The comic strip approach to email copywriting

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Creating comic strips resembles email copywriting in certain ways. If you write email copy you can learn a lot from your favorite cartoonists.

For starters, like a cartoonist, you must create on a daily basis and work under deadline pressure if you write for clients.

Sometimes a comic strip is a single gag and other times there is a running story line for several strips. With email copy it’s best to mix it up in this way too (although usually without gags, alas).

Therefore I’m always drawn to interviews with and articles about cartoonists.

I recently discovered a 37 page interview with Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin & Hobbes, in the book Exploring Calvin and Hobbes: An Exhibition Catalogue. You can probably find it at your local library.

It’s one of the only interviews with Watterson, who is something of a recluse. He ended the strip 20 years ago yet it endures in popularity even though he doesn’t do a thing to promote it. I read it in one sitting and savored every word.

Here is something he said in the interview that resonates:

Richard Thompson…said he likes to work with small things he notices and his example was “gravel in the street.” That might be a little too small, but I agree with him. Daily minutiae are not actually trivial. It’s a wonderful thing to draw your attention to tiny little moments and small episodes. There can be something simple, grounded, and true when you observe those generally unnoticed small things. I tend to like that scale. Whenever I go to a computer-animated movie, I think, “Oh, please, not another quest.” You know, must we always journey to discover ourselves, find home, and save Christmas?

I love the unpretentiousness of cartoons. If you sat down and wrote a two hundred page book called My Big Thoughts on Life, no one would read it. But if you stick those same thoughts in a comic strip and wrap them in a little joke that takes five seconds to read, now you’re talking to millions. Any writer would kill for that kind of audience. What a gift.

Indeed. Those daily details and small episodes are critical components of email copy. The “journey story,” not so much, that is for the about page or sales page. The “gravel in the street” components of the journey story are appropriate for the email copy, however.

My current favorite comic strip is Bloom County, which Berkeley Breathed resurrected on Facebook in 2015. Without the deadline pressure of a newspaper his creativity is free to flourish once again. He publishes 3-4 strips per week and it’s well worth following his Facebook page for these gems.

Scott Adams of Dilbert is my other favorite. I’ve listened to his podcast interview with Tim Ferriss a couple of times and it’s one I know I’ll continue to revisit. He gives writing tips and explains his philosophy of humor, among many other things.

I also like Frazz and Pearls Before Swine. Even Garfield can get a smile out of me sometimes even though that strip isn’t as good as it was back in the 1980s. Garfield Minus Garfield is more fun.

If you read comics, what are your favorites?
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If you don’t like Calvin & Hobbes, then you won’t care for lesson #18 in my A Year of Email Copywriting Course. And lesson 12 will be especially soporific because I analyze the storytelling structure of comics and apply it to copywriting. Oh well. Can’t please everybody.

If you like books, please check out my book reviews.

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