A few days ago I wrote a post about how I had limited my daily strips to 70 words when I was syndicated, and how I felt that it had greatly improved my cartoon.  I have been getting a lot of email about this post for some reason, so I just wanted to clarify a few things and answer some questions.

1.  70 words?  That’s still really wordy!

Yes, 70 words might still be considered wordy by some.  I get that.  There are cartoonists who routinely write 20-30 word gags and they are wonderful, but they are just not ME.  I routinely write 100 word gags.  Now, I CAN write a 20 word gag and I’m always really excited when I do because I aspire to less wordiness, but it’s not my normal, nor do I feel it needs to be.  Not everyone is terse, nor does everyone enjoy reading it.  Something for everyone and all that jazz…

2.  How did you choose the number 70? 

69 was too little, and I felt that 71 was just  a tad too much.  No, really, I just counted the words in every cartoon that I liked in the newspaper for a few days to gain some sense of what other cartoonists were doing.  There are some cartoons, some big, celebrated toons who routinely (as in a couple times a week) go over 100 words.  But it looks crowded.  There’s just no way to fit that many words without it looking crowded.  But this works for them.  There are others who write 20 words and it looks great, but I needed to shoot for a number that I could actually achieve on a daily basis.  70 was a high number, but it was a high average.  Most strips I studied had between 50 and 80 words per daily.  70 still gave me enough words to tell a complete story, but it left enough room to draw.  I found that if you disperse 70 words  equally throughout the cartoon, you will always have enough room to draw a nice picture.  If you put most of the words in one panel and the rest in the others, the one panel will be crowded, but the rest of them have PLENTLY of room for the art.  No matter how you break the word count up, it just seemed to work for me.

It is not a magic number.  I just put it out there as a tool that really helped me.  For some, their magic number will be 35, others might be 85.  Still others will never have to give word count a second thought because this is not an area in which they struggle. 

I’ll throw in another GREAT piece of advice that someone gave me early on.  Leave plenty of white space in the balloons.  The words don’t have to go right to the edge of the panels (in fact, they look better if they don’t–if there is a bit of white space there).  And ink the words in first before you draw.  This way you always have room for the words and you don’t end up crowding them and writing really small to fit in a complete thought around your drawings.

One more thing before I close.  I LOVE my non-photo blue pencil and I use it for all my panel borders and word balloons.  I do absolutely no erasing because I cannot stand to do it.  It takes too long and it always feels like wasted time to me.  I’d rather go to the dentist than spend 30 minutes erasing anything and I’ve worked it out so that regular pencils don’t ever come in contact with my finished cartoons, and my life is that much richer for it.  😉