Updated: Aug 1
I know I've always said that there is no magic formula to teaching someone to write cartoon gags and I, like many of my contemporaries have said on probably a billion occasions that we couldn't say how we do what we do, but I may be wrong, and I think there is a way to show you how to learn to write gags.
Then please read on...
When I first started working as a professional cartoonist one of the first jobs I picked up was as a cartoonist on the local paper. This weekly position involved me writing & Illustrating a cartoon that either lampooned, ridiculed or painted pomposity all over its smug and silly little face.
They were very popular, and after a while more newspapers got wind of my cartoons and in a very short time I was producing weekly cartoons for a variety of local papers. And then when staff from my existing customers moved onto other papers they would contact me and I would continue to produce work for them; and so it escalated.
So it would be fair to assume that producing that many cartoons to a tight deadline would require me needing an over active funny bone. But you'll probably be surprised to hear me say: not necessarily.
And it is while I was thinking of these heady and often crazy days of disappearing, reappearing deadlines, I realised that yes, here is a perfect way to help the aspiring gag writer and cartoonist to hone their writing skills.
You see, when I worked for these papers it would happen like this: They would fax me (yes it was that long ago) the stories they would want looked at. I would read them, give it a humorous twist, run up about three roughs, fax them back over and await the editor's decision, then produce the finished cartoon and send it back.
So here's the thing that occurred to me while I was reminiscing the above: If you want to learn to write funny, don't stare into space looking for inspiration, go and get yourself copy of your local paper and look through the stories. I say local as the national papers are largely doom and gloom where as the local paper veers toward the 'local-boy-does-well' kind of story and tends to be more light-hearted in it's approach.
The best material is from the general or human interest stories. You know the sort, the ones that talk about goofy local government issues, failed Police initiatives on new parking rules, the notes from the council meetings on time and cost in painting the railings on the parks bandstand, even though the park hasn't had a band since the Victorian times.
All this stuff is a virtually untapped seem of comedy gold and it remains largely untapped to this day. When not highlighted by the wicked and acerbic pen of a cartoonist, most people just see these stories, raise their eyes and move on.
But if you take a closer look, turn the people involved into cartoons characters and play a wild game of 'what if', you will find yourself creating all manner of silly mountains out of odd-ball molehills.
Now I'm not saying that you will automatically turn into a gag writing machine, but I have found from the many years I've been in the business of writing gags that the best humour comes from real life, and local newspapers positively abound with the stuff.
But to help you on your way, and better illustrate what I mean, I've produced a cartoon below from a story I discovered in a local paper.
This particular newspaper serves one of our sea side towns, and their local council believed they could alleviate their summertime water shortage issues by pumping in the water that heated their council house radiators direct from the nearby sea. My take from that story is below.
Now that you've seen how I got from point 'A' to point 'B', why don't you go on and give it a try yourself. See what your mind can create from real life, because real life is what gives your crazy observations a ring of truth. Remember, the best jokes come from recognition of the situation or set of circumstances.
And for even more value--as we're all about value here---here's the YouTube video that accompanies this post.
I hope you liked this post and have had a good look around the site at the many others. I have plenty of exciting projects on and plan many more ideas for the Cartoonist Diary website and blog and I would love to have you come along for the ride. If you like the sound of that, then please sign up below and get a link emailed to you every time I post something new.