King Kaption

Early magazine cartoons came in two basic forms: Sight gags, which had no caption, and cartoons which had speech balloons. Sometimes a title would be also be added. The speech balloons had long stems which would lead from the mouth of the speaker to the balloon, which contained the words spoken by that character. There were often many balloons, one or more from each of several characters speaking in the picture. After a while the balloons began to disappear from cartoons. The words in them, maybe having nowhere else to go, drifted down to the bottom of the panel. The multiple conversations began to disappear in favor of only one or two speakers. (It was hard to tell who was saying what without the balloons). Eventually, the second speaker was pretty much eliminated, too, leaving us with the now familiar solo speaker.

This was the case for many years, although some of us still did and still do wordless or titled cartoons and combinations of the two. Every once in a while the balloons show up again, too, but the captioned cartoon is pretty much the mainstay.

At one time the drawing and the caption were done by separate people. There were gag-writers everywhere, sending their stuff out to standup comics, editors, and cartoonists. That began to change, probably in the 60s and 70s. When I started, I fell in with a bunch of artists who, like myself, all wrote our own stuff.

A few years later, along came the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest. As we all know it became spectacularly successful. Who knew there were all those frustrated gag-writers out there? In the process it also had a beneficial effect on cartooning in general, bringing more attention to our work and allowing readers to participate in the creative process, while occasionally sparing the cartoonists the arduous task of coming up with captions of their own.

It occurred to me that though it’s fun to write captions for existing drawings, it might be also fun to do it the other way around. I asked myself, “Shouldn’t everyone also have a chance to experience the agony and the ecstasy of drawing a cartoon?” My answer to myself was a resounding “Yes!” That’s why I’m introducing a new feature on the blog:

You Really Should Be Drawing
Reverse Caption Contest

…An invitation for readers, cartoonists, and cartoonist wannabes to come up with a drawing to match a specific caption.
The winners get absolutely nothing in return for their labors except to see the results published here.
(This blog has very shallow pockets).

Send your scanned drawings
8 1/2” X 11”
200 dpi
jpeg format
(Or, if you can’t do it that way, let me know and I’ll send you my mailing address.)

Don’t forget to sign your work.

Pencils ready?


(Click on This Image to Make it Bigger and More Readable)


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