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Ruben Bolling Talks About Cartooning As A Career In The Internet Age

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CharleyIt’s back to school time and we decided to share some insight and advice from some amazing people. The first victim participant in our BTS school series of interviews is Ruben Bolling (pictured here), a lawyer-turned-cartoonist who moved from print to a primarily online presence thanks to his poignant, pithy, and hilarious art.


TC: Hi, Ruben! You’re my favorite! How did you get started?

RB: I had a bizarre route to cartooning: I was a brand-new lawyer and decided to be a cartoonist. I’ve almost always continued this dual path, doing cartooning while also maintaining a job in the legal/business fields. I guess the lesson that’s applicable to anyone is that I simply decided I was a cartoonist and pursued it relentlessly.

TC: What is the hardest thing about the business now?

My specific business has been newspaper comic strip cartoonist, and the hardest thing about that business is that it is absolutely disappearing. The solution for me has been to expand into other fields like web cartooning and writing books.

TC: What can students do now to help with later success?

RB: I think the best thing a student can do to help succeed in any field is to simply begin. Even as a student, and even if nobody is paying you or paying attention. In the case of cartooning, that means start drawing comics, even if they just go in a drawer. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll learn and improve. So, don’t say, “I’m going to be a cartoonist” — just BE one!

TC: Who are some young cartoonists you admire?

RB: I don’t know! Many of the new web cartoonists I admire are people I know nothing about, and have no idea if they’re 21 or 60. There’s something very democratizing about the web.

TC: Should people try to be cartoonists? Maybe try to be doctors instead?

Here’s the worst cartooning advice I ever gave. I was once on a panel about alternative newspaper comic strip cartooning, and someone asked about getting into the field. The whole panel, myself included, described how the field was contracting at an absolutely alarming rate, and there were fewer and fewer opportunities. We said it was almost impossible to break in.

A few days later I saw a post online by someone in attendance who complained that we were self-serving jerks for saying there was no room for anyone else in our field.

And that person was right. Everything the panel said was correct, but I should have added that anyone in the audience who could be discouraged by what we said probably wouldn’t make it in the field anyway. Those who will succeed will listen to us and then figure out a way to plug away anyway because they simply must. The truth is, I was told a similar thing when I started, and against all good advice I kept trying because I knew I had no choice. The two most important attributes anyone can have in any endeavor are persistence and passion.

You can read more by Bolling here and sign up for his extra special exclusive Hive thing right here.