Before sending any cartoons to a publication, you must familiarise yourself with it. So you look up current copies and old copies and even vintage copies of the publication, and you begin to look for common themes. On a superficial level, you are simply trying to find out if you can work out what the Cartoon Editor of the publication likes; on a deeper level, you are conducting a close reading of the cartoons in order to imagine how the Cartoon Editor thinks, and trying to imagine what the Cartoon Editor's ideal cartoon might be. Now this is not too difficult with themed publications, like fly-fishing Monthly, the chances are you will be on target with a cartoon about fishing, but it is a dark art with more cosmopolitan and varied titles. When I was planning to send to Playboy my friend and fellow cartoonist Mike Lynch sent me a really thick envelope stuffed with pages of Playboy cartoons, which I glued together onto a lot of boards. Once I had those boards in front of me, I went over and over them, trying to think myself into a "playboy" frame of mind. When I was convinced I had done so, I created a batch of cartoons for them.
Now there are two ways of looking at this, it is either a strange voodoo-like technique that cartoonists employ to read the Cartoon Editor's mind, or it is simply a very practical example of the old adage of "being familiar with your markets". I'm inclined to think it is the latter, but it does sometimes feel a little strange when it works well. Years back, when The National Enquirer was a cartoon market, I sent a submission from the UK and the Editor sent me back a bunch of examples of the cartoons they had used; again, I used these examples to think myself into the magazine. To be honest, in that case it was more a case of realising the publication used what we call "general cartoons". But there you go, not a secret and hardly mind blowing - research your market and target the publication with work it can use.
So, having heard good things about Nickelodeon Magazine (US), I decided to get a hold of the thing and go over it with a fine tooth-comb, and try to think my way into the thing. The thing was, I had no idea what to expect, it was a kids magazine after all. Well, I was astonished when I saw it, really astonished. I'm not kidding, I was really bowled over by the magazine, I had never seen a publication more visually literate, more cartoon and illustration friendly, it was a cartoonist's delight. Imagine what was going through my mind; I was expecting maybe a gags page, or maybe a comics page or two, or maybe some sort of comic related to the Nickelodeon shows, but I was not expecting page after page after page of illustrations and gags and puzzles - page after page of fun.
As I looked through the magazine, I found myself responding to it with the same levels of wonder and delight as a cartoonist, as a parent, and as a teacher. I had never seen anything like this, and I had never seen such a range of mainstream and indie cartoonists all gathered together in one publication.
Not only that, but I could see the opportunity to get out of my funk. I wasn't feeling to great about being a cartoonist at that time, but now I could maybe recast myself as a cartoonist creating the sort of work I would like to read. In the UK a couple of my markets had dried up, there was effectively no comics industry, and here I might have the opportunity to create work that would appear alongside the work of Charles Burns, one of my cartooning heroes. What an opportunity.