Puns can cause terrible groaning responses, but they are a useful part of the cartoonists’ toolkit. They can encourage and develop incongruous humorous thinking and inspire drawings of all kinds of surprising objects and animals. Ideally, a great pun could also tell a story or communicate an important message along with its humour.

Lately, I have been enjoying some doing some bird puns. These were just for the fun of experimenting and were not attempting substantive meaningful puns, nevertheless they engendered useful learning and ideas for future.

The three common ways of verbal punning are,

1. Playing around with ‘words that sound the same’ (or homophones) or ‘words that are spelled the same, but not necessarily pronounced the same with different meanings’ (homographs)

2. Playing around with ‘words that have the same spelling but different meanings’ (or homonyms)

3. Playing around with ‘figurative language’ (or expressions / idioms)

I do not tend to apply these three ways directly to creating funnies, because the verbo-visual works differently, and also because I enjoy allowing ideas to flow intuitively.

Nevertheless, it would be useful to create a simple list of common ways to build visual puns for cartoonists at a future point.

This is my rather slow and intuitive process for finding puns.

  • Choose a topic (something enjoyable to draw ideally).
  • Sit in ‘negative capacity’ to generate ideas (i.e., sitting quietly with the creative intention of punning on a chosen topic, and then allowing the mind to wander freely for 20 minutes or so). See blogs 10 and 16 for further info on this.


  • Noodle-doodle around a topic (i.e., loosely sketching images and words randomly on a page to develop ideas). See blog 36 for an application of this idea.
  • Doodle idea loosely until it is ready for inking.

Recently, on a week’s holiday in Ludlow, I decided to doodle some bird puns for fun. I did this by noodle-doodling in my sketchbook and then letting ideas occur to me as we wandered around the town. As a result I drew up the following,

This one is in honour of fellow creator @parrotscarrots and is an absurdist pun in the style of Edward Lear’s Nonsense Botany with its faux Latin. This does not correspond to any of the 3 common ways, but is a pun on assonance (a repetition of sounds).

The next one can be considered type 3, as it plays with with the figurative expression ‘you’re no spring chicken’ with a literal chicken,

Visual humour has the advantage of directly translating words into image to strip them back to silliness, as above and below,

I like these simple silly cartoons better than my attempts at more complicated puns, perhaps because these seem to try too hard. For example, the homophones or homographs (depending how ‘Hieronymus’ and ‘Bosch’ are pronounced) of the following visual puns,

For me, the most groan-worthy of these cartoons is the homophonic one below. This is based on a funny text message from my godfather (John Mohammed) who was travelling in Brazil the homeland of the footballer ‘Pelé’,

In Brazil, they call the pelican, ‘Pelé can.’ Well, that’s just nuts’

From a theoretical perspective, it would be useful to have a list of ways to build visual and verbo-visual puns. Graphic designer Eli Kince explored this from the vantage of his field in Visual Puns in Design (1982), but I am not aware of a reference list specifically for cartoonists. A list that would include basic beginnings to build playfully and easily, including;

  1. Play around with sounds to generate odd imagery, as in Heronymus Bosch.
  2. Use absurd repetition of sounds to create hybrids, as in ‘Parrots Carrots’
  3. Turn a figurative expression into a literal (and silly) one, as in ‘Spring Chicken’


Overall, puns are fun for visual invention; they build thinking and expand skills in drawing imaginatively, and it seems valuable to create a nice list of ways to pun for funnies.


List of References:

Kince, Eli (1982) Visual Puns in Design: The Pun Used as a Communications Tool (Watson-Guptil Publications).

Lear, Edward (1996) Complete Nonsense. UK: Folio Society