Easier to comment on, post on, etc. Go check it out.
here’s a taste of this week’s post:
This is the humor mainstay of mixing the very old with the very new. It works often, and since The New changes so frequently these days, you know cartoonists will go back to this well often. Expect Instagram and Pinterest cartoons in next week’s issue. Oddly, this composition seems to serve Torb or Jorb’s round headed characters. I’m glad he didn’t limit the drawing to one couple on one moor. It is to his or her credit that we wonder if the other moors got good reviews or not. Still: I would add, could he be looking more in her eyes, could they be interacting more (would it be funnier)? Probably their sad interaction reflects the way we interact these days, shoegazing, and recalling our latest searches and shares.
A charming enough one. Leighton is reliable. What helps is that the picture is right over the guy’s head, as if it’s always on his mind. My feeling again, is that this could be the slightest bit funnier, with perhaps a longer caption: “That story reminds me of the time I walked on the moon, have I told you about that?” while he’s leaning in a bit, or maybe nonchalantly drinking some tea, while talking…
There’s been a lot of Mankoff lately, and topical too, as if no one is coming in with the right topical gags. This one’s good, I think.
Why am I not getting the Ziegler cartoons these days? I like the visual he’s going for- enormous cannon, small target, strewn cannonball debris (see the famous Crimean War photo) from but I just don’t know what this is about.
[Note- Tim Kreider writes in via email (firstname.lastname@example.org):
"The one with the cannon is my favorite in a long, long time. Bearing in mind that I am a big Kliban fan and don’t all that much care if a cartoon has a traditional "punchline." This one seems like it does everything you’re always longing for a cartoon to do: it’s all about those characters, their history and relationship—they seem to have sort of a Marcie/Peppermint Patty thing going. Also the awesome contrast between their tiny little Napoleonic hats and plumes and finery and the titanic brute 20th century mass of the gun. And the Sisyphean/Kafkaesque/Wile E. Coyotean futility of their ongoing mission. Ever the Castle stands in the distance, serene and untouchable." ]
I’m skipping ones that bore me.
Despite my giving Crawford so much mean-spirited crap for his past month of cartoons, this has a slight charm. The completely weird stiffness is certainly unique, and nothing in the cartoon is distracting like the past 3 or 5. Except… not to be a jerk, but this is SO weird, it might as well be weirder. First: he’s out of bounds, either off of first or third. Is he coming from the dugout? Second, he’s not really reaching for a ball, he’s sort of floating/stopping in mid-air. Third, the weird tangent formed by his arm and the main part of the bottom of the stands makes the path of the ball seem like just another aisle in the stands. But as a martini fan and someone who wants it weirder, I want to see this cartoon work. Could it have been weirder? Real floating perhaps? Or maybe he was sitting in the dirt still, or if he’s out of bounds, show us why? I can’t tell what I like about this cartoon, if anything. It certainly made me stop and look.
My only complaint here is the two don’t seem to be in the same moment, and he’s not going fast, he’s about to fall in front of her. I really do want to know if they know each other, are a pair, are biking together, or if they are strangers or what. Is she taunting him anew or is this part of an old trend? This cartoon doesn’t tell me, and yes, I think it’s important.
I like Kanin, but to me, this isn’t enough yet. Maybe more wind effecting the woman’s hair too and the toupee, or cheering alien silhouettes in the spaceship or something.
I’m fair. I like this one. These characters from this cartoonist always looked like Janice from the Muppets
[Kreider again from his email: “I think the guy who draws the Janice characters is the second-most hateful NYer cartoonist after that guy everyone hates most. And this one is a terrible cartoon, doing what you call “shooting the outline”: it’s an idea for a cartoon, not a cartoon. Which is what quite a lot of NY’er cartoons are, which is why The Believer can have that feature that just describes NY’er cartoons which are (at least) as funny as actual NY’er cartoons.”
My response: “ Yes this is true. I also think the New Yorker is not in the business of staying true to the idea of “The Cartoon.” I think they want to ellicit a laugh amongst their ranks. I laughed at the Janice guy bit, actually, and BEK is like that too. Witty dialogue with no need for a drawing. I agree that a great cartoon has a vital drawing, but I also don’t want to complain about the NYer on my terms. I want to do it on theirs.]
This is good writing. “I’ll be right in front of your face” is a shocking and odd image. “Furiously texting” adds an annoying awful layer to it, and the idea that “anyone” would want him right now while he’s just sitting there is funny. What would Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf look like if they had text messaging? Again, BEK rubber stamps his art, but this one, through writing chops and specificity, works.
Wilson is so unique, that we can be in danger of trusting him too much. (He’s not always great, but he is always unique.) What is good about this one is the great weird creature staring upward from under the bed…
Simple, fine. Good stones.
Koren’s been so abstract and in his own world lately, it’s interesting to see him deal with realities of finance, class, etc. “Bonding with his compensation package” is quite unique, and of course the drawing is too, with the weird smiling little rat-man surrounded by dark hatching in his moral hovel while the secretary/wife whatever remains in the cold light we share with her.
I know a therapist who will love this one. The tissues make it.
Cartoon contest. This cartoon makes me realize that we have completely gone from cartoon-renderable TV screens (they haven’t had rabbit ears in decades and now they are merely thin undrawable rectangles) to something you point a remote at. The remote in this picture gives you a good dramatic specificity.
A pretty standard, fine issue. No reason to throw the issue across the room in a while, thanks everyone!
Going through the book in no particular order. Lots of great surprises. Here’s one: JB Handelsman, who I never knew. 1968 was a good year for him/her. The first one that jumped out at me was this one:
Great for its timelessness (of course it could run now), it’s great long, rolling caption, great staging and composition (the young officer stock still and the older authorities falling into place slightly more organically and care-free), great drawings (every face is different, specific and funny).
Just scrolling through the rest of that year, you’ll find:
Notable for the complete switch in rendering style, this one loose and fast and a real drama/action in the poses, just delightful.
Another good cartoon that fits perfectly into the Bush-era. Note here how far he goes to render this scene. Not just 2 guys, but 3, one staring out the window, framed in light as he surveys the rest of the world below. Great great body language on that right character, legs spread out, butt sitting hard and comfortable in that big easy chair.
Again, a delightful, full scene. Great detail and flourish in the drawing, and a perfectly relevant, funny joke. Here’s another great us vs. them cartoon:
The blithe stance of the bartender, the slightly crazy face of the speaker, the lost in thought bystander. Again, great everything here. And completely at home in 2012 or 1968, politically and visually.
A charmer. Cartoonists, note that this is one of the few cartoons with a straight-on composition. Not a lot of angles. Why? Because in this one there’s a sense of security. The woman is stable, nothing is threatening her world view. It’s a simple world, the straight forward composition continues this idea. The other ones above, in the bar, in the war room, all skewed and unsettled. This one, calm, the stable suburban home in the dead center.
Another simple charmer. Almost works without the picture, the text being pretty funny. The fabulous drawing sends it into greatness. The sick man in the back, round, sloppy and troubled, the super lanky, lost girl in the center, her only connection to the real world this wire running off to the side of the panel. GREAT! I love this cartoonist.
And just in case you thought he was going light on us, here’s a killer. Again, the interrogated standing stock still, all lines leading towards her.
I’ll start by showing a couple simple (and silent!) cartoons by Andre Francois, another of the best cartoonists no one has heard of. I don’t know much about him, you can click the wikipedia link above and check out more out for yourself. Francois had a lush, curious and adventurous line. I find some of his best comics funny and sad at the same time. Here are two:
Get in close to this one. You may need to zoom if I uploaded properly. This gentle woman is watching a shark fin swimming out her lonesome window. The fin disappears beneath the water, she returns (glumly? resigned?) to her meal. I stared at this for days before I noticed an even more poignant detail: the second meal setting has been placed on the shelf after the shark has disappeared.
(Postscript. A reader points out that this is probably a sail, not a shark fin. I think it’s poignant either way but sadder when it’s a shark. Maybe I’ll make that cartoon.)
Here’s a simple charmer:
Clearly this young sailor is being made very very happy by this tattoo. And the drawing, again, curious, adventurous, celebratory.
Ok, let’s look at the April 9, 2012 of the New Yorker. I’m pleased to say that, to my sensibilities, it is one of the consistently better ones in a while.
The cartoons and links to the rest of the issue are are all here.
A good start. That’s charming enough. Something’s happening. I have a single-panel cartoonist friend who’s harder to please who would say there’s still not enough detail here. Are those cats? What are these aliens? Can we believe in them more? Was there another step you could have given us? (Imagine if those cats were all just sitting there crapping.) Could the cops be doing something? Filling out a form? Pulling a taser etc? But I think this works efficiently enough. It’s merely a commentary on the NY/NJ Port divide, and as such does its job. It’s not trying to transport you.
I find this one a groaner.
I think the New Yorker editors haven’t been around enough 12 year olds. You get a 12-year old in front of this costuming era and they’re going to make this gag. I don’t mean to say this flippantly. Ideas are everywhere. You ask any decent idea person: advertiser, poet, novelist, cartoonist, playwright, they will all tell you this. Ideas are everywhere. It’s even more true now. With the internet, with constant flow of culture from the past and the present racing through our eyes and brains, we’ve all had all sorts of ideas: young and old, professional and amateur. At the bar, game console, dinner table, drawing board. What separates, or should separate the professional from the amateur is that what the professional does with his or her ideas is much richer, much deeper, much funnier. I don’t think this cartoon does this. (I liked Walsh’s horse-subway gag last issue though.)
Another decent Hafeez (again crediting a writer), who certainly draws well. This guy feels weighted down by this reality, and the gag is both slightly complex (he doesn’t know what the economy is doing, though he is dressed otherwise. It’s that hard.) and universal.
Good enough. Our future will probably come to this, so let’s applaud the prescience.
I’m starting to think BEK doesn’t try enough. Is “1. Overview” the best text for this first slide? Why not a complicated matrix of how everything will merely repeat? Cause here’s the thing: if the presentation will indeed repeat itself, it presumably will so in a complicated way, and if not, then the superficial simple repetitions on the slide might be funnier than just “Overview”. I know neither is BEK’s style- he/she goes for the short sharp verbal shock, with those harsh blocky characters. Maybe this one is fine.
This good Mankoff cartoon riffs on an old famous New Yorker cartoon, below:
It works within tradition, rewards the careful (and loyal!) reader and apparently had something to do with current events. (I had to ask my pal about that.) So, good! I like Mankoff’s teen, too.
This is good. I want to see the other generals busy at THEIR tables (cause we do have two other wars (at least two)) but this is a good enough way to depict this. Vey is reliable.
See the above rule: it’s not the idea, it’s what you do with it. I’m sure dinner tables everywhere have people imagining this scene, but no one can depict it quite like former editor Lee Lorenz does here. Ecstatic. So glad they let his lettering remain.
This is good on a few simple levels. Does Kanin have a rejected book? I bet those are really good.
Cute! Good lips, great desk shine (which adds believablitiy), and a funny moment.
This is E. Flake doing what she does best: mental/verbal commentary with a bit of an edge. A few harmless lines are tempered by the lines about gut flora and Oprah screaming, which I’m surprised they let in; they both seem so… oh i dunno, gauche.
Despite my pleasure with this issue, this is the first to make me laugh out loud. I find this one very funny. The bald eagle enough would have been good, but here, all spread out like it was shot off a United States quarter itself is great. The dog is funny, the line is surprising yet familiar, the scenario is original.
The cartoon caption contest. Have fun.
A good issue! Thanks for reading and thank you whatever parts of the system worked better this time around. I’ll go spread some ox musk and sagebrush around the fire and give thanks to those unknowable forces.
This is a great blog, but I would take (reasonable) issue with your contention that the New Yorker’s essays remain as good as ever. The non-fiction essays are formulaic, to an irritating degree, and the political pieces are the same partisan drivel you can read anywhere on the net. Will anyone care about this stuff in ten years? Ten weeks? And don't even mention the fiction! EB White was a timeless writer whose observations remain poignant after decades. Who is writing like that today?
Well, I don’t read every word of The New Yorker, who has the time? But I get a lot out of the journalism. I don’t think the political pieces are drivel, if you mean long investigative journalism with political agendas like Seymour Hersh for instance. If you don’t then I’m not sure what you mean. The fiction does have its favorites and repetitions. Someone could probably comment on the relative timidness of the fiction more than me. Harper’s seems more adventurous. Thanks for writing.
Quick post to ask why has no one told me what I missed about the tompe-l’oiel cartoon?
Many people have written in to say they got the tree falling cartoon but agreed that it is near impossible to tell the guy is speaking.
Tim Kreider writes in to toot his own horn, which I’ll allow because 15 years have passed since the cartoon of his I posted. I mention 2 strengths to his cartoon: real characters that you believe in, a real REASON for the trap gag, and he mentions a third. “I mean not to toot my own horn, but the best thing in this cartoon is you’re kind of rooting for everyone. I think I used to be 100% on the aliens’ side. Now I feel for the beer guys. It is just another rip-off.”
I think this empathy is an elusive quality in a cartoon, but almost certainly present in the best ones. The George Booth in the garage below, and the animals coming in from the rain one by George Price I think each have a chord of empathy in them as well.
I think a point-by-point breakdown is good for young cartoonists. I think it would also be a good idea to compare it to a random issue from the 40s or so. While the best then may be better than the best now, I'm sure it also had an equal share of clunkers. While in retrospect something by Charles Addams, Peter Arno, or James Thurber may be better, to be fair you only see the best of what they printed in the past. I'd say more but I'm limited in the # of characters.
I admit I don’t own the complete cartoon book, but I think I’ll get it to properly continue this project. And yes, be on the lookout for old issues.
I swear I wanted to be good. I spent some of Sunday and Monday in a very reasonable state of mind, looking at old cartoons, trying to bring some level-headedness to the frequent problematic moods that make me throw magazines across the room. Then I opened to this week’s first cartoon, from Zeigler, and I stared at it for around 5 minutes. (I timed it.) What does this cartoon mean?
I like this cartoonist. But I do not know what I am supposed to get out of this cartoon. First: the double-breasted suits and scotch-shaped glasses and ornate trompe-l’oeil tell me these are upper-class guys. The “damn” tells me they are assertive, cocky. Good. The wash on the wall tells me the wall is separate from the rest of the environment. Fine, except the caption is exactly what I would expect from a pair of ordinary guys like this. “Except for that wall socket, the whole damn thing is a tromp-l’oeil.”
So… What? What does this mean? I look at the wall socket. Looks ordinary. Am I missing something, I ask. Maybe the lamp and the couches are tromp-loeil also? No, I don’t think so (a funny gag by the way- what if the visiting scotch man were facing inside the entire room, and not the wall.) So I still don’t get it. Is the wall socket also tromp-l’oeil? Wouldn’t that be funny? Plugging your lamp into a painting? None of these seem to be going on here. Seriously, please tell me what this cartoon means.
This Torb or Jorb one is good enough. It’s a psychiatrist’s couch joke, or if not, it’s an annoying baby brother joke. Not sure, but at least it’s odd, with a few different possible interpretations. I wish he didn’t draw these hummels. The running man’s foot is pretty badly drawn but we’ll move on.
Ok, a tree falling in the forest joke. Right?,This one suffers prolonged exposure (I’m not really sure what it’s about anymore, actually) but at least the oddness could mean something.
Oh WAIT! I Just realized, the GUY IS TALKING? If so, this gets an F. Totally unclear. I thought the tree was talking. I still don’t know.
Hmmm. The theater/drama of this could be tighter: is he being scolded? Is this an official scolding? If so, put the Sgt behind a desk. Put the victim in the office with them. Is it a sudden response? Then make it funnier and quicker: “Bring the suspect in for questioning next time, ok?” or “Good job on the evidence [note the tension between right and wrong here] but you brought the victim in for questioning.”
Harmless and goofy enough. (But give me a cartoon that tells me what he sounds like when he HAS just woken up!)
Magazines need constant content to keep afloat, and as such, a lot of it gets repeated. I’m sure this joke has been used over and over.
This image strikes me as an possible outtake from Allison Bechdel’s Fun Home
Cool. Weird. The signature has a nice echo with the lasso and counter balance with the strong vertical at left, and the cowboy is really alive. Good!
This is a good Chast. That kid in the front is classic of hers. I think Chast is the most original new cartoonist you could put in the pantheon of other great New Yorker cartoonists, which sounds great except she started in the late 80s, I think.
"Sure my parents completely accept you as family, but that doesn’t mean they like you." is much funnier. Bouncier and quicker. Sadly, after spending a day reading George Booth cartoons full of domestic accoutrements (see the previous post) the presence merely of a lackluster Kindle as prop is distressing.
Good. I debated whether this needs the “heigh-ho” bit and I think it does. Plus, this is a very alive drawing. This week’s winner, I think.
I don’t know what this relates to. Sure, people like noise. But who are THESE people? Do THEY like noise? I don’t know. The guy on the right is clearly on Oxycontin and isn’t even listening.
I laughed at this one. Great contrast of ideas (see the previous post) and the guy can compose a picture. Odd that this cartoonist credited a writer here (I’m presuming.) Maybe he’s trying to impress a girl.
PC Vey is reliable. This is funny.
"Let me take your coat. You can cast your pall in there." Or just add "your" to the above. I argue that both of those would be funnier.
Farley Katz’ second frat boys at a trap cartoon in 3 weeks, maybe 2. I would argue that they should spread these out a little more, but they don’t do it with their upperclass party scenes so why should they do it here? This is his least offensive composition in a long while or maybe ever, but he still uses cumbersome markers for his line and can’t draw people. “Bro, no!” is a good quick caption, but I ask you: does anyone even know about Tim Kreider? He did this joke in the 90s:
Why is this one funnier? Went farther to give us real characters (without even drawing them!) The REASON for the trap is evident and humorous. AND: real happenings, real theater. Kreider, who does “The Pain: When Will it End” for some paper in Baltimore is the best cartoonist no one has heard of. If Kreider were in the New Yorker, I would say that he, along with Chast, and maybe PC Vey were the best they’ve had since Booth, Lorenz, etc.
Very topical. This is fine.
"How about never? Is never good for you?" This is a charming enough cartoon. The empty space and the lonesome atmosphere make it better than the sum of its parts.
This one is good. Real characters, real relationships. Plus, Cotham knows how to compose a picture.
A good set-up. Hard to walk an atypical line for this one, it will almost certainly be a battle-of-the-sexes joke. I’d like to see some other avenues explored: self-mutilation?
One of the accepted tenets of humor, and the single-panel cartoon, is that humor or content comes from two disparate ideas. Those two ideas usually shock us into a surprise of insight, (and often the quicker the better, before the idea and insight suddenly becomes commonplace in our brains…)
The best cartoonists used all of their skills to get that insight or joke across. They realized the pictures were just as important as the gag or idea. Sometimes, as in the case of Peter Arno, he was so in control of his picture making, that it served the gag completely. In others, George Booth for instance, the style of picture is a major part of the delivery. By style I don’t mean only the affectation of types lines or dots and washes, but the part of the drawing that is inherently the cartoonists’ own- unique, wild at first perhaps, but tamed by craft. The difference between Philip Seymour Hoffman or Dustin Hoffman (are they related?) doing Death of a Salesman. Both are great actors with their own humanity, they bring that and their craft to a great role and you get two very different plays.
So, the idea and the image are both tools of that delivery, and the more attention you can pay to both as a cartoonist the better. And you, dear reader, should know what you’re looking at.
A few historical examples from said George Price and George Booth:
Here’s a simple one by George Price that would fit in perfectly today, especially during this insanely long Republican primary. The joke here, that someone is flipping a coin in the voting booth is a simple and good one. It’s made better by the diligent nature of the two clerks at their desks. You can tell these two guys are doing their jobs out as a calling- democracy is important, and all that. In the back, someone is almost mocking their beliefs. Again, the coin flipping would be enough, but the characters (in part brought on by Price’s natural elegance) add to it and make it more.
Which brings us to George Booth. I’m quoting from Lee Lorenz’ introduction to The Essential George Booth: “Like all great cartoon humor, Booth’s springs from character.” It’s those characters, -whether they have names or not, whether they exist in other cartoons or not- which are so finely drawn and specific that we become interested.
The caption reads: "Last called for stuffed peppers or I feed them to the dog!" Everything about these characters is interesting: the woman doing the cooking and hollering, the guys doing the playing and ignoring, and the dog, on the tail end of an oddball chain he doesn’t even want to be a part of. You can talk about this cartoon, and Booth’s cartoons all day. Suffice it to say, without real character in the drawings, that caption would be almost useless. Here, they’re so intertwined it’s hard to even talk about it in a few short sentences.
The caption reads: "Tony asked me to ask you, Mr. Bates- do you know off hand the whereabouts of your service manual?" And there is poor Tony in the bottom right, looking half-neanderthal, half shell-shocked warrior, with “Tony” proudly emblazoned on his back, at a stand still. The wording is perfect, starting with “Tony”, leading to “Mr. Bates” and ending with “the whereabouts of your service manual.” Everything is in constant dialogue here- lots of disparate elements cohering in that line alone but with the drawing which is so specific, and so full of character(s), it becomes a great cartoon.
Another George Price:
"Whew, ‘Taint a fit night out for man nor beast!" This one takes a simple phrase/adage and illustrates it in an unexpected way. The animals all come in, downtrodden and defeated, into the suburban home to dry off. A great idea, full of charm and pathos, and almost anyone could have drawn it and made it funny, but Price’s innate elegance makes the creatures feel so much more at a loss. This is the Wild Kingdom, and the Kingdom has been rained out. It’s sad. It’s a powerful loss. It’s funny. The idea and picture working so well together here.
As a post script, a couple from a George Price book show how the cartoonist’s mind must always be looking for that combination of disparate ideas:
Again, two wildly different and great cartoons. (Though I would argue the 2nd one is the real stunner here.)
SMNYC is about looking at the current cartoons in The New Yorker magazine, which has owned the title of Standard-Bearer for Single Panel Cartoons in America for a good number of decades. I think The New Yorker, as standard-bearer, deserves some scrutiny now and then. I think they have allowed the art form - the particular art form of the single panel gag - to falter. They frequently publish sloppily considered and technically amateurish cartoons, something they would never ever do in any essay, story or journalism piece, or even an illustration elsewhere in the magazine. (I can’t speak about the poetry or Shouts and Murmurs, because of my lack of expertise and my disinterest, respectively.) The New Yorker, in terms of writing and illustration, is the best general interest magazine in the country. It rewards and celebrates intelligence and curiosity.
For reasons I can’t understand, none of this is consistently true of the cartoons. They hit their high points now and then, but this is a standard 100% of the essays and illustrations are held to, not just some now and then.
I’m not advocating a return to the “good old days” of the magazine; I suspect the good old days had their share of mediocre or half-witted cartoons as well, and I want to research this. If I find a similar proportion of badly drawn and mundane comics in issues going back 30 years, 50 years, 80 years, then I’ll admit defeat. But I suspect that on the level of craft: that is, succinctly writing jokes and combining them with witty drawings with originality and technical verve, that I will find my thesis correct: things were better than. Surely in those earlier decades there are bound to be topical gags that fall flat now, and heaven knows, sexist gags that are not only sexist but banal.
But, at risk of sounding like an old crank, a whole cartooning culture is at risk of going down the tubes. Comic strips in the newspaper, for instance, are all but dead. A good number of popular webcomics have picked up the audience-slack, but these are often amateurish. What happens is that new generations of young artists think that these are what comic strips can be and then they copy bad copies of copies. They will never see a Pogo. They will never see a Krazy Kat.
I think this is happening in The New Yorker as well. If a young and funny single-panel cartoonist in his teens opens The New Yorker, he or she should see the best the form is capable of. He/she should aspire to that. If this cartoonist can’t tell what his or her options and tools are in creating this form, if he/she can’t tell what makes a good drawing from a bad, or a good gag from a bad, then we’re failing as culture-keepers. The culture WILL go down the tubes. Decades from now someone will find a Booth book or a Searle book or even a Chast book and be surprised that they’ve never seen cartoons so original. It’s already happening with Gary Larson, and most kids who would love a Charles Addams cartoon have never seen one. It would blow their minds! I digress.
Anecdotal and some empirical evidence tells me that today’s New Yorker cartoons are designed to fade into the background, to be invisible, to inspire a chuckle. A cartoonist friend believes the problem is that “The New Yorker believes humor can be genteel, but it cannot be.” He may be right. I’m not sure.
The word on the street is that the method of submitting cartoons to is so grueling that the best cartoonists are submitting the best they could do in the time they had. But I doubt they would allow that of Malcolm Gladwell.
Some of the empirical evidence that tells me that the magazine itself is shooting for middlebrow (again, something they do not do with their essays and journalism), is the abundance of cartoonists publishing their “rejected gags.” And good for them. These gags are often much funnier than the ones that are approved. Why? I don’t know. But with this blog, we’re trying to get at some of the issues.
I say “we” because I want your feedback. Though I can’t figure out how to get endless comments on Tubmlr, click TALKBACK above and continue the conversation. Or have it elsewhere, reasonably.
SMNYC details the good and bad about New Yorker cartoons, which we feel are woefully unspoken about, in an Emperor’s New Clothes sort of way. The New Yorker editors have a smug sort of pride about their own cartoons which is basically undeserved. (witness their hosting of meet-the-cartoonist events, and the promotion they put into their cartoons: the cartoon bank, farming them out to advertisers, etc.) (Many of the cartoonists have a better idea: printing their rejections.)
There are good cartoons in there, and they do have good cartoonists in there, but on the whole, their editorial policy at present veers towards pleasing rather than compelling, chuckle-worthy rather than funny. They applaud their own life-styles. And the cartoonists, maybe because of the machine-like nature which drives them to bring in 10 cartoons a week to beg at the editors of one of only 2 or 3 markets (Parade being another that comes to mind, but of course that is much more middle-brow) that pays well for single-panel gags, ultimately submit half-thought-out compositions, drawings, scenarios, and gags.
We’re trying to go into detail about the failures and successes of the cartoons on an issue-by-issue basis.
This is the Chrismas 2011 issue and really isn’t bad but does have a lot of the usual missteps. Let’s look in detail.
This one by Shanahan is pretty ok. John Cage of course loved silence, loved noise, maybe didn’t love music. His famous piece of going up to a piano on stage and sitting still and staring at it for 4 and a half minutes is referenced here. My problem with this cartoon is that John Cage also loved life, and was pretty joyful. I think these carollers are maybe a bit too grumpy. I don’t think they need (particularly the older two) to be so darn grumpy. They should just be well… silent. But at least this is clever. Ok.
Barsotti has some style but I don’t care about this cartoon at all. I guess this about those horrible friends you have that call you up and cry about their lives when you’ve been over and over it again. Somehow I just don’t feel this one delivers that, though.
This is Roz Chast doing her best Roz Chast impression here. This is a little by-the-numbers. People who like to see Roz Chast and feel comfort rather than discomfort will like this one. Her work this spring has been much better.
Weyant is another cartoonist with a decent style. He draws funny and his tones, while all over the place in this cartoon, still cohere into a single image. Not sure if I want to comment on a cop/donut gag at all though.
Wait- ok, let’s comment. First: Bad Cop/Good Cop, ok we can work with that. But we don’t have to immediately go to donuts. What if it were a falafel truck -would the gag be better? “Sorry, Bad Cop’s already been here and he took the last gyro.” Is that funnier? It at least makes you work a half a moment. I’m think the problem lies in Good Cop/Bad Cop as nemeses in food procuring. Is this even a good idea? Cause cops eat? I dunno. Again I go back to ideas from the stage: show me real characters, real relationships and real happenings. Who is Bad Cop? What is Good Cop’s relationship to him (always spurned/foiled.) Can I see that? That way, it’s not just a joke about a cliche of language.
I swear BEK has a rubber stamp for this artwork, like Jeff McNally did for Shoe in his later years. But as I’ve said before, at least there’s a charge to his drawings. The guy on the left looks and feels genuinely crabby. The joke/caption is amusing enough. I’m not exactly sure what he means, but let’s move on.
This isn’t spectacular by any stretch of the imagination, but the distance between sled and shadow is at least compositionally elegant. But the lack of specificity is disappointing here. The “guys” fell off the sled- big deal. It brings to mind another great use of a shadow in a New Yorker cartoon:
That’s a cartoon. Specificity. A real relationship. A specific, real thing happening.
Don’t know Hafeez but suspect he/she worked in animation. Real good line control and balance of tones and strong, vibrant figures. The joke is a good one. It’s topical, which usually means it will feel dated in 5 or 10 years, but it’s ok. I think he/she could have added one more clause in the caption to make it a longer trail of touching, but whatever.
This one by Torb or Jorb works at first then doesn’t. Yes, Jesus got all these gifts and this poor little nebbish gets a dreidel, but Jesus was Jewish, and ah well- it’s not that important. The main thing I don’t like about Torb or Jorb is just how “cute” all the drawings are. I find them ingratiating but that’s just me.
I think the winner (for the 2nd post in a row) this issue is Dd, whoever that is. Though I think the usual problem of the commenting bystander in these cartoons is that they really aren’t a part of the scene, this is still a pretty great cartoon. That table of football jocks is really great. Two toasting on the ends, the one in the middle with his gullet up, his hands up in laughter, the fact that they’re all still in their helmets, all terrific details. Great design-y blacks usage.
Barsotti again. This one works. It’s a standard cartoon cliche but connected to the extremely topical so working within tradition. Charming enough.
A reader tells me this is Maslin, not Mueller. I can’t read the signature. Again I usually like this cartoonist’s drawing but this gag is so uninspired it’s hard not to be angry at it. There are several better variations immediately come to mind for this. “10 one gallon hats, yes sir.” or “Good choice sir, 10 one gallon hats” or “You found our 10 best single gallon hats!” or anything. This caption is unbelievably timid and dull.
This one is what it is. Works well enough. New Yorker filler. Inoffensive. Ok.
Oh Crawford step on your markers, please please please get rid of them. It’s too bad, cause this line’s pretty funny. But his/her incredibly distracting cacophony of streaky grey tones force me to look away. (I think one reason I like this caption is cause it’s so surprising. Do people DO that? Have I been living in a bubble? I’ve never heard of stoned Christmas Carolling to be a thing…)
E. Flake, always topical. This one isn’t bad. Flake is much better at jokes than she is drawing, and The New Yorker won’t use her good jokes (see Lulu Eightball or her book on smoking) so this so-so cartoon is all we get from her. The weird stiffness works well on the guy suddenly able to walk, but sadly continues in the other standing figures and the composition as well so it really can’t transcend so-so.
PC Vey is usually funny, slightly skewed and delivers here. This is good. He is one of the better NYer cartoonists younger than 50, assuming he is.
I’m not sure why Sipress had to give us an entire family scene here. The father is distracting, the mother even more so. And the grandfather uninspired and limp. This is a good gag (absurd and accurate at the same time) but the staging is all wrong.
I identified with one, found it charming, but I personally, subjectively dislike CAJ’s drawing. That’s just me. They’re harmless. I don’t like the vacant eyes (don’t like ‘em in E. Flake either) but I’ll cop to it being a subjective dislike. Actually, what really bugs me is how differently each of those hands is drawn.
Why oh why do the New Yorker captions go on so long? “I’ve got a great idea for a balloon animal” is MUCH funnier than the two-sentence version above. ”I know you probably hear this all the time” is a distracting waste. If it’s important, show it on the clown’s face (almost but not quite gotten here, but it still works without it.)
I should refuse to comment on the Farley Katz cartoons from here on in. They exhaust me.
A little palette cleanser from Thompson, whoever that is. This is cute and funny enough. (Although I can’t figure out what those semi-circles are running down the reindeer’s side are. )
Dator’s contribution to the cartoon caption contest is good. I wish the four smokes in the center were as elegant as the left-most one. It looks like those other four or five were scribbled in Photoshop whereas the left one looks deliberately drawn and molded with line. In fact, the more I look at this, the more a lot of it looks quickly sketched in Photoshop, to a blurry sort of detriment, but maybe it’s just the web reproduction. The left-most building in the foreground is quite lovely.
I just wanted to say that I really like what you're at here. I enjoy your critique of the cartoons more than the cartoons themselves - a form of schadenfreude, in part - but also the camaraderie. What I mean is that the punch of most punchlines are lost on me, humor is particular after all so I'll shrug and move on - but missing the joke of a New Yorker cartoon leaves me with the sense of being either a member of the out crowd or the last sane man in the room - and It is so nice to have company.
The New Yorker’s in a bit of a upward curve this week. The thing that The New Yorker editors don’t realize is that the cartoon panel is (or can be or should be) a sort of stage. A lot of stage rules apply. Namely, Make something happen, Make real characters and Define the relationships. It is true that funny captions can carry a ordinary picture but it shouldn’t be a shortcut. Few people going to the theater would be just as happy if it were just a slightly longer radio play.
The editor kicks it off with a good one. I think I would have changed it to “this guy” or “Mel” or maybe “Mel asked me nicely to help him sink this putt” or something, but this is funny enough.
Of course it continues the trend of rarely drawing anything funny in the New Yorker. There should be said epidemics, famines etc in the background. (I’m not implying those are inherently funny, but in context here, they would be.) Then, you don’t need the long laborious caption.
Does that mean he’s wearing girl’s clothes? Cause cross-dressing is always funny. IN 1954. (By the way, I think this is PS Mueller (I can’t read that signature anymore), who draws funny at least.)
At least there’s something funny to look at, though I don’t exactly know who these gnomes in the back are. But again, wouldn’t having 3 or 5 women on his horse as he rides away be funnier? And is the woman a conquest? Have the gnomes been defeated? I don’t exactly get this one. Gotham (Cotham I think) is usually ok but I don’t know about this one.
This is everyone I know’s least favorite cartoonist in The New Yorker. Just in case you don’t know he’s talking about annoying, privileged, pompous Upper East Side Society Folk, he gives you this big swirly pompous lavish lines to drink it in with. But here, he’s toned that down and given us scratchy and even a bit ugly. That woman is properly hideous and a bit cross-eyed, I approve. But the caption doesn’t do anything but make sense. It’s not funny. Is it? Am I missing something? Can anyone instead write a caption about compensating. Can you, o cartoonist, peel this onion one more layer and tell us WHY the jewelry has to get bigger? I don’t have a doorman or a separate library/den/dog walker/standing brunch with Anna Wintour, so maybe I don’t get what this means. But I want to! I like to laugh at ugly people! You’re halfway there!
This is the best one in a while. Good for this Dd. This one has levels, and takes a few moments to reveal them all. Dd wins.
Another good one. I have friends who would argue that drawing “attentive” should be much more over the top, but I think this one works well. Good bomb.
I think I like this one. The pins are pretty great. I think the walking ball could have been a bit funnier, made to look like it’s moving, as the pins are, but whatever. This is three decent cartoons in a row.
This is good enough. Sounds like some tweens I know. That’s the idea. It works. We should start a new tagging system: “Cartoons that put stupid human phrases into mouths of non-humans.”
Another from Mankoff, the editor. This is perfectly charming, except why on earth do you need that goddamned key in the bottom left? It complicated and ruins the joy of the moment. See the theatric comments at the top of this post. No one needs a key at the beginning of Macbeth explaining the Meyers-Brigg breakdown of each character.
This is the cartoonist whose markers I want to break. Though I like the striking series of verticals in this composition. Though I have no idea what the joke is (that they are unhealthy, sloppy and stupid like the “stupidest meadow” joke above?) I also can’t tell if they are inside or outside or what. I think that car is telling me they are outside. What are those poles? This cartoonist always clutters his/her drawings.
This one is funny enough.
The caption contest cartoon. This is always the funniest drawing in the book. Mueller again, who as I said before, draws from his own nervous system, which I think is crucial for just about anyone drawing. Possible lines of thought for this cartoon:
The Deep End of the Pool More Lemonade Fewer Swimmers with the New Lifeguard etc. Floaties
I actually like the Caption Contest; I know people who think it’s awful, but I think the rest of the issue leaves a bad taste in their mouth. And there’s usually one very funny response, but the 2nd funniest one always, without fail, wins.
The double issue Feb 13-20, 2012 wasn’t so bad. Here’s a rundown:
A good Roz Chast bit. Funnier, a little more off the wall than usual. Good for her.
Barsotti again. At least he has a style with craft. This is silly and harmless.
This is an oddity in the New Yorker- the gag-less scene. There’s no leap my brain makes to some brand name or typical upscale situation that I then see in a new light, which is what 95% of NYer cartoons are. No, this is just a simple poetic/allegorical image, well drawn, and as such, works well. A surprise.
I think the genuine weirdness of this camera angle and the abundance of worrisome hatching go a long way to make this banal gag not unpleasant. Good enough!
I guess this is funny. Whatever. I think Dorothy actually LIKED Kansas but we snobby New Yorkers know better, right?
I wish someone would take this cartoonist’s shitty markers away and teach him/her to use a wash. That streakiness is so shitty and distracting. I suppose this a funny mafia gag or something. Except I ‘m sure a high number of these guys do get busted in good suits. A better approach: the cops are walking ‘em out of a house or something, the guys complaining “would it kill you to let a guy put on his finery?” Or something. I dunno. Who gives a shit about criminals?
This issue’s loser is this one. First, EVERYONE KNOWS this is true. The cartoonist has not unearthed some surprising truth. Second, he/she bent over backwards to get the wording right instead of leaving it as “Those who can’t, comment.”
But again, the thing with the Fucking New Yorker is the PICTURES CAN’T BE FUNNY. Wouldn’t this be funnier with a grandmother texting her son from the back seat of a car, commenting on his driving? Or a broken-winged bird commenting on some flying, or even just make this dork in the office a real gross hoarder or something. The girl in this picture is pointless, as is the man. In a real single-panel cartoon, say by Larson or Kliban or Booth, or most by Gahan Wilson or Addams, both the pictures and the text matter. If the guy were drawn funny you wouldn’t even need a pointless lady staring at him.
By the way, this cartoonist, though I don’t like his style, can at least compose a picture and use black well. Good for him (I’m presuming a him, with the lavish way he drew the lady.)
I forget this cartoonist’s name, but I generally like him (I’m presuming it’s a since he’s been around a while. It’s been a boy’s club for a long time.) His characters look like cartoons: they accentuate some twinge or feeling that comes right from the author’s body. In this case, there’s a stunned look in the woman and an nervous but aggressive energy in the man. Most of his cartoons feel like they were drawn but someone who felt something, which is saying something. This gag is mostly hairless and harmless. Shouldn’t his body be facing the street, if they were just meeting for coffee, showing him much more disinterested would have been funnier.
Koren being Koren again. This isn’t a gut-buster, but has a sort of acceptance-of-fate charm to it. The New Yorker’s lucky to have him.
In one of the rare times you don’t get the same picture from BEK, you get a shitty gag like this. Yes, vegans are all the rage. Yes wouldn’t it be funny if birdlings wanted to be vegan. Har har. Next there will be jokes about heirloom tomatoes, festishized butcheries and crazy new cocktails. What a time to be alive.
PC Vey is reliably skewed sometimes, which is good thing for the NYer. I’m surprised they let this one in. “THE sex later” would have been funnier.
Sipress is one of the more stable cartoonists who won’t offend your intelligence, except here. I don’t give a shit about TV. This is about TV, right? It’s CERTAINLY NOT ABOUT THE PEOPLE IN THE CARTOON.
Again, I like Noth’s drawing well enough usually. I think this gag is super flat. I don’t even know what I’m supposed to glean from this. Is the lawyer a great storyteller. Is he spinning a wild yarn about innocence here? Is there anything funny about this? There’s no reason for this pulled back shot of the courtroom. Nothing in the drawing is necessary for the gag. Not the lawyer, not the client, not the jury, not the judge.
Our humble editor, who is usually ok, comes in with an ok one. Regarding his effected style, it at least IS something, demands a bit of attention, which is good. However, any time you read or hear “Explain to me again” or “Tell me again” it means the storyteller in question is being lazy. Here, simply changing it to “That’s why we pay him the big bucks” is funnier anyway. I think this is just an angry subconscious patricide of his own editor. Maybe the guy on the right has some actually funny cartoons in that folder.
I may have a soft spot for Barbara Smaller cause she uses real pens and her little nervous lines seem genuine. This is funny enough.
Certainly DD thought about whether “On your left” was funnier than “Still on your left.” I guess I disagree with his/her decision here. What about “On your left. On your left. On your left. On your left.”?
God damn The Sopranos for bringing the mafia back into the public consciousness. At least this Bob knew where to put his blacks in this drawing.
I like this one. So sue me. Not sure if I need the angry squirrel on the right, but it’s a clear decision the cartoonist made. This cartoon is at least about the subjects in it.
Will someone just make Farley Katz take some classes in drawing PLEASE? Gosh that woman is horribly drawn. You can tell when a young male artist or teen simply is crazy for women cause they draw breasts and lips so weirdly. Someone should also tell Katz that human hands fall down our mid-thigh, and that our elbows bend about at the waist. And maybe someday he will draw a hand actually doing something a hand does.
Dator again comes in with a does-not-offend. This is charming enough. But look at that guy on the right. Addams used a guy like that often, noticing something out of whack. The problem with the NYer cartoons these days is they’re so damn afraid to BE ANYTHING.
I like this one. Good energy, a surprising situation. Good composition, real drawings.
And the caption contest is good old Farley Katz. Look, Katz might be a nice guy or something, but he can’t compose a picture to save his life. All the interesting stuff in this panel is cluttered and hard to get to. He uses thick crappy markers at inopportune times, his overlapping is amateurish and confusing, his use of tone too literal and clumsy.
All 16 cartoons from the cruddy March 19, 2012 issue, from front to back.
Sorry Farley Katz, but you’re first. Maybe the worst cartoonist ever to grace the pages of the New Yorker. Your drawings are incredibly amateurish. Most teenagers draw about as well as this- most teens also have no sense of line weight or tone control, have a bad sense of anatomy and use boring compositions. We expect more from the New Yorker. This idea/joke is boring. Yes, frat boys like pizza. And booze and cars and they also like date rape. We all saw Animal House.
Barsotti. This is harmless enough. Which is sad, since The New Yorker is known for Seymour Hersch’s great investigative journalism, insightful theater reviews by John Lahr and quite a lot of not harmless writing. But in the New Yorker cartoons, harmless is everything.
Poor E. Flake is trying here. Her cartoons are notable pretty frequently for their references to Groupons and other trends with trademarks. The sad thing here is E Flake is a funny cartoonist, known for Lulu Eightball and “These Things Ain’t Gonna Smoke Themselves”, a very funny book about smoking. You get the impression that Flake is going in with a stack of funny cartoons and they only select the ones with brand names or stemmed wine glasses in them.
The worst cartoon of the issue goes to “Crawford” or whatever this says. I’m not one to malign a cartooning technique just cause I’m old school, but in this case, his or her streaky marker just makes the drawing busy and hard to focus on the center of attention. Which brings us to the center of attention. What the fuck is this thing. I swear I had to ask a friend for 10 minutes what I was looking at. She thought it was a cat at first, but then told me it was a little man. Eventually I saw said little man. So, is the joke that he just climbed inside this woman’s vagina? Cause that’s pretty funny, and could be done a whole lot more funnily. For instance, why isn’t he wet? What did he find inside? And how would she be reacting? Here, it’s an expression, half snide, half vacant, I think. I really have no idea what the cartoonist, cartoon editor or editor-in-chief want me to get from this cartoon.
Ah, Koren. At least Koren can fucking draw. This is charming. Because if you are alive, really alive, then you fucking love trees. The rest of these cartoonists are NOT ALIVE.
Dator. He or she can at least compose a simple drawing and use tones. Harmless enough. I don’t exactly get the gag. If someone were to post a cat on their dating site, wouldn’t the cat be looking funny, or cute, or chewing on a mouse or something? I’m not really complaining. This one doesn’t appall.
BEK - This cartoonist always draws the same drawing. Which is at least a good drawing, with tension and drama. But they are always slightly angry characters talking to each other at 20 degree angles from the ground. Whatever. The captions are always party-speak, something the New Yorker editors seem to really love in their cartoons.
I did not get this joke. Didn’t Moses lead the Jews into Israel? Oh- I get it, he’s still not pro-Israel enough? Is that the joke? That’s not bad, but it’s impossible to read without more from the speaker. Your typical tense pro-Israeli nut is full of squinched up rage and usually sweat profusely from their scalps. Nothing funny about the drawing to help us get the joke here, if that is indeed the joke. Paul Noth draws reliably good figures and is fine here, except that one wall of the sea is 8 feet high and another 3 feet high, which to me, takes away the drama of the real story.
Ziegler (I think.) This is a good one. At least it’s fun to look at. I would have put the “s” more in range of the rest and maybe give us a better look at his pool of random blocks, but this one is again, harmless enough.
Wait- is this a SEX joke? In the New Yorker?! Well, I never! Actually, this one is fucking funny. I wish Karen’s fish were a little funnier looking, but the joke is really really good.
This is your typical New Yorker cartoon that had it had 15 minutes of workshopping, would have been made much funnier. First, MUST YOU WRITE JAIL on his uniform, Mr or Ms. WARP? Second, is that the funniest, the caption could have been. Couldn’t it be a little tighter, and third, wouldn’t it have been funnier if it would have been AFTER, or even at the dinner table? Or at least not in a fucking elevator. Can’t they take the stairs? Give them, and us the reader, an experience. Riding the elevator is something EVERYONE finds boring. You get the impression The New Yorker editors don’t want anything to ever happen in their cartoons.
Roz Chast. Reliably Roz Chast. Funny sometimes, same old same old sometimes. I found this to be one of her funnier ones of late.
I hope Torb or Jorb hates him or herself for this one. And again, a cartoonist who can’t draw an expression. The sad thing about this is that this is the best someone (editor, cartoonist?) decided to give us on the subject of Men and Snuggies. This banal take on it would be just as at home in Garfield (a little research and you might be able to find it) or Blondie. It’s a simple theme, but a little exploration might at least lead you to say, a guy coming into a man cave, the host is wearing a suggie. Behind him, 2 other guys in snuggles at the TV. Host says to new guy as he takes his hat: “Hey Jim, glad you could make it. Here’s a beer, here’s a Snuggie, you’re just in time for kick-off.” A little, long, but it makes you go back and ask did he just say “snuggie”? Plus it makes you think about the recent masculinization of female products, like Axe Body Spray and Dove for Men, all of which are heavily advertised in sports events. Anyway, this lousy cartoon, sadly not the issue’s worst, does nothing for any thinking person.
This one made me laugh. Simple, good tones lead the eye and are handled in a deft way so that what I see here and what I am familiar with in the real world find a sort of dialogue, unlike some of the crappier earlier examples. This one is approved.
We end with this week’s caption cartoon drawing, which I shouldn’t have to tell you is bar none, the funniest drawing of the bunch. These are always the funniest drawings of the bunch. It’s like the editors don’t let the cartoonists have any fun unless it’s to make the readers feel smart and good about themselves. And in this instance, Victoria Roberts is usually reliable.
Other issues of The New Yorker will not be looked at with such scrutiny. We’ll examine the worst of the worst and god willing, a good one or two when they appear. We’ll also look at classic New Yorker cartoons from their Golden Age up through the 80s and compare and discuss why the current crop is so much cruddier.