Sunday, June 23, 2013

Gag Charts

Here's a handout I used in a recent class in cartooning: one way to generate ideas for single-panel gag cartoons is to jumble a person from the first column with a place from the second column together with a prop from the third column. The first page here is adopted from a page in Mischa Ricter and Harald Bakken's 1992 "The Cartoonist's Muse" which is one of the exceptionally few books on the market that addresses the specific topic of content i.e. coming up with jokes, which is crucial component of a career in cartooning. This as opposed to the usual "how to draw" stuff that the majority of cartooning/comic art manuals devote themselves to (another being Robert Mankoff's "The Naked Cartoonist").

Used in conjunction with "Def Gag" exercize and Cartoon Jams, this is a great as a way to roll off the rough edges on the "square wheel,"  get the creative juices flowing, and "bypass the bologna" by circumventing the inner critic through timed rounds of captioning and cartooning.

Here's a sample customized for the Alaskan market (I have a similar one for Maine also):

One isn't necessarily limited to mixing between three columns: oftentimes just two will do, or four or more can be fun. The principle use is to prompt an ever-widening series of non-sequiturs, like playing with a Jacobs Ladder of ideas. The fun really starts when you start to shuffle between both lists...


  1. These charts look like good tools for coming up with ideas in general. The most interesting stories, to me, come from trying to make music out the discord created when combining non sequiturs.

  2. Thanks David: love it when the mental Jacob's Ladder of ideas begin to cascade and all those connections are made.

  3. What's really good is when you finally become so twisted that you generate weirdness without even thinking about it.

  4. I usually still have to think about it,which is sometimes mistaken for spacing out and staring off into inner space (("I'm WORKING"): the creative Jacob's Ladder of connections makes for some spontaneous outbursts of laughter, which is what generates weirdness... at least from other people's perspective. Particularly out in public like at the library, a cafe or bar.

    1. True. I haven't achieved full enweirdenment myself. But even the willingness to seek it puts you farther down the path. Perhaps it's only the path to the asylum.

  5. "Enweidenment" - love it.
    And speaking of paths...

    “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
    I took the one less traveled by, “
    ... which turns out wasn’t a road at all
    I just kinda went wandering around the forest.