Cartoonist and Gagwriter Collaborations

By Ron Coleman

A question frequently discussed among cartoonists is which is more important to the sale of a cartoon - the drawing or the gag? Some have suggested a good gag can sell a weak drawing, but a weak gag cannot sell a good drawing. In my opinion, one should strive for both - a strong gag coupled with a strong gag.

Typically this is the method used by most cartoonists in working with gagwriters:

1. The gagwriter submits gag ideas to the cartoonist.

2. The cartoonist picks the gags he likes and holds them, notifying the gagwriter of these holds.

3. The cartoonist submits the cartoons to his markets.

4. When the cartoonist makes a sale, he pays the gagwriter 25 percent of the payment.

There is some debate as to what percentage a gagwriter should get. In my own experience I can write about 8 to 10 gags per hour, but it takes me up to an hour (sometimes two) to draw the cartoon. So there is more work involved in the drawing. And a third factor is the marketing. Personally I would value each contribution as follows: Drawing - 50 percent, Gag - 25 percent, Marketing - 25 percent. One gagwriter I know of insists upon being paid 50 percent, but she also does the marketing. Under this formula that would seem to be fair. Another question sometimes raised is whether the gagwriter should receive credit when the cartoon is signed. Some cartoonists will identify the writer, others don't.

The big problem I see with this formula is that it gives gagwriters a very slim opportunity to profit from their work. If, for example, a cartoonist only holds 10 percent of the gags the gagwriter sends, and he only sells one to two percent of the cartoons he submits (a typical figure), this means the gagwriter has about 2 chances out of 1000 of making a sale of his gag. If the cartoonist submits the gag to multiple markets and perhaps sells it multiple times this improves somewhat. Also, if the cartoonist uses an agency or syndicate in selling his cartoons, the percentages are all reduced since the split is for what the cartoonist receives, which typically is only about 50 percent of what the agency or syndicate receives.

Another drawback to this process for me is the necessary tracking required by the cartoonist to know what he needs to pay the gagwriters and when. For this reason I personally prefer to buy the gags outright from gagwriters whenever I accept one. There is, of course, more risk for the cartoonist in this scenario because if the cartoon doesn't sell, he is out the money he paid the gagwriter up front. It's a much better deal for the gagwriter, however.

I generally use gagwriters only when I need to do a cartoon which has a heavy slant and gags are harder to come up with. On the plus side, these gags generally sell much better than general gag ideas since highly-slanted publications are less competitive than the general publications.

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