Creating Funny Cartoon Captions

A technique for creating funny cartoon captions is to think BEFORE & AFTER.

For example, let’s look at my winning New Yorker cartoon caption from a couple of years ago.

You’re in trouble when we get to the bicycles.

Sol Morrison, from Santa Barbara, writes:  “The primate is daring the fish to do well in the bike part of race.  He is looking AHEAD of what we (the viewers) see.  He invites us to think and look ahead to a Funny Visual of a Fish on a bicycle.   The humor is future-oriented.  Cartoon caption writers should think ahead.  Try to extend the action in given cartoon challenge:  What could happen next?  What might happen in next panel, logically or illogically?  Don’t lock in to what is literally given in the visual.  Extend into absurdity.  Move the story along, like motion pictures, like life.  Everyone moves on!”

Sol is a player with the Santa Barbara Improv.  Improv players understand the  principle of BEFORE & AFTER.  An improv scene never starts and ends on the performance stage.  If a player “starts” a scene by walking on stage, that isn’t really where the scene begins.  That player is coming from some place and some activity.   That player has a history he or she brings to the scene.  In the case of the New Yorker cartoon, the single panel has a history too.  The cartoon is in the middle of an activity.  Before the snapshot of the drawing, the man and the fish started a triathalon and completed the swimming event.  That’s the BEFORE part of the creativity process.  Ask the question, “as I look at the cartoon, what happened just before this picture took place?”

The AFTER part of the creativity process is where you ask, “what is going to happen next?”  In this case, at the next transition station, the bicycles await.

So as Sol suggests, don’t let your creativity get tunnel vision.  See something bigger than the “picture.”  Be sure to explore what happened BEFORE & AFTER the picture.  And combine that with your other cartoon caption writing tools.  It will give you more options to make your humor connections.

Shapen your skills by entering the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest (weekly) and the Humor Power Cartoon Caption Contest (bi-monthly).