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How Do You Come Up With Your Ideas?

How to Become a Slightly Warped Cartoonist: Part 3

In my next series of posts I’m going to try and answer the second most frequent question I’m asked as a cartoonist: how do you come up with your ideas?

I do a lot of free-associating. Here’s a description of one of my sessions and some of the cartoons it produced.

BTW, you may notice that there are several drawing styles here. That’s because I don’t draw a cartoon until I have a commission for it. I draw nothing on speculation. I enter all my ideas into a computer database as they come to me, and it can be years, if ever, before I draw a cartoon based on an idea. My database currently has over 100,000 cross-indexed gags.

These are notes from a free-association session I had one day in July while watching Christmas videos. Christmas videos in July? Lots of magazines lay out their issues months in advance.


Poor Rudolph. They won’t let him play in any Reindeer Games. Awwww. Reindeer games? What kind of games do reindeer play?

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Deer sure play a lot of games. “Where the deer and antelope play.” What games are they playing?

Baseball Cartoon 5387: "Where the Deer and the Antelope Play." Animals play baseball.
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What if they’re Canadian deer?

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And what about the rest of the song, oh give me a home where the buffalo roam? A home where the buffalo roam? Yeah, right. Watch what you ask for.

Architecture Cartoon 4385: Buffalo running through a construction site and a man saying, "Build a home where the buffalo roam? Bah!"
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What if they’re not playing sports, but musical instruments?

Music Cartoon 4686: "Where the deer and the antelope play." Deer and antelope play a bass and a violin with a cowboy playing a banjo.
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Musical instruments? Tubas are always funny. Ohm Pa Pa. Ohm Pa Pa. One of dad’s cornier jokes was about a tuba player going to a concert on his day off. The next night he says to his fellow tubaists, “Did you know that while we’re back here playing Ohm Pa Pa, the orchestra out there playing beautiful music?”

Music Cartoon 0034
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With my luck I’ll some how end up in Heaven, but instead of one of those little harps, they’ll give me a tuba. I’ll have to spend eternity lugging around a frigging tuba. But why? Did I do something bad during my life, but not so bad on that I should be sent to Hell? Or maybe there’s something wrong in Heaven. Is Heaven not so heavenly? Do they have some of the same screw-ups in Heaven that we have on Earth?

Business Cartoon 4995
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If I modify it maybe I can sell it to a banjo magazine.

Music Cartoon 5021: An angel playing a banjo saying to another, "Supply was out of harps."
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Or to a skiing magazine.

Skiing Cartoon 5006: An angel in heaven wearing skies and ski goggles saying to another, "Supply was out of wings and halos."
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I wonder if I could take my own ski boots to Heaven. It took me so long to find a pair that fit my flat feet. Then again, they say “you can’t take it you.” Wait a minute. Why not? Why can’t you take it with you? It’s a cartoon, for Heaven’s sakes. Anything’s possible in a cartoon!

Banking Cartoon 2473
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It must be rather a mob scene at the Pearly Gates with only St. Peter checking everyone in. How could you speed up the process?

Religion Cartoon 2481: A woman waiting to get into Heaven is in the "Express Line, Ten Sins or Less."
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And what about Hell? What makes Hell Hell? Is it because it’s got the same problems we have here on Earth — only worse? What’s the bureaucracy like in Hell?

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Sprinklers. Sprinkling. Rain. It’s raining right now. Oh great. When it was sunny a half hour ago, did the dogs want to go out? Noooo. They had to wait until it was not just raining, but pouring. I bet Noah would have made a fine Oregonian.

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“The Bible has always been a great source of Inspiration for me.” That’s what I tell the Jehovah Witnesses when they come to my door. It’s the truth — although I don’t think it gives me inspiration in the same way it gives them inspiration.

It’s inspiration for lots of humorists. Think of Mel Brooks in History of the World. I love that bit in it where Moses holds up three tablets and says, “I bring you fifteen commandments,” he drops one tablet, it breaks and without missing a beat he says, “Ten commandments.”

Religion Cartoon 6835
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Do missionaries have a sense of humor? When dealing with cannibals I would think a good sense of humor would be important. I know if I were about to be eaten by cannibals, I’d try to disarm them with jokes. I don’t think throwing Bible quotes at them would do much good. Maybe if I could offer them an alternative to cartoonist meat. Maybe pizza.

Cannibal Cartoon 4805
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Maybe that’s politically incorrect? Change it to lions. Better to have lions at your door than the PC police.

Fast Food Cartoon 6142
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What if I stick with the cannibals, but make the joke about westerners. That’d be PC. But what kind of westerner? Who would be looking for cannibals?

Anthropology Cartoon 7713
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All these thoughts about food are making me hungry. I guess I’ll break for lunch and do a little modern foraging.

5268 Anthropology Cartoon
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In tomorrow’s post I’ll write about using lists of buzz-words, fads, and news items to generate cartoon ideas.

Came in the Middle of the Series? Go to Part 1

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