“Where do you get your ideas?”

CCIColorWeb“Where do you get your ideas?”

I usually answer glibly, “I have a crack team of comedy writers at the State Capitol,” but the truth is a little more complex.

Imagine two circles — one is drawn inside of the other. The inside circle is everyday life. The outside one is part of the subconscious mind and where the ideas are. If I’m lucky — and I usually am — I can reach out and pull an idea back in. And sometimes, it’ll actually be a good idea. If I’m lucky, that is.

Creativity is like a well. You can take from it forever as long as it rains occasionally to refill it. Reading is rain for me. But so are conversations. Television? Not so much. Your brain really isn’t engaged when you’re watching TV.

People also ask if I worry about coming up with an idea. No. Do you worry about brushing your teeth? I know when I walk in the door I will come up with an idea. Usually, I’ll come up with several ideas.

The hardest idea to come up with is the one after a vacation. Creativity is like a muscle. The more you use it, the easier it is to come up with ideas. Remember running laps in 7th grade PE? I do. I nearly barfed. Since then, I’ve run a marathon. Creativity is much the same way — If you train, there’s less pain.

I usually don’t look at other people’s cartoons (I do have a couple of peers’ websites I like to checkout because they are friends). Why? I don’t want an idea accidentally slipping into my brain and I thinking it is my idea. I have a theory. If I am going to catch hell over an idea, I want it to be mine. I don’t take suggestions, either. Sometimes they are good. Most of the time, well, I will be nice.

My inspirations as a kid were Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes and Mad Magazine. I met a guy named Bill Daniels when I was eight who worked at WSB TV. He inspired me to do editorial cartoons. Growing up in Georgia in the 1970s, cartoons about Jimmy Carter and his big toothy grin turned me on to the craft. Pat Oliphant, Sam Rawls, Jeff MacNelly, Dick Locher, Bill Mauldin, Jim Borgman and Doug Marlette all taught me. Knoxville cartoonist Charlie Daniel has been my friend and mentor for over 25 years. He taught me to give back to the community. I owe him my career. I’ve tried to replicate how he approaches his job.

Parents ask me, “What can I do to help my kids? ” My parents gave me talent but they really gave me encouragement. They supported me when I pursued my crazy dream. They also supported me when I failed. Mother always had paper, pencils and encouragement. That’s what parents need to give their kids. Everything else it gravy. I’m not classically trained in art. In fact, I only have taken a couple of art classes. But I’ve drawn thousands of drawings. Practice, practice, practice. Get the bad drawings out of your system.

I know I’m not the greatest idea man in the world. I’m not the best artist, either. But what I have is a talent of quickly coming up with ideas under pressure consistently. I came up with an idea after cancer surgery, 10 minutes after the World Trade Center crumbled and during Hurricane Katrina. Adrenaline is my performance enhancer. The best ideas are the ones that pop into my head. Adrenaline makes that happen. I love a deadline. And lots of caffeine.

Yes, the truth has finally been told. I owe my career to caffeine.

Now if you will excuse me, I need to come up with tomorrow’s cartoon idea. The clock is ticking. My deadline approaches.


About Marshall Ramsey