Sunday Mailbag: Writing?

August 27th, 2017 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: You are excellent at drawing, but for me your writing is excellent too. How did you learn to write? Some time ago I’ve read William Zinsser’s “On Writing Well”. You are always following his four articles of faith: clarity, simplicity, brevity and humanity.

A: Thanks for the compliment. I’ve always loved to write, but have had no formal training past what everyone got in high school. That makes my writing long on message and context but short on grammar, punctuation, and structure. What grasp of the language I have I credit to my mom for forcing my siblings and me to speak correct English. She would not let us get away with using slang like “ain’t” or use poor sentence structure. She didn’t teach us what prepositions, conjunctions, or other grammatical terms were, but she corrected us when we spoke poorly and she spoke very proper and excellent English herself. I believe this resulted in my developing an “ear” for strong language use and structure, so that incorrect or poor use of English did not “sound right” to me although I could not tell you why it was wrong, only what the correct way to say it was. Thanks to her I naturally spoke and wrote with generally good grammar.

I also read voraciously as a child and into adulthood. Sadly, these days it seems the only time I get a chance to read a book is on my rare actual vacations… the ones where I sit on a beach or by a pool and do nothing for a few days. Then I devour two or three books, which I suppose explains why all the books in my bookcase smell like piña coladas.

I am pretty good at getting across my thoughts and concepts, but I am a very poor proofreader and a very impatient writer. As a result, my blog is riddled with typos, bad spelling, and worse punctuation. Thankfully, when I wrote my book I had an excellent editor in Celestia Ward, who took my thoughts, message, and “voice”, and added in the good grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure. She also suggested better ways to clarify what I was trying to say. She certainly made me sound a lot smarter than I am.

That’s for the suggestion of the Zinsser book. I’ll definitely pick that up. I’d also like to read Stephen King‘s “On Writing” one of these days.

Thanks to Dominick Zeillinger for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


  1. Andy says:

    Your mom sounds a lot like my wife. She’s hoping our boys (8 and 3) turn out better in the English grammar department than I did.

  2. cartoonydan says:

    Here’s a book recommendation; KRAZY – a life in Black and White about George Herriman by Michael Tisserand. It’s so packed with information, I’m reading it a second time now.


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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