Interview with Mark Anderson, Creator of ANDERTOONS

1 October 2004

    Distinctive linework, gags that produce smiles and chuckles immediately, and an adept, professional hand at the hilarious signal the work of Mark Anderson, creator of Andertoons. Published in prominent magazines such as The Wall Street Journal, Saturday Evening Post, Good Housekeeping, Forbes, Readers Digest and many more, this freelance cartoonist is making his humourous mark in magazine cartooning

    In a recent interview for The Cartoonists, Mark Anderson kindly shared his story about his art and the business of cartooning:

Mark, when and where were you born?

    I was born June 3, 1971 in Donahue, Iowa. I spent my childhood in Eldridge, a little town not too far away. So if you’re trying to figure out how my mind works, the answers are probably hidden amidst the corn there. My parents and siblings all still live in the same general area while I made my escape to Chicago about seven years ago.

Are you married and do you have children?

    I’m married to a wonderful, smart, and extremely patient woman and we have one fourteen-month-old son who’s currently figuring out how to make noises like daddy.

Did you have another career in mind before you started Andertoons? Did you work at other jobs before becoming a cartoonist or to support yourself while cartooning?

    I’d originally wanted to be a jazz trombonist (who doesn’t?!) and got my bachelor’s degree in music. I made a living at it for a while, but gave it up when I moved to Chicago and became the responsible cartoonist you know today. I worked a couple of office type jobs for a few years until I was able to build up a large enough clientele to make a go at it full time.

Did you attend art school or are you self-taught, Mark? Do you create other types of art besides cartooning?

    I am pretty much self-taught, so, sadly, I have no one to blame for my style but myself. I wish I could say I’m into oil painting and sculpture and cool stuff like that, but I’m pretty much your garden variety cartoonist at this point.


When did you begin Andertoons?

    I started cartooning in earnest right after I got married and gave up music. I think I still needed that creative outlet, but there’s only so much noise you can make in an apartment. Cartooning is nice and quiet and was something I’d toyed with on and off since I was a teenager.

You have a distinctive style, Mark. Did it take long to develop?

    My style developed pretty quickly. I went through a period of not drawing noses (yes, I have a big schnozz for those of you psychoanalyzing me at home), and some other weird ideas, but I’m pretty happy with the current state of the cartoons.

Would you describe your first successes? Was it difficult to break into the market?

    My first sale was to Funny Times, a humor newspaper that if you aren’t already subscribing to, you should go do it right now. I’ll wait here. They were kind enough to buy and publish my first stuff. I remember my wife calling me at work and telling me she was looking at me in print! Wow! I was hooked then and there. Other markets seemed to open up after that and I think I knew I had something when I sold my first one to Reader’s Digest.

Did you have frustrations or failures?

    As far as failures go, I still get rejected probably 95% of the time. It’s just the nature of the business. Some of my day jobs were in sales, so I managed to build up a pretty thick skin over the years. It’s rough, there’s no doubt about it, but incredibly rewarding as well. To succeed even at a small level in such a competitive market is a lot of fun.

Where do you find your inspirations for Andertoons?

    I try to read a lot and pay attention to current trends and jargon. Most stuff just comes when I lay on the sofa and just stare off into space. I just let my mind go and see where it takes me.

Do you have any special methods of organization, such as notebooks of ideas or tape-record thoughts?

    I’ve tried every method known to man to organize my ideas – tape recorders, the computer, notebooks, sketchbooks, chalkboards, hieroglyphics… The way I’ve pretty much resigned myself to is having about six small legal pads laying around that I jot stuff down on. Periodically I round them up, tear off pages and stick them en masse on the bulletin board, where they usually stay for about a day until they find their way into a roaming pile of paper that I need to sort out.

What kind of workday do you have? Is a large portion of your day spent on marketing and business?

    I’m also a stay-at-home-dad, so my workday changes depending on what my son needs. I mostly work early in the morning before he gets up, during his naps and at night. If he’s sleeping, I’m working. I try to draw three previously written cartoons and write three new ones every day. Of course that changes according to any special assignments I’m working on and such, but that’s a "normal" day for me. As far as marketing and business goes, I try to cram that in whenever I can. I’m fairly lucky that as much as I like the art and writing side of it, I also like the business side.

What kind of tools do you use to create your cartoons? Do you use the computer for your creations?

    I use a Faber-Castell brush pen, Sigma Micron pens and cool grey Prismacolor markers for the washes and I like Borden & Riley marker paper a lot. I do use my computer quite a bit. I scan into Photoshop and make any corrections and/or changes I need and add the captions. I’ll also use Photoshop and a Wacom graphics pad for doing the color work.

Do you have a studio or office, and is it at home or in a separate place? Have you help from assistants or office staff?

    I do have a rather nice office, but I tend to work all through the house. I finally bought a nice laptop so that I can float from room to room. I don’t have any staff, unless you count my wife, who is just about the best editor a cartoonist could ask for.

What is your opinion on the state of cartooning? Are there changes to the cartooning business you would like to see happen?

    Of course I’d like to see more markets for gag cartoonists, but I think we need to work on creating some of that for ourselves too. I love nothing more than to see a magazine that hasn’t used cartoons before giving them a shot. I think they’re generally surprised at how well the cartoons are received. I’ve tried my hand at a few comic strips, but if you think magazine cartoons are a tough nut to crack, just give the syndicates a try. I do have great hopes for gag cartoons and cartooning in general. Look at it this way – who would’ve thought five years ago that people would be excited about watching poker on TV? I think the medium probably needs to adapt to changing times, although what changes need to be made are still unclear. The internet is certainly an incredible tool for creators like myself, and I’m trying to stay ahead of the curve there.

Would you care to give advice to aspiring cartoonists about the magazine market?

    As far as advice for aspiring magazine cartoonists, all I have is this – stay away from my markets! Seriously, just stick to it. If you’re not selling, draw more cartoons. And if that doesn’t work, draw more cartoons. Eventually you’ll get there.

Thank you very much to Mark Anderson for letting us have a quick look into his life and business as a freelance cartoonist and illustrator. His imaginative and comical work is a joy to millions of magazine readers.

Thanks for creating all those smiles, Mark!

See Mark Anderson's in-depth website for more information, custom illustrations and cartoons, and to sign up to receive a daily Andertoon in your email box:

Read about the 1000th Andertoon comic milestone:

© Susanna McLeod 2004  
(Originally published in The Cartoonists on