how to be a real cartoonist

[NOTE: I found this essay while perusing old notebooks last weekend.  It was probably written in May or June 2002.  I hadn’t yet started drawing The Family Monster and was uncertain if I’d succeed as a cartoonist.  The stakes were high.  This was probably an attempt to build myself up for what was to be the beginning of the rest of my life.]

You must posses at least one drawing hand.  It can be either left or right, or both, but it can’t be two lefts or two rights.  Once you’ve chosen, there are no take-backs.

Pick up a pencil or pen.  A pen is better suited for writing dialog, because when people talk they talk in ink.  Pencils are better for drawing because you can erase your many mistakes.  You will make many mistakes.

Find a comfortable place to sit and compose.  You can’t take my place because I’m there already and I can’t work with you sitting on my lap.  You also can’t take Charles Schulz’s place because, let’s face it, he was a giant in this field.  Also, his place is in a museum, the Charles Schulz Museum, and the docents won’t let you sit there.  Sit and compose.  You will find that, upon sitting, you will want to do anything but compose.  Resist this urge.  Eventually the phone will ring or you will need the bathroom so so bad.  Don’t get up before you absolutely have to.  Don’t take a break before you start composing.  That is not a break.

Stare blankly at a blank sheet of paper.  Do not think “How will I fill these?”  Think of something funny your character would say.  Think of the funniest possible thing your character could say, then think of the reason why she would say it.  Write all that down.  None of this will seem funny to you.  It never will seem all that funny to you.  This is a good sign.  As soon as you find yourself witty and urbane, you should stop composing.  When you begin to find yourself funny, it is the exact moment you have stopped being funny.

Don’t try to finish a joke if it is taking too long.  Move on.  Come back to it if you think the setup is unique or has merit.

Compare yourself unfavorably to published cartoonists.  Compare yourself favorably to published cartoonists who you feel don’t deserve their sweet publishing deals.  Try to understand why they have been published, regardless.  Spend lots of time hoping you’ll get published.  Spend more time doing something about it.

Follow the above directions to become a Real Cartoonist, unless you already have a better plan, in which case you should follow that instead.

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