The Non-Cartoonist Cartoonist ~ Fast Times

By James Donahue

One of the more challenging aspects of creating something editorial is keeping up with the fast-paced environment of the news cycle. If it’s an article, a cartoon, or even a letter to the editor, by the time the ink is dry or the send button has been pushed, is your point still relevant to the news of the day?

The big news story of the morning might be an afterthought by lunchtime. Did a major event happen on the other side of the country while you slept? It may be a topic on which you have an interesting opinion, but by the time you publish it may hardly seem valid. No matter what form you use to express your opinion, it’s best to move fast.

Write fast, draw fast, and send it to wherever it’s going just as fast. This hardly seems like a problem with the technology we have at our disposal. Most people have access to a computer, a tablet, or at the very least a smartphone, all which can be used for writing and publishing. Handheld technology can also be used to draw. A quick search yields a minimum of 15 drawing apps for the iPad alone, ranging in price from $0.99 to $14.99. The means to express yourself are certainly available; the real question is, do you have enough time to do it before your topic becomes passé?

I personally don’t draw on an iPad or with an app. I’m old-fashioned in that I prefer to draw and ink my work on paper. Then I scan it to my computer, clean it up a little in Photoshop, and post it online. This takes the average of an hour if the idea and punch line have already been formed in my head (though sometimes the idea is the hardest part). From concept to published all in an hour sounds like plenty of time, right? Not always.

Here are a few examples of how quickly things can move:

If you are writing about celebrity gossip, it’s a goldmine of one ridiculous event after another. Take Lindsay Lohan and her rehab drama: She announces she is taking 270 different outfits to do 90 days of rehab. This could make a great cartoon. Then she suddenly decides on her own to switch the rehab location from New York to California. Is that even allowed? Twenty minutes into her new court-ordered rehab assignment, she walks out. So doing a cartoon about her ridiculous wardrobe would have been old news because of her even more outlandish antics. Just writing a strip about her might be enough to be relevant, but it would be nice to be as up to date as possible on her latest foolishness.

On the political side of the things, take the ill-conceived consideration by AIG-American International Group to join the shareholder lawsuit against the U.S. Government over the bailout they received. AIG was the biggest recipient of bailout money and was reviled for paying employees hefty bonuses for making bad decisions. This would have been an easy cartoon: A typical businessman representing AIG getting his ass kicked. But soon after the idea was floated, AIG held a meeting and smartly decided not to join the suit. So a morning cartoon about the audacious AIG plan to sue would have been outdated by that afternoon.

So how do you keep up? Pick a topic or subject that you expect will have a few days (or at least one full day) of shelf life. Pick the bigger theme and don’t just focus on a specific event when possible. If you need to wake up at 6 a.m. and scour the news, then do it. Get to work early and get whatever it is out there before the next thing happens. With the web as your forum, there’s no reason you can’t tackle multiple topics in one day if the urge strikes you.

Sometimes I tweet a preview of a penciled and inked comic before it’s finished to make people aware of what’s coming up later in the day. Even if the story starts to fade, at least something is out there letting readers know you are paying attention and commenting on it. In the end, the best advice is to be fast, fast, and faster…and a little faster after that.

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