February 18th, 2018
by Mort Walker
In his 1975 autobiography, Backstage at the Strips, Mort Walker shared some insights about the different methods he used for generating Beetle Bailey gags. Here are some quotes from the book on this subject.
“Over the years I’ve devised many ways of developing gags. The most obvious way is simply sketching funny pictures and putting words around them.”
“Switching, sometimes know as stealing, is another highly regarded art form. It is considered legitimate if you can change anything to make it yours.”
“A lot of gags are just visual tricks. (He referred to the Sunday page above.) It catches the eye and makes you curious, then sets you up for the punch line. We call this type a ‘wallpaper gag’ because of the repetitiveness.”
“We can’t resist doing ‘inside gags’ for our own amusement. (The example he chose was the Sunday page below). I doubt if readers get the double meanings.”
“There are so many gag prodders that it would be tedious to explore each one. I use them all from time to time. One will work for a few gags, then mysteriously depart and I’ll have to try a new one.”
“All too often, though, the gag method used is ‘sheer desperation.’ After an hour or so of straining, staring, and stupor, I grit my teeth, blame my wife and the President, wonder if there is another gag up there in the dusty attic of my mind, and snarl: ‘I’ll get a gag out of one word..and the word will be YES!’ I write down ‘Yes’ and make myself perform.”
These are words of wisdom from one of the greatest gag writers of all time.
We will continue the Timeline series with another classic episode from 1973 next week, so be sure to check back.
– Brian Walker
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