Interview - Paul Nowak

Interview: Paul Nowak, Cartoonist: 16th July 2003

Media Man Australia's Greg Tingle continues to investigate the world of the cartoonist.

In a rare interview, Paul discussed how he started in the business, career highlights, how the internet helps him and lots more.

What's your background?

Officially, my education on the college level was Economics and Mathematics.

I took one Design course, and hated the teacher. I did a lot of free work when I was in the military (Coast Guard, Navy Reserve, Marine Corps), so I'm largely self-taught. Which explains a lot, I think.

How did you get your break in the media, and specifically the cartooning business?

I began blugeoning my way into this field in 1991, when I was working in Japan. I sent some samples of my illustrations and cartoons to a publisher who GRACIOUSLY agreed to use my stuff in the magazines she put out. Then I sent in a strip to an English-language paper in Tokyo, and for the next five years I had a weekly spot in the paper. Very cool, even if the strip was far from popular. In 1999, having returned to the US, I contacted and asked them if they would like me to submit some work; I told the editor I would send in a cartoon every day--weekdays and weekends-- and if he liked the cartoons, he could print them and not pay me.

If at the end of the month he thought my work was good enough, I would agree to whatever arrangement existed at the time for his other cartoonist. Within two weeks he contacted me and said, "I like your stuff, we'll publish it every day."

What motivates you?

The work itself. The money, frankly, is not enough to cover even my rent. I love the commentary, the ability to speak my mind through the cartoons, and to put out a point of view in the press (no matter how limited my exposure is) that's very rare.

Where do you get your ideas from?

Liberals. They're an unending treasure trove of humor.

Explain the creative process - from idea, to drawing, to marketing etc etc

Process? HAH! I It's more like reinventing the wheel each morning. I get up early--4am--, and while having my coffee, start going through the news on the Net. I jot down the main stories of the day or some quirky occurrence that has potential, then whittle the list down to two or three subjects. Then I sit and
doodle. And sit. And sit. I generally come up with something by 4:45 or 5am, pencil it roughly on the paper, then spend an hour or 90 minutes inking it in.

As for Marketing--I am at a loss when it comes to marketing. I've found over the years that very few good cartoonists are also good marketers. Generally the better the marketeer, the weaker the cartoonist. Obviously there are exceptions to the rule, but it makes sense: the more effort put into selling, the less effort there is applied to the creative end.

Where can your work be found?; Scripps Howard News Service ( and follow the links to ART, punch in NOWAK in the search engine, and eventually something comes onto the screen);, (a website that acts as a cyberspace version of those illustration catalogs most art directors keep at their desks for reference and for stealing ideas from); and (the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, a largely liberal organization of which I am a small and insignificant part).

What do you consider to be career highlights?

The first time I was published in a magazine (1992); the first time I had a real cartoon in a real newspaper (1993); the first textbook I worked on (1996); the first cartoon I had published on the Net (1999); the only award I ever got (2001).

How much creative control do you have over your work?

Scripps Howard is the only outfit to ever kill a cartoon. I've been very fortunate in having editors who allow me almost total creative control.

What are you most famous or infamous pieces, and why?

Nothing famous that I know of. I got five e-mails about one cartoon, though: It stands as the single most popular cartoon I've done that I know of. If there's a famous toon out there that I've done, I don't know about it.

What's the best / worst reaction you ever received?

Near-hate mail from Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada in response to a cartoon I had done that was, ironically, pro-Catholic. Never understood that vitriol.

How anyone tried to "censor" you?

Scripps Howard just doesn't run the cartoon if they don't like it. In two+ years, I think they've only killed two or three toons.

Do you, or did you, have any mentors?

Mentors? You mean teachers? None.


The late, great Jeff MacNelly; the living, great Mike Ramirez (, and INCREDIBLE cartoonist; Robert Crumb, the world's most insane cartoonist and a certified genius; Mort Drucker (of MAD fame).

Judging by the website addresses you listed, you must be quite technology has the internet and other technologies helped you?

Like most guys in this field of Web tooning, if it weren't for the Internet, I doubt I'd have ever been published at all in this country.

What do you do to relax?

Swim, lift, hit the heavy bag, and draw cartoons.

In 50 years from now, how would you like to be remembered?

I don't care if anyone remembers me. I would like to influence readers NOW.

What other important information should our audience know about you and your work?

I love it, it's fun, I'd do it 7 days a week if I could (oh, wait, I DO); I am ALWAYS looking for additional (paid) work. ALWAYS.


Editors Note: An insightful interview with one of the most respected cartoonists in the US.

Paul Nowak