Friday, January 17, 2014

Writing Single Panel Cartoon Gags

I just had a gag writing session with John Klossner. John is a friend and a fellow cartoonist. You know his work from The New Yorker, Reader's Digest, Wall Street Journal, etc.

So … hmm. Now that I type that, it sure looks like what I'm saying about John is that he is my RIVAL … but he's also a pal. Unlike most rivals, cartoonists tend to be friendly souls who help each other. Yeah, I know. Go figure!

Case in point: gag writing.

We have done this a couple of times before and each time we've yielded some good gags. So, for the first time, I'll share the first part of the experience of writing gags with another person. The second bit (Do these gags sell?) has not happened as of yet, natch!


So, we sat down at a table at the local deli and within 90 minutes, I think we had about ten ideas that were workable cartoons. John came up with about five or six, and I came up with 5 myself. I would admit that half of that 90 minutes we talked shop about other stuff.


I need some more new business cartoons. So, my idea was to come up with some typical areas in a typical business. So, I wrote a list, on the back of a receipt that was in my jacket pocket. Thje deal is: you take a word from the list and develop a single panel gag cartoon.

Above is a shot of the list. John helped with this:

Water Cooler
Snack Room
Entry Way
Meeting Room
Mail Room
Office Art
Office Plants
Street Food
Security Cameras


We each took a few ideas and drew up gags in our sketchbooks. Then we exchanged sketchbooks and critiqued what we had done. Some ideas were fully formed, others were just silly drawings. More than once we each pointed at the other's sketchbook and said, "Oh, that's good. That'll sell."

Since we've known each other for some time, we were able to make critical comments without bruising an ego. We tried to flesh out each other's rougher ideas. And then we both went home to draw up the final versions.


Well, like I said, the test of this will be in the sales.

So … this is just a half of a story for now. I'll check back in later and we'll see how many winners we got!

Above: five of the gags roughed out in my sketchbook.


It helped enormously to be with a friend who does the same kind of stuff I do. Although we digressed for about half the time, talking about other cartoon-related topics, the session was productive and regardless of future sales from this, I thought we each walked away with some solid ideas.


john k said...

To give the other participant's view, I agree with everything Mike said, except he left out the part about the apple fritters. I especially like the self-made deadline - let's see how many ideas we can come up with in 45 minutes - which helps me ( can't speak for Mike) get over any perfectionist blocks. And I couldn't agree with Mike more about the fact that neither of us leaves this with bruised egos - I know and respect Mike's work and voice, and I think I know which ideas work better for him and which ones work for me. Of course, when he sells everything from this batch and I sell zip, I'll curse his very existence.

Oberon Cartoons said...

Yup, this is one way of doing it.
Obviously, it works for you.

FM Hansen said...

Great post. Thank you for sharing this. Always great to see how other cartoonist come up with gags.

Max West said...

My method is different. I scour joke books, online joke repositories and one-liners; these get recorded in a notebook. A lot of those jokes can be turned into good gag cartoons.