Tony NamateBy Tony Namate|April 22, 2022|6 Minutes|In Risk and Glory

Risk and Glory

The cartoonist as an entrepreneur.

Can a cartoonist be an entrepreneur?As a cartoonist I never thought of it that way.Cartoonists - most of them - are famed for their labours of love: seeing your cartoon in print and the readers' reactions thereof is much more gratifying than the measly monthly paycheck one got from the newspaper publisher.

You are influencing public opinion about certain subjects.
But these days, cartoonists are increasingly using social media to market themselves due to the changing economic and media landscape as more newspapers drop cartoonists or go out of business.
Thanks to Information technology, a cartoonist can now afford to be an entreprenaur.
After all, a cartoonist owns the copyright to his works. He can use this leverage to control his fortunes. A cartoonist is a brand in his own way. There are fans who are ready to follow a good cartoonist, and who are ready to follow him should he change publications.
He can market his cartoons on T-shirts, sell printed copies, publish ebooks or limited print-on-demand books, make figurines; print images on mugs, caps, or even calendars.
Being a cartooning entrepreneur has never been easier than it is now.
Some of the earlier African cartoonists who, like me, plied their trade with the traditional newspapers could only do cartoons for one newspaper at a time and could not get assignments from rival newspapers.
Some newspapers either employed cartoonists fulltime or engaged them on a retainer. But that has its limitations though.
When I first got employed as an editorial cartoonist at the Herald in the late 80s, political cartoons featuring Mugabe or ministers were a no-no.
But being a freelance cartoonist can give you total freedom but no job security.
Cartooning as a business in Zimbabwe was out of the question as only magazines and newspapers could be your clients, while a few organisations could give you contracts to illustrate their publications. But these jobs could be few and far between. Not a very lucrative enterprise, which meant you had to occupy yourself with something else.
In my case I did a bit of writing, graphic art and painting. If late I had retired into horticulture, world’s apart from the world of cartooning.
The market determines how far a cartoonist can go, and Zimbabwe has no cartooning industry worth talking about. It is different from SA or Kenya where you find dozens of top notch cartoonists and publications willing to use them.
The Zimbabwean media uses cartoons as an afterthought, so one actually considers themselves lucky if a publication uses their works. As a result, many young upcoming cartoonists have never gained exposure because they are not given a platform.
You will never find a newspaper using more than one local cartoonist on their pages.
Perhaps the only Zimbabwean editor to ever value the power of cartoons during his editorship days was Geof Nyarota. And he edited the only paper to ever use different cartoonists (three of them) at the same time – the original Daily News.
Most editors feel they are doing you a favour by publishing your cartoons.
I’ve even been approached by some reputable and wannabe editors who wanted me to do free cartoons for them.
They wanted my services but were not prepared to pay for them. Their argument was that i had made “enough money” from cartooning so could afford to give them free cartoons!
With some editors, you wont get paid in time so one simply has to exercise a no-money-no-cartoon policy if you want your payment.
At the end of it all, successfully selling your cartoons depends on the market at your disposal.
And syndication guarantees good returns for the cartoonist. The cartooning marketing here is tiny and syndication is out of the question: none of the local newspapers have ever even considered it. Oddly enough syndication can cut down their costs even if they use more than one cartoonist!
Out there in America, syndication is the way cartoonists do business. It is a win win for both the newspapers and cartoonists, who do cartoons for syndication companies that then sell their cartoons to hundreds of newspapers for a flat rate on a daily or weekly basis.
This makes newspaper cartooning a big business in the US. Once you are syndicated you can sit back and rake in the dollars. Your only worry is keeping deadlines. Syndication made cartoonists like Doonesbury’s Garry Trudeau and the late Peanuts creator Charles Schultz into millionaires.