Turning Opinion into Humor
As important as opinions are to the cartoonist, it's not the primary interest of the reader. Readers read editorial cartoons for the jokes. Humor is the hook that keeps the reader returning day after day. Without the jokes, readers would tire quickly of your visualized soapbox. Of course, the beauty of editorial cartoons is that, whether readers are aware of it or not, your opinion is being expressed. Political cartoons have the ability to make people laugh now and think later. They're coming for the chuckles, but leaving with an exchange of opinions.
Finding the humor in a news story is not always a simple task. In many cases, it helps to follow a four-step process: Clarify, Identify, Exemplify, Amplify.
Clarify your opinion — write it as a sentence if it helps.
Identify the involved parties.
Exemplify one situation in which the parties interact to prove your statement of opinion.
Amplify one or more parts of the example until it's humorous.
The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (
Clarify Your Opinion
This is the easiest part. As you take in the news from several sources and perspectives, it's hard not to form an opinion. Your opinion comes naturally. The important part is to clarify exactly what your opinion is.
It should be able to be written in one clear statement. Notice, the goal is not to simplify, but rather to clarify. Everyone thinks theft is bad, but your opinion should include why it's bad.
The best editorial cartoonists do not dabble in the gray areas of public discourse. They see things in terms of black and white. Either they support an issue or they're against it. Middle-of-the-road thinking makes for weak cartoons.
Identify the Participants
Every issue has at least two participants. Participants can be people as well as institutions, businesses, ideas, groups of people, and so forth. Some issues have several participants, and it helps to take each and every one into account. Write them down in a list next to your statement if it helps to keep track of them all.
Exemplify a Situation
Now that you have your opinion and have identified the participants, try to think of a situation in which the participants interact to prove your opinion. Some of the many ways to do this are covered in depth later in this chapter.
For example, you might have the opinion that Republicans and Democrats are equally beholden to big business, to the disadvantage of the average taxpayer. Your participants are: Republicans, Democrats, big business, taxpayers, and greed. On a sinking ship, how might the players act their parts?
Amplify the Situation
Once you have your scenario, amplify one or more of the elements to make it more humorous. Exaggeration will turn a wry comment into a funny gag. Remember, you're not striving for an objective presentation of fact — there are other places in the newspaper for that. Your primary target is the funny bone.
Find a situation that fits the topic you wish to address. In this case, the sinking ship is an apt metaphor for the citizen who feels betrayed by his elected officials.