Editorial cartoonists have experienced a steady decline in the job market, but digital media allows these professionals to keep their work alive.
“There is a market out there, but you probably aren’t going to be hired by a newspaper to do cartoons,” says Marshall Ramsey, a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist.
Ramsey, who now draws cartoons as editor-at-large for Mississippi Today, graduated from the University of Tennessee with a marketing degree, but he says that since he was a small boy, he always knew he would be an editorial cartoonist.
“When I was young, my mother would hand me crayons and paper in church to keep me quiet,” he says. “By the time I was 8, I told my dad that I wanted to be a cartoonist, and he told me that I would be the best one there was.”
Ramsey’s work has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, and USA Today. He has created numerous notable cartoons, including the companion cartoons honoring the late President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara. Ramsey was working for the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi when selected as a Pulitzer finalist in 2002 and 2006.
Over the past few decades, Ramsey has seen the decline in newspaper editorial cartoons and the rise of countless digital platforms that promote editorial cartoonists’ content. From social media sites to websites designed specifically for editorial cartoons, he says cartoonists have space in the digital world.
“Visual commentary will always exist, but it’s just going to continue to change,” Ramsey says.
In order for editorial cartoonists to maintain relevance in the digital world, Ramsey says that they must be consistent in their craft, practicing and using creativity daily. “Creativity is like running,” he says. “If you don’t practice often, it will be hard. If you’re working on it every day, it’s easy.”
Ramsey is diligent in communicating his brand. He has a strong social media presence. He says, “I have to build a brand on all of the different platforms in different ways.” Instagram, being such a visual platform, is very effective for sharing visual content such as cartoons.
Content is key, and there is no shortage of material for cartoonists to use in today’s world. Ramsey acknowledges that we live in a visual society, and cartoonists must be able to use it to their advantage. He also believes that “the trick is to monetize your content.”
Once a cartoonist knows how he or she wants to communicate ideas, it is important to be consistent. This helps establish the cartoonist’s brand and allows him or her to stand out. It is also important to consider the timing when publishing content. Ramsey says that both content and context are vital for editorial cartoons to land effectively.
Ramsey currently teaches an editorial cartoons course at the University of Mississippi. He shares this advice with his students: “Don’t try to please everyone, because that will never happen. Find people that are interested in what you have to say. Be yourself. Build that platform. Create that brand.”