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Helene Parsons p2

Gag writer for cartoonists Helene Parsons lists many of her favorite books on humor and cartoon gag writing...

READERSVOICE.COM: When you were writing advertising for newspapers, did you use the same approach of reading newspapers and magazines and looking for lines or potential ideas?

HELENE PARSONS: My newspaper advertising experience is mostly in sales. I sold advertising space in daily and weekly newspapers and helped clients write ad copy. Usually the copy was given to me by the client. I often helped fine-tune it, edit it, proofread it, but my main responsibility was sales. That was my career – my full time job. I now write cartoon gags full time.

RV: When you started writing captions for cartoonists, with a description of the visual scene, in 1995, where did you see the cartoonists you decided to submit to?

HP: About 20 years ago I started writing humor on a freelance basis. I wrote one-liners and sold hundreds of them to comedy services, which supply comedians, speakers and broadcast personalities with gags. You have to realize, I don’t draw. But, after writing hundreds of these gags, I began to see where the gags could be illustrated and become a cartoon. I had no experience writing cartoon captions so I started studying cartoon collections of The New Yorker, Barron’s, Wall Street Journal, Reader’s Digest, etc.
I taught myself how to write cartoon gags and create single-panel cartoons from looking at hundreds (thousands?) of published cartoons. Because I worked in offices for years I had plenty of business cartoon ideas and began looking at current issues of the above mentioned magazines plus others, like Harvard Business Review, to see what types of cartoons they were buying.
I also started subscribing to a publication called Gag Recap, which listed the magazines who were buying cartoons, describing each published cartoon and its caption. This was extremely helpful.
Also, if I found a cartoonist who seemed to specialize in business cartoons I could sometimes contact them though the magazine and then ask if I could submit ideas to them. I was also able to find a few directories of cartoonists looking for writers and writers looking for cartoonists. Finally, I read every book I could find on cartoon and joke creation.

RV: You mentioned some books you’ve liked about cartooning and gag writing, like The Cartoonist’s Muse; and How about never? Is Never good for you? What did you like about these books?

HP: These books are filled with ways to come up with ideas for cartoons and how to write captions. It’s also comforting to know that other people are trying to come up with ideas on a continuous basis – I’m not the only one out there who is doing this.

RV: What are some fiction or nonfiction books, or biographies maybe, that you’ve come across that you’ve enjoyed?

HP: Besides The Cartoonist’s Muse and How About Never, is Never Good For You? I’ve studied the cartoons in The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker from 2004; The New Yorker 75th Anniversary Cartoon Collection; The Wall Street Journal Portfolio of Business Cartoons; The Wall Street Journal Portfolio of cartoons.com; Drawing on the Funny Side of the Brain, by Christopher Hart; The Naked Cartoonist, by Robert Mankoff. I’ve also read Woody Allen, A Biography, by Eric Lax; The Complete Prose of Woody Allen, and The Illustrated Woody Allen Reader, edited by Linda Sunshine. I also read a lot of motivational books, like The Secret by Rhonda Byrne; and Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. I’m always looking for new non-fiction books about business, job interviews, contemporary slang and phrases.

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– copyright Simon Sandall