How do you get your cartoon ideas

Philip Copitch, Ph.D., Family Therapist and cartoonist

I am asked this question all the time. The simple answer is, I listen.

I listen

People like to tell stories about their lives. So when I listen to their stories, I regularly hear snippets of sentences that I find interesting, curious, or downright funny. When this happens I write them down. Then at another time, when driving, waiting on line at the post office, or walking in the woods with Odin, my 180 pound wolf friend, I play with these little snippets.

 

Odin, a cartoonist's best friend

 

A gag cartoon…

A single panel cartoon is often called a gag cartoon. With a few ink lines and a few words you create a snapshot of a situation you find funny. You can’t get it wrong, it’s just a cartoon… it is simple brain candy without the calories.

An example of writing a gag cartoon

I was teaching a Jujitsu class and, as I often do, I quoted the martial art sages and repeated, “Jujitsu starts at your feet, bend your knees.” This time a teenager jokingly replied, “Yes mom!”

I tucked this funny line away, because you can’t stop class to draw a cartoon. Later, I was driving home thinking to myself, “bend your knees”, “yes mom”… how would my mom teach jujitsu? That got me to my mom saying, “Stop with all that silliness, throwing yourself on the ground like a victim of a grand mal seizure, and go do your homework.”

No cartoon there - just exposing my mommy issues, so I continued playing with the idea in my mind. What if Hercules was doing Herculean acts and his mom walked by. He would probably be surprised and say, “Mom!” What would she say back? “Now remember Honey, when you have your little tantrum, lift with your knees.” At this point I was picturing muscle bound Hercules chained to two large roman pillars getting ready to pull the building down.

But a problem occurred

“Nah, that’s not right,” I thought, “it wasn’t Hercules chained to the columns, it was ????” I couldn’t remember the guy’s name. So I asked my bride, Geri. “Who was that bible hero who was chained to the pillars and pulled the building down?”

She looked at me as if all her years of Sunday school teaching were wasted on me. “That was Samson.” She wanted to tell me the story, but I had cartooning to do!

So my cartoon worked better with Samson, a muscular fellow chained to columns. I could see this gag in my mind’s eye, so I jotted it down.

 

First line sketch of a gag cartoon idea

 

When I got to the art table to do the drawing, I let the cartoon develop its own personality. Initially I thought of drawing Samson’s mom wearing traditional robes of biblical times, but that wasn’t funny enough to me. So I drew her as a older Jewish woman of my upbringing… that hit my funny bone.

And this is what I got.

Phil and Geri's cartoon example - 449 Free range eggs

A few rules to remember about brainstorming gag cartoon ideas

1. It is play. You are playing with the words and concepts. If you pass judgment on the individual ideas, you will become self conscious and lose the playfulness. If you are negative, you have no chance of tripping over a gag line. All ideas are welcome. We play off the unfinished ideas until we get to the finished idea. There are no bad ideas - only unfinished ones. It is common to go through hundreds of unfinished ideas to get to a keeper.

2. Ask yourself, “What happened next?” Ask it over and over again. “Yes, then what happened?” This type of brainstorming leads to funny.

3. When you get a germ of a funny gag, it is often helpful to play with putting the idea into lots of different cartoon snapshots.

My most popular cartoon as defined by sales

The cartoon I have sold the most happened this way. I heard a man telling his fiancée that he would give her everything she ever wanted. I thought, how nice, but what about way in the future? In the future you will be fat and bald, but still pointing to yourself saying how you will give your wife everything. I thought about them in the coffee shop having the conversation. Funny, but not that funny. I thought, “Where would it be funny?” Then bam, the following cartoon popped into my mind’s eye.

This cartoon sells well as an anniversary card and adorns birthday present t-shirts.

Make it fun

The part I like about cartooning is the blank paper which I get to add a few lines to until a gag cartoon evolves. So, have fun! You can’t get it wrong. It is pun art that is fun. Play with the words and draw a lot. You will only get better at your gag lines and your drawing skill the more you take chances and play.

Have fun,

P.S. It is lots of fun when you find your cartoon on someone’s refrigerator or cork board––the Louvre Museum of gag cartooning. People are nice enough to send me photos of my cartoons on a professor’s door or a company bulletin board (usually next to the “clean up your own mess” sign.) I once saw a teenage boy wearing one of my cartoons. I told him that I drew his shirt. He looked at me fearfully and hastily walked away. Isn’t reality funny?

We use Zazzle.com to produce our art onto fun gifts.

 

You can customize mugs, t-shirts and much more...

Brainstorming for a gag line

Other times, I like to play a cartoon gag writing game. Sometimes I do it all in my own head, other times I play it with Geri or our boys.

The game is easy - you start with a situation. Any starting point is fine. Let’s say the starting point is “eggs”. Then you play with the word eggs. Geri and I did this and we went all over the place. The egg was doing this, then the egg was doing that. When I said, eggs with little feet are running around a farm bashing into each other, Geri laughed, “Yeah! They’re free range eggs.” We laughed and a cartoon idea was born.

Geri got credit for this gag and signed her initials on the cartoon.

© 2017 CopitchInc.com

I listen

People like to tell stories about their lives. So when I listen to their stories, I regularly hear snippets of sentences that I find interesting, curious, or downright funny. When this happens I write them down. Then at another time, when driving, waiting on line at the post office, or walking in the woods with Odin, my 180 pound wolf friend, I play with these little snippets.

 

Odin, a cartoonist's best friend

 

A gag cartoon…

A single panel cartoon is often called a gag cartoon. With a few ink lines and a few words you create a snapshot of a situation you find funny. You can’t get it wrong, it’s just a cartoon… it is simple brain candy without the calories.

An example of writing a gag cartoon

I was teaching a Jujitsu class and, as I often do, I quoted the martial art sages and repeated, “Jujitsu starts at your feet, bend your knees.” This time a teenager jokingly replied, “Yes mom!”

I tucked this funny line away, because you can’t stop class to draw a cartoon. Later, I was driving home thinking to myself, “bend your knees”, “yes mom”… how would my mom teach jujitsu? That got me to my mom saying, “Stop with all that silliness, throwing yourself on the ground like a victim of a grand mal seizure, and go do your homework.”

No cartoon there - just exposing my mommy issues, so I continued playing with the idea in my mind. What if Hercules was doing Herculean acts and his mom walked by. He would probably be surprised and say, “Mom!” What would she say back? “Now remember Honey, when you have your little tantrum, lift with your knees.” At this point I was picturing muscle bound Hercules chained to two large roman pillars getting ready to pull the building down.

But a problem occurred

“Nah, that’s not right,” I thought, “it wasn’t Hercules chained to the columns, it was ????” I couldn’t remember the guy’s name. So I asked my bride, Geri. “Who was that bible hero who was chained to the pillars and pulled the building down?”

She looked at me as if all her years of Sunday school teaching were wasted on me. “That was Samson.” She wanted to tell me the story, but I had cartooning to do!

So my cartoon worked better with Samson, a muscular fellow chained to columns. I could see this gag in my mind’s eye, so I jotted it down.

 

First line sketch of a gag cartoon idea

 

When I got to the art table to do the drawing, I let the cartoon develop its own personality. Initially I thought of drawing Samson’s mom wearing traditional robes of biblical times, but that wasn’t funny enough to me. So I drew her as a older Jewish woman of my upbringing… that hit my funny bone.

And this is what I got.