Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Few Words About Motivation

This entry is not about writing, per se, but about motivating yourself to write and create when your confidence needs a boost.

I'm sure everyone already knows this, but you should make yourself a portfolio. Because my background is in print, my portfolio is sort of a book, a scrapbook, of published cartoons which contain my gags. (NOTE: I ALWAYS ask the cartoonist for permission to place their cartoons with my gags in my portfolio. If they say no, their cartoons are not included). There's a couple of reasons to create a portfolio. First of all, if someone asks to see your work (this might actually happen!), you can hand them your portfolio so that they'll get an idea of what you do. This can actually lead to you getting new business. The second reason for this is to motivate yourself. When you've run out of ideas and you think your work is awful and you'll never come up with the great gags you've come up with before, going through your published work can be very motivating. It'll prove to you that your work was good enough to be published before and will be published again.

For those who work primarily online, you can also go through your work to see what you've done in the past. This will let you know that you've created good work before and will inspire you to come up with new work.

I think it's very important to keep hard copies of your accomplishments. For example, when you let someone know, by e-mail, that you just sold your first cartoon, or your 400th cartoon, and they reply and congratulate you on your accomplishment, you should print this out and keep it in a folder. Same with letters or notes from people you deal with who write, "That was a great gag!" There's lots of rejection is this business. I'll send a batch of 35 or so gags to a cartoonist and they'll take nothing. NOTHING! And, then the following week, out of a batch of 35 more gags they'll hold one. I'M IN HEAVEN! Or, when someone pays me for a small sale (with a small check enclosed), if that's the only check I've received that week (or that month) I've been known to say to myself, "It's better than a sharp stick in the eye."  When I send off a batch of gags which I believe to be brilliant and they're all rejected, I usually say something to myself like, "Well, my family still loves me. (I also keep photos of my family on my desk for the same purpose, but only those family members who love me). Going through this folder of congratulatory e-mails and notes will boost your confidence. It will show that you accomplished something before and will accomplish something again.

I think it's important to thank people who help you. Thank the people who consider your work and buy it. Thank the people who give you leads. Thank the people who are a pleasure to work with. Thank the people who encourage you to do more - to work in areas you've never worked in before. And, then, when people thank YOU or congratulate YOU, keep a copy of these precious e-mails. Refer to them when your confidence needs a boost.

Any comments or questions, please send an e-mail to:

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Few Shortcuts To Cartoon Creation and Writing Great Captions

I've mentioned in previous posts that it's important to study collections of published cartoons. There are many reasons to do so. First, you get to see what's already been accepted by that publication. You'll discover what situations they focus on and the quality and tone of their published cartoons. And, guess what? You'll see these situations again and again. If it's a publication that runs business gags, you'll see cartoons where the boss is harassing a worker, where co-workers are hanging out at the water cooler, where an applicant is exaggerating his or her qualifications for a job opening, where a worker is getting fired. If the publication runs cartoons about relationships, you'll see cartoons about husbands and wives arguing...everywhere...the bedroom, the kitchen, the marriage counselor's office, in a restaurant, on a desert island. I read somewhere that the most effective  cartoons are about bad situations: getting fired, getting divorced and dying.

You can make lists of situations that you'll use in your cartoons. Besides writing about business, people in restaurants and couples arguing at the marriage counselor's office, I like to write about:

* Prisoners
* People on Desert Islands
* People in Therapy
* Heaven
* Hell
* The Grim Reaper
* Desert Crawlers

Because I'm a writer and work alone most of the time, I can relate to most of these situations.

I also have lists of caption phrases that are used again and again in cartoons. I'm sure you've seen them. Here are a few examples:

* You had me at _______.
* WILL WORK FOR _______.
* Someday, all my _______ will be yours.
* Thank you for not _______.

I'd suggest as you look over cartoon collections, make your own list of these phrases. When I'm reading, which I do all the time, I carry a notebook with me where I jot down words, phrases and clichés which I can plug into these blanks. These phrases are so well known in cartoon captions that they are instantly recognizable and can effectively be used in your caption writing. They make for funny captions and "funny" is what you're striving for.

As I end this week's entry, I'd like to suggest a couple of blogs written by cartoonists which might give you some added inspiration. Marc Bilgrey's blog can be found at his website, Mike Lynch's blog can be found at: Both are very informative and well written. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Connecting with Cartoonists

Back in the day, when I started writing for cartoonists and comedians, the Internet was not the amazing source of information it is today. If I wanted to contact a cartoonist whose work I saw in one or more publications, many times I had no way of contacting them except through the publications where their work appeared. Many times I wrote a letter (a real letter!) asking if the cartoonist used writers and offering my writing skills to them, listing my credentials, where cartoons with my gags had already appeared. I'd address this letter to the cartoonist in care of the publication. Somehow these letters were forwarded to the cartoonist and most of the time I received a reply. This is how I found out if the cartoonist used writers or not and if they'd be willing to consider my work.

With the vast amount of information available on the Internet, this process is much easier now. When I find a cartoonist I'd like to write for because I think their work is professional and also because their cartoons match my interests, I can usually find them on the Internet. Many cartoonists have websites and/or profiles on LinkedIn and Facebook. I send an e-mail listing my desire to write for them and wait for a reply. Quick and easy. I have a profile on both these sites and have joined groups of people who are interested in cartoons and writing. It's a great way of promoting yourself.

I'm a firm believer in networking. I think meeting people face to face and talking about what you do can be very effective. For those serious about cartooning and illustration as a profession, there's an organization that probably most of you know about: the National Cartoonists Society (NCS). There are chapters across the country and non-members can attend their meetings. This is the perfect opportunity to network, especially those who might aspire to join the NCS. If you go to their website, and click on "Chapters," you'll see where they're located and who the contact person is. There's also lots of information about joining the organization.

A publication of great value is Gag Recap by Van Scott. Gag Recap is a monthly online publication which lists approximately 50 publications which buy cartoons. It describes each cartoon in the issue, who the cartoonist is, what the pay rate is, who the editor is and in what form to submit cartoons. There are also articles about gagwriting and cartooning, lists of publications no longer publishing cartoons and additional markets for writers and cartoonists. Gag Recap's website is:

If there are cartoonists out there who wish to collaborate with a gagwriter I'd be happy to list your names and e-mail addresses in a future entry. Same goes for gagwriters wanting to work with a cartoonist. Personally, I'm always looking for professional cartoonists to work with on creating cartoons and other related projects.

I hope this information is helpful to you.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Still Getting Ready To Write

I'm a cartoon gagwriter. I work with cartoonists because I don't draw - at least not well enough to get published. Working with cartoonists has given me the ability to create something that I couldn't have done on my own. My goal is to create something funny that wasn't there before. I also want to leave behind a body of work that brings some humor into this world.

That said, I can't pin down how I come up with my ideas. Word associations, jotting down phrases, expressions and clichés all help. I also study published cartoons, especially those in The New Yorker, going way back to the magazine's inception. Studying thousands of cartoons shows me what has worked in the past. What settings were and still are used. What subjects are covered. How a caption is written. It's not just a matter of taking a very old cartoon and updating it with current references. Or taking an old cartoon and changing one or two words. I don't know how the mind works, but when I study these old cartoons they give me ideas for completely new ones. Maybe a situation in a cartoon brings to mind times I've experienced the same situation. Maybe a word in a caption sticks with me and I write a totally new cartoon springing from just that one word. The mental process that goes into creating something new cannot necessarily be followed. You have to be willing to take a risk and write down what you mean. The truth is always the funniest.

You can write about things that infuriate you. Things that drive you nuts. Write about something that you know, familiar settings, familiar people. That should make it easier. Why try to write about things you know nothing about? I guess in order to be a writer you have to read a lot but also you have to experience life. You have to get away from your desk/computer/typewriter and experience things. Then make comments about it.

A reader of this blog asked me about whether or not I ever question whether I've created a caption and then wondered if I've seen the same caption elsewhere. Sometimes I do. And, if you've looked at thousands of published cartoons like I have it's inevitable that you'll think that something you created is the same as what's already been published. Sometimes I'll try to find that cartoon and compare it to what I've just written. If that's not possible and I'm really concerned about it I'll change my caption before I submit it. Or I'll just not send it out at all. There's an old newspaper adage: "When in doubt, throw it out."

I write gags full time and am interested in collaborating with cartoonists, both syndicated and non-syndicated. Any questions or comments, please send me an e-mail. If you'd like to be notified when I post a new entry send me your e-mail address to:

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Getting Ready To Write

Like I mentioned in another post, I write a lot of cartoon gags about business. To help me do this I study the business cartoons in The New Yorker, Harvard Business Review, Barron's, Wall Street Journal and Reader's Digest. I see what topics these cartoons cover. Popular topics are: job interviews, the dynamics between bosses and office workers, salary issues and laziness. I don't draw, but by studying hundreds or even thousands of these cartoons, I can visualize the settings that are used over and over again: Boss at desk speaking to worker, applicant at a job interview, co-workers speaking to each other about how unfair it all is. I also study the captions  and see how few words are needed to form a good one. Sometimes you can see the set-up and punchline. The caption should take you along one route and then the last word or two should take you in an unexpected direction.

Another exercise you can do is to make a list of phrases and single words that pertain to the subject. Let's say you want to write about job interviews. You can make lists of words that you'd associate with this topic, such as: applicant, hirer, salary, benefits, job security, motivated, overqualified, resume, what can you offer us?, salary requirements, when can you start?, retirement package, hourly rate, salary commensurate with experience, etc. These words and phrases can be used in your captions. Their opposites can be used as well.

One of the things I do each week is read current business publications such as the ones mentioned above. I don't subscribe to all of them so I spend time at my local library, with pen and paper in hand, writing down phrases from the articles. I also look in the "New" books section. I bring home new business books and write down phrases that are current for use in my captions.

I've mentioned that I like to write gags about eating out. The whole dining out experience is ripe for humor: demanding diners, snooty waiters, high prices, awful service, lousy food. Just eating at a restaurant and being aware of what's going on can give you ideas for cartoons. I supplement this with books I read about restaurants, waiters, food trends. I also look at cookbooks. Anything to add to my list of words and phrases. I also like to make the setting a food truck or hot dog vendor and have the customer talk to the owner as if it were a high priced restaurant.

Let me know if any of this is helpful to you. Any comments? Send me an e-mail at: Have a great holiday weekend!