Pictures may be worth a thousand words, but I heartily recommend that captions be significantly shorter.
Captions are practically custom-made for ‘outside the box’ thinking. Seriously… Captioning pictures and cartoons is a fabulous opportunity for the humorist to stretch their imagination. Even better, your readers expect humorous captions to push the envelope—the more outlandish the better—as long as it produces a laugh.
While it’s easy to say that humorous captions have no limits, it may be difficult at first for the novice writer to make appropriate, though wild and wooly, connections. However, consider that the best humorous connection between the picture and the caption is not necessarily inherent within the graphic itself. It’s perfectly acceptable for your caption to connect the graphic to something remotely related or even unrelated. In fact, it may be preferred. Often, the least obvious connection gets a better response due to surprise.
Use the whole picture.
It’s natural for someone viewing a picture to focus on…well, the focus of the picture. However, both foreground and background objects are viable fodder for a good caption. When searching for the most humorous line, try both before making a final decision.
While it’s true that most captions are statements, there is no law requiring a caption to be a standard one-liner. It’s entirely fair to attempt a question, a paragraph, or even a multiple choice caption.
CAUTION: Readers do not expect to read War and Peace when viewing a caption. Still, long captions are perfectly acceptable, but they are best when over the top funny.
Cartoons capture both the real world and fantastic fantasies dredged from the mind of the artist.
First, be sensitive to an artist’s rights. While it’s often easy to think of a better caption for a published cartoon, make sure that you get the artist’s permission before use, or stick to public domain.
Next, even if the box is the same size, the ‘outside’ in ‘outside the box’ just became much larger. However, don’t be intimidated. Pure fantasy can be just as humorous as reality, and frankly, it’s a lie that adults outgrow cartoons. Almost every newspaper has a comics page because of their enduring popularity.
Think of captioning cartoon characters as simply expanding your repertoire.
A Narrative in Pictures
My last blog told the story of Trump vs. Baby. Narratives using pictures and captions offer a chance to significantly pump up the humor. However…
- Never force a picture to conform. Choose pictures that you feel fit naturally into your story.
- Keep the story simple. It’s not only easier to find pictures for a simple story, but simplicity improves the flow for the reader.
- If you choose a theme, it’s generally best to keep it light so that it doesn’t interfere with the humor. No one sane wants to laugh at graphic pictures of Armageddon.
Captioning pictures and cartoons is great fun for most humorists, and to be honest, relatively easy. A picture kick-starts one’s imagination. After that, it’s simply a matter of editing the caption to tighten up the humor. So, if you haven’t yet tried captioning, what are you waiting for?
Parting Funny: I tried to be normal once. Worst two minutes of my life. – Ziad K. Abdelnour