Friday, August 7, 2009

Da Do Ron Ron

One of the most difficult questions I ever have to answer is "How long does it take you to do a cartoon?"

A cartoon such as last week's syndicated one, showing from a fair height two buses and an ambulance stranded in a vast wilderness alongside a lonely road, took fairly little time to draw. It was just a matter of getting the vehicles drawn in the same perspective as each other and adding a few faces that were too small to allow for any actual detail. I probably spent more time on the lettering of the balloon than on the rest of the drawing. Maybe an hour for the whole thing.

But that doesn't count the hard part of the cartoon: coming up with the idea in the first place.

I had decided early on that I wanted to do a cartoon about California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's line item budget veto slashing the state Office of AIDS budget. The obvious idea for the topic would have been to depict him as the Terminator. That idea has been done before -- hundreds of times in one fashion or another since he first declared his candidacy for the office -- so I quickly rejected it. But what else to do?

I thought long and hard about it. During some of that time, any bystander might have mistakenly concluded that I wasn't doing anything. Or that I was mindlessly surfing the internet. Or napping.

Sitting around appearing to do nothing, surfing the internet, or napping for hours on end does not do much toward maintaining domestic tranquility at home, so I tried thinking up the cartoon idea while doing other things that needed to get done, such as housecleaning and mowing the lawn. Somehow, actually accomplishing something seems always to be thoroughly detrimental to germinating a cartoon idea.

I noticed about halfway through mowing the lawn that I had spent 20 minutes or so thinking of nothing but the lyrics to a nonsense song from the musical Hair. It's a pleasant enough tune, but there was no way it was going to be helpful in coming up with a cartoon about slashing funds to budget California's Office of AIDS.

That's when it hit me how much easier song writing must be than political cartooning.

A song writer can get away with writing "Glippety glub gloopy nibby nabby noopy La la la lo lo Sabba sibby sabba nooby abba nabba le le lo lo tooby ooby walla nooby abba naba" and still have a hit on his hands forty years later. "Oh wah diddy, diddy dum diddy doo" remains in the top 100 hits of all time. All the Police wanted to say to you was "De do do do, de da da da," and fans ate it up.

If I tried to get away with that sort of thing, 90% of my readers would respond, "I don't get it." (The other 10% would assume I was ripping off Zippy the Pinhead.) Editors would drop my feature faster than a flaming porcupine.

Considering how the job prospects for editorial cartooning get worse and worse with every passing day, how much harder do you suppose it really is to be a song writer? How much time does it take to write one stupid song, anyway?

All the doo dah day.

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