Monday, July 21, 2003

Correct me if I'm wrong but comedians and cartoonists have cornered the hardest work on the face of this planet: to make others laugh. It doesn't take a lot to make others cry, sing, angry, or surprised but it does take everything you've got to make others laugh. To do that, we have to learn to be flexible enough to see the brighter side of life. To some, it's a craft that's learned along the way and to others, it's a gift that needs to be sharpened every now and then. And it all starts at the moment we learn to laugh at ourselves. After all, how can we ever hope to make others laugh at what we do if we cannot look at the mirror and learn to laugh at what we see? Here's a list of suggestions for comic strippers on how to come up with a good joke, a-not-so-secret trade secret if you will:
1. Always plan ahead. It would be better, and much easier, to work on a storyline that spans from point a to point d. That way you'll see where your storyline is headed to, weaving twists and turns and effectively developing the characters without dawdling too much. But if you're a daredevil like me, who waits and prefers to sort things out at the last minute, the trip between those two points can be a lot harrowing. Imagine the thrill of having a deadline looming closer and closer while you're pinned under a colossal... Writer's Block. Suffice to say you'll swear off doing it again. That is until the next deadline.

2. Ask. If and when you have a story but can't come up with a punchline to make your shallowest friends laugh milk out of their nose then I suggest that you pray for it. Seriously. If we believe we're created in God's image, and that includes among others, the ability to make others laugh, doesn't it follow that He can do a better job than us? We're used to praying for a lot of things so why not a great idea for a strip?

3. Read, read, read. When I was just a wee cartoonist starting out in this biz I took in whatever funny book or magazine I could lay my hands on to help me start on my own. I read a lot of MAD Magazines, Reader's Digest, daily comic pages, strip compilations by my favorite artists, etc. Try to find out what makes you laugh when you read these, make a science out it. Was it the characters? Was it because of the drawings? Or was it because of the surprise element in the end?

4. Watch and learn. Watch a lot of cartoons (Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network works for me), pick your favorite, record it on video and watch it all over again. Watch a lot of sitcoms, go see a theater play, watch a movie, the works. Get ideas for storylines or situations you can use later on in your strip (then do what Cartoon Network preaches, "let your ideas percolate!"). It doesn't always have to be funny for you to get an idea, surprise yourself and others where you get yours.

5. Take a breather. Go out to the mall or to the park and watch other people. Let your mind wander for a while, let your train of thought run its course and pick up "passengers" along the way. Being cooped up for long hours at a time is not very healthy practice for artists. The ideas emanating from your head keep bouncing off the wall and bumping at each other. Somewhere along the line it's gonna be really "crowded" and really "noisy" it would take a lot to hear yourself think and if you don't get out in time you'll get frustrated and cranky. The idea behind going out to think is that your eyes are like a child that needs to be distracted by constant movement and changes, while your mind is like a parent that's left alone to concentrate in keeping those ideas that would work and tossing out those that won't. Pretty weird analogy if you ask me but that's how it works. Sorta.

6. Seek out others' good company. If you need to distract yourself further then go out and seek out your friends. In the course of keeping each other company, a great idea usually pops out from nowhere. The more friends you have at the time and the more fun you have with them, the more these ideas will come.

This list is by no means complete, so please feel free to come up with your own. I'll try to add more to this list in the future.

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