Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Books I've Found Helpful

Over the years I've read a lot of books about writing comedy and joke construction and, specifically, about cartoon drawing and gag writing. Some I've bought. Some I've taken out of the library and renewed over and over again.

I submit this list of books that have been helpful to me over the years:

* "The Cartoonist's Muse: A Guide to Generating and Developing Creative Ideas" by Mischa Richter and Harald Bakken.

* "The Complete Cartoons of the New Yorker" (2004) edited by Bob Mankoff.

* The New Yorker 75th Anniversary Cartoon Collection" edited by Bob Mankoff.

* "Cartooning: The Art and the Business" by Mort Gerberg.

* "The Cartoonist's Workbook. Drawing, Writing Gags, Selling" by Robin Hall.

* "The Essential George Booth" compiled and edited by Lee Lorenz.

* "The Wall Street Journal Portfolio of Business Cartoons" edited by Charles Preston.

* "The New Yorker Book of Business Cartoons" edited by Robert Mankoff.

* "Poking a Dead Frog: Conversations with Today's Top Comedy Writers" by Mike Sacks.

* "And Here's the Kicker: Conversations with 21 Humor Writers About Their Craft" by Mike Sacks.

* "Funny On Purpose: The Definitive Guide to An Unpredictable Career in Comedy" by Joe Randazzo.

* "The Naked Cartoonist" by Robert Mankoff.

* "Drawing on the Funny Side of the Brain" by Christopher Hart.

* "Comedy Writing Workbook" by Gene Perret.

This list is just scratching the surface. There are many more books that will help you to write and draw funny.

Happy Reading!
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Any comments or questions? Email me at: gagsbyhelene@gmail.com



Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Best Humor is the Truth

Where do I get my gag writing ideas? I read...a lot. Mostly I read newspapers, both daily and weekly. I like to think of it as getting paid to read the papers. I also read business and general-interest magazines, new books, old books, coupons that come in the mail, advertising inserts, all kinds of things. To be a writer I believe you have to love to read.

I also watch TV news about four times a day and listen to news radio when I'm in the car. I'm just trying to keep up with what's going on in the world...and there's a lot.

Over the past 25 years or so that I've been writing gags I've read many books about cartoon gagwriting and comedy, but, most importantly, I taught myself how to write single-panel gag cartoons by studying cartoon collections. This has given me priceless information about what subjects to write about and how to write a concise caption. Of course I have some favorite subjects. Besides husband/wife and business gags, I really like to write gags and help create cartoons about heaven and hell, the Grim Reaper, desert islands and prisoners.

Where else do I get my ideas?  I write about people I know and their quirks, but mostly I write about myself. I write a lot of self-deprecating humor and then have the words come out of the mouth of one of the cartoon characters I write for. The best humor is the truth. You just have to be able to see it, realize it, and then get it down on paper.

Any questions or comments? Write to me at: gagsbyhelene@gmail.com.


Wednesday, June 27, 2018

My Advertising Background

I currently write cartoon gags full time at home, but my career was in the newspaper business, selling print advertising for daily and weekly newspapers. I was always interested in working for a newspaper, starting in high school. I loved the fast pace of it, and honestly, sometimes I miss it.

A few years ago I decided to write gags full time, from home, after writing part time for about 20 years. My newspaper background and, specifically, my advertising background, has greatly helped me come up with ideas for gags. First of all, I consider myself a news junkie and read several papers and magazines regularly. I don't find this a burden. I need to know what's going on. Reading news and feature articles has provided me with lots of material that can be used in my gag writing. So has my background in print advertising.

In my career selling advertising space, I had to be very aware of upcoming holidays and special events. For example, I know that advertising peaks during Back-to-School and Graduation season, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Valentine's Day, New Year's Eve, Halloween, Mother's Day, Father's Day, July 4th, the Super Bowl, Labor Day, Memorial Day and this is just a sampling. In addition to writing gags that could be used any time of the year, I try to slant gags for specific holidays and events, and my background in advertising makes this easy. I also know that you have to write these event-specific gags many months ahead, but the extra effort does pay off.

Any questions? Send me an email at: gagsbyhelene@gmail.com.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Still Writing Those Gags

I'm sorry it's been so long since I posted anything new. I've been very busy writing gags. I spend a lot of time reading newspapers and magazines, watching news on TV and listening to news on the radio. I also read news online and the stories on newyorker.com. I try to keep up with what's going on in the world and that's where I get a lot of my material. I'm also trying to focus more on personal experience, because the best humor is based on truth. I take my writing very seriously.

Of course there's rejection. Plenty of it. The fact that I keep persevering, coming up with new material, editing it, slanting it, perfecting it, sending it out again and again, it all must be very important to me.

I also read books about comedy writers and how they work and come up with material. A book I'm reading right now is "And Here's the Kicker," by Mike Sacks. I really like reading non-fiction books about comedy writers. It gives me ideas and lets me know I'm not alone.

I'm also grateful that I can write gags full time. It gives me the freedom to devote large chunks of time to read and write without feeling rushed. It's a luxury in a way.

Well, that's it for now. I wish great success to all my readers. Any comments, email me at: gagsbyhelene@gmail.com.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

What's Funny to You

If you're going to be a successful gag writer, you have to be flexible. You may be asked to write gags about husband/wife relationships, doctor's visits, the Grim Reaper, heaven and hell, job interviews, science fiction, monsters, corporate earnings, trips to the pumpkin patch, animals, holidays, gardening, golf...the topics are endless. Some topics will be easy for you to write about; others you may have no interest in or knowledge of. It's not so easy. I know for myself, when given the freedom, I tend to write about topics I'm familiar with, have an interest in, or feel strongly about. This makes life a lot easier. It's when I'm asked to write about a topic I have no knowledge of or interest in that things may get a bit difficult. And, you have to get the approval of the cartoonist first. I try to write for syndicated cartoons that I have an interest in. That I can relate to. As far as slanting my gags for specific publications, I try to write for magazines that run cartoons I enjoy.

After writing gags for cartoons and, to a smaller extent, comedians, for over 20 years, I know there are topics I have no interest in and there are topics I can write about very easily. I guess that's because there has to be a connection between the writer/cartoonist and the subject matter. You have to feel strongly one way or another about the subject. Usually the humor comes out more easily when something drives you crazy...when you have very strong feelings about something. And, of course, the greatest humor is based on truth.

Some cartoonists give the writer feedback. Helpful hints. These are greatly appreciated and I try very hard to follow the cartoonist's suggestions. But, at the end of the day, you have to submit what you think is funny.

Any questions or comments? Write to me at: gagsbyhelene@gmail.com.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

How I Got Started

I still receive messages occasionally from people asking for advice about how to get started as a cartoon gag writer. As someone who knew nothing about this type of writing when I started I can tell you a few things I did to learn how to do this.

I started by reading every book I could find about comedy writing...how to write a joke...the set up and punchline. Even though you may not think a cartoon caption is a joke necessarily, it really is, and you have to know about joke construction. It's really pretty easy to understand.

I also obtained, either from libraries or bookstores, single-panel cartoon collections and studied them. The New Yorker has published many books of their cartoons over the years. I think I've read all of them. Some I own, some I've borrowed. An outstanding one I own is "The Complete Cartoons of the New Yorker," published in 2004, which contains, in two DVD's, every cartoon from 1925 to 2004. I've looked at every one of them. These cartoon collections are my textbooks, showing recurring themes and thousands of captions. By studying them I learned how to write for cartoonists.

At the same time I studied the cartoons in Harvard Business Review, Barron's, Wall Street Journal, Reader's Digest, Better Homes and Gardens and many other publications. I also took out a subscription to Gag Recap, which lists publications that are buying cartoons, a description and caption for every cartoon, the name of the cartoonist, the rate they pay, the procedure for submitting cartoons, addresses, etc.

I still search the library and bookstores for new books about cartoon creation. One book that has been very helpful to me is "The Cartoonist's Muse" by Mischa Richter and Harald Bakken. I believe it's out of print now but still can be found in some libraries and online. I also like to read books about cartoonists and how they come up with their ideas. Very helpful.

I think that if you want to create cartoons you have to be an avid reader. You have to keep up with what's going on in the world. I read newspapers and magazines. I watch TV newscasts several times a day and listen to news radio when I'm in the car. I get news briefs on my computer. I think keeping up with trends and what's going on in the world is an essential part of the job.

These are just a few of the ways I taught myself how to write for cartoonists. I'm still learning how to do this, every day.

Any questions or comments? Write to me at: gagsbyhelene@gmail.com.




Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Best I Can Do

This has been a very busy summer for me and I've been negligent about writing this blog, which I apologize for.

So, I'm back doing what I've been doing for so many years: coming up with ideas for cartoonists. Reading newspapers and magazines (and not always completely understanding what I'm reading), jotting down words and phrases, spending time in various libraries (trying to find some peace and quiet and rewarding myself after writing for many hours by checking out DVD's), looking over old, published cartoons in various magazines (especially The New Yorker) and watching newscasts and reading online breaking news briefs, all for the purpose of getting new ideas for cartoons.

Some things work and some things don't. Sometimes just going through the daily newspaper works. Sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes reading news and feature articles online works. Sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes going through hundreds of published New Yorker cartoons gives me ideas for new ones. Sometimes it doesn't. And if I'm tired because it's the end of the day and I'm really a morning person, nothing works.

So, I just keep trying. Plugging away. Writing down my ideas. Sending them out. Believing that I have something to say and that someone else will relate to what I'm saying.

I guess that's the best I can do.

Any questions or comments... write to me at: gagsbyhelene@gmail.com.