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: gagsbyhelene.com.