Tuesday, 1 March 2016

How to find inspiration for gag cartoons and sell them (Part 1)

How to get ideas for drawing Cartoons that sell.

 Funny Social Media Cartoon Postcards

If you are serious about cartooning and you really have a desire to know why didn't I think of that? then stay tuned... Nobody is blessed with the gift of coming up with jokes or cartoon ideas at will. Like a lot of things it has to be worked at, struggled with, and sweated over and basically practised a lot.

Some of the tools used are:

1. Memory Maps
2. Puns/ Thesaurus (A play on words)
3. Observation of real life. (Misery turned into humor)
4. Exaggeration
5. Milking (Observation of other cartoonist's gags and coming up with a better alternative)

Personally, I keep any scrap of paper and blunt pencil wherever I go for prosperity. I could be sitting in an ordinary dead end Job or simply walking down the Street and an idea will just come to me that is going to make me an absolute fortune (This happens a lot). It's important though, the memory is only so good and you if you are anything like me, you'll be kicking yourself for ages for not writing it down. It may not appear to look so good when you come to execute it but then you can shelf it for when that original inspiration sparks a trigger in your head. So don't give up your day job just yet then.....

I try to set myself a goal everyday of jotting down at least 10 "potential gags". Don't let them tell you there is no room at the top. There are some big players out there paying top dollar for cartoon gags. These include The New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, Reader's Digest, Harvard Business Review, Playboy and Barrons who pay up to $650 a gag. Research these markets and get a feel for what they publish. 

Funny Beer Goggles funny cartoon

Think Greetings cards! Take a good look at the extensive list on Kate Harper's blog. I started submitting works to some of these Card Companies and in less than four months I had publishing credits in Noble Works, Smart Alex and Hello Turtle! Look for the Companies that pay out Royalties, usually 5-8% of sales and paid out Quarterly)  I'm hoping that over time I can build up enough Royalties to become a man of leisure.

Just as it is possible to improve our own drawing ability, so is it with thinking - there are techniques which can be learned, and which will raise the level of your cartooning to a professional standard, worthy of publication.

 Funny Cartoon Birthday Card


1. Your ears.

Listen to jokes and the comedy shows on telly and think how you may be able to adjust them in a way that you think would look good in print. Start a joke collection, they can be very cheesy but you'll be surprised what could be accepted by an unsuspecting Editor! Your greatest source of inspiration is PEOPLE. Everyday jokes or basic banter can be a very rich source of inspiration. 

Watch Eastenders (or the Jerry Springer Show if you are in the US) for 5 minutes and draw from the misery of life.......they love it! We are as Cartoonists (or potentially so), are basically in the Entertainment Industry and these things can collide.*Adapt* jokes to portray them in a visual form.

2. Use your eyes.

So often we walk, and even drive around, oblivious to our surroundings. They become so familiar to us that we switch off to what's happening. As a cartoonist, you are a hunter - on the lookout for the unusual, the interesting, the zany, and the plain ridiculous. ITS A JUNGLE OF IDEAS OUT THERE, so be prepared and be alert!
Learn how to look at your surroundings with new eyes and jot things down. Not everything you try to capture will lead on to finished work, but some of it certainly will, surely?

3. Reading.

This is a good habit anyway, and for cartoon inspiration, it is an excellent way to pick up ideas......from newspapers, books, mags, the internet etc. It doesn't take a lot to spark an idea. Tell all your friends you are now in the cartooning business, and ask them to save any good jokes for you. They'll love it when you show them your finished version, and they will be chuffed to see it in print, or indeed, on the web!

4. Joke situations.

You may think your life is boring, but humor can be derived from boredom to a very big extent. A large proportion of cartoons are actually derived from the very ordinary things in life. The list of potential joke situations is endless, although sometimes you may have to strain your brain to think of them. Let's take "Driving" as a very random example. Here are a few:

* Braking too slowly/ too fast/ brakes don't work/ brakes working too well.
* Bumpy roads/ sticky roads (melting tarmac)
* Hand signals
* Reversing
* Parking problems/ fitting in a space that's too small for a car
* Juggernauts in narrow streets
* Hand- brake problems
* Car radio too loud/ powerful speakers
* Road rage/ being cut off.
* New car/ showing off.
* Two- car families.
* Car wash problems
* "Name strips" on windscreens or "Racing strips".
* Gear changing
* Car mechanics/ estimates/ repairs. (What's the damage?)
* Emergency stop.
* Traffic Wardens (a potential goldmine, this one!)
* The idiot who has to be first away from traffic lights.
* Driving gloves/ driving socks?
* Failing the MOT. A sluggish nodding dog?
* Pelican crossings/ Zebra crossings
* Customized cars.
* Driving abroad on the wrong side of the road.
* Flash cars.
* Back seat drivers/ passengers.
* Flat or bald tires/ traffic Cop,
* Oil change/ dip stick
* One way streets
* Road works.
* Traffic jams/ rush hour.
* Squashed hedgehogs.
* Accessories. (I pad, hands free mobile phone, Satnav etc)
* Flat battery/ road signs/ Highway code.
* Taxi drivers
* Hard shoulder.
* Roundabouts
* Police cars.
* The fanatic who washes his car everyday, regardless of the weather.
* Car salesman.
* Air bags.
* Window stickers/ Is my driving ok?/ My other car is a.....
* Towing/ stalling at traffic lights/ speeding/ crawling.
* Learner drivers
I could go on and on. But you get the idea?

 Funny passed driving test cartoon card

Narrow them down to "Car Salesman" and I'll give you:

*Part exchange
*Previous owners
*Turning back the clock
*Hire purchase
*"Or nearest offer"
*"Needs slight attention"
*No reasonable offer refused

So you never need to be stuck for potential joke situations....YOU CAN USE THIS SAME METHOD FOR ANY SUBJECT WHATSOEVER.

When you've got the situation eg: Car salesman, and then a sub- heading, eg: "Previous owners", think how the situation might be depicted if the previous owner was a Vicar, or a builder or a Google millionaire for that matter.


This is an excellent way to come up with ideas- by sharing it with your friends at a dinner party. Once they get wind of the fact that you are soon to become famous and make a fortune as a cartoonist, they are all going to want a piece. It beats Twister or Charades in my opinion and you may even come away with a few ideas for potential gags. Use the letters of the alphabet:

Jammy tarts
Light bulbs/ blonds
You get the picture?

Let's go back to the encyclopedia salesman and explore the possibilities there......what possible obstacles could he meet? What tricks could he employ to get his foot in the door? What sort of person could open the door to him? What reason could the occupant have for not wanting the encyclopedias? What sort of thing would a child say to him? How would he react to a Rottweiler?

A few reminders

Don't worry if all you can think of is "corny" jokes. Sometimes they can be the best one's
If you are struggling with ideas, don't stress, it's life.
Use your eyes....and ears
Collect jokes from TV/ radio/ friends etc

An invaluable source of how to do this is "The Cartoonists Bible", The Cartoonist's Muse. A very good read!

 The Cartoonist's Muse