Answering a College Student’s Questions About Cartoons

Sometimes I get emails from college students who are studying editorial cartoons; they often ask the same questions so I thought I would post this recent response I wrote to a student.

Hi James,

Your friends who think editorial cartoons are a dying art form should be told that editorial cartoons are more important around the world than ever before, and with the internet we have a far larger audience than our predecessors who were limited to print.
1. How many hours of research go into each of your cartoons?
PencilSlingerSometimes I’ll look for photo reference for the art, which doesn’t take long. You can see the whole process in real time by looking at my videos on I live-stream on Twitch when I draw each cartoon now. Each cartoon takes about six hours.
2. How much time do you spend reviewing the news everyday?
I usually read two or three newspapers a day and watch cable TV news. Probably three hours a day. I wouldn’t call this “research” and it isn’t related to a particular cartoon.
3. What are two things that make you different from other cartoonists?
The biggest difference for me is that I have more freedom than most cartoonists.  I own and run my syndicate ( so I don’t have an editor or a publication of record. My cartoons are distributed to about 850 subscribing newspapers, including about half of America’s daily paid-circulation newspapers. I don’t have to draw on the topic of the day as most cartoonist do, and I can maintain an irregular schedule, drawing on topics when a cartoon is needed. I don’t have to draw about the weather and celebrity obituaries as I did when I had an editor. The two differences: more freedom, no editor.
4. Who is your favorite person to portray?

Right now both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are gifts to cartoonists.

5. What experiences do you gain in traveling and how does traveling affect your work?

Editorial cartoons are much more important and more highly regarded internationally than they are in America. I am inspired by my brave colleagues around the world and it is great fun to meet them – especially those who put themselves at risk with their cartoons. In most of the world a cartoonist can’t draw the president of his own country or he’ll be fired, sued, beaten, jailed or killed. Friends of mine have been jailed by their governments and murdered by terrorists because of their cartoons.  I enjoy the best press freedoms in the world in America. I have it easy – I only get attacked by hackers.

6. If you could give one piece of advice to someone looking at a career as a political cartoonist what would it be?

It is the same advice I would give to any aspiring, young journalist. Newsroom jobs are in decline. New journalists and cartoonists need to create a place where their work is seen by a loyal audience on the Web; they need to develop a reason why their voice is important for their audience. Journalists have to be entrepreneurs now. The days of getting a job at a newspaper and having a big publisher take care of your career are gone. There are more opportunities now, and it is simplistic to look at the decline in employee jobs as a decline for the cartooning profession. It is a big, exciting new world out there.

I have more freedom and a much bigger audience now that I have not been working for a newspaper for over sixteen years. There is no single path for everyone, as there was in the days when making a career meant applying for a job at a newspaper.

About your project …  Think of editorial cartoonists as columnists who speak with images. We rarely see students analyzing columns because it is assumed that the columnist has clearly said what he meant to say. Cartoonists depend on their readers already knowing the news. Unlike columnists, we don’t convey facts; we convey simple, visual arguments. People cut the cartoons out to stick them on their fridge; they don’t do that with columns. Images are more powerful than words.

Cartoons are often analyzed by students because cartoons are on state mandated, AP Social Studies tests in 8th and 11th grade, in all 50 states, and teachers “teach to the test.” High school kids typically don’t think much about the news and often don’t have the background to understand what political cartoonists are drawing about. Cartoonists strive to make their points clearly, so the idea of editorial cartoons as puzzles that need to be solved and need an explanation or analysis is disappointing. If a cartoon needs to be explained, it is a poor cartoon or, more often, the reader is not well informed.

Good luck with your project!


By Daryl Cagle

Daryl Cagle is the publisher of and owner of Cagle Cartoons, Inc, which which is a major distributor of editorial cartoons and columns to newspapers and digital publishers. See Daryl's blog at:, see his site at: get permission to reprint his cartoons at: