I found that the hardest thing about being a syndicated cartoonist was the endless deadlines.  They were grueling, and I seriously underestimated how hard it would be to produce 7 cartoons EVERY week without exception.  Other cartoonists had tried to warn me, but I blew them off.  “Well, maybe YOU find it hard, but I really don’t think I’ll  have a problem with it,” I would think to myself, while smiling smugly and serenely.  Little did I know…

I had months and months of cartoons written by the time CBW launched, so the first year or so of my strip was relatively easy.  Well, that’s not true.  The first year I had toddler twins who were not in preschool yet, so I did all my cartooning very late at night.  It was exhausting, but not as exhausting as it would have been if I’d had to write all my cartoons at the same time too.  I would usually end up writing about 2-3 new strips a week, and pick out which strips I’d already written to use to round out to seven. 

I didn’t draw them up early, though I went into my launch with about a two week reserve of cartoons already drawn.  Unfortunately, these were eaten up in the first three months due to a computer problem that took over a week to fix.  After that I was producing right on deadline.  That meant that every Monday I had to send my strips to the syndicate through their online bulletin board.  I could have chosen to send them every two weeks or once a month, but I knew if I did that I would loaf for three weeks and then freak out and try to produce a months worth of cartoons in a week.  Having a weekly deadline was more stressful, but it forced me to produce, and I never had to worry about doing more than 7 cartoons at once, because I could never be more than 7 cartoons behind.  Even if I procrastinated until Sunday, (which only happened a few times) it was still possible to finish by Monday afternoon if I busted my hump.

During the first year or so, I slowly went through my stash of cartoons that were already written.  I still wrote, but they were usually used almost immediately, and I was depleting my stash much faster than I was adding to it.  Consequently, somewhere in my second year I ran out and was faced with the daunting task of writing, drawing, inking, scanning, tweaking and coloring 7 cartoons in a one week period.

I found this so hard to do.  Sometimes I’d have a good week where I wrote all of my cartoons easily and I was done for the week by Friday.  But that was rare.  Usually I struggled to think of topics, tried to force gags that weren’t seasoned yet, and stressed out all over the place.  On those weeks I wasn’t done until Monday in the late afternoon.

When I met Lee Salem for the first time, he said that due to the nature of the business, cartoonists didn’t get vacation and you HAD to produce no matter what.  He said that the syndicate will empathise with you, but they couldn’t sympathise with you because editors don’t care what’s going on, they just expect their content. 

Basically, the attitude is, all your kids are home with the stomach flu for a week?  Sorry.  You still need to produce.  There’s been a death in the family?  Wow, how horrible.  Send your cartoons before you leave for the funeral, and if you’ll be gone longer than a week, you’ll need to work on them while you’re gone and find a way to send them.  ‘Kay?

One year, we had to evacuate our home 4 times in a 2 month period due to hurricanes.  You basically pack up everything you’d like to still own should your house be destroyed, stuff the cars full of kids and pets and hurricane supplies and pictures and clothes and cartoons, (and don’t forget to pack the crazy, you need to leave room for the crazy!) and drive to a hotel or to your mother-in-law’s house (as God is my witness, NEVER again!!!!!  Shakes fist!) until the storm has passed, and then you drive home and unpack while your autistic son freaks out and tantrums because everything is different and his routines are shot, and everyone screams and yells and fights…  Fun, fun times.  Oh, and during all that chaos?  I still had to draw, write, ink and turn in a weeks worth of cartoons.  And I did it.  In my entire cartooning career, I only missed 4 deadlines, and those were only by a few days.  Three of those were due to computer problems and one was the week I went to visit the syndicate in Kansas City. 

One time our house was damaged after a hurricane and we had a hole in our roof, and no air conditioning or cable TV for two weeks (though we did have power, thank the Lord!)  This is NOT a good combination when you live in Florida.   That I came through that hell without murdering anyone in my immediate family should really have garnered me some sort of parenting/perfect spouse award.  A nice plaque would have been so nice for the bathroom wall…  My point?  I had to cartoon during those two weeks too!

Graduations?  Cartoon.  Christmas day?  Cartoon.  Family or friends visiting?  Cartoon.  I have so much respect for the people who do this day in and day out for years and years without a break.  I did it for four, but I was really starting to get burnt out by the end.  When I was let go by Universal, it was a relief in so many ways (and a total bummer in so many others), but the greatest thing I got out of it was a break.  I got to recharge and reboot and it was SOOOO wonderful.  The stuff I wrote afterwards felt so fresh and it came so easily… why don’t syndicated cartoonists get vacations, anyway?

Well, I know why.  It’s such a competetive field that if you go on vacation, people might stop reading if they put in old strips.  If you are a newish or struggling strip, maybe you’ll get dropped all together for your audacity.  (“YOU want a break?  Ha!  Why should YOU get a break?” they’d say, calling on speaker phone from their time share in Hawaii…)  Only big strips can afford to take time off.  Lee mentioned early on that after 5 years, UPS cartoonists are allowed a week or two of vacation a year, but that most cartoonists never took it because they might lose papers.  I didn’t make it to 5 years, so I don’t know anything more about that.

Why do so many many people want to be syndicated?  The pay sucks (well, unless you hit it big right out of the gate, but I didn’t, so I have a different perspective).  You don’t get health benefits or retirement, you don’t get vacation time, this dying industry works you like a dog and gives very little back… on paper it sounds rather wretched.  It sounds like chimney sweeping or something.  And yet…

I LOVED it.  Yes, it was hard, but it was fun and at the end of every week, I had something tangible to look at that I had produced.  I grew up reading the funnies in the paper, and it ws such a thrill to see my own strip in print.  It was, and continues to be a thrill to hear from people who like my strip, and so I’m glad I made the decision not to give up on CBW, even though it won’t be in newspapers anymore.  I still think it’s the coolest job in the world.

I still produce one cartoon a day, but today I find the pace leisurely instead of frantic.  I’m not sure what the difference is.  Maybe it’s that if I don’t finish 7 by Monday it’s okay.  As long as I have a cartoon ready to go that day, it doesn’t matter how fast I produce them.  Or maybe it’s just that I’m working for myself instead of “the MAN.”  😉  Either way, I find it refreshing.

If you are thinking about pursuing syndication, just know that it’s not an easy road, but that you can definitely do it.  If I can produce, then anyone can, if they set their minds to it.  Go for it!

Advertisements