This may come as a surprise to many of you but I feel very proud when a reader appreciates the idea of my cartoon, rather than the illustration. Working on an elaborate illustration in a cartoon gives me a different high. This journey is familiar and I know the destination.
I spend hours scratching my head, scurrying through loads of news checking the background of the news items through various sources, strolling aimlessly on websites, twitter, facebook and news channels looking for that one idea. This process is so unpredictable that it doesn’t even guarantee to present me an idea. But there is that feeling that tells you that you’re almost at the threshold of a good idea. There are times when you feel like you have lots of potential areas in front of you inviting you to work on them, but you still struggle to extract a cartoon idea. A small word/sentence, a visual, a dialogue can also ignite an idea. And when you’re there, you feel like having won an Oscar. But wait, you can do better. The stupidest thing is to start drawing as soon as you get an idea. I have done this many times and felt like an idiot after the cartoon has appeared.
You need to spend some time to get to know the idea better. Look for ways to improvise the idea and surprise the reader.
So, how is an idea born? This is the second most frequent question that cartoon-lovers ask me. The first question is always about, “what software to use to draw cartoons?” The answer to that question is ‘No software can draw a cartoon, YOU draw the cartoon.’ I don’t really have any formula to germinate an idea. But I can surely share the journey of arriving at some ideas. And this is my journey, I’m sure other cartoonists have their own way of getting ideas.
The grass is green!
During my college days I used to follow many sports through newspapers/magazines and Wimbledon fascinated me, especially the grass court. We had magicians like McEnroe and Sampras who were born for the pace of grass court. In 2010 the match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut went for 11 hours and five minutes over three days with the final score reading 6-4, 3-6, 6-7(7-9), 7-6(7-3), 70-68 in favour of Isner. This was a fabulous display of some fine tennis. A tennis match being played over three days is quite funny. And the match deserved a cartoon. Naturally, I wanted to focus on the looooooooooong duration of the match. The natural instinct in such situation is to exaggerate the LONGEST term. I wanted to exaggerate but didn’t know which part of the match to exaggerate to make it funny. I thought of the players (growing beard), the ball-boys/girls (becoming adults) etc. But then my focus went to another naturally growing factor of the match, the grass. Of course, I had to take cartoonist’s freedom to assume that the match was on without any break to cut the grass. The result was a simple and subtle cartoon, which was appreciated all over the globe. This cartoon was widely circulated by cartoon lovers as well as sports fans. In fact this was my brush with the word ‘viral’!
The story of AMUL inspires us all. I have huge respect for the man behind the white revolution, Dr Verghese Kurien. When he passed away in Sept 2012, that was my last chance to pay respect to the life and legacy of Dr Kurien. When celebrities die, I travel with them to Heaven! I’m fascinated by this concept of departed souls reaching another world, though I don’t believe in such a world. As a cartoonist this concept is intriguing. I wanted to travel with Dr Kurien to Heaven. And I was thinking of different facets of his life, to focus on one prominent factor. It had to be his milk-connection. But I was clueless about depicting the milk factor in the cartoon. Some more brainstorming led me to his achievement as to how he supplied milk to crores of homes in India. So, now he’ll be in heaven supplying milk. Normally in India milkman wakes most of us up in the morning. That’s my early-morning trip with Dr Kurien to the heaven! I have done tens of obit cartoons with heaven as the backdrop. And every time I felt like I have kept that person alive.
Some of these obit cartoons were well-received and appreciated by their families and they had requested a copy of the cartoon. Now some prominent person dies, immediately I get messages from cartoon-lovers and friends asking me to do an obit cartoon! In fact, I received few enquiries from few families, checking with me if I can do a commissioned obit cartoon for someone departed in their family!
The IPL lion!
I’m a fan of many IPL cricket teams. Chennai Super Kings is one team which is loved by the fans as well as envied by the rivals. When CSK was banned for two years after match-fixing/betting controversies, the world was shattered for CSK fans. I was working on a cartoon for this development. Sometimes cartoonists rely on visuals like symbols connected to the news to work around an idea. And CSK’s symbol was roaring lion. CSK always fought like lion in IPL and their performance throughout was consistent. So this ban would tame the lion, I thought. The final cartoon was very simple, where a hand is removing a tooth of CSK lion. Still, people love this cartoon when I show it during my cartoon presentations/workshops.
Malala is a Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban, just because she wanted to study in a school. This cartoon was my tribute to the courage of this little girl. Whenever I think of terrorists, an image of suicide bomber with different colored bombs strapped to his body with wires and belts would pop up in my head. Also the image of how a suicide bomber would open his jacket to show the bombs before pressing the button to explode. The idea was to show Malala’s strong willingness to sacrifice her life for the cause of education. I wanted to show Malala showing her weapon to a terrified Taliban terrorist. And her weapon had to be EDUCATION, in the form of books. The final cartoon was very satisfying, though the idea was clichéd. In fact, later I found 3-4 cartoons on Malala with a similar idea. That shows how cartoonists think in a certain pattern, especially with clichéd concepts.
With the popularity of social media, especially Twitter, you also face the danger of your idea already being tweeted by someone else. I always try to look at the news with a different perspective to come up with a fresh and distinctive idea. Sometimes going to the extent of being weird.
Looking at news differently is one way to get a better cartoon idea. Connecting two or more unrelated news is another way of getting an original idea. It’s also important to remember the news from the past, related to the subjects/topics. That will give you more options to play around with news. So, your memory is vital too!
The bottom line is to keep your ears and eyes open. But more importantly, keep your mind open. A biased mind will deprive you of many potential cartoon ideas. I believe that, one of the basic qualifications to become a political cartoonist is to stay unbiased and continue to have a critical look at the establishment, govt, society.
I will continue to share some more cartoons along with the journey of those cartoon ideas. Hope this will help some aspiring cartoonist.