A few days ago on my walk down to Lincoln Center a multitude of new cartoon ideas came to me. Maybe it was because it was a gorgeous day, or that I was walking in the fresh air. Or, maybe it was simply that I’d turned off my phone so I could be mindful of just walking. In any case, I thought I’d share a closer look at the anatomy of a cartoon – mine, to be precise – plus what happens when the cartoon doesn’t exactly turn out like you dreamed.

Anatomy of a cartoon (the basics)…

For me, the basics usually come as a visual idea. I see something funny and that triggers a “What if?” line of questioning. The other day one of the triggers was a Hop on Hop Off tour bus passing by. I noticed several people on the bus absorbed with their devices. That made me think that it might be funny to depict a tour bus of device-absorbed tourists oblivious to a Manhattan landmark as they pass by.

My idea seemed so brilliant that I devoted the better part of yesterday – Memorial Day – to first sketching out my idea and then shading it in. (When I say “better part” I mean ALL DAY!) As you can see below, there’s quite some detail to this illustration…


The final result was…


As you can see, there are some real problems with my cartoon. First, there’s the fact that my Guggenheim looks even more like a toilet plunger than it does in real life. And then, the supposedly funny element – the people on their devices – is just too small, busy and confusing to read as funny.

However, I was determined that the problem wasn’t with my idea but with the drawing. So I redrew the illustration. (You’ll see that I fixed the curve of the lines on the Guggenheim so it looks more distinguished.)

Anatomy of a Cartoon: Example-of-a-cartoon-in-process-by-Joana-Miranda

Unfortunately, even in my revised sketch there were still problems!

I realized that since the tourists were going to be depicted at such a small scale, they needed to be doing a uniform activity. Unfortunately, having them all holding their cellphones the same way was still confusing…there were just too many arms and too many cellphones! Furthermore, it wouldn’t be realistic to have everyone on the bus holding their cellphone the same way. (To be funny, a cartoon does need to be plausible in a basic way…something to definitely keep in mind when contemplating the overall anatomy of a cartoon!) Unfortunately, once I removed the cell phones, the premise of my entire original idea was gone and I couldn’t figure out a way to fabricate a new thread.

In case you’re wondering, the “Walk” sign now has a whirling dervish on it. (Yes, I know. Get out the magnifying glass!) That was my feeble attempt at 11 p.m. to create a connection between the “swirls” of the Guggenheim, the gob-smacked bus tourists and the little man now looking at the sign on the sidewalk.

Is all lost? Should I have abandoned my attempts at a reasonable hour and turned on Poldark instead? Did I learn anything from this flubbed creation?

The short answer to the last question is YES! And here’s why:

Rejection as a creative catalyst…

If you are as passionate about what you do as I am, there are golden opportunities in even a creative flop. In the case above, I learned the following:

  1. The curves of a large cylindrical shape such as the Guggenheim are still an important part of creating perspective.
  2. Drawing cars takes practice.
  3. The visual humor in a caption-less cartoon needs to be big enough so that the reader can actually see it.
  4. Repetitive groupings of small elements can be funny, but the action still needs to be plausible.
  5. Rest and time away from a creation is essential for gaining perspective. (Plus, Aidan Turner is easy on the eyes.)


Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.

Henry Ford


  1. Helen Reich says:

    Would it help if the cartoon’s point of view were different? So, can we view the scene from across the street, instead of a bird’s eye view? There wouldn’t be as much stuff in the cartoon, and we would be able to see the people in the tour bus better; unfortunately, there would be less of the Guggenheim to view. Or, maybe the bus can be passing by a different landmark. I think the idea is fun, and worth saving.

    • Joana says:

      Hi Helen,

      I just sent you a reply, but am not sure it got delivered. In any case, the gist of my reply was that my mom thought the same thing as you regarding my latest cartoon attempt. But the problem is that if I get in close enough to the people, then the landmarks in the background get lost. I do think my idea has legs though, so I will let it simmer in the back of my brain.:-)

      Andy is in your neck of the woods this week. I miss him – need him to come home and set a curfew for me since I end up going to bed way too late (and then I end up feeling zonked and crabby!)

      Is the MSO finished for the season now? Will you travel this summer?

      xox – Joana

      • Helen Reich says:

        Certainly not finished for the season! Even in our worst times, we’ve never finished by Memorial Day. I wouldn’t mind it so much, but that would be a little extreme for us. We’re going to the end of June this year, a bit unusual, especially ending with a guest conductor leftover from the MD search, doing Mahler 1. Next season is the semi-homeless one, so I’m expecting all kinds of schedule weirdness.

        Summer is so far pretty vague, hopes to visit the Adirondacks, a concert in Chicago, definitely a trip to Salt Lake for the ICSOM conference.

        • Joana says:

          Hi Helen,
          How soon I forget, eh? Actually, when I was in the MSO my year end date was always early June since I took my “vacation weeks” then to play out in San Diego with Mainly Mozart. 🙂 The NYCB spring season finishes up at the end of this week so that’s probably why I’m feeling like summer is just about here. 🙂
          I wonder if the “leftover” MD candidate guest conductor is feeling a wee bit resentful that the search was concluded before he even made his debut. That must sting a bit, no?
          We’re looking forward to spending some time in NH with my mom around the NYCB Saratoga July week. Other than that, and a quick trip to Milwaukee in early August to hopefully de-storage ourselves, we have no exotic travel plans. Maybe we should travel to Queens or Brooklyn? Hee-hee!
          xox – Joana

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