The Best & The Worst Things About Being A Syndicated Cartoonist


Lets get the best things about being syndicated out of the way because they are the most popular notions, and therefore the most boring. Getting right to it: A financially rewarding syndication gig allows you to work from home doing what you love to do — write and draw your comic — in your pajamas. You’re your own boss, and your own schedule-maker. No one — except perhaps your spouse, or your mother — can tell you how to dress when you’re “at work.” You draw silly pictures, write jokes, and then break for lunch — which can last as long as you want, right? er…

The worst things about being syndicated are often the things you don’t normally hear about. By the way, by “worst” I only mean the least of the “best” — the things I’m about to talk about aren’t horrible, they are just the realities of the job that aren’t often glorified.

So here’s the truth about being syndicated: It’s hard and it never stops. You know how people have jobs — really important jobs like surgeons, military generals, and tight-rope walkers? You can bet that even those high-positioned individuals get breaks now and then — especially for extraordinary reasons like a family emergency, or some other life-freakout. For syndicated cartoonists breaks are not so common to come by. (You better have a week’s worth of extra strips just sitting in a drawer somewhere in case there’s a death in the family. I’m not kidding — it’s the truth.) Syndication is a treadmill that you can never get down from, no matter what is happening in your life. If a plane crashes into your house, you better have an alternate internet connection so that you can send in your work for that week. If the Rapture comes, you better make sure you are not one of God’s worthy souls, ’cause then how would you get your strips in on time? Seriously, the work never stops. If you’re lucky, it’ll stop when you die (a lot of cartoonists have not had luck in this sector).

The other truthful thing about being syndicated is that you have to hear from a lot of people that you would normally want to murder on a good day. The thing is, when your comic strip is read by a million people daily, you’re bound to hear from one or two people whose lives are dramatically effected by newspaper comic strips. Yes, they’re out there. This would be tolerable if it weren’t for the invention of instantaneous electronic messaging that has given these people the power to write to you and tell you what they think of you (think emails spewing brimstone, and punched out on a keyboard capable of writing in blood). I am almost certain that Hitler got less vitriolic mail than newspaper comic strip artists.

Another “worst” thing about being a syndicated cartoonist is the ongoing problem of keeping your creative gas-tank filled. Think about it. Creating something funny, clever, or just plain wonky every single day non-stop for a couple of decades will do something to your brain. Whatever it does to your brain, the point is that constant creative output is something most people can’t pull off. Most normal people. You have to be a little crazy to even sign a contract that says you’ll attempt it. This is, perhaps, where many syndicated cartoonists fall short. It’s very, very hard to continuously come up with usable material. Those long lunches you can take? Think again.

The take-away from all of this is that although syndication is a little crazy, it is still very rewarding — I mean, let’s face it, if you love drawing and writing comic strips all day, and have a genuine passion for it, then this is the perfect job.

So if you’re an aspiring cartoonist looking for a syndication deal, then first check to see how crazy you are, then check your heart. If your heart is bigger, then go for it — get syndicated. It’s the best.


21 thoughts on “The Best & The Worst Things About Being A Syndicated Cartoonist

  1. Rina! You’re the best! A very frank and straight-forward piece. You are able to write exactly as you speak. Not everyone has this ability. Just as your art gets better and better, so do your very accurate, and amusing essays!

    Keep ’em coming!

  2. I think some folks are afraid to be too complimentary for fear of being seen as trying to be more than just fans (‘fans’ being more concerned about pestering you than ‘critics’ would ever be). You know I’ve loved your work for years, and maybe I should tell you that more often – as a fan!

  3. Rina, you always make me smile–fabulous piece. Looking forward to more witty and insightful writing (when you find the time!) Cheers, S.

  4. Rina, thanks for this essay on what your job is like. We are so fortunate that you have the stamina and brain power to create great humor every day, year in and year out. I wish you got only good commentaries. (That’s all you’ll get from me.) There should be no bad ones.

  5. What a revealing and well-written essay about the life of a comic stripper! I’d love to share this with the readers of “Stay Tooned! Magazine,” especially since the next issue is tied to my “One Fine Sunday in the Funny Pages” show, featuring syndicated cartooning. Can I, please, can I?!

  6. Great essay, Rina! I’d love to hear even more from you on this topic. Keep up the great work with your awesome comics.

  7. A few cartoonists (thinking of Gary Trudeau in particular, and you’re as good at your brand of humor as he is at his) seem to take a little time off now and then and run, like, “Doonesbury Classics” while they’re gone. How about “Tina Classics” once in a while? Would your syndicate understand? (They should. Bet your readers would.)

    • Bill, a cartoonist certainly has that option, but there are unsavory conditions attached: Newspapers, quite rightly, don’t like to pay the same price for re-runs. And since the spots on the comics page are so hard to get — and keep — you as a cartoonist do not want to do anything that may make you less competitive on the page. The big names like Trudeau, Johnston, and Adams have a little more klout with newspapers and syndicates than cartoonists like me, who are in the majority. Thems are the breaks!

  8. Thanks for all the great comments, everyone!
    Neil: To answer your question: “Has any of the hate mail you’ve received ever directly influenced a ‘bad customer’ gag in Tina’s Groove?”

    No, not really. It may however influence my mood, and therefore I might do a gag in which there is some sort of foulness involved — ha ha. But I wouldn’t say it happens directly. I tend to try to forget about any hate mail. And also btw, those people are not “fans” or “critics” (a critic is someone who knows his/her subject well enough to critique it). The really nasty bits of mail have nothing whatsoever to do with cartooning, and are just angry. Those people don’t deserve the attention to be “put into a strip” — I forget about them. Nice questions — maybe I’ll expand further in the blog!

  9. That was a great article, I am a newly syndicated cartoonist my strip is called. Dingers it is syndicated by Ink Bottle Syndicate and can be found in Funnies Extra. I recognized the need to come up with new gags on a regular basis so I Teamed up with Alan Campbell who is a professional writer and this arrangement makes the whole process of cartooning much more enjoyable. I do have to share the money but we both get to do the part of cartooning we like the most. So far for us there hasn’ any downside to syndication, just living the dream but still working the day job

  10. Rina, the inside view of serving at a restaurant must be fueled by some first-person access. That means, either you:
    (1) Work/worked as a server;
    (2) Are involved with, or are related to, a server;
    (3) Own or operate a restaurant; or
    (4) You are naturally observant and hang out at places.
    Of course, I could be absolutely mistaken, and your imagination needs no exposure to the business to populate the strip. I somehow regard that as unlikely.

  11. I am close to syndicating my strip, jim davis told me once, if you have fun writing and drawing your strip, then others will love reading them. Gotta believe in yourself.

  12. I’m almost 62 and have been trying to break into this business for some 35 years or so. Workin’ on yet “another” panel in my efforts to land this perfect job. The task of perfecting the character(s) nose, mouth and chin is complete. The panel plot is perfected. This morning while inking in a panel, I did a nose wrong. “Crap” I said out loud! So a new pencil drawing is being created….. and by the way Rina, perfect description of a cartoons!

    • You did a nose wrong so started again…I wish the cartoonists for Apartment 3-G would start over, they suck with their drawing abilities, truly awful. I am not the best illustrator (have a BFA) but I know I can do better than they do. Between the hack job they do and the awful story line, it really looks like a 2-y/o is doing their strip.

  13. I just started with a small town newpaper. Finally being published feels so wonderful. This well written post you have graced us with has pulled me back to reality.

    Also, do you have any tips on how to move from small town papers into major syndicates?

  14. Rina,not only am I impressed, but we have something in common besides a crazy love for drawing comic strips; my last name is ALSO Piccolo! How wild is THAT?
    I have been trying to get syndicated for close to 30 years. It has been my dream and heart’s desire since as far back as I can remember (which is getting shorter, the older I get). Anyway,… any suggestions or bits of wisdom that could push me into the industry? Thanks, and thanks for the reality check on what it’s “really” like.

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