I’ve been cartooning a long time, and in the last year as our society has boiled over with all of its longstanding ills, drawing has felt like the best way I know how to preserve my sanity so, armed with a pencil, I took a sharp turn away from fiction and toward social commentary. I strongly encourage everyone who’s so inclined to speak up in this way to do so, and to help you out here are a few things I’ve learned during this shift:
1. Keep it simple
A good political cartoon takes the content and distills it into the truest, most concise nugget. Sometimes I find myself trying to incorporate too many ideas into one gag – a lot of the news that inspires us is layered and nuanced and interconnected and, it’s easy to get sucked into the abyss of trying to include everything. Your readers are smart, but they’re not telepaths — strip the idea down to only its most essential parts and see how few words you can communicate it in. Try to illustrate as much of your point as you can visually — anything you can “show not tell” makes your work stronger. The wordier my gags are, the weaker they usually are.
2. Make sure your work stays connected to you
I was amazed to find how quickly some of my cartoons spread across the internet — I also found that, as posts started to get shared and re-shared across platforms, sometimes my name would get dropped from the image. You should get credit for your work so, while it might seem obvious, always sign your work, directly on the image, with a copyright symbol and your name (not just your initials). And be sure you sign it in a place that would be a huge pain in the ass for someone to go in and edit out.
3. Protect your copyright
On that same note, if you’re expressing strong opinions on the internet, you’ll probably encounter folks who think it’s okay to steal your artwork and alter it to express their own strong opinions. If you drew it, you own it and it’s actually not Public Domain just because you put it on the internet; Public Domain only applies to things that are so ubiquitous that anyone would recognize an alteration as parody. Anything else is just stealing. I’ve found that Twitter, Facebook and Instagram all respond relatively quickly and efficiently to copyright infringement complaints, so, file away! It’s a little bit tedious to have to keep filling out the forms but, users who’ve repeatedly had copyright infringement claims filed against them risk having their accounts deactivated so, you’re not only protecting your work but also the work of other artists when you speak up.
4. Not every cartoon is a winner
The news comes so rapid-fire that, a lot of times I feel pressure to get cartoons out quickly – and that pressure is real because people forget about things almost as quickly as they occur. It’s good to remember that sometimes you’re going to a draw a gag that isn’t going to land for most people, all the time something is hilarious to me and my boyfriend or my mom will look at it and go “huh, I don’t get it.” That happens to everyone and you just have to draw what you’re compelled to draw anyway. On the other hand, it’s also totally okay to let a piece of news go by without drawing about it if you’re really struggling to find that nugget that makes it work. If you feel like the gag is a reach, it probably is.
5. Don’t feed the trolls
The internet is a many splendored thing because it gives us the opportunity to create and share content with everyone…and “everyone” includes people who are diametrically opposed to your values and viewpoints. When I was drawing strictly about my own experiences, the internet felt relatively safe. Like any woman creating anything the public can access, I encountered occasional negativity or aggressiveness from men who were threatened by women’s confidence and honesty, but in the last year, as my comics have gotten more and more political, I’ve been confronted with more and more assholery. It’s hard not to get drawn in when someone has designed their comments specifically to goad you — recently I’ve been direct messaged everything from a video of a beheading to being told to “get back in the kitchen and leave politics to the men” — and it does grate on your soul. Just be sure you have good friends you can complain to when the urge to respond overwhelms you, and remember that those aren’t the people you’re creating for — you’re creating for you and if your art helps a few other people articulate their feelings or clarify their thoughts, what a great bonus. Everyone else can crawl back into whatever hole they crawled out of without the satisfaction of pissing you off.
That’s all I got go forth and draw, friends!