Formats matter.

This is problematic for someone who got grade ‘E’ at Maths O’ level (several times over actually even in the resits) and spirals out of control when I actually have to work with numbers.

At least, formats matter if you want to share or publish work online. Formats also change depending on the situation and the social media. Different headaches for different social media!

Instagram uses only 3 formats that are described in aspects, 1:1 (square), 4:5 (portrait), and 1:1.91 (landscape). Comic strips do not fit into this landscape format, so the best idea is to create ‘square panels’ and upload them as a moving strip. It is helpful to create cardboard frames to make it easier to reuse these formats in practice (I basically created different sized cardboard squares and rectangles out of covers of old Daler Rowney sketchbooks. Mount board would work just as well).

You can also spiral out of control with too many possibilities. Recently, I tried to draw up a comic strip of an autobiographical story of me running and getting knocked over by a massive dog while listening to the Stereophonics’ song ‘Have a nice day!’ It made me laugh while I picked myself up out of the mud to the imperative repetition of ‘Have a nice day!’ It stops being funny after your imagining becomes bigger than your ability to ink it up. Ideas (people and dogs) get disgruntled if you poke at them for too long.


I now have no desire whatsoever to ink this up.

I asked my mentor cartoonist and academic Nicola Streeten for some advice on this problem of big and complicated stories. She suggested setting a format as good discipline for practice. For a while, she created strips of 3 fixed panels, but is currently working on single panels (see more on Instagram @nicolast.reeten). Limitations are also incredibly useful and help foster ideas. There is something wonderful about the puzzle of figuring out how to communicate much in the limitation of a single panel.

Monty Python comedian John Cleese in his lecture on creativity believes that you should sit with an idea and play with it until something really original and innovative appears. I am not sure that this works for cartooning – cartoonist Dany Noble says that she gets her ideas down quickly before they ‘go stale’. I also enjoy the ideas that appear easily and almost subconsciously in doodling play. Something that I call ‘noodle-doodling,’ where you let your noodle freely doodle whatever comes up. It is oddly fun and satisfying – it functions almost as a pressure valve as nonsense is released from the mind. For example, today I ‘noodle-doodled’ new characters that I am calling ‘The Mardy Bums’. This is a combination of me being regularly mardy (it seems to be built into my personality – Mum used to call me ‘Mardy Min’ when I was wee) and my love of the Arctic Monkeys’ fab song ‘Mardy Bum’. 

This work also builds on Liniers’ approach to cartooning where he explores his emotional landscape with different types of humour. My feelings of mardiness perhaps draw on black humour which requires further exploration and experimentation. It would also be interesting to explore the ‘Mardys’ characters with surrealism. Here’s today’s ‘noodle-doodle’ created after ‘non-doing’ practice (i.e. sitting silently and starring into space):

To return to Cleese’s approach for the truly unique idea, it is perhaps useful to remember that he reported telling Michael Palin that his idea for the Ministry of Silly Walks was ‘not good comedy writing’. Yet, this is probably the Pythons’ most memorable sketch nationally and internationally. It also gives regular pleasure, for example, Mum and me regularly do ‘silly walks’ in the park to make each other giggle (and this last happened 2 days ago). Also, during lockdown in May, James Ruffell put up a sign (and a secret video camera) in his Berkshire village saying,


Silly walking was enjoyed by members of the village and then the viewers of the videos on BBC News online. It is worth noting that sometimes the quick ‘bad’ ideas have traction and my instinct is that these ideas are particularly useful for cartooning funnies. I disagree that this is bad comedy writing – it might be a simple idea, but the simple ideas are perhaps the best for the minimalism of the funnies genre.

Conclusions to these ramblings on formats and practice:

  1. The quick ideas are valuable for cartooning as fresh and alive. ‘Noodle-doodling’ practice is useful for this.
  2. Formats may be a headache, but they are a useful one – formats lift the load, lighten the mind, and the limitations foster creativity and ideas.

Tips for formatting are:

  • Limit yourself to a format. For complete beginners, I would suggest one panel comics. This limitation is wonderful to explore the condensing of ideas into simple drawings.
  • Create frames for the formats to recycle for future use (i.e. for 1:1 aspect for Instagram, you can create a frame or panel box of 1000mm by 1000mm)



BBC News (2020) ‘Ministry of Silly Walks Comes to Sonning in Lockdown’ [accessed 03.09.2020]

Cleese, J (n.d) ‘Creativity in management’  [accessed 04.09.2020]

Noble, D. (  ) Interview with Alex Fitch at Graphic Brighton comics conference.

Streeten, N (2020) Nicola Streeten [accessed 04.09.2020