Below is a link to the work that I created during a two-semester stint as an opinion artist at my college newspaper.
Many of the topics that I drew were generally pretty campus-specific (as opposed to matters of national consciousness, as in political cartoons), so I’m sharing short blurbs to go along with the stories…
I barely did anything artistic in college, save for my run at the The Daily Pennsylvanian. Great gig. The DP was entirely student-run and advertising-supported, liberating the students to report on issues without fear of censorship or loss of financial backing from the school (or any other institution).
The talent on the staff was amazing, and the experience that everyone got by working there was the equivalent of journalism bootcamp. Most of the editorial team went on to full-time jobs in media and publication after grad. I had so much respect for the news, features, sales, and 34th Street staff as well, for the consist quality of the work that they churned out. As for the art staff… well, I considered it a privilege just to share a masthead alongside people possessing far better technical skills than I did. (Some are professional artists or writers right now — shout-outs to Avery Lawrence and Alicia Puglionesi.)
When I started drawing for the DP, I hadn’t done so in a long time and was rusty as heck. Still, it served as a much-needed creative outlet for a stressed collegiate who used humor as a coping mechanism. I loved getting reactions from readers when my work struck a chord with them. There was no better feeling than people coming up to me after class and telling me they liked my piece that day. (True, some of the online commenters could be pretty mean, but I preferred a negative reaction rather than none at all — at least someone was reading my work!) I quickly got a sense of which jokes worked and which didn’t, allowing me to become a better visual storyteller as well.
Because I’m still a bit of a management consultant on the inside, here are two takeaways from the experience:
1) If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. (Also: Do not expect to coast.)
I tried out for the opinion art position twice before I was accepted. The first time around, I submitted a series of old recycled comic strips — as opposed to editorial cartoons — that I’d done two years prior. (It was the equivalent of reusing a generic cover letter for different job applications as opposed to tailoring a letter to each job.)
One of the editors wrote me the nicest rejection letter ever, turning me down for the opinion artist slot but encouraging me to apply for the art editor (!) position the year after. “But I didn’t even get in,” I protested. He replied, “Yeah, but I saw your work. I know you can draw.” Huh.
His encouraging words helped, and I tried out again the following semester, making sure to create new art that actually fit the position for which I was applying. Lucky that I have pretty thick skin (thanks to a steady diet of articles like this Chicken Soup for the Soul piece), because I got in the second time around. Thank you, Charles Schulz.
2) Always back up your work. (Corollary: Keep a back-up of the back-up.)
After submitting the hard copies of my drawings, the opinion editor would scan, retouch (e.g., removing impurities in the background), and resize my work. I draw the manual way so I don’t know how to do any of that retouching myself. (I know, I know… I should get a tablet.)
I insisted on getting my original drawings back at the end of each semester. Based on my editor’s reaction, I got the sense that it was a weird request, and it occurred to me that the other artists probably viewed cartooning as a fun side gig as opposed to portfolio-building work. Even if copies of the drawings were all available online and this wasn’t Eisner Award-winning stuff by any means, my editor gamely complied.
Each time I saw my work in the print edition of the paper, I cut it out and pasted it in a scrapbook for my personal file. It was something my mother (who saved my first strands of baby hair) would have done. Lucky that I did that, because the editor ended up losing some of my original artwork, and then the DP decided to host the online edition of the paper themselves sometime after I graduated. My bylines remained when the DP switched to their own web servers, but the pictures all went offline… Good thing I’d saved copies!