Thursday, March 22, 2012

How to Draw an Editorial Cartoon---Part 1

By way of a little change I've decided to offer up a new tutorial. This one will be about how I produce an editorial cartoon for the Doncaster Free Press

Doing an editorial cartoon for a local weekly is no different from doing one for a national daily except  that the national newspapers want political comments and the locals usually require cartoons based around local events and the people who participate in them.

The story I got sent was about the Olympic flame and how it was going to be jogging its way through the streets of Doncaster as it wended its illuminatory way to London.

The first thing I do upon being sent a story is to think how I can make this normal situation silly. Is there a twist that I can put upon something that is perfectly normal, some would say even mundane?

Most people would freeze at the thought of producing something even remotely entertaining on a theme like  'running down a street with a torch' . But we cartoonists have a whole pack of aces up our sleeves. We can use devices like set characters that the readers are familiar with or situations that they instantly recognise.

But for this particular cartoon I fell back on an old favourite bug bear of mine and societies at large. The Ayatollah's at Health and Safety . That bastion of our communities that see all fun things through a set of rose tinted demonic spectacles: 'All fun should be stamped out' Put that in Latin and I think you'll have their motto. Any way, I digress. Back onto the tutorial on how I create an editorial cartoon.

Once I've sat staring into blank space for a while, ideas start to germinate and swirl around my mind. Silly situations appear and then, click! I snatch one out of the air and start moving possibilities around in my head; I play with punch lines and situations until I have something I can work with.

I know it sounds odd, but its the honest truth. People are for ever asking cartoonists how they get their ideas, and we are usually at a loss to describe the process. But if I'm honest, this is the best way I can describe my personal writing process. It may not be the same for all cartoonists, but this has always worked for me and I've produced thousands of gags, stories, situations and spoofs using it.

Next I rough the idea up (see above) and email it over to Darren, the features editor. He looks at it and sends it back with any corrections or suggestions.

Then its time to start:

I draw a panel at 16 by 16 cms, which will reduce proportionately to fit into a newspaper column. And then it's onto the pencilling

I lay the characters out loosely with a HB propelling pencil.

Firstly I decide where the characters are to be best placed for the action or situation that the gag dictates.

After this I build in the background. Because it's a spot cartoon and will be reduced very heavily to fit within the newspapers tight editorial space constraints, I have to keep the background to a minimum for economy and legibility.

Once the panel has been pencilled I usually ink in the little board that carries the story.

I put these in all of my editorial cartoons for a very simple reason: Because the editors have to juggle with what little space they are given for actual news, it isn't always possible to run the cartoon along side its corresponding story. And because the cartoon can find itself four of five pages from the feature it represents, and if the reader comes across it in this way, they need to know what the story is all about; hence the little news board with its tight and succinct description.

Now its onto the inking.

I use a medium thick Sharpie for the outside lines. I used to use pen and ink and before that I'd render the outlines with a brush. But nowadays it works better with the Sharpie and it certainly saves time; a very important factor when you're talking about newspaper deadlines

After the main body of the outlining is completed I use a fine pen to put in the smaller details.

This can have a very pleasant look as the thick outlines, when balanced correctly with the thin lines, can make for a very pleasing effect.

Almost done now.

Last but not least, I sign the cartoon. I use the large Sharpie again, mainly because my signature lends itself to the bold look and anyway, I want people to see my name.

Then quite literally the last thing I do is write in the caption.

Its not necessary to write it perfectly legibly as most newspapers will typeset the caption once they've dropped the cartoon into its slot.

That and the fact that cartoonists are notorious for their spelling mistakes---ask any editor.

But it's always important to do your best and make an effort at getting it right.

Okay. That's it. That is how I produce an editorial cartoon. Next week I will be showing you how I coloured this cartoon and prepared it in Photoshop, ready to be sent off to the Doncaster Free Press.

So until next week. Happy drawing, or at least happy reading of my cartoons.

PS Other tutorials, both video and written, can be found by clicking on the 'tutorials' tab at the top of this page. And if you like what you see, then please keep coming back for more tutorials, samples of my work, silly true stories and snippets of my life and thoughts.

By the way, if you are in need of books, DVD's, games, electrical goods and you're going to use Amazon to buy them, please click onto it through my site on the banner advert to your right; for every person that does I get a payment from Amazon, and if you order from that click then I get a commission on what you buy. It doesn't cost you a single penny extra but it does help fund this blog, enabling me to carry on giving you free cartoon advice and stories.

Please remember, every click you make helps me entertain you! Thank you


  1. Oh dear, sorry to disappoint, would you care to elaborate on your hypothesis?

  2. I seldom leave a response, however i did a few searching and wound up here "How to Draw an Editorial Cartoon---Part 1".
    And I do have a couple of questions for you if
    you do not mind. Could it be only me or does it
    appear like some of the remarks come across as if they are written by brain dead individuals?
    :-P And, if you are writing on additional online sites, I would like to follow
    everything fresh you have to post. Would you list of all of your community sites
    like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?

    Feel free to surf to my web-site - 37637

  3. Replies
    1. Thank you very much Mehabub, it's very kind of you to say so. If you enjoyed this tutorial there are plenty more around my site, so please feel free to enjoy.

  4. Hello Karl,

    Love your style of cartooning. I like this piece of editorial cartooning.

    Could you do a tutorial about doing backgrounds and also why some cartoons appear flat and lifeless while your cartoons are so dynamic and engaging?

    Are there any small tips that can further enhance the cartoon and bring it to life?

    1. Hi RG,

      I'm always looking for new tutorial ideas and I like the idea of this very much. Keep coming back and I will let you know of my plans with future updates



  5. Some questions I have is, let's say I want to approach a paper or offer my services to anyone who will pay, to do this? As you said, you only do this once a week but what about daily? And what would a cartoonist charge for something like this? I want to have some guidelines before I start throwing pitches.

    1. Well that is definitely a 'how long is a piece of string' question. Payment and newspapers take so many factors into consideration. But unfortunately it's more about what the newspaper will pay. I appreciate this is probably not the answer you were looking for, but it's the most honest and truthful answer I can give.

      The Writers and Artists' Yearbook (in the UK) has a section on NUJ rates of pay, and acts as a guide only, but your best bet is to first find an editor who likes your work and is willing to publish it. Then you can start negotiating.

      I found that if you feel unsure what to ask for, is probably best to be up front and honest and tell the editor when he asks how much you charge, that you are new to this and could he or she make a suggestion. It has always been my experience that editors are very fair and wont rip you off, and will tell you what they can afford and it is then up to you to decide if you wish to work for their pay scale.

      I hope this helps you, and thank you for taking the time to comment on my blog.


  6. you're tutorial helped >< really needed it


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