Why Gag Writers Should Work With Illustrators

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Photo by Fotolia/Denis Pepin
Gag writers can land more jobs by teaming up with an illustrator.

Gag writers are funny people — they really are. Particularly when you face the fact that 80 percent of all published cartoons are written by them and not the cartoonist.

We inkstained churls can titter all we like about gag writers thinking themselves more important to cartoondom than they really are, but when the batches are ready for mailing, we cannot (dreamers though we may be) fail to admit a hell of a lot of us would, many times, be up the proverbial creek had we no faithful, talented gag writer to churn up the basic idea or complete idea ready to be decorated with characterization, perspective, and styling.

I say this simply because — in addition to drawing cartoons — I write cartoon ideas. This makes me a gag writer, doesn’t it? It must. I write ideas for my own drawings. I’ve written them for other, more proficient artists and I’ve sold typed ideas directly to various magazines.

Don’t knock gag writers to this gag writer, boys. I’m too sympathetic to the breed.

But I must also admit that most gag writers are missing the boat in a very profitable field, and have been missing it for Lo, these long years. That’s funny too.

Here the magazines are practically screaming for good, slanted humor copy (in lengths of 1,500 to 2,000 words) for which the editors will delightedly pay $0.03 to $1 a warped adjective — and yet the gag writer insists upon sticking solely (or almost solely) to batting out cartoon ideas. Leaving potential checks of $75 to $200 just laying there in favor of $2.50 checks for ideas sold through some cartoonist’s medium.

Know what I’d do if I couldn’t draw but had a sense of humor? I’d find a cartoonist who would be willing to do three line (cartoon) illustrations, on spec, for me. Then I’d pick a good, middle-market book and bang out a well slanted humor piece directed to that book’s readership. After that, I’d tell my illustrator how I wanted the cartoon-illustrations. And, when the package sold (I’d market both the illustrations and copy as a package), and I had the check in my hot little hand, I’d kindly pay off my illustrator to the tune of $5 or $10 per drawing, depending upon how much our combined efforts brought.

Puts the shoe on the other foot, for a pleasant change, eh?

Of course, since I do draw, I’ve been my collaboration team for quite some time. Books such as Popular Electronics, Cats Magazine, Skin Diver, Hot Rod, Home Movies, Car Craft, Motor Trend, and others pay lovely checks of $50 to $200 for cartoon illustrated (usually, three drawings) humor pieces (averaging 1,500 words).

Furthermore, they are happy to get the written humor since nobody seems to be taking the trouble to offer it to them. A number of editors have told me they see tons of written jokes, short (200-word) humorous fillers and — of course — the usual deluge of cartoon roughs. But seldom do they find a jazzy, well slanted humor piece complete with illustrations (thereby saving a small budget book the cost of “farming out” the art work) in the slush pile. When they do, occasionally, find one they all cheer and have an extra martini during lunch.

As far as my cartoon illustrated humor pieces are concerned, I have experienced damn little difficulty selling them. Naturally, there are reasons for this. Here are three of them:

• I usually query the editor in advance, briefing him on the particular approach or topic I want to cover.
• I make it my business to study the book I’m trying to sell.
• I always include cartoon illustrations because they help me sell the script.

Maybe I better say that again, a bit louder: Cartoon illustrations will help sell any well slanted, reasonably well written humor script.

Occasionally I see a brother cartoonist making a successful stab at this specialized field and doing very nicely at it. Pete Millar is one artist whose ability to thrum up a special feature utilizing words and cartoons is sheer pleasure.

There are others who, in addition to hawking their roughs, frequently have a profitable change of pace into the humor piece department — but I seldom see a gag writer hitting the bell. And this worries me because most gag writers are supposed to be, basically, humorists. And if this assumption is true, why aren’t they teaming up with cooperative cartoonists and storming the humor piece field?

Like I say, it frets me. Editors were never more willing to be sold written humor. Many of them actually offer bonus pay if the writer will supply regular, monthly offerings slanted to their books. Bonus pay (in case you’ve never heard of it) is sometimes $20, sometimes $50, in addition to the regular check at whatever rates the books pay or the writer (or writer/cartoonist team) can demand.

If you think this all sounds mighty like I’m smoking weird weeds, I humbly suggest you try it and then try bringing me down after the first three-figure check bruises your mailbox. You may, if you insist, cable me your love. I dig everybody but ingrates.

And now you’ll excuse me. I have a stack of typers to illustrate, several typed ideas to send Playboy, another batch to get out for some cartoony friends, and a regular stash of humor copy (I may illustrate some if it myself) to get out.

Good Lord, there’s almost too much money to be made.

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