“Where do you get your ideas?”


I haven’t been in the habit of creating a comic on an almost daily basis in, well, ever. I did Ag-gravation 3 times a week back in the day, but college life is always a well of inspiration for comics. For a freelance project on which I’m currently working, I have to write and draw 100 cartoons about fish, and though I worry a bit that I may run out of ideas, so far it hasn’t been a problem. I’ve done about 20 comics for the project so far, and getting stuck coming up with something funny or insightful doesn’t seem too far away. So how do we as artists keep this from happening and keep creating when it seems our brains have given their all?

This is a question artists and writers are asked all the time. One of my favorite solutions comes from an art hero of mine, Jake Parker:

His “Design 100 Somethings” concept seems super daunting, but it forces you to focus on the basic concept of what you are doing and to make connections that you would never make after giving it just 3 or 4 tries. This is especially helpful when your subject is very narrow, like, say, fish.

For this project, I have had to make a conscious mindset shift. Just sitting there staring at a blank page thinking about fish doesn’t yield great results, as you can imagine. Instead, I have to add another dimension to my daily grind:

Step 1- WWFD?
I find myself always asking “What or how would a fish be doing what I am doing in this situation?” If I’m listening to a podcast about schedule planning, I imagine a fish in his bowl looking at his empty wall calendar, resigning himself to another full day of swimming in circles. BAM – there’s a comic. If I’m watching The Godfather or any of the million parodies of it on every show ever, BAM – fish wakes up with a seahorse head in his bed. Another comic.

I don’t have to pretend I’m a fish in every given situation. It’s just like having an extra program running in the background of your brain’s hard drive for a little while. If I’m driving the kids around and they’re arguing in the backseat, I wonder what kind of comic I could come up with about that. If it comes to me, it’s going right in the sketchbook, though (unless I’m actually still driving, though; I can yell at one of the kiddos to shut up and write something for me. Two birds y’all).

Step 2 – Research
Google “Fish cartoon”; there are dozens of them already out there. Now, even though Picasso said “Great artists steal,” I’m not going to plagiarize any of these. However, are there any unfunny ones that challenge me to see how I could come up with better ideas? You betcha. This helps with both idea generation and character design, as well!

Step 3 – Write it down
I must always, always, always keep a sketchbook within arm’s reach. Ideas have to go in there immediately, whether they’re good or bad. Bad ones can turn into good ones with some thought and effort, but not if I’ve forgotten to scribble them out in the first place. This is the well I draw from when it’s time to put ink to paper (or Wacom tablet). Replenishing it often will make sure I don’t suffer a drought and miss a deadline.

Hmm, fish in a drought…there might be an idea there. Later, guys, I need to write this down!


About Nick Perkins

Insurance drone by day, cartoonist by night.
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