Creating Cartoons: A Step-by-Step Guide

In this section of the website, we're going to go through the various steps of the creative process - from concept and brief, through materials and rough versions to the finished product.

This page details idea generation for gag cartoons. There are other pages which have a look at other types of cartooning. If you're interested in any of the following, just click:

Part 2: The Political/Editorial Cartoon

Part 3: Creating a cartoon from a client's brief

Part 4: Creating a poster-sized corporate caricature


I teach quite a few workshops around the country all year round. One of the most popular sections of the workshop concerns creating your own cartoons. There are some great books out there that cover the basics of cartooning (see the section of this site called Influences and Hazy Recollections), but I can tell you that the most basic elements are - ideas and composition.


Gag Cartoons

If you're creating a gag cartoon, your ideas will either come from inspiration or from, say, a word list divided into three (or more) columns - basically covering who the subject is (could be divided into animate or inanimate), what they're doing and where they are. I'll give you few examples of what you can include in your list, but be sure to create your own. The aim is to select one word from each column at random.





Playing poker

On the moon


Chasing bus




On the bus


Playing golf

In a library



In Hell


Trying to sleep

Operating Theatre


Firing slingshot

At the movies


Shooting enemy

In a field

Mental patients


In a pub


Pushing pram

At school



In a car

So, picking one word from each column at random (a good way is to shut your eyes and point at the screen... oh well, never mind) and we come up with - for example: GHOSTS, DRINKING, UNDERWATER. Now, not all those words are helpful, but I like the idea of ghosts having a drink. How about, then, a joke like:

GHOST 1: I've decided to give up the boo's

Hey - it's not perfect, but it's a start. But it's the way some people like Gary Larson (The Far Side) or James Kemsley (Ginger Meggs) might come up with ideas if they get stuck for inspiration!


Newspaper Cartoons

Of course, the other way to come up with an idea is to take your inspiration from a news story - newspaper and magazine cartoonists do that every day. If you look at a news story, you'll notice that the first paragraph usually gives you the gist of the news in one go. The second and third paragraphs flesh the story out a bit more, while the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh give even greater detail. Often, all you need to read is the first paragraph for your idea.


Composing your cartoon

The next step is to put the cartoon together. Now, in the English-speaking world, we read left-to-right, and then top-to-bottom. Say we've drawn our cartoon and we need to put the words in... we can usually find ourselves with two problems:

1) The words don't fit into the spaces we've left;

2) The person on the right has to speak first

Both these problems should be fixed before we even begin to draw our cartoon. That's why we use something called a pencil - it's a perfectly legitimate cartooning tool and very easy to use - with the added advantage that we can rub things out before we ink the drawing in. To solve problem 1, we first make sure our script is secure and then draw the picture accordingly - it really makes no difference if we see the characters' legs or not, really, so long as we can get our point across. To solve problem 2, we simply make sure that the person on the right is on the left in the first place. Easy!

Click here to go to the next page and see how I created a political cartoon for GPReview...



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All artwork ©2003 Noz Productions