TOM FISHBURNE

I started this little side-project as an excuse to learn more about the people I have professional admiration for, and follow on the socials or in the media.


Poppin' the hood on fascinating folk who are doing interesting things...and sharing the findings with you.


I've been a fan of this weeks guest for almost a decade!


Like many, you may know Tom Fishburne as the name behind the well loved 'Marketoonist' illustrations. The man who takes our industry's quirks, foibles and cliches and replays them back to us with wit, charm and a tongue firmly in cheek.


You may have seen his work in Marketing Week. You've definetly seen it in a presentation somewhere (often included to highlight a pertinant point ), but lets find out about the man behind the pencil.


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Hope you enjoy!

What’s the best thing about being Tom Fishburne?

It sounds like a cliche, but being a dad of two teenage daughters is the best thing. That’s by far my most important job. I learn so much from them, including how to be present and not to let my plans get in the way of what really matters in my life. They also teach me how little I’m in control. Everything else in my life ripples from my job as a dad.


What’s your creative process? Where do you start?

I block the first two hours of every day and hold that time sacred. I find it useful to break up the creative process into stages. At the start, I need to have room to play with ideas and at the end I need to think more like an editor. I constantly have to remind myself when playing with ideas to keep my critical judgement in check, so I’m very aware what stage an idea is in the process. Ideas are most fragile at the start.


To help, I have some weird creative rituals, like sitting in the same chair and always listening to the same album on a loop (Miles Davis 1959 classic, Kind of Blue). These are rituals to tell myself to stop procrastinating and get to work. But the most important ritual is to turn off anything that can be distracting — no phones, no devices, no alerts, no texts, no email, no slack.


The subconscious is a big part of my process. I find that if I put ideas aside for the day and come back to them the next morning, my subconscious has moved the ideas forward. I see something I hadn’t seen the day before. John Cleese similarly wrote about the role the subconscious played in his writing for Monty Python. I need to create space in the schedule to have time for the subconscious to do part of the work.


What one tip would you give someone looking to create their best work?

Think of Airplane Mode on your phone as “Creative Mode”. When you put your phone on Airplane Mode, it reinforces that what you’re working in that moment trumps everything else. It helps keep the urgent from getting in the way of the important.


If you were guaranteed the correct answer to one question, what would you ask?

When will I be able to go to a crowded concert hall to listen to live music again?


What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

In high school, I worked for the summer at a small business called Toby’s Used (But Not Abused) Appliances. I scrubbed large appliances in the morning and delivered them around town in the afternoon. Much of it was back-breaking manual labor, which I didn’t mind. The bad part was the owner, who was something of a cheat. He sold appliances he knew were about to break, mostly to low-income families who couldn’t afford new appliances. He would openly make fun of them after they left. Angry customers constantly came in to complain. It taught me the importance of paying attention to the ethics of wherever I chose to work.


Worst habit?

Using the jelly [jam] knife in the peanut butter jar (I asked my family for help with this one).

What is your favourite ever Marketoonist illustration? The piece you are most proud of…

Ten years ago this month, I made the leap to draw cartoons full-time. Part of what motivated me that it was time to jump was an analogy I heard from David Hieatt about the V-1 Marker. On an airplane runway, there’s a point of no return, when the plane reaches V-1 speed. It either takes off or it crashes. David encouraged would-be entrepreneurs to draw their own V-1 marker — what would have to be true to finally make the leap. I drew this cartoon to announce I’d quit my job to start cartooning full-time.


What marketing buzzword or corporate saying makes you cringe?

“Picking your brain”. It’s a really gross visual when you think about it.


Most played song on iTunes/Spotify? (no cheating)

Jack White’s Seven Nations Army. I put it on right before I give a talk somewhere.


How do you unwind?

We recently emptied the garage and created a hang-out space for my daughters and some of their friends, complete with beanbag chairs and a Foosball table. My favorite way to unwind is playing Foosball with them (when they let me).


Last thing you searched for on your phone?

The backstory on the Duffer Brothers, who created Stranger Things. I just finished rewatching all three seasons from the start.


There are 5 empty seats at your table, who are your dream dinner party guests - from any time or place?

  1. Shel Silverstein

  2. Nina Simone

  3. Yuval Noah Harari

  4. Conan O’Brien

  5. My wife, Tallie

How do you define success?

Spending more of my day thinking about other people than thinking about myself.

Quick fire….

Early bird or night owl? Early bird

Book or boxset? Book

Call or text? Text

Introvert or Extrovert? Introvert

Netflix or YouTube? Netflix

Classic or modern? Classic


Has there ever been a turning point/fork in the road moment in your life?

When I graduated from college in Virginia, I had plans to move to Atlanta with many of my friends. It was a safe choice. I had an apartment lined up and a potential job.


I then felt an overwhelming feeling that this was a time to do something more adventurous. On not much more than a whim, I bought a one-way ticket to Prague and moved to the Czech Republic instead, a few years after the Soviet Union collapsed. I didn’t know anyone there and didn’t speak the language. All I had was a backpack, some money I made working on a dude ranch in Wyoming for the summer, and the address of a hostel. Everyone thought I was crazy.


Within a week, I met my future wife, an adventurous American like me, and found work in a start-up magazine that let me sleep on the couch until I found an apartment. I lived in Prague for a year and it changed my life. It made me more open to taking risks. That experience absolutely helped me when I later quit a safe job as a VP of Marketing to become a cartoonist.


Finally – who would you like to see answer these questions in the spotlight?

Wendy Macnaughton

Talk us through your workspace.

What helps you get through the day and do what you need to do?

This is my studio space, with two sections - a place where I work on ideas in the morning and a drafting table where I ink them in the afternoon.

Beats Headphones

These hang on a hook and are wired to an old-fashioned CD player with Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue that I play on a loop. As soon as I hear the first notes of “So What”, I’m ready to start work.


5 x 8” Card Stock Note Cards

The creative process is non-linear so I work in note cards that I can shuffle, mix, and match. I keep them organized in different piles based on where they are in the idea process. After a week of iterating on these ideas, I usually have enough to work with.


Sakura Pigma Micron Pens

I buy them in bulk in various widths and colors. To make the grip more comfortable for longer drawing sessions, I wrap them in foam and electrical tape


Artograph Lightpad 940

Once I have a rough sketch on an index card that I like, I scan and print a larger format version. I tape it to this light box and use it as a guide to draw the final cartoon on Bristol board. I don’t trace the sketch, but I use it as a rough guide so that I can draw loosely and know that all of the characters fit where I want them.


MacBook Pro

Most of my process is pretty analog, but I used plenty of digital tools to polish the cartoons (Adobe) and get them out into the world (Wordpress, Mailchimp). My MacBook Pro is a reliable workhorse for all of this.



I’m a big believer in the importance of humor in business. I regularly work with businesses to help them with culture change and communication using the medium of cartoons. I gave a talk at the TED headquarters in New York on “The Power of Laughing at Ourselves.”