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The question I’m asked most often is, “Where do you get your ideas?” It’s a simple question with a complicated answer. The questioner is not asking what information I’ve found, or the source of the news I based the idea on. The questioner wants to know how my brain works, what my imagination conceives and how, out of the jumble of thoughts, one comes forth and plunks me in the head. I sometimes would answer, “From the Editorial Cartoon Idea Company in Teaneck, New Jersey.”
Since the beginning back in Chicago, an idea just comes to me, most times several. I don’t exactly know how it happens. The trick is to recognize it; the good one from the lame one, to know which one would make an outstanding cartoon. I’ve looked at plenty of editorial cartoons over the years and learned how to deconstruct them. In the end though, it’s about making choices. If I’m going for a funny cartoon, I want one that makes me laugh. After all, I’m the first reader. If someone has died and I’m sad, I want a cartoon that reflects my sadness, or my appreciation of the life the deceased led. If I’m pissed, I want a cartoon that demonstrates it. Whatever my feelings, I want to share it with the world because I know I’m not alone in whatever I’m feeling. I think that’s one of the very important things a cartoon, any cartoon, does. It shows us we are not alone in our feelings.
My ideas emerge because they seem logical and obvious. So often I think that someone must’ve already drawn that idea, or maybe it was drawn dozens of years ago and I conjured it up from the dark web of my memory. I finally realized it’s only obvious to me. That’s the cool thing about being an individual in a sea of humanity. There are only about 25 full-time editorial cartoonists employed by a newspaper in America, but if you go to the Internet and look, there are thousands, most of them amateurish and tedious with no sense of timing, drawing talent or sense of humor. But each cartoonist is doing their best to share their opinion.
So, a better question is, “How do you develop your ideas?” This, I can answer, or rather, I can show you.
It starts with the quick little drawing called a “gag.” The name doesn’t mean it’s necessarily funny. Stuntmen and women call the stunt they’re going to perform a gag also. I jot it down because it’s easy to forget the purity of the original idea and the perfect wording. I usually write it in a reporter’s notebook, but I’ve written them on restaurant napkins. I also carry a small notebook in my back pocket.
The next step is to make a tracing of what the finished art will look like. I fix spellings as I go, work on the likeness of my caricature, maybe change the layout, erase, maybe flip the whole thing, erase again, whatever I think it needs. This is the “blueprint” for the drawing.
Then I draw the cartoon in black line on glossy copy paper. I most often use Micron markers, but now and then, I use Zig Cartoonist black ink and a flexible crow quill nib. Hey, if pen and ink was good enough for Leonardo DaVinci, it’s good enough for me. I scan the line art into my computer using Photoshop, add color, change the composition here and there, fix more spellings (I’m the world’s worst speller, particularly with names) and tinker with it till it looks right to me. The finish is in a digital format that I send to Caglecartoons.com ready for publication, except when they call or email me that I’ve misspelled another word, a word I was confident I knew how to spell and didn’t bother to check. (As happened with this cartoon, after we sent it out to newspapers, and we had to issue a correction. Arrrgh! –Daryl)
So, that’s the process. I still don’t know exactly where I get my ideas but I know how to make them into a cartoon.