Sunday, March 18, 2007

Gag Writing: PC and Pixel Comic Strips (Part III)

PC & Pixel by Tak Bui

I recently received an e-mail from a reader who asked me, "Do you write the PC and Pixel gags for free?" This e-mail was from a young cartoonist who, like me, would love to have their own syndicated comic strip one day. Paid or not, they thought that being a part-time gagwriter for an existing comic strip was a nice way to gain publication experience.

I wrote back and thanked "Joe Cartoonist" for their e-mail, and wholeheartedly agreed that gag writing is definitely a nice way to gain publication experience. PC and Pixel is currently printed in newspapers worldwide and is also featured on United Media’s website,, so it feels good knowing that there’s a receptive audience out there.

But perhaps even more importantly, this particular gig also gives me the opportunity to develop my comic strip writing skills and learn from an experienced cartoonist like Tak Bui.

You see, producing a daily comic strip is similar to running an endurance race. A strip cartoonist needs to draw 365 different ideas every year, otherwise, their cartoons will become boringly repetitive. That can seem overwhelming at times, especially if one hits a writer's block. At the time of this writing, there's an excellent article available on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel website, which discusses this very issue titled "Drawing the line: Deadlines, censorship drive comic strip artists to pack up their pencils" by Lori Price.

And so, writing for PC and Pixel gives me the opportunity to "train" my imagination (albeit without the daily deadlines), but I'm still grateful because I get to work with and receive a little coaching from a professional colleague who's successfully ran this race before. Inevitably, there've been times, especially when I first started submitting ideas to Tak, when some of my gags collapsed short of the punch line (i.e., were just plain bad). Some might've been funny in their own way, but they didn't suit Tak's comic strip because I had the characters saying and/or doing things that were “out of character.”

That was a really important lesson -- one which I never learned while drawing a comic strip for my school's newspaper. Back then, I was writing basic jokes about college and university life, rather than developing my characters by giving each a unique voice. When writing for a comic strip, especially someone else's, you need to be creative and fresh enough with your ideas, but you also need to be “true to the strip” by maintaining certain rules. A great example of this would be Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz. After he developed the strip and discovered who his characters were, there were certain rules that "Sparky" never broke, such as the audience never seeing or hearing the adults, although the kids did, or how Snoopy's house was drawn from the side view -- allowing him to sit and write at his typewriter.

A daily comic strip needs these kinda rules.

I'll never forget the time when Tak and I had a lunch meeting, and I had broken one of his PC and Pixel rules. There was this gag in one of my earlier submissions in which I had PC doing something out of character. Tak had a "subtle" way of letting me know why this particular gag was weak -- that is, he straight-up told me that PC was "out of character." But honestly, he's always encouraging with his critiques. PC and Pixel is a mix of one-shot panel gags versus multi-panel strips, so there’s always room for short stories and recurring themes. Nowadays, I think I've gotten the hang of staying true to the strip, but I still try to offer Tak some new directions to experiment and have fun with.

For example, Cyber Ninja Space Cat...

April 30, 2006

Getting back to the question that "Joe Cartoonist" asked me ...

Yes, a little extra cash for one's efforts never hurts! To any aspiring cartoonist who might consider doing gag writing for another, I highly recommend that you too seek suitable compensation -- especially if the cartoonist you are writing for sells their work. But that's a discussion for another time.

I haven’t done an official tally lately, so I honestly don’t know how many comic strip ideas I’ve sold to Tak since I started writing for him back in May 2003. A while back, he gave me permission to share samples of my published gags online, but otherwise, most readers don’t know which gags I've written because I usually have a “ghostwriter” status.

That said, from time to time, Tak slips in a name credit ...

The following are some PC and Pixel comic strips that I recently contributed to. Click any cartoon to enlarge ... Enjoy!

First, we have a nod to the Academy Awards and Hollywood's battle against movie piracy. You know what they say about if you can't beat 'em ...

February 25, 2007

I find that the bathroom mirror is a great place for PC to have moments of self-realization, and to do serious soul-searching ...

February 27, 2007

February 28, 2007

Everyone has their own way of dealing with rejection.

As mentioned in a previous post, rejection is a business reality for almost every cartoonist, so it's "therapeutic" to occasionally have fun with it. In Peanuts, Snoopy used to write stories. Here, we find Pixel receiving a rejection for her "Dog Catcher" video game idea ...

March 02, 2007

And finally, sometimes a gag idea is inspired by a real life event.

Back in February, I upgraded to Microsoft's new Windows Vista operating system, however, this proved to be a "bumpy road" because the upgrade installation software was buggy and didn't work as Microsoft had advertised. Not a fun experience, but I did get mentioned in a CNET News article, and thought of a gag for the strip. I'm glad that Tak included the "WOW Starts Now" sign, as I suggested. You could call it "bittersweet revenge" ...

March 04, 2007

You can read PC and Pixel daily at United Media's

You can also view additional samples of my PC and Pixel gag writing by visiting Part I and Part II of my blog entries on this topic.

Stay TOONed!

- Mike Cope

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