On The Single Panel Cartoon
A little discussion on why making a good single panel cartoon is harder than it seems.
Since I enjoy telling long stories, I usually apply my drawing skills to longer sequential comics. Plus, the masochist in me likes to see how much hand cramping I can endure over the course of a week.
But every once in a while I’ll foolishly dip a toe into the world of the single panel cartoon.
But as Mike reminded me after I waved a few of these babies under his nose, that a good single panel is no easy endeavor. You have to accomplish at least two main goals when creating a single panel: 1) Remember the economy of line to convey the visual quickly. 2) Make sure the gagline is equally balanced to the drawing so they work successfully together in telling a joke.
If the drawing or the gag line is weak, the balance will be off and the cartoon isn’t as strong as it could be.
I think that’s why I pester Mike now and then with my work. He adamantly reminds me of the rules to illustrated comedy. He’s both my stink test and my professor.
I think every cartoonist needs someone who can be brutally honest with them about their work. Otherwise how do you get motivated to improve?
Single panel cartoons are also a journey of sorts for the artist. You may start out with one gag concept, and while you are drawing that idea, you usually think up a gag for a completely different cartoon.
For example, as I was wading into the Columbia River a past Saturday, I thought about brain eating amoebas possibly swimming up my nose. After percolating in my thoughts (pardon the pun) it gave me an idea for making a cartoon of an Amoeba talking to a Paramecium about “pronouns.”
Then the amoeba’s mitosis made me think of John Carpenter’s “The Thing.”
While drawing this I was reminded of another rule for good single panel cartooning: 3) On top of a successful synergy of word and image, single panels also have a back story the reader infers. If you know the movie “The Thing” and also The Three Stooges, you get the joke. (Yeh, I know, anyone under 20 won’t understand this cartoon. Sometimes maybe I get too old in my comedy references.)
I had a gagline on this as well, but on reflection it was kind of weak and just detracted from the visual joke, much like the following commercial interruption.
However after I made this drawing, I got an idea for a “Blob in the office” gag. (I’d love to show that one but it got purchased by Freaky Magazine and you’ll have to wait until it’s published.)
But that “Blob in the office” joke led to this…
Once I sent these to Mike, instead of putting a block on my email address, he thankfully was kind enough to suggest I send them to another magazine publisher he knew whose comedic tastes were as skewed as mine.
That skew is perhaps a problem for me. My humor sensibilities with single panel cartooning are heavily influenced by cartoonists like Sam Gross, Gahan Wilson, Charles Addams and assorted other masters of “sick” humor. (Thanks a bunch, Mad, Cracked and National Lampoon.) Sometimes they all hover like ghosts over my own twisted ideas. Considering that collectively this group has made thousands of cartoons, it’s pretty hard to avoid a topic that they haven’t already drawn.
But I guess that would bring us to rule #4 in single panel cartooning: 4) Yeh, so? Maybe Gross did draw it. Now do your own damn version of the joke! In other words, just draw a gag and it’ll inspire some other cartoon that’s maybe original.
Considering that Sam drew over 35,000 comics it’s like playing the Lotto. But take a shot at it anyways.
Speaking of taking a shot, that “man-eating plant HR executive Exit Interview” cartoon made me think of Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit” that lead me to think of Hell and technological advances, which maybe Gross, Wilson or even Peter Arno might have also considered, but here’s my version.
Backstory, Gagline and Drawing. I think I checked all the boxes. Although I’m sure Mike will give me crap for putting way too much detail into this drawing. (See above regarding hand cramps and masochism.)
Even so, I’ll still thank him for all he’s taught me. Hopefully, this has also taught the aspiring cartoonists out there a thing or two.
If you’re a fan of single panel cartoons, Substack has a ton of cartoonists to choose from. I could have listed them here but I didn’t want to play favorites. I’ll just leave you to explore that.
Until next week please have at least chuckle or two. Maybe even a guffaw.