June 6, 2005
By Mike Keefe, Editorial Cartoonist, The Denver Post
How do I get ideas?
Like style, ideas come to cartoonists in individual ways. Some editorial cartoonists have a natural funny bone. Others are more message-oriented. Most of us have a little of each. Either way, the most fundamental part of generating ideas comes from being well-read and informed, being able to identify and take a stand on an issue. Every day.
Once in a while, a light bulb goes off and a cartoon idea appears in a little thought bubble over your head. Most of the time it’s more work than that.
Here is one technique for coming up with an idea: Take an 11x17 sheet of paper and jot down topics while reading the newspaper. Go get coffee. Take a notebook with you to scribble thoughts, words, thumbnail sketches of some interesting object that you may have stumbled upon, a nuclear submarine, for example. Back to the 11x17. Draw a circle around each topic, give it some thought. Is there an issue here? Yes. Where do you stand on it? Write down every word that comes to mind. Sketch the images that pop into your mind. These words and drawings will trigger others. Move on to another topic and do the same. Maybe there is a phrase on one side of the paper that resonates somehow with a doodle over on the other side. Draw a connecting line. Add stars and asterisks. Try to stay loose and unfocused at first. Look at the notebook. Anything there to add to the big page? What else is floating around the newsroom? What are people talking about? What’s jumping in the popular culture? Jot it all down. The page becomes your roadmap to an idea. Follow the lines. You’ll get there.
Once you’ve got an idea, twist it around. Look at it sideways. Can you do it without a caption? Can you do it with fewer words? Or is it more effective with more words? You can make it better. Give it some time before you commit it to paper.
Also, keep a salami handy to whack yourself on the side of the head.