The Weekend Spill: Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

“Where do you get your ideas?”

It’s possibly the most asked question of cartoonists. Two other contenders: “Do you worry if you’ll run out of ideas?” and “Can you make a living doing that?”

To answer the first (and not the second or third) I’m always tempted to say that I have a little soft cover book I found under a stack of old New Yorker magazines in a used book store in Woodstock, New York: All The Cartoon Ideas There Ever Have Been & Ever Will Be.  Such a book, you might think, would be very helpful. No need to worry about whether you’ve just come up with an idea Barney Tobey did in the late 1950s (something I’ve done), and no need to stare at a blank piece of paper all day, awaiting a caption, or a drawing idea (or both at once — cartoon nirvana!). You could move right along through your day producing cartoons like a baker produces cookies.  But, for me, a book of ideas would mean no more surprises when ideas turn up.

So, lets say there isn’t a booklet of ideas. Where do ideas come from? Some can be produced (like cookies) —  you can, from a somewhat mechanical process, concoct a fully formed cartoon. Among other ways, you can rely, as I do, on a non-process process: just hope something comes along. Hope something arrives without warning, without thinking, without actively attempting to do a cartoon. Like right this moment for instance, I thought of two people staring at a giant sandwich. To me, it’s appealing to draw that, so I would (if I wasn’t writing this). And while I was drawing it, I’d enjoy the act of drawing. As I drew the two people staring at a giant sandwich, I’d begin to hope that a caption comes along. If I’m very lucky, one would. If I’m exceptionally fortunate, one that actually makes the drawing work would show up. Where did the idea of drawing two people staring at a giant sandwich come from…and where did a workable (hopefully) caption come from? Dunno. Have never known for 99.9% of the work I’ve done, and honestly, I don’t want to know.  So had I actually found that little book of ideas, I would’ve bought it (for the archives). But used it? Nah. What fun would that be.