Tip #52: Visual Engagement: Cartoons

Cartoons are a wonderful way to engage participants, add humor, and provide a unique and colorful visual perspective on content that may make it easier to retain.

I have used cartoons in my training programs for thirty years. We know that people learn better and are more creative when they are relaxed and in a humorous mood. Cartoons can take the bite out of very serious topics, such as discrimination and sexual harassment. They can provide some humorous distance to topics that may be too close for comfort, such as self esteem and mortality. They can sometimes cut to the quick, speaking a truth that might be distressing without the cloak of humor.

In each situation, the cartoon makes it possible to discuss personal matters without making the participants feel that they are under personal attack and are being judged for their behavior or choices. We can laugh together, sometimes with tears in our eyes, as we acknowledge the reality of the message. The use of humor, and its universal inclusiveness, frees us to open up and be more honest with ourselves and others.

There appears to be a psychology to the use of cartoons, in so far as certain cartoonists are more acceptable to specific audiences. Cathy, by Cathy Guisewite, tends to appeal more to women. And Dilbert, by Scott Adams, speaks directly to the experience of people in business, as well as men in particular.

The difference in the nature of the humor explains their different appeal. As Regina Barreca wrote in her book: They Used to Call Me Snow White, But I Drifted: Women’s Strategic Use of Humor, more traditional women’s humor tends to be directed at themselves, and more traditional men’s humor tends to be directed at others.

A few cartoonists speak a language that is universal, insightful, and adaptable to many topics. I have found Snoopy, by Charles Shultz, Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson, LuAnn, by Greg Evans, and B.C., by Johnny Hart, to be premier resources.

Then, there are the more esoteric cartoonists often found in the New Yorker magazine, whose cartoons sometimes hit the mark and sometimes do not go over very well, particularly with Midwest audiences.

Since I became a national trainer in public forums, I have had to be very aware of copyright considerations. I quickly found that most cartoonists are represented by a syndicate, and there is typically a per-use fee.

It is possible to obtain the rights to use cartoons from the New Yorker for a moderate fee, or from the syndicates who handle Charles Shultz and Bill Watterson, for a much more hefty fee. For example, the United Media/Syndicate charges a $50 fee to use one Snoopy or LuAnn comic strip, in addition to a $10 processing fee.

Then there a a very few cartoonists, such as Johnny Hart, who do not charge a fee as long as you acknowledge that the cartoon is used with the permission of their syndicate.

These organizations license the use of the most popular cartoons:

  • Cartoonbank.com
  • CartoonStock
  • Creators.com
  • King Features Syndicate
  • Los Angeles Times Syndicate
  • Tribune Media Syndicate (ComicsPage.com)
  • UExpress
  • United Media (comic zone)
  • Universal Press Syndicate
  • The Washington Post Writers Group

For a list of popular comic strips and their syndicates, see: http://ccwf.cc.utexas.edu/kmwilcox/comic.html.

If you want to avoid paying a per-use fee, it is sometimes possible to purchase the rights to a number of cartoons by the same cartoonist. For example, prolific and wonderful cartoonist Randy Glasburgen sells a CD-ROM of 365 cartoons for a very reasonable fee, or the annual rights to his 1500 cartoons, plus daily cartoons, for approximately $700. The plus side is that you have continual access and permission to use the cartoons for almost any purpose. His website is: www.glasbergen.com.

Then, of course, there are cartoons available on the web for free. I have not found any that really appeal to me or would be appropriate for my audiences, but that is not to say they do not exist. And, if you are creative or have a creative family member or friend, you can always draw your own- or hire someone to draw them for you.

Whether you use them on overheads, in participant materials, or in PowerPoint presentations, and whether they are in color or in black and white, cartoons can be a very effective way to stimulate thinking, promote discussion, or introduce or summarize key points.

Next week, we will discuss the use of visualization.

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