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How Cartoonists Can Turn Ordinary Books Into Something Memorable

Posted in: Book Design on June 13, 2017 2 Comments 💬

Cartoons in your book

Nate Fakes is a professional syndicated cartoonist for MAD Magazine. His work has been published worldwide in greeting cards, newspapers, magazines, books, and numerous other places. As a cartoonist-for-hire and a book illustrator, you can check out his profile on Reedsy.

If you run across a cartoon, more than likely, you’ll notice it. No, trust me: you probably will. Think of the last time you didn’t pay attention to a cartoon? They pop-up on your social media feeds, on greeting cards, magazines, and —every so often— books. Cartoons get noticed and leave a lasting impression. You read them, hopefully, get a laugh, and they stick out like a sore thumb. (But unlike a sore thumb, cartoons can hurt from too much laughter.)

When I talk about using cartoons, the first thing I hear at the end of the conversation is usually, “Wow! I never thought of using cartoons before. When you explain it, it all makes sense!”

Cartoons work well in many mediums, and books are certainly no exception. Tony Robbins uses them in business and self-improvement books like Awaken the Giant Within. Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series of middle-grade novels are structured around illustrations. They’re practically a mainstay in certain types of how-to books. You’ll see them appear in memoirs, gift books, regional books, and… I can go on and on.

Using cartoons in your book

Images like cartoons can work wonders on your book, as long as they’re developed the right way, of course.

Cartoonist for Hire

Don’t know how to kick off a chapter? A quick gag can act as a great segue, helping you transition between topics.


Deviled Egg Cartoon

Creating a cookbook? This cartoon could be a great segue into a chapter about using eggs.

Most importantly, cartoons can help to humanize a dry topic. If you want to keep readers interested between chapters, a well-placed cartoon will add a much-appreciated burst of levity or humor.

Creating a book about computers? A cartoon like this would work well if featured in a chapter about the frustrations of laptops.

Give your social media channels a boost

Now, more so than ever, cartoons are also a great marketing asset. They can add a lot of character to your website, blog, and social media; people will “like” and share them; they might even stick a good cartoon up on their fridge.

A good example of this is a cartoon I created for 21st Century Fox and Super Bowl LI. They wanted a custom cartoon about the upcoming game and the new technology that was included. Their post that featured the cartoon had the highest number of views on their blog and —to this day— is still the most popular post of all-time.

Actor George Takei has used over a dozen of my cartoons to help improve his social media presence. Currently, he’s up to over 10 million followers on Facebook. Here’s an example of how a cartoon can get shared by tens of thousands:

George Takei Cartoonist

The key is: cartoons get people talking. If the cartoon does its job well, it will get noticed — and whoever’s platform it’s featured on will get noticed, too.

There are sites with cartoons available for licensing like Cartoonstock and Gag Cartoons, to name a few.

Working with a Cartoonist-for-Hire

If you really want to personalize your book, blog, newsletter, or social media project, consider hiring a professional cartoonist to create something unique. It’s a great way to enhance any publication with cartoons that are new and fresh. Cartoonists can take almost any idea and run with it. And if you get a true professional, think of this cartoon almost as a celebrity endorsement. They’re using their work to help your book. It’s not as affordable as licensing out cartoons, but it will add a certain quality to any manuscript.

Costco used the following custom cartoon that I created with my company, BizComics, to demonstrate how much people enjoy the free samples at their wholesale stores. The same concept can be applied toward your book.

To go back to the first point I made in this post, answer this question: did you read the cartoons on this post? Thought so.

A picture is worth a thousand words, right? So, give your fingers a break from typing and try a cartoon instead.

Head to the Reedsy Marketplace for free quotes from Nate and other award-winning book illustrators. If you have any questions about cartoons in books, leave it in the comments and Nate will do his best to reply.

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Ellen Kozak

Oh, man, where to begin? First of all, do not take this article to mean you can use a cartoon you've found somewhere. You'll need permission-- and perhaps not just that of the cartoonist. There might be restictions on it depending on who published it, and to what purpose. Second, there needs to be a license IN WRITING between you and the cartoonist. What rights you acquire (for example, to use the cartoon on the cover as well as inside, or in other editions of your book, or in advertising for your book, or in posters for speeches you might… Read more »

Nate Fakes

These are some good talking points, Ellen. It's important for the illustrator/cartoonist AND the author to protect their work and make sure they're on the same page. I always use a contract, but if you feel the need for some extra protection, there is nothing wrong with hiring a copyright attorney. That being said, a contract that clearly states what both parties expect is important -- whether through an attorney or not.

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