The Write Idea

16 Jul

As a cartoonist there are really two main objectives to my job:  draw and write.

There are obviously other objectives as well; such as entertain, tell a story, create nonsense – you know – lots of things.  It varies depending on the goal of the cartoon.  If I’m creating work for the newspaper, it’ll be different than one for a client that has a particular objective in mind.

I stand by my work.  If you are professional at anything, you have to, right?  I’ve been cartooning now for a long time and honestly feel I have a good grip on how to do what I do.  That being said, the one area I feel best about when cartooning is writing.

Writing is essential, and in my opinion, the most important part of being a cartoonist.

Writing also constitutes as ideas.

Trust me – there are hundreds – no, THOUSANDS of people that can draw better than me.

I’m envious of a lot of work from gag cartoonists such as Charles Addams or a great caricature artist like Tom Richmond.  Their art is amazing.  I strive to get to that level – and they set the bar very high.

That being said, there are hundreds (and, I’m guessing, TENS of thousands) of people that can probably write better than me.  (Don’t believe me?  Read a few of the lackluster blog posts on this site.)

The goal as a cartoonist is to combine the two into a polished cartoon.

But let’s start with writing….

I feel my writing and ideas are the strongest part of my work.

In my personal opinion, they’re not always reflected in my daily cartoons (lots of my gag cartoons can be similar to ones you’ve seen before).  Though I try every day to create new gags, unbeknownst to me, sometimes I’ll stumble on the same premise that was done before.  Or, if it is something original, I’ll notice it being used down the line somewhere else.  I believe this is the case in music, movies and almost all forms of entertainment. (Did you hear about the recent Led Zeppelin lawsuit?)

The areas of writing I feel I really excel is when it comes to a.) my own projects and b.) custom work.

I’ll start with my own projects.

What I mean by those are my own books and art that I create for hopefully future publications.  Its things that I have the freedom to write and draw whatever I want (not that I don’t anyway, but I am a little limited when it comes to a single box gag cartoon).  I’ve actually gotten better over the recent years with this.  I tried a graphic novel several years ago, and have gone back to it, but it’s TOTALLY written different.  The first version, the writing kinda – well – stunk.

Now to custom work.

This is work where I’m hired on to create something for someone or something.

If I’m given a topic or an idea, I can usually take that topic and idea and run with it.  Somehow, I’m very good with coming up with – not one – but numerous ideas.

When a client that I work with contacts me about coming up with something for something, I’ll often pitch them anywhere from 5-15 rough thoughts.  I can come up with them rather quickly, which is good.

It does happen that NONE of those thoughts will be any good, but more often than not, at least ONE hits the mark.  Sometimes, the client will go with ALL of them as well – if I’m lucky (and that’s a rare occasion).

And with all of this cartoons contain VISUAL WRITING.  It’s where there is no actual writing, but the visual is the joke.  Still, that has to start off by being written down as an idea.  Some might say sketched, but I still call it writing.  Any idea is written mentally first.

I believe it’s taken me my whole life to get to this point where I can write and come up with ideas rather quickly and accurately.  That’s why I’d never do anything pay by the hour.  I can get somehting thought of in a few minutes sometimes, so I’d make practically nothing.  But, what does it matter?  If it’s good – it’s good.  Just like if you go to a mechanic for a car repair and it only takes them a minute to tighten a bolt but they charge you hundreds of dollars.  The fact is, YOU didn’t know how to do it and the mechanic was skilled in that area and could do it quick.  Time isn’t a factor to cost with some things.

This isn’t always the case.  No, no, no…

I’ve had times where I do struggle to think of even one idea.

What I’ve discovered with client work is I do great under pressure.  That NEED to think of something solid is more relevant in a small time frame compared to my regular work – where I can go about things more casually.

All this being said, writing is definitely my strong point compared to the actual art.  I say that because it’s worked well with clients, publications and I’ve been told that by, let’s just say, industry leaders that know what they’re talking about.  Also, more than not, it’s my writing that has been published in places like MAD Magazine – not my cartoons.

Am I the best writer?  Oh, c’mon now.  I already mention there are MANY others I feel that are better.  My grammar isn’t always perfect, punchlines sometimes fall flat and even I get the occasional writers block.  However, I’m happy that I can combine the whole package together with cartoon art.

This hasn’t always been the case.  It has taken decades of scribbling on notebooks at school to locking myself in my studio churning the brain cells in my head to think of something.  I believe anyone can get good at practically anything after awhile.  So, I attribute it all to lots of practice ever since that first box of crayons.

All this being said, I’m proud of my work and I have very high standards for what I produce.  I wouldn’t send a client crap.  If I’m not happy with it, it’s not going to see the light of day.

I’d like to say I’m up there when it comes to creative writing.  Or hell – make it easy….When it comes to cartooning writing.  That’s where I’m alright.

If you’re good at something, I would try for it, but you don’t have to be the best at it to make it work.  A lot of times it’s numerous things combined that can make something happen.  I know that’s the case with cartooning for, not just me, but most professional cartoonists – and almost any profession.  Not once have I seen a comic with the BEST art and BEST writing of all-time (which is going to be different depending on your own perspective).

Just take your strongest attribute (for me it’s writing) and add another element that you’re good at (and for me, I CAN draw) to put something together.  Of course, try to improve upon everything as you go along and bada-bing!  you might have something.

I might not be the best at both writing and drawing, but if I can hit that sweet spot that is close and have them meet in the middle, I have the write idea.


For more information about custom cartoon work, please visit www.natefakescartoons.com

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