You don't need permission
First the good news. . .
My kids are currently infatuated with some Calvin and Hobbes comic anthologies that were mine when I was about their age. They found them at my parents’ house and were immediately hooked; they fought over them so much, my wife had to track down more at the library to satiate their obsession.
They’ve since begun creating stacks of their own comic strips, which has led to a question:
Dad, how can I become a cartoonist when I grow up?
When I was their age, the answer was something like:
Create a bunch of comic strips until you have a portfolio, then submit your best ones to magazines and newspapers or use them to apply for a job and then, if you’re incredibly, exceedingly lucky, you might get a job as a cartoonist.
Today the answer is much simpler:
Create some comic strips.
Randall Munroe started drawing the XKCD comic in his spare time while working at NASA as a roboticist. He posted the comic on his personal website and it eventually became so popular, he quit his job to work on the comic full time. Last month the site had more than 5 million visitors.
There are countless other webcomics with devoted followings like Sarah’s Scribbles, Nathan Pyles’ Strange Planet, and Nick Seluk’s Awkward Yeti, to name a few.
These people weren’t given the title of a “cartoonist” from a publishing company or major newspaper (remember those?), and they certainly didn't ask for permission to draw. They simply created, posted, and found their audience. They bypassed the gatekeepers and made their way directly to the reader—their success determined not by the approval of an executive in a corner office, but by the people who visited their websites and shared their work.
This shift from needing external permission, this freedom, spans far beyond comics. We see it in musicians recording in their basements, in authors self-publishing, in filmmakers creating and releasing their own short films, in individuals teaching niche subjects from their living room, in restaurant critics gaining notoriety by posting Google reviews, and in day traders buying and selling stocks on their own.
These people aren’t waiting for anyone to give them access. They don't need a film studio, a publishing house, or a record label to put their work into the world. They need an idea, work ethic, and an Internet connection.
This isn't to say that the path is easy—far from it—but it is open to pretty much everyone.
This is a wild and wonderful shift from when I was my kids’ age. A shift toward opportunities not being confined by traditional boundaries but rather defined by one's ability to create and contribute in a meaningful way.
Of course, within this exhilarating transition there lies a sobering realization:
The gatekeepers are gone, but so too are the excuses.
In the old world, the struggling artist had an easy out. Rejection letters could be romanticized, framed as badges of honor in a personal narrative of tenacity and grit. If the novel was never published, or the album never made it to the radio, the culprit was clear: the unappreciative, narrow-minded gatekeepers who couldn’t see the genius within.
Today there is no one to reject you, but also no one to hide behind.
That’s pretty scary!
But, isn’t it also liberating?
When I told my daughter that she could publish a book whenever she wanted to, her eyes lit up. (“You mean like right now?” she asked, thirty minutes past her bedtime.)
It's less about getting discovered than it is creating something worth discovering.
The only permission you need is your own.