by Justin Colón

Many of us look upon cartoons with a sense of childhood nostalgia, reminiscing upon the good ol’ days when we sat mesmerized in front of our television sets for hours while watching Sunday morning cartoons. I myself loved watching Nickelodeon’s “Hey Arnold!,” “The Wild Thornberrys”, “The Fairly Odd Parents” and “The Rugrats”; Disney’s “Gargoyles”; PBS’s “The Magic School Bus”; Cartoon Network’s “Dexter’s Laboratory”, and so many, many more that it hurts to leave them out. Yet, until recently, I had left cartoons behind. So why did I return to them?

Before Covid arrived, my acting career was gaining traction after nearly a decade of rigorous training, booking co-starring roles on television. But then the pandemic sidelined me. The idea of sitting at home watching television shows that I could no longer audition for stung. So, I leaned into something that didn’t sting . . . beekeeping. Seriously, I did. But the other thing I leaned into was cartoons.

In many ways, cartoons are like picture books. They’re often dismissed as being solely for children, and thus abandoned in adulthood, when in reality they can be enjoyed by all ages. They’re a highly-visual storytelling medium packed into a condensed format.

While the stakes may be high for the characters within them, cartoon shows are generally low stakes for viewers. These low stakes can help us unplug from reality and tap into our imagination, thus inspiring new ideas. In fact, sometimes I’ll watch an episode of a cartoon show and find that the tiniest moment or element within that show could be expanded into an entire picture book concept. The low stakes and high entertainment value combined with the color and music helps me slip into a childlike state that benefits my own storytelling as a writer. And it might do the same for you!

Watch a modern-day cartoon and you’ll likely find a substantial amount of heart, emotionally compelling stories and character arcs, and fresh takes on familiar concepts and layered themes with wonderful language (filled with fun repetition and sounds) that can inform your own craft. Interestingly, many cartoons often have a takeaway lesson, and yet it’s delivered in an entertaining, non-didactic way, very similar to effective picture books.

And for those of you interested in developing your humor skills, cartoons are excellent for this! Afterall, they’re exaggerated, eccentric, and over the top in comparison to reality, often making them ripe with humor. Keep a close eye on the pacing, structure, situations, and character relationships and interactions with each other and the world around them. You can take this exercise to the next level by observing cartoons intended for different age levels to see how the humor differs in approach and execution. How might you translate this into your own ideas, writing, and stories?

Go check out some picture books by Tara Lazar, Tammi Sauer, Josh Funk, Ryan T. Higgins, Adam Rex, and Julie Falatko, and others, and I bet you’ll find that they all share a cartoon-like quality (and I say that as high praise).

When Tara Lazar mentored me, one of the first things she noted was that my stories had an ACME-like quality to them. This is evident in my books THE QUACKEN (Simon & Schuster) and IMPOSSIBLE POSSUMS (Disney-Hyperion), both written during my cartoon-filled pandemic lockdown and debuting fall of 2024. Here’s the pitch for the latter:

When a lonely possum with a flair for villainy attempts to create his very own henchman but ditches the instructions to his new possum-making machine, it leads to a series of mishaps as it pops out all the wrong creatures, each with a chaotic agenda of their own.

While writing it, I wasn’t yet watching cartoons, but I was thinking of this book playing out in a manner similar to the over-the-top mischief, mishaps, misunderstandings, and mayhem often found in cartoons. I knew I wanted to combine the over-the top voice of Plankton from Spongebob Squarepants with the loveable villainy of MINIONS. Thinking back to those “mentor texts” provided lots of new ideas to explore while drafting and revising. Something as simple as a character’s voice (the style of it, not necessarily the sound) or an image might inspire ideas for your own work.

Shortly after selling the manuscript, a fellow writer who wrote for the cartoon series Pinky and the Brain excitedly reached out to share that my story reminded him of the series (though it wasn’t a mentor text). Well, once the illustrator and humor extraordinaire James Rey Sanchez signed on, he mentioned that this book gave him Pinky and the Brain vibes, a show he watched as a kid. And, because it’s a sparse text manuscript with LOTS of action, our editor sent him all the art notes . . . all 16 of them! And the story is being brought to life with a style that matches the cartoon-like quality of it.

In short, cartoons are safe and comforting and can help us release tension while easing anxiety and depression and improving mental health. But they can also inspire new ideas and take our craft to new levels. Now go watch some cartoons!

But first, let me know in the comments below . . . What were/are some of your favorite cartoons?

Justin Colón is a Latino author with several forthcoming picture books, including IMPOSSIBLE POSSUMS (Disney-Hyperion, 2024) and THE QUACKEN (Simon & Schuster, 2024). He is also the owner/director of The Kidlit Hive (, a new program offering webinars, workshops, multi-week classes, and mentorships for picture book creators. In his other life, Justin is a professional, formally trained voice and on-camera actor and has co-starred in shows such as Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Gotham, The First Wives Club, Sneaky Pete and Limitless. He is represented by Jennifer March Soloway of Andrea Brown Literary Agency. To learn more about Justin, you can visit and follow him on Twitter at @justinrcolon

Justin is offering one lucky winner a webinar package consisting of passes to attend three webinars, free of charge, via The Kidlit Hive, as well as a 30-minute AMA session to discuss querying, submission, ideas, etc.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm 2023 participant and you have commented only once on today’s blog post. ↓

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.