I spent this afternoon as I often do; weeping uncontrollably while looking at other cartoonists' work on Mike Lynch's incredible cartoon blog, when I realised every cartoonist who pitches cartoons has a different idea of how rough their roughs should be.
When we cartoonists sit in the cartoon lounge each week at the New Yorker waiting to see the Cartoon Editor, we sometimes allow each other to peek at our batch (if we brought one) and see what we were schilling that week. While one cartoonist has fully-finished cartoons, another might have a loosely drawn pencil rough of the toon, usually indicating the strength of the gag really lies in the words for that one. My batch usually has a combination of both finished toons and pencil roughs.
To give you an idea of how rough my 'roughs' are, here's a toon I pitched in a batch for the magazine, which they later bought as a daily cartoon.
The short answer is: it's as rough as it needs to be to service the gag. Does that make sense?
After they buy it, I clean it up and draw it a bit nicer. It seems as though 9 times out of 10 I hate my tightened-up drawings because I lose the spontaneity of the pencils, but such is life. I'm sure one day I'll find the balance between roughly scribbling on the subway and overdrawing a cartoon to within an inch of its life.