Become a Satire Cartoonist

Interested in putting your excellent drawing skills to use making wry visual commentaries on social life? Becoming a satire cartoonist is not likely to make most people a full-time living but it can be an important outlet for you to express your concerns and raise issues of importance using a medium you're familiar with and good at, whether it's via a blog, a newspaper or magazine, or any other publication you have access to. This article explains what is involved in becoming a satire cartoonist, also known as a "visual journalist",[1] editorial or political cartoonist.


  1. Understand satire. Satire is humor that relies on using irony, exaggeration or ridicule to expose and criticize vices or ridiculous actions either by an individual or by an institution of society or society in general.[2] Not to be confused with sarcasm or spoofing, satire is much more refined. It seeks to highlight or expose the absurdity, inconsistency, or hypocrisy of behavior, attitudes, beliefs, or practices of a person, government, corporation, organization, etc. It's also humor that can get you into trouble, and crafting it can be hard to create as you seek to balance the irreverent with the political correctness or sensitivities surrounding the context.[3]
    • Satirists exist in all artistic fields, including novels, poems, plays, sculpture, movies, etc., as well as cartooning. In contrast to some of the other means for portraying satire, cartooning proves to be an excellent and fast medium for conveying short, witty messages that can be enjoyed by many people.
    • Cartooning is a natural vehicle for satire. Even those cartoonists who don't set out to deliberately focus on satire frequently rely on it as a form of humor.
    • Dave Brown thinks that satirical cartooning is "a way of taking back a little power from the bullies who run our lives. A cartoonist is a lone assassin who keeps on firing away at them and hopefully, if he manages to get enough direct hits, he might find a little weak spot and help to bring them down".
  2. Be a good cartoonist. The ability to draw well is clearly a useful aspect of cartooning but a cartoonist has plenty of artistic leeway because it's expected that you'll develop your own eclectic style. Indeed, you may prefer to work with graphic art programs to create your satirical imagery and commentary, allowing you to combine many elements to create new images or recreate well known images in a satirical mold. Some things to keep in mind about being a good cartoonist over an average one include:
    • What you are depicting must be obvious and clear to the viewer.
    • Your style must be appealing to a viewer. Knowing how to draw caricatures well can be very helpful.
    • Understanding subtlety and nuance is essential in satirical cartooning.
    • Developing the ability to use both art and words well. Sarah Gillespie from United Feature Syndicate explained that while the skills of drawing well and writing funny are completely distinct, they are vital for a good cartoonist and it's hard to find such a combination.[4]
    • Be aware that you're combining journalism and art as one. Even so, it may feel that neither a journalist nor an artist will see you as fully integrated into their world. This shouldn't deter you, as visual commentary is an amazingly powerful way to engender public understanding; Andre Pijet suggests that: "The satirical art is a product of intelligence and interior intellectual poetic sensibility, as [much as] any other form of artistic expression, but enriched with a wit and spicy seasoning."[1]
  3. Learn what other satire cartoonists have created. Gain Find Inspiration from Inspirational Quotes by looking through the work of existing and past satire cartoonists. While the idea is to still to develop your own style and satirical commentary, learning the approaches and humor styles of other cartoonists will benefit your knowledge and understanding greatly, enabling you to see tactics that you might not have considered before.
    • As well as looking at what works, also consider what cartoons were most controversial or didn't work, and why. For example, cartoons that depict religious figures have caused much controversy not only in recent years but throughout the ages. Some reasons for why cartoons don't work include poor context or lack of notoriety of the subject matter. Seek to understand what makes effective satirical cartooning, as well as knowing how far you're willing to challenge or conform with public sentiment.
    • Look at magazines, websites, and books that use satire regularly, such as The Onion, Mad (magazine), National Lampoon, etc. It can also help to watch comedy TV shows for ideas.
    • Look at other cultural depictions of satire over time. You'll discover that tolerance of satire and the extent of satire waxes and wanes over time, according to the culture and country in question. It will also help you to better understand that some cultures are more accepting of satire than others, although even under oppression satirists will attempt to speak their mind.
  4. Stay well informed about political and social events. Returning to the reality that a satire cartoonist is a "visual journalist", you'll need to be well informed about what's happening around you, every day. Spend some time each day reading and watching the news or relevant information streams, and forming your own opinions about events and issues as they unfurl. You'll also need to learn how to prioritize news stories so that you can run with the ones that seem to be striking a chord with audiences and if you work for a paper, it's likely that you'll also be discussing the news with the editor to reach a decision on what to go with; this will mean that you won't always be commentating on your pet topics, so be prepared to be flexible, well-rounded, and open minded.
    • Real life is often stranger than fiction; knowing current events well can avoid your work being overtaken by the even weirder reality![5]
  5. Become known. Being known will increase your influence and the chances of receiving further work in this field. The idea is to expose your work to as many viewers as possible so that you start to build a reputation. Some suggestions include:
    • Creating your own publications and distribution, such as through a Install a WordPress Theme or website (like Deviant Art).
    • Do cartoons for local newsletters, Get a Reporting Job With a Newspaper, and other local publications that are always in need of content. Keep a copy of every published cartoon for your portfolio.
    • Enter local, regional, national, and international festivals and competitions that accept Create a Cartoon Character or graphic artwork. This is the way that Andre Pijet gained increased recognition for his work,[1] and the prize money can be handy to help your continued development. Look for newspaper competitions too: Dave Brown got his first cartooning job as a result of winning a competition run by The Sunday Times.
    • Broadening your repertoire to include comedy writing and not just cartooning, if you'd like to. This might increase your chances of being "satirical" for a living.
  6. Look for work but don't ditch the day job. If you're aiming to become a satirical cartoonist for a career, expect a hard path with many rejections, along with the possibility that you may not ever manage this goal. There are few full-time cartoonists working in what could be viewed as satirical or editorial cartooning positions, and those who are in such jobs tend to keep the position for a long period of time. Also, the publication has to be one that reflects your ideologies, beliefs, and views about society and its institutions. For example, Dave Brown says he fits well with The Independent but would be an uncomfortable and unlikely fit for The Telegraph. However, don't let the lack of positions dissuade you. Not only will a vacancy in such jobs come up now and then (for which you should already have positioned yourself well) but there are a lot of other possible outlets for your talent:
    • Apply to a newspaper for any cartooning or graphic design work. Once you're in, you can start working your way up, and can gradually develop your "satirical" style, persuading others to give you a chance.
    • Start a blog and regularly add your cartoons to it. Try to develop a large following through the usual methods of advertising blogs (for example, linking it to your Twitter and Facebook accounts, doing guest posts, etc.)
    • Freelance in as many publications as possible to build a reputation and portfolio. It is highly likely that any potential publisher will want to see a portfolio and a demonstrable timeline of satirical cartoons representing recent news events, to get a feel for your style, and the manner in which you translate newsworthy items into satirical commentary.
  7. Expect a rigorous selection process. If you do get noticed by a publisher keen to take on your work, don't sit on your laurels. The selection process is the hardest part of all this! Those making the decision about your ability to take on a role as a regular satirical cartoonist will be keen to find our what sort of a person you are. To this end, they'll seek to get to know you better with the aim of finding out if you can sustain providing the cartoons regularly over a set period of time.[4] If you can already demonstrate this by way of a regular blog, publication in a school or university paper, etc., this will help you a lot.
    • Satire works best when people expect it.[3] As such, you're best off looking for work with publications, both print and online, that normally carry satirical cartoon work. While a seriously focused publication might occasionally publish a satirical cartoon, this is rare and won't provide you a steady stream of income or much renown.
    • Expect a lot of competition. There are thousands of comic and cartoon submissions to newspapers, syndicates, and other publishers every day.[6] You need to stand out from the rest.
    • Don't expect to be hired as a full-time employee. At the beginning, you'll be on probation to see if your style works out with readers. Even if your cartoons survive this test, it's likely you'll be freelancing for most publications.
  8. Know the rules concerning defamation in your relevant jurisdiction. Although it might seem like drudgery to have to be across the legal issues behind satirizing situations and people, this aspect is vital to sidestepping potential lawsuits or even criminal charges under hate speech or blasphemy legislation (depending on your jurisdiction). Defamation laws will differ from country to country, but with the event of the Internet, some complainants might be willing to pursue matters across the borders, so keep in mind the basics of defamation. At its most basic, defamation laws seek to ensure that a person's reputation is not lowered or harmed when broadcast to other people; defamation seeks to balance free speech with an individual's right to enjoy a reputation free from indefensible attack. The defenses are as important as the ability of the offended party to take the action, as these may protect you from being sued successfully. Satirical cartoons sit in a bit of a gray area because the facts behind the cartoon may imply defamatory intent.
    • Focus on the intent principally. If your intent is good humor or a joke and not derision or insult, then there is less likelihood of it being defamatory. Dave Brown explains this as being about your motive: "[T]he difference [...] between caricature and insult [...] is the motive. You don't draw Nicolas Sarkozy as short just to laugh at the short man. It's to make a point about his political or philosophical inadequacy. You're saying he's a man of small stature not in inches, but in intellect. An insult is just based on a person's physical look. In a cartoon, you make that visual aspect a metaphor for what you think of them."
    • Read up on the defamation laws in your country. Media help and legal information sites for laypersons are good places to start, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation.[7]
  9. Expect potential repercussions. Being a satirical cartoonist means that you'll be pushing the boundaries a lot more often than cartoonists preparing merely humorous cartoons. The areas of politics and religion are especially touchy topics to satirize, as are social institutions deeply routed in cultural and historic practice.
    • Take note of your country's latitude on social commentary. In a democratic country, satirizing visible and powerful persons or topics has a high level of acceptance. However, this cannot be said for authoritarian or totalitarian societies, where criticism of anyone in authority or government activities can bring terrible repercussions.
    • Select your subject with care. When satirizing individuals, more care needs to be taken because it is easy to insult the person, causing them to seek recourse. Be especially careful when satirizing lesser known people; not only will it be much harder to satirize them because only those local people familiar with the person in question will get the message, but they're more likely to be concerned about their individual reputations than public figures who are aware that their high profiles leave them open to "robust" commentary.
    • Have a hide as thick as a rhino's. You will be criticized for making fun of sacred cows. Be well-informed, ready to stand by what you believe, and be able to take as good as you give!
    • Sometimes being a satirical cartoonist is life-threatening. For example, when the Danish publication Jyllands-Posten printed cartoons depicting a revered religious figure, death threats were issued against the cartoonists and various acts of violence followed.[8]


  • In the United States, using a public person as a satire target makes it much harder for them to sue for defamation. In the instance of a public person, he or she will be left with suing for reckless disregard for the truth and actual malice. All the same, take care to make the exaggerated and farcical aspect absolutely clear within the context, in order to reduce the chances of a successful action being brought against you.
  • It would be difficult to be a "neutral" satirical cartoonist. The satirical source of your commentary stems from your political, religious, cultural, social, and institutional beliefs and background. Without injecting your own beliefs, the "oomph" in your commentary would be flattened.
  • Be culturally aware. The ability for humor to hit the spot can be culturally determined; however, it's also up to you to reach your own conclusions as to the validity or appropriateness of using culture as a shield to defend the indefensible.
  • Think about expanding your satirizing to writing and film. While this won't necessarily be enough to fund a living, it will broaden your expertise and get you noticed. As with most artistic dreams, it pays to do something in the daytime for a regular income.
  • Be clever, not just funny, and definitely not obscene. Satire is sharp-witted, informed, and intelligent humor. It's not about ramming home the message or being lewd.


  • There are many countries in the world where satirizing politics, religion, cultural mores, and social issues is not only frowned upon but can land you in prison. If you're going to be a satirical cartoonist, a fairly important pre-condition is to be where it's safe to satirize, or keep well under the radar.
  • Some people take offense easily, especially those with absolutist thinking. Such people are not your real critics. Your real critics are those who appreciate satire and support its use but have constructive feedback on how you might improve your delivery or wit.
  • Being a satire cartoonists is like wearing your heart on your sleeve; be prepared to defend your beliefs and opinions. And be prepared for some friends to avoid you, or even downgrade your friendship status! On the other hand, you'll also make new friends who love your work.

Things You'll Need

  • Satirical publications and cartoons online or in print
  • Your weapons - pen/ink/paint and paper
  • Wit prompts (they're different for every person, find your own!)

Related Articles

Sources and Citations

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Andre Pijet, Satyrical Artwork,
  2. AskOxford,
  3. 3.0 3.1 Hugh Holub,
  4. 4.0 4.1 Elaine Scott, Funny Papers: Behind the Scenes of the Comics, p. 59, (1993), ISBN 0-688-11575-6
  5. Not the Onion, How to start writing satire
  6. Elaine Scott, Funny Papers: Behind the Scenes of the Comics, p. 58, (1993), ISBN 0-688-11575-6
  8. Wikipedia, Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy,

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