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What is a Cartoon Illustrator?

By Vicki Hogue-Davies
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A cartoon illustrator, or cartoonist, is an artist who specializes in creating humorous, political or other types of comic drawings for various media. Cartoon illustrators draw characters and entire imaginary worlds for newspaper comic strips and comic books. They draw cartoons for magazines, books and newspapers. Cartoon illustrators work for advertising agencies and in corporate creative departments producing drawings for ads, brochures, presentations and other material.

Cartoon illustrators work in different methods, including pencil, ink, paint and digital media. Like other artists, cartoon illustrators have their own unique styles. Some draw in a more realistic, lifelike way, and others specialize in caricature or produce more whimsical works. Some cartoon illustrators create only the artwork for their comic drawings; others also create the words that accompany the cartoons.

More and more movies and television shows are using lifelike and other animated characters. Artists who draw cartoon characters and background for television and film are called animators. Video games and Internet-based productions also use the work of cartoon illustrators. Cartoons for these media are done by hand and through computer animation.

One of the most famous cartoonists is Charles M. Schulz of Peanuts fame, who worked both in print and television. An example of a famous print cartoonist is Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert. "The Simpson’s" is an example of an animated cartoon. An example of a political cartoonist is Theodore Seuss Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss. Although he is famous for being a popular children's author, he drew more than 400 political cartoons during World War II.

A cartoon illustrator might be a freelancer or might work as a regular employee of an organization. Freelance cartoon illustrators often have online portfolios and websites to make it easy for potential clients to review their work. Creativity, originality and a good sense of humor are valuable qualities for a cartoon illustrator to have.

A formal education isn't required to become a cartoon illustrator, especially for a freelancer. Artistic talent and the ability to attract clients are perhaps more important. It is helpful, though, to attend an art school or take college courses to study different art techniques. Learning to use computers and computer software for illustrating are valuable skills to have as well.

People seeking regular employment as a cartoon illustrator might be required to have a college degree, depending on the organization doing the hiring. Some illustrators who work for companies might be expected to do a variety of graphic art and design work in addition to cartooning. People who work directly for companies are often located in the creative department or the publications department.

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Discussion Comments
By irontoenail — On Dec 08, 2014

@MrsPramm - If you want to see the shape of the cartoon illustration industry right now, then just look online at all the successful webcomics. There are dozens of them that support their creators entirely, and many more that provide as much as a part time job.

One of the things I find particularly interesting about them is how they can evolve over time without commercial influence. There are some that were obviously just a labor of love at the beginning, but the artist became more and more talented over time until they were making beautiful artwork that people wanted to share.

By MrsPramm — On Dec 07, 2014

@pleonasm - I'm hoping that Flash animation will result in a lot more independent features as well. I know it might be an odd example, but the original fan videos that have been created by fans of My Little Pony, a cartoon series that is technically aimed at children, but beloved by plenty of adults, are just as polished as the original cartoon. I think they are an example of what could be possible.

I'm hoping as the grind of creating animation becomes less of a barrier that cartoon design will become more varied.

By pleonasm — On Dec 06, 2014

I'm glad cartoons are becoming more and more accepted as the province of adults as well as children. There's no reason why they shouldn't be created with the intention of being watched and read by both groups. Some of the best novels I've ever read have been graphic novels and they are made that much more gorgeous and engaging when they are illustrated by a master. Watchmen, for example, has so much depth to the artwork it's incredible and you could read it a dozen times and still see something new.

The films of Miyazaki are another excellent example of the beauty of cartoons if they are given a chance. It's like watching the painting of a grand master artist come to life and tell a gorgeous story.

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