digital

The 10-Step Process of Preparing A Weekly Batch of Cartoons for the New Yorker

I often get asked what the process is of submitting cartoons to the New Yorker. So, I thought I would write it for you to enjoy (and, let’s be honest, for me to copy and paste when someone asks me again.)

You may have already read my 3-part account of my first day submitting cartoons to the New Yorker 4 years ago, resulting in my first sale in 2017 . (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) Part of this process is in there, but the part I’ll cover today is the very beginning of the process right through to the very end.

1. The ideas stage

This is arguably the most important stage of the entire process. (Apart from the part where you get to pay your rent on time.)


The ideas stage is an elusive, bizarre process, whereby you somehow generate a number of ideas that might make a good cartoon, seemingly out of thin air.

The truth of it is, much like finding your soulmate, they don’t appear when you’re looking for them. They pop up in the moment between swiping your Metcard and getting to the bottom of the stairs as the F-train is arriving. (And you’d better have a notepad ready when it comes.) They pop up between the moment you’re washing your hair and rinsing out the conditioner. So, you’d better have some Aquanotes ready when that genius joke about a praying mantis at a bar materialises.

I write tags/captions, concepts, draw compositions, facial expressions, whatever the idea needs to get it going I scribble it down with wrinkly fingers.

My shower wall often looks like this of a morning. My wife is a very patient person.(Thanks to Anthony LeDonne for the Aquanotes recommendation)

2. The writing / idea development stage

This stage varies wildly from cartoonist-to-cartoonist. I personally like to work on my ideas throughout the week alone, then bring it to my writing partner, Scott, and have a writers meeting. He always has great ideas too, so we mull them over and try and punch them up before pitching them.

We used to just meet at a pub and do this on a Monday night, but one day Scott had the bright idea of turning the writers meeting into a podcast. I told him it was a terrible idea. “Nobody wants to listen to the ins-and-outs of two idiots dissecting the frog for an hour every week. It’s a visual medium, you nincompoop!”

I was wrong. Very, very wrong, in fact. The podcast now has thousands of listeners every week and we’re doing a *plug alert* live show on April 9 in New York and May 17 in California. *This is the end of your plug alert. Thank you for your attention.*

Needless to say, we walk out of the podcast with a batch of ideas to pitch to the editor, and agonise over for the ensuing week.

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST HERE

Once I have the ideas in sort of ‘pitchable’ form, I go back and agonise over the wording, the punctuation, the execution and of course, the drawing.

So many praying mantis jokes. So little ink…

3. The agonising and crying into your drink stage

Once I’ve essentially muddled through a few different executions, I sit at my desk with pencil and coffee scotch, and try to draw up the batch of ideas. It can be excruciating when something isn’t flying off the page, jiving, hitting the mark , working.

 

4. The pencils stage

The pencils are done using a regular old pacer-style click pencil that you can pick up at your local CVS (or steal from a co-worker). I’ll often erase a facial expression to get it just right, or sketch out a few poses on a separate sheet of paper to try and get the right position. Someone whose work I really admire for pose is Will McPhail. He McSucceeds to nail every single pose in his cartoons to illustrate the expressions perfectly. [shakes fist in direction of Will McPhaill]

This particular idea is one Scott pitched on the podcast — in fact if I recall, it was Scott’s OSPOTW (Outback Steakhouse Pick-of-the-week®, in which, if the idea gets sold and runs, I have to take Scott to Outback Steakhouse for a steak and martini dinner, to my great chagrin. (I fucking hate Outback Steakhouse. I know because I’ve never been.))

5. The inking stage.

Once the pencils have left me with only a patch of hair on the left side of my scalp, I move on to the ‘inking’ stage.

There are two kinds of inking stage in the life of a cartoon— one is for the ‘rough’ that is pitched to the magazine. And the other is for the ‘final’ or ‘finishes’. The rough is the basic idea of the cartoon, drawn to the level of execution that makes it clear what the cartoon would look like. Once in a while, it’s worth just submitting a finish to give as clear an idea as possible. This isn’t always practical, but most of the cartoons I’ve sold to the New Yorker were from finishes.

For the inks on this one, I used a Uniball vision fine, along with a Japanese Kuretake Fude Brush Pen in Retail Package, Fudegokochi, Fine Point (LS4-10S). For the chess pieces, I used a super-fine brush pen I found in an art shop in Paris (ooer) called Magasin Sennelier. I have no idea what it’s called.

Depending on the cartoon, I may use a lightbox (pictured above) for the inking stage. For this one I did a combination of re-penciling from a lightbox of the first pencils (oof) and inking over the lightbox the regular way. This mini LED USB-powered lightbox was from the devil Amazon.

6. The erasing pencils, scanning and cleaning-up stage

Once the inks are pretty much done, I let them dry properly before erasing pencil lines and adding any final details. For this particular one, I wanted to mimic a chess game my friend Ethan and I had just played in Madison Square Park that afternoon, where he whipped the pants off me in under 10 minutes. I changed just a few of the pieces just to screw with him when he sees it in print.

I scan the piece in using one of two methods, depending on the level of detail in the cartoon. If it’s pretty basic, I use “CamScanner” on my smartphone. If it’s a bit more detailed like this one, I use my glass flatbed scanner unit on my printer and upload it to Photoshop for…

7: Wash and Finishes stage

Depending on the cartoon (and the amount of time I have to turn it in) I will either use a hand-made watercolour wash (below) or a digital wash on Photoshop, using a Wacom tablet. I have pretty much replicated my ‘by hand’ tools in my photoshop brush presets, which helps keep things looking consistent.

My brush handle broke, so I gracelessly shoved my Yankees pencil into the tip to keep it alive. I love that brush. And I’m cheap. (Go Yankees)

Stage 7 Addendum: Digital Finishes

For this one, I used the Cintiq Pro 16” (my review here) to do the final washes and touch-ups on the cartoon at 600dpi, while watching Seinfeld in the corner to calm my shaky nerves. Also pictured: Me wearing a glove that stops me sweating all over the screen.

IMG_20190129_203855.jpg

Here are the various stages the cartoon goes through once scanned in:

I add the caption last, which saves me agonising over it too much while I’m drawing. I already agonised in Stage 3. Stage 6 is too late for that malarkey.

Then it’s time to print it out, email a PDF of the batch to the cartoon editor, call an Uber and crawl down the FDR to pitch the cartoon in person.

Some days if I’m organised, I take the subway down to the World Trade Center stop and walk through the Oculus to calm my nerves… then I come to remember it’s a shopping mall and my anxiety returns.

The New Yorker moved from 4 Times Square downtown to the new world trade center in 2015 along with Vogue, Vanity Fair, Wired, and a slew of other Condé Nast businesses. It’s certainly more pointy.

8. The Pitching to the Cartoon Editor stage

I check in with security at the desk, then get a pass to zip through 38 floors in record time whilst trying to pretend to be comfortable that the numbers are on the outside of the elevator.

Always get a great photo of me

Elevator numbers are on the outside of the elevator. For maximum anxiety.

This is also the only other time we get to bump into other New Yorker cartoonists and trade anxieties and air our kvechables. We don’t have permanent passes, so we often have to wait at the glass doors for someone to walk past and let us in before we can get to the sign-in list. Sometimes it can take a while. Sometimes smart people like Sofia Warren (below) call someone’s extension which I should totally learn how to do.

We then round the corner to the cartoon department and put our names on the sign-up list. This one is from the last day of the previous cartoon editor. It’s a veritable who’s who of who’s here.

The Cartoon Editor sees cartoonists in the order of the list.

While we wait our turn, the cartoonists sit in the makeshift Cartoon Lounge (whatever board room is free) and talk shop, or avoid eye contact. I make a habit of going and getting coffee to see what books might be available in the kitchen… also, to wake me up before I have to speak to humans.

I always dip into the side office and pick up that week’s issue, flip to the contents page and see if anything of mine ran in that issue (yes, that is how we find out) and, if not, enjoy what else made it in to those elusive 16 slots for cartoons.

One morning I flipped open to see my name in print, pitching a terrible joke to Gus Van Sant (name drop complete) and making a general tit of myself. (Nothing unusual, really.)

While I wait, I like to re-order my batch in the vain hope that it’ll make some kind of difference as to whether I’ll sell something this week. I try to make it like a W-shape, like a comedy set: open strong, dip a bit, hit them in the middle with something big, then dip right before the big closer. I have absolutely no evidence that this does anything at all, but I insist on doing it every week.

Every now and then the giants of the New Yorker cartooning world like to stop by and just sit around as if they’re not demigods. Like George Booth (below) or Sam Gross (above), or, once in a while, Mort Gerberg (below).

The prolific, inimitable George Booth sifts through his batch for gold.

Once my name is called, I sit with the cartoon editor, Emma Allen, and go over the batch with her. She offers some great advice on how to make something work better, or will tell me if she’s seen something similar previously, or if she likes something enough to put in her ‘yes’ or ‘maybe’ pile. Those piles go through to a meeting with the Editor in Chief, who gets the final yes/no on what gets bought that week.

You don’t have to submit in person each week, but I like to do it to keep me to a routine and get the feedback on each cartoon so I can keep improving. Also, I live less than 10 minutes away and even my laziness has its limits.

Then I head down to the cafeteria area, sit with a coffee and look towards Battery Park and try to come up with more ideas for the next batch…

There used to be a regular weekly lunch at Pergola Des Artistes uptown with a selection of New Yorker cartoonists, but these days it’s pretty rare. The closest thing is a bunch of us going down to the cafeteria to get an overpriced salad.

9. The agonisingly waiting, drinking, hand-wringing for the rest of the week stage.

If a cartoon is sold, we get an ‘OK’ via email by around 5pm on Friday. Considering the pitch meeting / submission deadline is Tuesday midday, that means 3.5 days of second guessing every choice you made in the previous week. Whether, if you tied your right shoe first before the left the morning you went in, if it would have made a difference. It’s Hell.

Then, once in a blue moon, you open your email on Friday afternoon, and through clasped fingers peek at the screen to see…

And now,

9.5. The celebratory drink stage.

If we sell one, I call scott and we go out for beers.
If we don’t sell one… I call Scott and we go out for beers.

For those of you wondering, YES, I will have to take Scott out to Outback Steakhouse for a martini dinner because this one sold. We have not set a time or a date yet, but just know that it has really taken all the joy out of making a sale.

10. The 'Wait sometimes years until it runs’ stage.

Some people think we sell a cartoon and it runs in the magazine that next week. That is very, very rare. It does happen, but the usual routine is that the artist either goes back and draws up the cartoon into a ‘finish’ (see stage 6) and sends in a 600dpi TIFF file, gets paid, then waits for anywhere from a number of weeks to a number of years for the cartoon to show up in the magazine.

I still have a handful that have been sold that haven’t been run in the magazine, but it does keep me anxiously peeking into that side office every Tuesday to flick to the contents page and see if it has surfaced from the cobwebbed drawer it’s been hiding in.

Here’s how the cartoon turned out (It’s in the magazine this week, 4th April 2019):

11. (See Stage 1.)

 
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Inksperiments...

Video: Wacom Cintiq Companion Hybrid Review

TRANSCRIPT:

Hi, my name's Jason Chatfield, I'm a syndicated cartoonist working out of Australia and I've been asked by Wacom to try out the new Cintiq Companion Hybrid.

This is not the stand-alone windows tablet computer version- this is the one that runs Android, works as a stand-alone tablet AND a Cintiq if you plug it into your computer using the HDMI and USB cable that comes with it. It's compatible with both Mac and PC.

Right up the top, in the interest of transparency, I don't work for Wacom, I never have, and I haven't been paid to review this product.

I've been using Wacom tablets for over 10 years now. So I've been asked to test drive a lot of unreleased products for Wacom in the past and I've always been very honest with them- and to their credit, they always listened. No matter how, uh, honest I was.

One of my biggest gripes was when I was asked to test drive the Cintiq 12WX - it was so close to what we'd all been asking for but it just wasn't there yet. It had to have its own power source and just wasn't portable. You literally can't use it 'on the road' without a power point.

Thankfully, the tech is now available for The Cintiq Companion to exist. It's the missing link -they've nailed it. They didn't rush it; they took their time with it, they got it right, and now they're releasing it as a self-contained mobile tablet computer.

I'm going to try and be as thorough as I can with this review, but I won't be able to cover absolutely everything. So what I'd like you to do is post any questions on stuff I haven't covered in the comments below and I can answer them personally. Be sure to read through the previous comments before posting your question so we don't double up.

I've been using this tablet solid for the past month- I don't mean just playing around with it, I mean really putting it through its paces, doing full days of work in real-world scenarios. I travel a lot with my work- so this tablet is something I've been asking for for a decade. I've taken it on domestic trips to Sydney, Perth and overseas to Indonesia and done actual finished work on it- not just sketches and concepts like I do on my iPad.

I currently have a Cintiq 21" in my studio which I rent, and I have an Intuos 4 tablet for when I'm on the road. The drawback with the Intuos has always been that if you learned to draw traditionally by hand, like me, you're not used to looking at your screen while your hand is drawing, and that takes a lot of getting used to. Your style often changes as a result too, so it's not ideal.

The Cintiq Companion Hybrid's Display is 13.3 inches. It's running an Nvidia® Tegra® 4 Processor with a full HD Resolution of 1920 X 1080 with 16.7 million colours and 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity and multi-touch (just like the Cintiq 24). It comes in 16GB or 32GB options and weighs about 1.8 kg / 3.9 lbs.

It has Wacom's trademark Boosters ExpressKeys™, Rocker Ring, Home Button and On-Screen Controls. It comes with an Ergonomics Adjustable stand with about 3 different angles. It comes with the usual stable of pens and 10 interchangeable nibs. I prefer to use the classic pen with a felt tip nib for better friction, like pencil on paper. It isn't the official pen that comes with the tablet, but it works perfectly and has the full tilt recognition of a regular Cintiq.

It has two HD cameras, front and back for video conferencing, some pretty nice speakers on the bottom and full wifi and bluetooth connectivity. I'd recommend getting a bluetooth keyboard if you don't like typing on tablet screens.

It comes with a felt carry-case and a pen case if you don't own a laptop bag.

If you've never used Wacom product before, it's very easy to learn. If you have used a Wacom product before, there's nothing new to learn about the interface- it's just a miniature Cintiq. The only difference is I can take it out on your balcony and get some sun on my pasty skin.

As I mentioned earlier, in Tablet mode, this model runs on Android OS. The other model runs Windows and is a complete tablet PC.

Now, I know there's a lot of you whinging that it doesn't run Apple's OS X or iOS. Look, I'm an Apple fanboy myself, I work on a Mac and have for 7 years, but are you kidding? You honestly thought Apple would let another company run it's operating system on non-Apple hardware? Really? You should know Apple better by now.

The other important point to realise is, and I don't like to admit this, but from the moment in late 2007 that Google unveiled Android and its own plan to dominate the world of mobile devices, Google hasn’t just tried to compete with the Apple; it's succeeded. Android's share of the global smartphone market is approaching 80 percent, while Apple’s has fallen below 20 percent.

A similar trend is under way with tablets: in 2010 the iPad had about 90 percent of the tablet market; now more than 60 percent of tablets sold run Android. So the decision for this bad boy to run Android was well made, (even though I still hate Android...) :)

If you really must use iOS, you're probably better off buying the new Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus for iPad. It's actually pretty cool- it's bluetooth, so it actually handles the same level of pressure sensitivity as this Cintiq.

Android's a very easy OS to learn if you haven't used it before, and with the NVidia processor, it's fast. The lag time on the pen stroke, which is one of the most important factors for me working on a tablet, is remarkably low. If you had to measure it, you'd have trouble. It's very fast- I wish I could get a higher frame-rate video to show you exactly what the precise delay is, but rest assured, it's miniscule. That was going to be a deal-breaker for me.

When I first got the tablet, it was one of very few in existence and had been built from the BIOS up- so there were obviously a few little bugs and memory management issues. After a couple of firmware updates it was perfectly fine and ran without any memory issues.

There's an app called ASTRO File Manager™ which lets you pull your files from Dropbox, USB or a bunch of other sources. Ask me any specific questions about this down in the comments.

I'm actually really impressed with the battery life. Owning an iPhone, I'm so used to the battery just running down halfway through the day. I started an illustration commission at the departure lounge, and finished it on the plane on my tray table in under an hour, and I still had 8 hours battery left. I then used a bluetooth keyboard and ran the macbook in clamshell mode for the rest of the flight. The official battery life in tablet mode is 12 hours.

If you're running in Tablet mode, you have some good apps to choose from- Native Wacom drawing apps as well as Sketchbook pro, which is really great. Photoshop's Android app is okay, but obviously has less features than the desktop version.

Which mode do I prefer? it depends on what I'm doing. When I'm sketching and drawing up concepts and drafts, I love being able to sketch on the couch or outside. When I'm doing finished artwork, inking or colouring, I prefer hybrid mode. To be honest, this is really just because I'm stuck in my ways of using the OS X keyboard shortcuts and I work faster that way.

Boiling it all right down, do I like drawing on it? The answer is yes. I've worked full days on it while travelling for the last four weeks and it means I'm not pulling all-nighters to get my artwork done before I leave for a trip. I can get the exact same result on this tablet as I can on my big Cintiq 21 in the studio. It does take a minute or two to get used to the resolution if you run it in 1920 x 1080 but the definition is very impressive.

Whether it's the right product for you is obviously going to depend on the kind of work you do, so it's worth using a friend's Android tablet to see how Photoshop and other mobile tablet apps work before you make the purchase.

Speaking of that - The other big dealbreaker apart from pen-lag is price-point. The official pricing for these has just been released- the Cintiq Companion Hybrid (16gb) - AU$1,849 or (32gb) AU$1,999 the Cintiq Companion (Windows) (256gb) - AU$2,499 or AU$3,299 for the (512gb). Check their website for US prices.

For my money, I think the 16GB Companion Hybrid is well worth the price, and I will definitely be buying one. The waiting list is long, so sign up as soon as possible if you're thinking about getting one. They'll sell out in Australia very fast- I'm not sure what the stocks are like in America, the UK, Japan etc. but this is definitely going to be a popular one with the modern traveling artist.

Thanks for watching, and remember to read through the other questions before posting yours in the comments below!

-ENDS