Chicken Karma

Chicken Karma

Monday, 23 March 2015

Q & A.....

I reckon this would have to be the most asked question of any cartoonist. I wouldn't mind having a dollar for every time I've been asked that question, and I'm sure other cartoonists would say the same.
Interestingly, it is not just non-cartoonists who ask this question. Even cartoonists are curious about the "inspiration process" of other cartoonists.

A couple of weeks ago I was very privileged to share dinner and several hours with Stephan Pastis, the cartoonist behind the PEARLS BEFORE SWINE comic strip (hugely popular in the US and around the world) and a couple of other cartoonists from Brisbane.
It was a wonderful time....good meal, great conversation, excellent company, lots of laughs.
But one of the high-points for me was hearing Stephan talk about how he gets his ideas for the comic strip. 

It so happens that it is quite different to the process (if it can be called that) that I go through.
But that's the thing with is not a neatly packaged commodity that you can buy on a supermarket shelf. It is quite a personal and individual thing, really.

So.....How do I get my ideas for my cartoons?

Let me answer by telling you a little story......
My cartooning career was officially launched back on September 23rd, 1980, the date I was first published in a newspaper. It was not with BUSHY TALES, nor even PEARLY was a very early comic strip I did which was originally called BUNYIP (later changing name to KEG).

Anyway, prior to the date of publication I was interviewed by the paper (the Gold Coast Bulletin) for an accompanying story on the day of publication.
This was my first ever press interview and I thought it went really well. Of course, one of the questions I was asked was "How do you get your ideas for the comic strip?"
Now, as I was very inexperienced at this sort of thing, I answered honestly. I later learnt that was a mistake. But, in my first interview I was just happy to answer any questions the friendly reporter asked and, so, I answered honestly. It went something like this....

HE: How do you get your ideas for the comic strip?
ME: Usually when I'm relaxed. Often I will get ideas whilst I'm in the shower. You know, when I'm relaxed.

Of course, I was very excited about the launch of my cartoon in the paper and, when a copy of the paper was delivered to me I hastily opened it up to see how the interview came across and what the comic looked like in print.

On the front page of the paper it had a little promo for the article inside...."Turn to Page 5 to meet our new cartoonist" (or something like that).
So I turned to page 5.

And almost died.

"Ian strips for strip ideas!"... Was the banner headline that greeted me (and every other reader of that day's edition) on page five!
Looking at it later on I could see that it was a great headline...but at the time I was mortified that my simple, innocent comment about the source of my inspiration could be so twisted!

I was on a steep learning curve in those early years and one thing I learnt very quickly was not to be so honest with friendly reporters!

How do I come up with the ideas now?
Truly, I wish it were a simple formula that could be reproduced on command. But it isn't.
Some cartoonists draw their way (through doodling, character sketches etc) to their idea. I find that doesn't work for me.
Over the years I have discovered that I need to keep my eyes and ears open....maybe it is just a word, or a phrase, that I will hear that will trigger an idea, or a gag.
Maybe it is something I will see.
For me it is really all about trying to be a sponge that absorbs anything that might, at some stage, spark a creative urge. I write these things down in a notebook...sometimes the little notation may sit there for months, like a seed waiting for the rain to nourish it to fruition. Other times, the idea comes together pretty quickly.

And, sometimes, the ideas come from the characters themselves. When you have clearly defined characters and themes in the strip,it is not unusual for ideas to come from there...though you do have to be careful not to be repetitious. 

But you know.... this is a crazy business!...Not only is it difficult to come up with an idea for every day of the year...but the ideas you might think are great may not come across as all that great to others.
This is because humour, like most forms of artistic endeavour, is a very subjective thing.

So, it is not only about coming up with an idea, but trying to come up with an idea that works well, hopefully, for others, too.
It's enough to make you go crazy! 

But maybe you need to be a bit crazy to be a cartoonist, anyway!

Following on from last week's blog, here are a few more in the series of strips tracing Doug's journey back to his old home. I am really enjoying the opportunity that a change of scenery provides for the strip artistically.

YOUNG READERS ACTIVITY PAGEI am still working on some activities for this page so it will be ready for next Monday's blog.
Stay tuned!

Until next week.
Joyfully yours,




  1. Great post, Ian! So true. I also strip for my strip! Seriously, the shower just seems to work for lots of people. I think it's because we're finally in a place where our brain knows it can't anything else, so it starts spitting out ideas. Otherwise, I think my most honest answer is: I wish I knew where ideas came from! Can you imagine how rich I'd be if I could bottle that one and sell it? In reality, I think "ideas" come from a number of places: (1) the "I don't know where that one came from" place; (2) the review of a notebook containing thoughts and images that do not add up to one complete strip; (3) just doodling and seeing what pops up; and, rarely, (4) sitting down and just trying to mechanically write out a script. I find the process for a comic strip fascinating as it is unlike, imo, anything else like painting, writing, etc. because it combines so many different creative approaches. I think sometimes ideas can come from just changing things up, like drawing with a different pen one day. But, overall, I'd say the best ideas come from the shower. There's no way around it! :) Take it easy, Ian. Thanks again for the really good post here. Brad

    1. Thanks, Brad, for your additional input.
      I'm glad you are enjoying this little blog, too. :)