What is the Future Outlook for Cartoonists?

Cartoons have a special place in most people’s hearts. Who doesn’t have a favorite animation series when they were young? Or, perhaps a comic book they loved to flip through when they were older?

As we know them now, cartoons are colorful visual work that’s drawn in a style that’s either unrealistic or semi-realistic. They can be an image, a series of images, or an animation or motion picture that evoke humor or have a satirical message. 

Behind those beloved images or animation are cartoonists. Technically speaking, the term “cartoonists” refer to those who work on still images while “animators” refer to cartoonists who work on motion pictures and animation. In this post, we’ll focus on the first definition of the term.

With the growing concern of artificial intelligence stealing jobs from people, will cartooning become one of those jobs that will become mere remnants of the past? Or, are there other issues that cartoonists are concerned with when it comes to their future job prospects? 

The Future of Cartoonists

There are different types of cartoonists, including those who work in advertising and those who work for newspapers publishing editorial or political cartoons. They could also be doing comics or illustrations. A cartoonist’s future prospects might differ from another because of the kind of work they do or the platform where they publish their work. 

Unfortunately, the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not collect wage or employment info on cartoonists, so we can only rely on data from other sources. According to Glassdoor, cartoonists/animators earn an average of $55,666 per year. Other sources also offer salary estimates around the ballpark of this figure. 

The highest earning cartoonists, who are not animators, are those whose work gets syndicated or those who create storyboards. Cartoonists who aren’t as lucky might be holding a day job while drawing cartoons as a side hustle or on a freelance basis. 

Looking to the future, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that all fine artists, including cartoonists, would see a 14% job growth from 2020 to 2030 and 16% for multimedia artists and animators. 

However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics groups cartoonists with other craft and fine artists, a category that also includes sculptors, tattoo artists, jewelry makers, digital artists, fine art painters and others doing crafts or in the fine arts field. So, it’s unsure how much of this data applies specifically to cartoonists. 

It’s also worth noting that not all types of cartoonists have a positive outlook. Those who work in journalism, for instance, understandably have concerns about their future as newspapers, magazines, and other traditional print publications continue to lay off staff. Those engaged in the motion or animation scene have a more optimistic outlook, with more film, series, and video games in production. The same goes for cartoonists in the digital publication sphere. 

Case Study: Future Outlook for Editorial or Political Cartoonists

“A dying breed.” That is how The Seattle Times describes political cartoonists, aka editorial cartoonists. And the publication might be right. 

According to the Herbert Block Foundation, newspapers employed around 2,000 editorial cartoonists at the start of the 20th century. However, that number was down to the 100s in 2008 and as of 2023, the estimates are a dismal 20 working full-time with a few more working as contractors.  

Perhaps the nail in the coffin was the firing of three Pulitzer-winning cartoonists Kevin Siers of the Charlotte Observer, Jack Ohman of Sacramento Bee, and Joel Pett of Lexington Herald-Leader. Pett was a freelancer, while the other two were full-time staffers.  

Regarding the lay off, Ohman told The Associated Press: “I had no warning at all. I was stupefied.”

The accepted reason is economic or money-related. However, Tim Nickens, a former editor at Florida’s Tampa Bay Times puts the blame on another reason: “There’s a broader reluctance in this political environment to make people mad. By definition, a provocative editorial cartoonist is going to make somebody mad every day.”

What used to be relatable is now failing to connect with readers and the community at large. “I could have looked at the guy who fired me and said, ‘I’ll do it for free,’ and they would have said no,” Pett declares.

Despite the seemingly bleak outlook, editorial or political cartoonists played an important role in the past. And if they aim to continue with providing social commentary in the future, they must do so with the aid of digital tools and publish where their audiences are. 

How to Carve Your Own Future as a Cartoonist

Like many people in the workforce in most every industry in the world, cartoonists too must face the challenges brought about by emerging technology. They must adapt to the new demands of the marketplace. Or, better yet, find a way to create their own market.  

As most people are engaging online, it’s important to have an online presence. In fact, modern artists sometimes eschew the traditional print media and showcase their art works in their own website or on social media, where they can build and engage with a global following. 

Earning money has also been diversified, thanks to the internet. Cartoonists can now sell their artwork through merchandise sales on their websites, via subscriptions, or on crowdfunding platforms. This is in addition to the profitable collaborations that may present themselves once their work goes viral, such as a graphic novel being turned into film. 

When it comes to cartoons, the internet is still a wild, wild west and you can become a pioneer or find success in a corner of it. New and emerging technology like artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR) can transform cartoons and how people experience them. 

But, even a simple step as looking to new markets for better opportunities might be the answer to a brighter future. Cartoonist Mark Anderson found this to be true when he ventured into advertising, creating cartoons for a pest control company. “I’ve drawn more mice than I’ve ever really intended to,” he said. “But now I’m really good at drawing mice.”

What is the Future Outlook for Cartoonists?

In conclusion, the future outlook for cartoonists varies depending on their specialty, with editorial cartoonists facing challenges due to evolving media landscapes. To thrive, adaptation to digital platforms, diverse revenue streams, and exploring new markets are key. Despite hurdles, embracing innovation and seizing opportunities can carve a successful path forward in the ever-changing cartooning industry.

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