, Watterson, Thompson and Searle. I could (and do!) look at their stuff for hours. Capp’s use of black and white stood out to me over the years. I admire how Glasbergen has distilled his work into a very stylized and effective final product. Donnelly has an absolutely great minimalist style that gets emotions across in a very distinctive way. And Peter Vey is definitely a role model of mine. You’ll find his work everywhere – it’s amazing. Okay, I’m going to stop now before I start discussing everyone out there. There’s something to learn from them all, you know?
3. Where did you sell your first cartoon?
My absolute first cartoon was sold to Birding Magazine (I believe that was the name). A spot illustration. That was WAY before I’d decided to go full bore on being a cartoonist. During the “art popping out” era. My first sale after I’d decided to move into cartooning for realsies (and I believe it may have been my second ever) was to the Harvard Business Review. So kind of a jump up.
4. Have you ever pursued syndication?
I’ve regularly sent batches of my strip Nickyitis out and gotten lots of “nope, sorry.” Sent occasional batches of the single panel material out to various syndicates but that was material that I’d now consider pretty early and not terribly persuasive. I’m currently syndicated in the UK with Knight Syndicate.
5. You’ve been very successful in the magazine markets for business cartoons, an exceptionally competitive market. To what would you attribute this success?
Well, it’s kind of you to say that. It’s true I’ve had some successes but you don’t see all the rejections! One of the traits you get as a professor/engineer is a highly developed sense of self criticism and analysis. I’m ALWAYS picking stuff apart, mine and others. Why does this work? Why doesn’t that? I view my rejections as guidance as to what didn’t work. And I look at what does work, as evidenced by the fact it appeared in print. So there’s that. Constant work on the product – how to change it, tweak it, improve it. I’ll look at both the art and the gag and ask whether they’re as good as they can be or not. And, if not, how do I fix it?
6. What is your process in creating cartoons?
Usually the gag comes first. Not always, of course. Sometimes I’ll challenge myself by doodling some artwork and then asking myself what gag could possibly work with it. But more often I’ll just let me mind wander and come up with funny ideas. I always have a digital recorder to get those thoughts down before they dissipate. Next step will be printing out a bunch of these gags (or sending a digital copy to my phone) and sitting down at Peet’s or my living room, taking one from the pile, and doing pencil sketches. From there its on to the scanner, into my computer, and digital inking and coloring.
7. Do you use an agent to help find you work?
Nope, never had an agent. Might be nice, though.
8. Do you license your cartoons for other purposes such as greeting cards, calendars, etc.?
My artwork is available on shirt and mugs via my storefront and the mugs are the most popular. I haven’t done actual licensing yet and I definitely need to get moving on that front, no doubt.
9. What are your thoughts on the changing face of the cartoon markets?
Oh for the good old days! Clearly the print market for cartoons has been deteriorating for decades. In the fabled past, cartoonists could support a family, buy a home, pay for college educations, etc, all from selling cartoons to New York based magazine editors on a weekly basis. That world is LONG gone. The online world is still evolving. It’s easy to put your work up online but generating any revenue from it is difficult. There are a some webcartoonists who generate a lot of income via embedded advertising but they’re the exception. A model that’s working well for some, Glasbergen being one of them, is to use the web to tentpole your own focused cartoon business, making the cartoons available for newsletters, advertising, etc. I guess the best word to describe the current situation for cartoonists is “challenging.”
10. What advice would you give to aspiring cartoonists trying to break in?
Well, you ask for advice to those trying to break in, not advice to those thinking of becoming cartoonists. That’s good, it makes the advice easier! My advice would have to be “Learn to welcome rejection. Because you’re going to get a ton of it.” I think the usual win percentage is around 2%. Send an editor fifty cartoons and he/she will accept one. And that’s for the successful guys! So, if you’re trying to get your foot in the door, produce a lot of great material, stuff that you’re SURE will be winners, and then smile when you receive no, nope, sorry, or the not uncommon response, absolute silence. Hello? Anybody out there? Anyone?