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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 09/11/2008

The Riff: Secrets That Cartoonists Don't Want You to Know...

By Michael Cavna

Yesterday, in the spirit of encouraging potentially talented artists -- and more so, to discourage the talentless so they would not toil for decades in vain -- we offered a Comic Riffs Quiz for Aspiring Cartoonists.

Some of you, it seems, are still dead-set on following the siren song that is cartoon syndication. You now want to know the secrets to creating an insanely profitable comic strip.

We, unfortunately, do not know these secrets -- Jim "Zits" Borgman would not spill the beans last week, despite our pleading and groveling. We do know from personal experience, however, which comic elements tend to be Indicators of future success.

What will it cost you to purchase these professional tips? For you, it's on the house.


1. Lead male characters must have funky haircuts -- or no hair at all.*
(*Does not apply to serial strips.)

2. Good names for a strong and outspoken female character:
a. Carmen (i.e., "Baldo," "Prickly City," "Pooch Cafe").
b. Any name that does not invoke hair color.

3. Your characters can comment boldly on world affairs only if you are:
a. Young and "angry."
b. Old and cantankerous.
c. A clarion symbol of oppression.
d. So reclusive that your identity is shrouded in wild speculation.

4. Good and funny sounds for your title (or character names):
a. An "ooh" sound (i.e., Snoopy).
b. An "s" sound ("Mutts").
c. A "k" or a "b" sound ("Blondie," Bucky Katt).
d. Any combination of at least two of the above (i.e., "Doonesbury," "Pickles," "Bloom County," "Pooch Cafe").*
(* By this Theory of Sonic Combination, "The Boondocks" and "Brewster Rockit" are the two most perfect titles ever created.)

5. Good names for animal characters:
a. Most anything that rhymes with "uffy" (if animal is smaller than a breadbox).
b. Most any name from a movie Western (if animal is nearly as large as an icebox).
c. Random historical figure (e.g., Garfield, [Mallard] Fillmore, Hobbes).

6. If you have more than one animal character, at least one of them must be (pick one):
a. Cute.
b. Lovable.
c. Adorable.
d. Stupid as sand.

7. Your characters may make rampant overuse of the word "dude" only as long as your strip is:
a. Hip and edgy.
b. Faux-hip but ironic.
c. Actually set on a beach or in the Old West.

8. Your strip is not required to have amusing gags only as long as:
a. You write for a serious action/adventure cartoon.
b. You are a card-carrying member of the post-punchline generation.
c. You are trying to plunge your feature into a death spiral of client cancellations.
d. Readers laugh reflexively at your strip even though it has not been funny since 1962.*
(* Let the record show we do not personally subscribe to Option "d.")
We hope this gets you started on your way to fame and fortune. If not, don't blame us -- we will insist that we either (a) are being entirely ironic; or (b) are as stupid as sand.

By Michael Cavna  | September 11, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  The Riffs  
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Next: The Morning Line: The Envelope, Please, for the Riffy Awards...


Careful, Cavna. Stuff like this leaks out and suddenly, Boom, everybody realizes they can do a strip.

Posted by: rt | September 11, 2008 3:42 PM | Report abuse

9. Have a weeklong buildup to a punchline that is a pun that is so bad that you groan and laugh simultaneously or--a rip-off of a song lyric that makes you laugh uncontrollably.

Damn you Pastis, you've done it again.

Posted by: jimbo1949 | September 12, 2008 12:57 AM | Report abuse

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