5 Common Cartoon Writing Mistakes to Avoid Like the Plague

Cartoon Writing MistakesWriting is probably at least 75% of a cartoon. Good art attracts readers initially, but good writing is why readers come back.

Avoid these five common cartoon writing pitfalls and not only will your readers stick around, but you might even earn a rare “why didn’t I think of that?!” from a fellow cartoonist:

1) Funny names.

Example: “Mr Snuffenheimer will see you now.” Silly names slow the read and dilute the cartoon. Don’t use them.

2) Waiting for your muse.

Cartoonists that make a living from their cartoons write often and write purposefully. It’s a skill you can learn, but only if you stop waiting for inspiration.

3) Puns.

This is an Achilles’ heel for all of us. And, yes, occasionally they’re OK and might even sell, but they’re easy cartoons and you know it. Don’t be that easy cartoon guy.

4) Explaining captions.

Example: Businessman to chicken across desk – “I see here by your resume that you’d be a perfect fit here at Fowlco. Especially the part about you being a chicken since we make chicken nuggets here for restaurants where people consume them. So you’d be food which is why, ironically, you’re such a good fit here.”

If you have to explain the joke in the joke it needs to be rewritten.

5) Repurposing other cartoonists’ captions.

I remember reading a book about cartooning when I was starting out that suggested borrowing other cartoonists’ captions and reworking them slightly to make them your own. Maybe change the setting from an office to a school. Or change the gag’s point of view from patient to doctor.

Listen, we all dip our pens in the same gag well, so occasionally you’re going to come up with a cartoon that’s been done by someone else. But do not ever do it on purpose.

Keep the above tips in mind the next time you’re sitting down to write cartoons and you’ll be much happier with your gags. (And so will your readers!)

Do You Know the 5 Cartoons Most Likely to Sell?

iStock_000003821345XSmall.jpgSelling cartoons is hard enough; give yourself a leg up on the competition by playing better odds.

After scouring 10 years of files, databases and Quickbooks reports, here are the cartoons I’ve found sell best:

1. Business Meetings

Put a couple of people in a room with a PowerPoint and you’ve got a great chance at a sale. Here’s the fine print:

  • Sales graph cartoons sell especially well (bad sales sell even better).

  • Anthropomorphize to stand out from the rest of the submissions.

  • White men are boring. Make sure you’re representing all genders and ethnicities.

2. Pets

People love their animals, and a good pet gag is a sure bet.

  • Dog cliches abound. Freshen one up and fetch your check.

  • Cats are almost too easy to make fun of. Get to it.

  • Birds are harder to mine for humor, but they’re a much appreciated palette cleanser for editors.

3. Kids

Whether you play them as innocent, worldly, or just plain silly, kids sell. Try one of these:

  • Taking a bath. Water has a lot of comic possibilities.

  • Teacher conferences give you lots of options. Study hard.

  • Playgrounds are like the standard bar scene for adults; a great place to ponder all sorts of things.

4. Recent Trends

Hard to spot, and a small window of opportunity, but almost a guaranteed sell. Some recent ideas that are almost surely dated by now:

  • Twitter

  • Going green

  • Newspaper decline

5. Holidays

Christmas and Halloween are the champs, but they’re extremely competitive. Break through an editor’s inbox clutter with cartoons about:

  • Groundhog Day

  • Fourth of July

  • St. Patrick’s Day

Of course there’s no guarantee as to what cartoons will sell. A lot depends on what and how much other cartoonists are submitting. But a decade of selling most of the top markets has shown me that the above cartoon topics certainly better your chances.

(BTW, check out my sales cartoons too!)

Christmas Cartoon Ideas

Snowy-Trees.jpgI’ve done this tiwce already this year for both Halloween and Thanksgiving, but I’m going to do it just once more for Christmas to A) give me something to look back on next year, B) to give you an idea of how I generate ideas, and C) to see if there’s anything I missed. So, here’s my list of ideas for generating Christmas gags:

  • Santa – elves, Mrs. Claus, North Pole, sleigh, St. Nick, reindeer, sack of toys, chimney, stockings, plate of cookies, sitting on lap, roof, naughty/nice list
  • candy canes, mistletoe, window decorations, wreathes, wrapping. gingerbread house
  • 12 days, Christmas Carol, Scrooge, Grinch, carols/caroling
  • snowmen – coal, carrots, melting, Frosty
  • snow – plows, snowblowers, snow globes, snowballs
  • ice – icicles, skating
  • trees – stars, bulbs, lights, ornaments, tinsel
  • up early, toys, shopping, sales

Did I miss anything?

Thanksgiving Cartoon Ideas

gobble.jpgAs I mentioned back around Halloween, every year when I do holiday gags I create a list of topics/words/whatever to jumpstart the ol’ noggin. And this year instead of recycling it again, I decided to put it up on the blog A) for my own reference, B) to give you an idea how my head works, and 3) to see if there’s anything I missed:  

Thanksgiving –

  • Turkey – defrost, giblets, drumstick, death, deep fry, trot, tryptophan, stuffing, presidential pardon, national bird, flightless, basting, hotline, tofurkey
  • Pilgrims & Native Americans – Indians, feast, buckles, harvest, cornucopia, farming
  • Feast – cranberries, centerpiece, green beans, recipes, leftovers
  • Family – football, parades, recipes
  • November
  • Black Friday, Cyber Monday (added 11/21)

Anything else I forgot?