May 5th, NATIONAL CARTOONIST DAY (be sure to worship them as gods for the next 24 hours)

I drew a comic strip off and on for about 20 years. It’s a pretty exacting medium. Every line, every word, has to be exactly in the right place in order to convey the punchline. And it doesn’t take much to throw off the timing and ruin the gag. Plus, you have to be able to conceive a worthy punchline out of your head, out of thin air, in the first place. It requires an odd combination of skills that really can’t be taught. You can either do it or you can’t.

Drawing a comic strip is like doing sketch comedy. Only you do everything. You write it, you draw it, you create the characters, you act out all the characters, you design the set, you design the costumes. You’re actor, writer, director, set designer, everything. And you have to be skilled in all these things to pull it off.

One thing it really requires is the ability to be concise. You have to pack all of this information into 3 or 4 little panels. So you can’t waste a single word. Doing a comic strip taught me how to express myself directly and forcefully. It is an in-your-face medium. You are reaching out and grabbing the reader by the collar and demanding: LOOK AT ME!!

It also teaches you how to package your thoughts and present them to others in an easily-digestible format. It’s like being an advertising executive, except instead of selling a product you’re selling your ideas.

A cop was once detaining me and grilling me about a possible offense I might have committed. In the course of the conversation he asked me about my employment history.
“I was a cartoonist for 20 years,” I said.
“Why’d you quit?” said the cop.
“I ran out of punchlines,” I said.

The cop laughed and let me go. . . I still know how to deliver a punchline if I need to.

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