Scott Adams
How to Become a Cartoonist

I get many requests for advice on becoming a cartoonist. Here's my standard information, which is all I used. Beyond this, I don't know that there's any one path to success. The only absolute rule is that your cartoons have to make other people laugh.

For information on submitting cartoons to syndicates and publications get a copy of Artist's & Graphics Designer's Market at any major bookstore. They might have to order it.

For a comprehensive discussion of comic syndication, buy a book called Your Career in Comics by Lee Nordling, published by Andrews & McMeel, ISBN 0-8362-0748-3, 1995. If you can't get a bookstore to order it for you, try the publisher at 800-826-4216 or an online bookstore like or

A good web site for beginning cartoonists:

A monthly publication for cartoonists is Protooner, $60 per year, P.O. Box 2270, Daly City, CA 94017-2270.

For a book titled How to Draw Cartoons Editors Will Buy! by George Crenshaw and Jack Cassady, call 650-755-4827 or e-mail:

In my book The Joy of Work, I have a chapter on how to write humor. It won't make you funny but it might help you figure out why you aren't funny.

I do not comment on the comics of other cartoonists. It wouldn't help you if I did. When a comic strip works, it's because of a weird chemistry between the cartoonist's writing and artwork and subject matter and the audience. No one knows why some things work and some things don't. But here are some general rules I've noticed:

1. Other people are not like you. If you create cartoons that you like, you're probably only appealing to other cartoonists. I made that mistake early on in my career when I did a lot of comics that focused on clever puns. If you want to preserve your artistic integrity and vision, that's fine, but don't expect to make money doing it.

2. Your readers care about themselves, not you. Readers will perceive as funny anything that "hits home" even if it isn't all that clever by any objective standard. Unfortunately the only person you know well enough to "hit home" with on a regular basis is yourself. Write about the situations that you have in common with other people. The common situations can be analogous, not exact. For example, you might have a weird hobby that thrills you but makes others roll their eyes. It doesn't matter if readers share your hobby, only that they might indulge in something that is also disdained by others. It's the feeling of disdain that should hit home, not the hobby.

3. Don't listen to your friends who tell you your comics are hilarious. They're lying. Don't listen to your friends who tell you your comics suck. They're idiots. The only reliable feedback is the copy test, i.e. does someone want to copy your comic and show it to someone else who you don't know. If someone says he likes your comic but he doesn't ask to copy it for someone else, he doesn't really like your comic.

4. Comic writing is similar to business writing. Learn what a passive sentence is so you can avoid it. Get rid of unnecessary words. Never say, "Bob was very mad" when you can say, "Bob was mad."


All cartoonists have their own methods and materials and preferred size. I'm not a trained artist so my method is the result of trial and error and I do not recommend it.

My daily strips are drawn 4" by 13" in the original. Sundays are 8" by 18". Every cartoonist draws at whatever size is comfortable, as long as the original is larger but in proportion to the final space in the newspaper. The Sundays have several possible formats but I only use one.

Drawing your comic larger than the final publication allows you to make lots of small mistakes that literally disappear in the shrinking process. Original comic art is full of little imperfections so don't worry that you can't draw without them. I submit my full-size scanned artwork to my comic syndicate by e-mail. They take care of shrinking it to the right size.

I use a regular mechanical pencil with a hard lead to do the initial pencil work. The hard lead makes a faint line that is easy to erase and won't get picked up by a copier or scanner. Then I use Staedtler pigment liner pens, size 03 for the drawing -- tracing my own pencil lines -- and the thicker size 07 pens for filling in black areas. My method is rare and not recommended. The Staedtler pens are easy to use but do not make the interesting types of pen strokes that other cartoonsists achieve. The better cartoonists use a tiny brush and India ink. Some use dip pens with various kinds of nibs (pointy ends). I don't know anything else about those methods.

To buy Staedtler pens by mail order call Du-All at 877-583-9158 and use these catalog numbers:

Catalog #:
308-03-9 (03 size)
308-07-09 (07 size)

Your choice of paper will depend on what pens you are using. My paper is Strathmore Bristol, smooth, 100% cotton, 11x14, 2 ply, 15 sheets, item 580-72. For the larger Sunday comic I tape two sheets together and untape them later for scanning into the computer. Larger art supply stores have that sort of paper or can order it for you.

I add the shading dot patterns using Photoshop on my Macintosh, after scanning the line art. I use a pattern fill command and a dot pattern I created for that purpose. Other cartoonists buy decal-like material at art stores and apply the shading manually then remove the excess with an X-Acto knife.

My lettering is now done on the computer, using Photoshop. I created a font of my letters so I can type them directly onto the scanned art. My font was created using Fontographer software. I don't distribute my font.

The Sunday comic line art is scanned into my computer and then I use Photoshop to add letters and clean up any stray lines and add color. If you become a syndicated cartoonist, your comic syndicator will provide detailed instructions on how to set up the Photoshop files to be compatible with the newspaper printing service.

© Scott Adams
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