One of my favorite cartoonists is Jean-Jacques Sempé, a French-born cartoonist who has a knack for making people laugh without words. In my opinion, Sempé is one of the best visual humorists of the last century - and possibly this one too.
Sempé was born in 1932. As a student, he exhibited little talent for academic studies.
He was expelled from school and, as a young man, failed to pass exams for a variety of jobs including
postal worker, bank worker, and railroad employee. Eventually he did find work as a door-to-door tooth powder salesperson. In 1950, he lied about his age and joined the French army. As you might imagine, Sempé
often got into trouble because he would spend his time on guard duty drawing simple cartoons.
By 1952, Sempé started painting simple watercolors with characters that did not speak but somehow conveyed a story. His little drawings slowly became internationally popular and his cartoons would soon find
a home in The New Yorker, Paris Match and many other popular literary publications. You can view his wonderful gentle humor on many websites. Sempé is still alive and continues to
produce cartoons that can make you smile.
I have made an extensive study of this and have tried a few techniques.
In general, I have found that there are a number of approaches to creating a
gag. Here are some suggestions based on ideas from a number of other
cartoonists. For more ideas on writing gag cartoons, read "the Cartoonist's
Workbook" by Robin Hall. In my opinion, it is one of the best books on the
subject and you will learn many gag writing techniques. Another good source is
cartoonist Randy Glasbergen. He has written a number of excellent books on the
subject including "How to be a successful cartoonist" among
First, realize that it is NOT easy. Maybe for some, creating a funny
cartoon is as easy as sleeping on the couch, but for most of us, it is tough.
One consolation is that it does get a bit easier at times. I think the brain
become used to thinking funny and starts getting into that mode sooner. Of
course, that does not mean the cartoons get better. It may still take ten or
fifteen attempts before you get that gem.
Here they are. I will have more in future posts.
Create three columns and label them People, Places, and Things. Under
each column, list appropriate items. For the People column, you might have
cowboys, space aliens, tourists, etc. Under Places, you could have Arizona,
Munich, moon, Canada, and so on. Do the same for Things by listing clocks,
radios, computer, and steak fries.
After you have an extensive list, combine one item from each column. Do
not be logical about this. Group space aliens with Canada and clock radios. By
making these unlikely combinations, you get your brain thinking a bit nutty and
soon, you will begin to see a gag peeking out around the edge of your
The next thing to do is carry a small notebook around with a pen. You
want to be ready to capture an idea whenever it hits you. As unlikely as it
seems, there are times when a gag will punch you in the nose or at least give
you a nudge. Don't rely on memory to record it - do it right away. Just tell the
other members of your staff meeting to excuse you for a moment as you write down
that funny thought. They'll understand.
It is also a good idea to practice thinking funny about a specific
topic. For example, you might want to do some construction cartoons or develop
some gags for realtors. Learning how to create gags for a specific topic will
help you create a batch of cartoons for a specific publication. It is a good
Last, but certainly not the least, is to keep practicing. Set a goal of
writing a set number of gags a day or week - and stick to it. By forcing
yourself to be funny, you will learn how to turn it on when you need it and that
is what separates the adults from the kids.
I am writing about my passion – cartooning and why I think cartoons are good for you and your health.
Take health care for instance. Studies show that laughter releases all kinds of healthy stuff in our bodies.
Show people more cartoons and they will need less expensive health care.
Cartoons can also revive a sluggish publishing industry. Let’s face it, since newspapers
and magazines have reduced the number of cartoons they publish, subscriptions have gone down.
Increase the cartoons and subscriptions could go up increasing the need for more workers.
Cartoons are also an excellent way to sell products, illustrate ideas and, according to some experts, reach the
Gen Y people.
For all these reasons, I think there should be a revival of this art form. It can help make people happier and
give them something to tape onto cubicles, refrigerators, and office doors. It can also provide a nice income for
I hope you will find these posts and my cartoons entertaining. If I can put a smile on your face, I think I will be fulfilling my mission in life. Please feel free to share your comments, criticisms, and, even better, compliments.
As a cartoonist and writer, I have a passion for the fine art of graphic humor. I believe it is an art form that does not get enough recognition. I hope to change that, if possible. Please let me know if you like these posts and my cartoons.