Cartoon Gag Writing

Cartoon gag writing is a business. In recent conversation with several cartoonists, the main question came up: “What do you think makes a cartoon gag writingcartoon funny? Is it the way it is drawn, the gag or what? ” And the answers came out of nowhere with a variety of perspectives. The main gist of the respondents all agreed that writing is #1. Good authoring / gag skill or writing will sell a cartoon time and time again no matter how basic the line art of the cartoon. However it was agreed above and beyond all else that a good marriage of both cartoon art and writing is even better. To follow in staggered answers is the actual list of thoughts offered by a cross section of cartoonists.

The gag is no. 1. I think “Rhymes with Orange” is funny, but, good art work is a bonus, and the costumer can enjoy it as a work of art, which may have a more lasting value; that would be revisited from time to time. I’ve cut out Toons that were Illustrated beautifully and the joke so clever, I had to keep it. I’ve saved some Bizarro’s etc.

I agree. If it isn’t a funny idea, the art will never save it. But art can enhance it. Take George Booth from the New Yorker for example. His gags were great, and the way he drew the cat or dog very often only made the scene funnier still. Calvin and Hobbes was wonderful artwork and great design, but it never would have sold if the idea each day wasn’t funny.

I find the funniest cartoons ones that amplify a situation that is familiar and rings a responsive cord of recognition in me. It’s for this reason that old timers like me laugh at shows like “The Honeymooners” with Jackie Gleason, The king of queens, and other sitcoms populated by character types we know and recognize.

                  Paraphrasing Bill Watterson

To paraphrase Bill Watterson, go all out when the idea/gag is so so

sometimes the artwork can save the comic a bit even if the writing is not that good. I remember a couple of Charles Schulz strips that were. er… “somewhat lacking” in humour, but the artwork was so engaging that you overlooked it a bit.

I think the gag ought to strike a nerve with the reader, like “I’ve been there but I didn’t see that”. Or,” I did not realise that other part”. And the drawing should reflect the ‘feel’ of the gag – maybe a quick sketch or perhaps an excellent drawing.

Gag writers must possess the comic timing stand up comedians which is no easy feat to do in a sentence. Or capture in a picture. As an Editorial cartoonist myself, finding this balance and getting into that creative space is mind numbing. You also have to be so aware of what your audience thinks is funny.

The best gags are the ones that resonate most with your audience. Sometimes you get that mellow feeling of “YESSSSS” when you’ve knocked one outta the park, but the generally accepted mark of really “hitting it” happens when they clip it out and put it on their fridge.

         Cartooning Style Should Be Your Trademark

the idea/writing comes first. the funny drawing is more like a trademark, a brand. You see the style and you know the artist (if you pay attention to that sort of thing.) This notion just popped into my head. I’m posting it for posterity.

Write on,  I agree with the ” gag masters” when it comes to gag cartoons, great illustrating does not tickle my funny bone.

What makes a cartoon funny? I guess it depends on whatever the audience THINKS is funny.
There are people who loathe the humor of Beavis and Butthead, scratch their heads at The Simpsons, ad can’t stomach Family Guy. They don’t see the humor in it, and it’s OK because it’s not “for them”. In comics I’ve noticed it’s all about the characters. I guess it’s a kind of bias with me. If a character is drawn funny I will start cracking up. I can turn off the sound in any looney tunes cartoon and start cracking up because KF the way it’s drawn and because if what I see happening. Road runner has a legion of fans and neither character speaks a line at all.

               Predictability Makes Cartoons Funny

Here’s a curious thing about what makes a cartoon funny, and that’s predictability. On some level, we kinda like laughing or smiling at things that are familiar, even if it’s the same joke…
For example, take the strip, “Beetle Bailey”. One basic plot thread is that Beetle is a lazy slacker who gets out of working, until discovered by Sarge, who kicks his butt. (us that even done anymore?) we all KNOW what’s going to happen to Beetle once he’s caught, but we laugh anyway. The plot isn’t new, so I mainly laugh because of the way the characters are drawn. On a side note, and this is not to open up another can of worms, I think it’s phenomenal How a strip based on Military life, has nothing to say about the war?

I think it’s obvious that in conclusion, cartoon gag writing definitely involves the magic word . .  writing. And this has been the common modus operandi among all gag panel purist throughout time. If you can write high quality (even good) ideas based on a concept such as finance or banking / investing or specialize in family and topical humor, you will build a sellable archive of high quality material that will appeal to editors and publishers.