Why Cartoons Make Great Satire
How to Become a Satire Cartoonist
Satire cartoonists take on popular public figures and opinions and challenge them with intelligent humor. To become a good cartoon satirist, you’ll need to get educated as a writer and artist while keeping up with current events. Assemble a portfolio by posting drawings online and taking freelance work as you apply to publications that accept satirical cartoons. As you get better at drawing and writing witty commentary, you’ll build a reputation that has readers eager for your next cartoon.
Getting an Education
Take art classes in high school.Taking a lot of art classes in high school is a great way to get started as an artist. Most high schools require you to take a class or two, but take more if you can. Begin building a portfolio that you can use to apply to college art programs and jobs.
- Once you’ve mastered the basics, enter any advanced drawing classes your school offers.
- Ask about independent studies. Your teachers may do this for you or at least point you in the direction of someone who can.
Pursue a fine arts degree in college.There are many specializations that lead to a fine arts degree, but yours should be in visual arts. Find a school that has this focus and start working towards your bachelor’s degree. Studio classes, where you receive direct feedback from a professor, will improve your artistry.
- Talk to your high school teachers to learn about which colleges offer quality programs.
- Spend time online researching the programs colleges offer. Pick one that seems right for you and then set up a visitation date with the university.
- Reach out to other cartoonists, if you can. They may be able to recommend a good program.
Take political science classes in college to learn about global politics.Take classes where you’ll discuss current events, as these shape your ideas about what subjects to satirize. They’ll teach you a lot about the people around you, the environment they experience, and how they think, all of which is useful for showing wit in a meaningful way.
- Courses about past history may also be useful for you. These courses can help you understand how people throughout history responded to what’s around them, including using satire.
Spend time taking writing classes.Satire cartoonists are both artists and writers. To cover current events, you need to learn how to control language effectively. You can started by working hard in your English and writing classes in high school. Once you get to college, take journalism and creative writing courses.
- Most colleges don't offer specific classes for satire, but feel free to incorporate satire into your writing assignments.
Take some computer education courses.Many cartoon satirists digitize their work to post it online. It’s never a bad idea to take some extra computer courses in college. Digital art classes are useful for learning about how to create computer-made work and upload art. Web design, coding, and blogging classes are great for figuring out how to set up a place to post your work online.
Expanding Your Skills
Continue studying drawing techniques.Although a formal education is useful, plenty of artists never stepped foot in a classroom. Expand your drawing knowledge by looking for tips online or by getting manuals from the library or bookstore. Also, have fun spending time around other artists and their works. They’ve got a lot of tips and tricks to pass along.
Exaggerate the physical features of your subjects.As a satirist, you can use exaggerations in your images to make an argument. Try drawing caricatures of people by expanding their notable features. These features might be large ears, cheap boots, or a jutting chin. Exaggerations show the subject’s personality.
- For example, drawing Napoleon shorter than he was in reality made him seem weaker and more cartoonish, even giving rise to the term “Napoleon complex.”
- Exaggeration shows that the work is satirical because it looks cartoonish, and that prevents the subject from claiming you’re attacking their reputation.
Develop your own style.Each cartoonist develops their own identifiable style through practice and hard work. The only way you can do this is by drawing and experimenting to find out what works best for you. Some styles look simpler and less detailed while others are more colorful.
- For example, Matt Groening’s characters onThe Simpsonsare identifiable by their large, simplified facial features.
- Garry Trudeau’sDoonesburycomics feature characters with longer faces with larger noses and detailed hair.
- Disney cartoon characters are very colorful and have large, soft eyes.
Sharpen your satirical techniques.Satire comes out in the captions or words you place around drawings. It is humor that relies on irony, sarcasm, and exaggeration to criticize others. Research tips on satirical writing and attend any classes on the subject you can find, then practice captioning your drawings.
- An example of a satirical comment is someone saying “I’m still undecided” after they’ve voted in an important election.
- It takes practice to get the right subject matter and tone, since you need to be sharp and intelligent instead of mean-spirited or obscene.
- Balancing irreverent humor with political correctness or cultural sensitivity is a tough but meaningful goal in satire.
Read the works of other satirists.Immerse yourself in the styles of modern cartoonists such as Gerald Scarfe and Garry Trudeau. Study their approach and humor, then use the parts you like to make your own work better. Pay attention to the reasons why controversial cartoons failed to find a receptive audience.
- Feel free to go back in time and check out satirists from a previous time period, such as Thomas Nast, James Gillray, and William Hogarth.
- Satire can be found in publications includingThe Onion,Mad, andNational Lampoon.
- Satire exists in all artistic fields. For example, try reading Kurt Vonnegut or Alexander Pope novels. Watch shows likeSaturday Night LiveorThe Colbert Report.
Stay well informed about political and social events.The world is always changing, and it’s your job to stay on top of it. Spend time everyday reading articles or watching the news. Current events are the fuel of cutting-edge satire. You can only strike a chord with an audience if you know the subject matter and how it impacts the lives of others.
- Where you get your information depends on your topic. If you plan on making political cartoons, news articles and programming are for you. Satire can focus on other topics though, such as popular culture or life struggles people face.
Memorize defamation laws in your country.All satirists run the risk of legal troubles. Make sure you know the laws in your district and country. Though they vary from place to place, they’ll always prevent you from viciously attacking someone. Don’t publish lies or claim you’re writing facts.
- Stick to satirizing well-known people such as political and religious leaders. Ridiculing your neighbors isn’t funny and will probably get you sued for defamation.
- For example, drawing Napoleon short isn’t to mock his height. It’s a metaphor for his political inadequacy.
Develop a thick skin.You will get backlash for your work, especially when you misjudge how the audience will react. Stay calm and disregard criticism that isn’t constructive. Satirists step near the line of what’s acceptable, and you’ll learn where that line is by paying attention to your mistakes.
- In some countries, you can get away with satirizing visible and powerful people or subjects. In others, criticizing anyone in authority comes with terrible repercussions.
- For example, the Danish publicationJyllands-Postenand the French publicationCharlie Hebdomade cartoons about Islam. Violent protests broke out when these were printed.
Working as a Cartoonist
Build a portfolio.After you’ve brilliantly mocked the latest politician, advertisement, or TV show, stick the art in your portfolio. Online posts are collections of your work, but you should keep your best art on hand. Back up any work that’s done on the computer and save hand-drawn originals. Potential employers will demand your portfolio and use it to determine your qualifications.
Post your art online.Luckily, you don’t need to pass out your work in the street when the Internet provides instant exposure. Start up your own page at a site like WordPress or Tumblr. You can even create your own professional website. Spread your work over social media sites like Twitter and art communities such as DeviantArt.
Submit to cartoon competitions.Cartoon competitions are out there, but they’re tricky to find. Some publications, such as theNew York Times, offer these competitions, which help cement your reputation. Other times, governments or organizations run contests for political or artistic causes. Search online for these contests and keep your ears open to suggestions from your audience and friends.
- Some cartoonists, such as Andre Pijet, got their start from competitions at festivals. You may be able to find regional or national festivals, but pay attention to international festivals too.
Send your work to publications.Many satirists get their start by sending their work to publications such asMad Magazine,The New Yorker, orThe Onion. Competition is tough, so also look for alternative magazines, newspapers, or online publications. Every publication has its own criteria for humor, so research them to see if your work would be a good fit.
- Find submission details in the publications or on their websites. Usually you can submit the art online or through the mail.
- Expect a lot of competition. It’s easier than ever for people to make and submit funny drawings.
Start working as a freelancer.Working freelance means you don’t have a permanent job with any company. You’ll need to work hard to turn out drawings and submit them to various publications. For new cartoonists, getting hired is a tall task. Your best bet for making some money and gaining a reputation is to spread your work around as much as possible. Even renowned satirists take commissions.
- You may even be asked to draw non-satirical cartoons. It’s not your goal, but it furthers your career.
Look for work while maintaining another job.Ditching your day job is risky because official positions as satire cartoonists are uncommon. Satirists such as Al Jaffee atMad Magazinetend to hold onto jobs for a long time. Position yourself the best you can for these jobs but don’t sacrifice your ability to make a living. For example, work at a full-time job during the day and work on your cartoons at night.
- Try getting a job doing graphic design or animation. Comedy writing is another job that allows you to practice your satire.
- Stay flexible. You'll never have as much time as you’d like to work on your art, and artistic jobs are typically temporary commissions.
- It is difficult to be a "neutral" satirical cartoonist. The satirical source of your commentary stems from your personal beliefs and background. Without injecting your own beliefs, you lack commentary.
- Think about expanding your satirizing to writing and film. While this won't necessarily be enough to fund a living, it can help broaden your experience.
- Satire is about being sharp-witted, informed, and intelligent. Cleverness is a must, while obscenity detracts from your message.
- Those who take offense easily are not your real critics. Your real critics are those who appreciate satire and offer constructive feedback.
- There are many countries in the world where satirizing politics, religion, cultural mores, and social issues is not only frowned upon but can land you in prison. If you're going to be a satirical cartoonist, know the risks and protect yourself.
- Many people are quickly offended. Satire gets close to delicate lines and beliefs, so expect a lot of backlash at times.
- Being a satire cartoonist means expressing your own opinions. Be prepared to defend them.
Things You'll Need
Computer or alternative art supplies
Sources and Citations
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