One of the most-frequently asked questions of cartoonists is: Where do you get your ideas? Whenever I’m asked (which, these days, isn’t often), I say, “Schenectady” (stealing this response from some antique wag). Dan Piraro of Bizarro fame once told a roomful of fans that he didn’t worry about getting ideas. When his Bizarro was accepted for syndication, he explained, he immediately sat down and wrote out ideas for the next 25 years.
I recently attended a lecture by a former correspondent, Disney Legendary animator, Floyd Norman, and when he was asked the question he said that he got ideas by listening to the characters he was drawing. As he drew them, they began to talk and cavort around in his imagination, and he listened to them, and eventually, sure enough, he’d get an idea for a cartoon.
Charles Schulz, when I asked him, said basically the same thing. He started doodling characters, and they started “talking” to him.
I remember having the same experiences when I was sketching character designs for my numerous unsuccessful comic strips. As I sketched, the characters took shape in my imagination and often took off running in directions they opted for themselves, without any prompting from me.
So I know that ideas occur to me when I’m drawing, too. Not just when I’m drawing: I have ideas at other times, too. But when I’m drawing, they pop up. And here’s an example:
A few weeks ago, I was asked to illustrate a promotional flyer for a project that was not only a “win-win” project but a “win-win-win” project. I chose the “wins” as the basis for the illustration, and drew three giant-lettered “wins,” stacked across the page as you see near here.
Then I thought I should do something to make it cartoony. I should give the letters some kind of personality. I gave the ‘W’ in the first “win” legs and eyes and a smiley mouth. A happy ‘W.’ Then I moved on to the second “win,” deciding, en route, that I’d embellish the ‘I’ rather than the second ‘W.’
At first, I thought I’d do the same thing as I’d already done. Then in doing it, I varied it, giving this letter squinty, happy eyes. And I reversed the legs, letting him put his left leg forward.
Next, the ‘N’ in the last “win.” Legs again reversed from the previous drawing. But how to vary the rest? Ha — open his laughing mouth and give him a wide-eyed expression. And add arms: he throws up his arms in a rapture of exuberance.
As a progression, the “wins” get happier and happier. Good thing for “win-win-win.”
The point is: each stage in the development of the drawing proceeded from the previous stage, each fostering the next variation. Ideas from drawing.
In the final, finished version, I added some shading to the letters to set them apart a little from the all-white plain background. Then to finish it off, I drew the little guy in the corner, hugging his legs and grinning — no loser he.