Apr. 24, 2017 Issue

Max:  This week’s cover art depicts what may be the next food craze: seahorse on a stick.

Simon:  A new take on surf and turf.

1 of 14: “’Splainin’ to a Spaceman” by Tom Chitty

View this cartoon as made available by The New Yorker Cartoon Bank.

Simon:  Our first cartoon is by Tom Chitty. Last week Mr. Chitty treated us to a funny cartoon. This week we’re back to strange and not particularly funny. I thought the alien looked more human than the human did. Max, I challenge you to explain why this cartoon is humorous.

Max:  That spaceman looks to me like a dude in French pajamas wearing a small sombrero. I do think it’s clever. We’ve all had the frustrating experience of trying to explain something to a person without our cultural reference – like describing baseball to someone from Borneo. So now remove the galactic frame of reference…whew, my head spins to think about it!

Simon:  That’s all very interesting—and I assume you mean that the alien’s helmet resembled a sombrero if the alien’s head were tilted back and you squinted really, really hard—but why is this cartoon funny?

Max:  It’s more thoughtful than funny, but a good take on interstellar communication issues.

Simon:  Well, I think this is a failed attempt to communicate humor. I understand the premise; I just don’t find it funny. And I have no idea what French pajamas are, Max. In any case, I give this cartoon a 2.

Max:  I see little green men everywhere, so I give it a 3.

For more on Tom Chitty, check out drawnbytom.com

2 of 14: “Macho Bird-Watching” by Lars Kenseth

View this cartoon as made available by The New Yorker Cartoon Bank.

Max: Lars sets his sausage-shaped people in the forest with commando gear to…bird watch?

Simon:  This relies on a familiar scene, namely, birdwatching. In fact, I’m surprised this is not on the official Mankoff cartoon cliché list. It’s a pretty good take on something as benign as birdwatching. Adding a macho element appeals to these birders.

Max:  Yeah, check out the night vision goggles and the walkie-talkie on the right, though for the life of me I can’t imagine who he is squawking to. Not bad; however, the art is a bit strange for me, I give it a 2.

Simon:  I liked it more than you did. I give it a 3. The cartoon style is a little bit odd—it almost has a Sunday funnies feel to it—but it works okay.

For more on Lars Kenseth, check out patreon.com/larskenseth

3 of 14: “Guppy Pampering” by Jack Ziegler

View this cartoon as made available by The New Yorker Cartoon Bank.

Simon:  The next cartoon is by the late Jack Ziegler. It’s an unusually spare image for him. When you first looked at this, Max, did you think it might be by Ed Steed?

Max:  Well, it might have Steed-like aspects to it; however, it’s pure Ziegler that shines through with clean lines and a punchy gag. This is a prime example of a venerable New Yorker cartoonist mining a wide vein of exaggeration.

Simon:  What made it for me was the word “din-din”. Absolutely perfect turn of phrase. And that tiny fish in the lower right-hand corner is a beautiful comic touch.

Max:  And no little sandcastle! The tank is of wonderful dimensions. A high-5 to Mr. Ziegler.

Simon:  I agree, it’s a 5. The tiny flecks of food are so far from that fish that I think little Goldie would need to swim for several minutes to reach those tasty flakes.

Max:  Makes you think twice about aspiring to live in a 10,000 square-foot mansion.

For more on Jack Ziegler, check out newyorker.com/contributors/jack-ziegler

4 of 14: “Walk Away, Renee” by William Haefili

View this cartoon as made available by The New Yorker Cartoon Bank.

Max:  Here’s a typical cube-farm office setting in which the groovy co-worker is assuming her overtures to a gay co-worker would be welcome. Wow, what a brush-off line! What did you think, Simon?

Simon:  It’s sort of sitcom-sounding. And the speaker knows that he’s being funny in a catty way. As I’ve said many times, I’m not fond of self-aware cartoon characters. But drink in this drawing: the low angle, the startled look on the woman’s face, and the speaker, his back to her, not looking up from his computer screen as he delivers that line. It’s a great composition. I just don’t think the gag is all that funny.

Max:  I have to disagree. I enjoyed the rapier dig by the disinterested fellow. It’s a contemporary commentary on women who often feel they have more in common with gay men. Oh, and the last three words, “Try human resources.” Well done. A superior composition, a strong gag, I give this a 4.

Simon:  I give this a 3 because I find it difficult to be harsh on Haefeli. He is a standout artist.

For more on William Haefeli, check out condenaststore.com/William-Haefeli

5 of 14: “Killer Art” by Ellis Rosen

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Simon:  The next cartoon is by Ellis Rosen, a relative newcomer to The New Yorker. This one combines two cartoon clichés: first, visitors to the modern art museum, and second, a couple of gangsters. Both are cartoon premises that date back to the early days of The New Yorker. I thought it was a nice mashup.

Max:  Yes, and the composition harkens back to a wonderful Norman Rockwell painting called “The Connoisseur“, where a dapper older gentleman takes in a Jackson Pollack-type spatter painting. Interesting idea, that the painter made it look like an accident.

Simon:  Yes, getting away with murder, you might say. You know, perhaps a cartoonist could come up with ideas just by mashing together two random cartoon clichés. Maybe that’s how this one popped up consciously or unconsciously in the cartoonist’s mind.

Max:  A well done mashup deserves a 4.

Simon:  I concur with you, Max. I give this a 4.

For more on Ellis Rosen, check out ellisrosen.tumblr.com

6 of 14: “Breaking Up” by Roz Chast

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Max:  Roz Chast is back this week and in good form. We’ve got her usual wry Woody Allen take on things in this cartoon. How did you like the gag, Simon?

Simon:  I was almost taken aback by the gag. It’s pretty sharp coming from her. Of course, it’s a play on dating other people, so there’s some wordplay, which is not typical of The New Yorker. I thought the cartoon was good, but somehow I found it a bit disturbing.

Max:  What rescues it from being disturbing is the woman’s frumpy hairstyle. I give this a 3.

Simon:  Yes, the bouffant hair. I guess because the characters themselves are sort of ridiculous it takes a bit of the edge off the cartoon. Their expressions do not in any way reflect hatred for one another. I also I give it a 3. By the way, Roz is about the only New Yorker cartoonist who consistently uses word bubbles. Very un-New Yorker, but she’s a rule-breaker.

For more on Roz Chast, check out rozchast.com

7 of 14: “Colonial Consternation” by Paul Noth

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Simon:  Next up is a Paul Noth cartoon in which our country’s Founding Fathers are considering the consequences of a funny tyrant taking over. This cartoon must be read in the context of our current time, keeping in mind a certain President of the United States.

Max:  There’s no other way to read this one, Simon. Just as Benjamin Franklin predicted a war over slavery, here he perceives another future danger – an entertaining tyrant. What did you think of the drawing?

Simon:  The drawing is very good, though a bit static, rather like an oil painting. “Kind of funny” interjects a modern turn of phrase that serves as the punchline. I’ve seen other cartoons that address what these 18th century gentlemen revolutionaries would make of the current political situation. This cartoon is a solid effort.

Max:  I like the more formal poses of the founders in contrast to the startled realization of Mr. Franklin. The lengthy gag lands well with the final few works. I give this a 4.

Simon:  I’m with you there again, Max. I give this a 4.

For more on Paul Noth, check out paulnoth.com

8 of 14: “Buffaloed” by Michael Maslin

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Max:  Here’s a titled cartoon on “How the West Was Fun”, with no caption. We’ve a “Blazing Saddles” scenario in which a bison pranks a cowpoke.

Simon:  This is the second cartoon in this issue that plays on a familiar phrase, the other being the Roz Chast cartoon. I love this cartoon, primarily because of the expression on the horse’s face. That smile is priceless. The flat expression on the bison is also awfully good, as is the cowboy’s reaction. This is a silly but fun cartoon.

Max:  I couldn’t agree more, this is all good fun – gotta love it when a Stetson goes flyin’! I give it a 4.

Simon:  I’m going to go to a 5 on this one, pardner. It’s simple and immediate and I like that.

For more on Michael Maslin, check out http://michaelmaslin.com

Max: The Mystery New Yorker Cartoonist has a few words about the cartoons in this issue and a general comment about overlooked veteran New Yorker cartoonists.

Mystery New Yorker Cartoonist:  I’m not going to lie to you, I’m not in a funny mood. And this week’s cartoons didn’t put me in one. I counted three cartoons that were worthy of being a New Yorker cartoon. The three cartoons: Haefeli’s gay best friend, Roz’s couple wanting to hate other people and Maslin’s How the West Was Fun, I give high 4s or low 5s. Ellis’ mobsters in a museum could’ve been a contender. A more seasoned cartoonist would draw a few faces and see which works best, not just use the most cliche caricature of a mob guy.

By the way, for fun (yeah, this is what I do for fun), I decided to list my favorite cartoonists from the magazine who once appeared regularly not long ago but only appear once in a blue moon now, if at all. I came up with fourteen cartoonists.  How did in such a short time so many of the good cartoonists get displaced?

9 of 14: “Save the Whale” by John Klossner

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Simon:  Okay, next up is a cartoon by John Klossner and features two whales as they’ve never been seen before. I love this cartoon. The image is so powerful and ridiculous. It took me a moment to get it, but that moment of realization brought me joy. What was your reaction, Max?

Max:  Yeah, I had a delayed recognition, only to realize this is blowhole-to-blowhole CPR. A tricky and imaginative drawing featuring 250 tons of ocean mammals.

Simon:  I like the very simple expressions on the whales that are conveyed solely by their eyes. It’s a great drawing and a very imaginative gag. I give this a 5 without reservation.

Max:  Clearly the whale on the bottom is the rescued and one on top the rescuer. This cartoon is high on the “think“ scale. I give it a 5 as well.

For more on John Klossner, check out www.jklossner.com

10 of 14: “Cat Burglar” by Drew Panckeri

View this cartoon as made available by The New Yorker Cartoon Bank.

Max:  Can a house cat subdue a burglar midway through his malfeasance? Apparently “yes”, to the delight of cat lovers everyone.

Simon:  The idea of a cat being useful in any sense is ridiculous and funny in itself. I know you’re a cat lover, Max. You have—what?—six or seven cats at home, which I know are a good substitute for friends, but I’m not a big cat lover. Still, it’s a funny gag just because it plays on of how unsuitable a cat is for home protection, as compared to the superior animal, the dog.

Max:  I can testify that during each of our four burglaries, our cats were utterly useless. In fact, I believe they welcomed the burglars in and showed ’em to the goodies. Regardless, it’s cute, I like it, and I give it a 4.

Simon:  Yes, I like how the cartoonist placed the woman in the background, keeping the focus on the action, or inaction, front and center. I give it a 4 as well.

Max:  Did you notice the pistol on the coffee table? Somehow this tabby disarmed the animal-loving perpetrator.

Simon:  Perhaps with its disarming adorableness.

For more on Drew Panckeri, check out drewpanckeri.com

11 of 14: “Grownup Stuff” by Harry Bliss

View this cartoon as made available by The New Yorker Cartoon Bank.

Simon:  Next up is a Harry Bliss cartoon. This one is quite wordy, with a long a speech in a bubble plus a title. I feel that made it a somewhat labored cartoon, although I love the drawing. What do you think, Max?

Max:  One of the pitfalls of this type of cartoon is we often have the child speak in an adult  manner – a cheap trick in your book, Simon. But this cartoon turned that trope on its head, and I think the length of the line was worth the payoff.

Simon:  The look of the child and her backward tilt as she stands before her stern father are great. Unlike a lot of cartoonists, Bliss knows how to draw children. But overall it was just an okay gag. I’ve seen a lot of take-your-daughter-to-work cartoons, and this was not a standout of that genre. Pretty good, I give it a solid 3.

Max:  I do like the the child with her oversized briefcase. As I look more closely at her, do I detect the faint echoes of Charles Schulz?

Simon:  That’s an excellent observation, Max. If you take away the hair and just round off that head, I see a bit of Charlie Brown there. Harry Bliss has explicitly referenced Peanuts in other cartoons. Perhaps you recall “A Charlie Brown Bris” with Snoopy acting as mohel? bris cartoon Anything else you wish to add?

Max:  Turning back to this cartoon, I have a daughter, it resonates with me, I give it a 4.

For more on Harry Bliss, check out harrybliss.com

12 of 14: “Avocado Funeral” by Will McPhail

View this cartoon as made available by The New Yorker Cartoon Bank.

Max:  Will McPhail returns to us with…there’s no other way to put it…an avocado funeral.

Simon:  Help me out on this, Max. We see it’s an avocado-shaped coffin. What’s the line about the death being sudden mean? Does suddenness have something to do with this cartoon?

Max:  I took it to mean that the avocado over-ripened – which can happen quickly in my experience.

Simon:  Ah! That didn’t occur to me. Or perhaps it refers to avocados turning brown pretty quickly after you cut them open. I would’ve liked to have seen a bowl of guacamole on the side of this cartoon or maybe some chips, but I suppose that would be over-the-top.

Max:  At first glance, this cartoon appeared to feature penguins with sore bellies. Regardless, the illustration is wonderful as usual, so I’ll give it a 3.

Simon:  I think the gag is unclear. Maybe I’m unclear. Anyway, I give it a 2.

For more on Will McPhail, check out willmcphail.com

13 of 14: “Devilish” by P.S. Mueller

View this cartoon as made available by The New Yorker Cartoon Bank.

Simon:  The next cartoon is by P.S. Mueller. I thought this was brilliant. The idea of the devil taunting this damned soul with a photo of his vacationing cardiologist made me chuckle. And the expression on this hapless fellow in boiling sulfur or whatever is funny and dark and awful at the same time.

Max:  This one is viciously funny. I have to say this is the best gag so far in the issue. Usually the devil is herding people, or cracking wise, or doing something rather benign. This is the first time I’ve seen abject torture. It just it cracked me up.

Simon:  It’s a cartoon you might have seen in the old National Lampoon, it’s got such an edge to it. This is a solid 5.

Max:  Definitely a strong 5, and I certainly hope never to cross paths with this Lucifer.

Simon:  I’ll add that the art is bare bones but effective.

For more on P.S. Mueller, check out www.psmueller.com

14 of 14: “Is There an Echo in Here in Here?” by Edward Steed

View this cartoon as made available by The New Yorker Cartoon Bank.

Max:  Our final cartoon is by Edward Steed, who gives us a rather long caption that seemed to echo. Question for you, Simon: Did you have to read this one twice?

Simon:  The answer to your question is no. The answer to your question is no.

Max:  Well done, Simon, as always. This cartoon is classic Steed in the full throat of his macabre humor.

Simon:  It’s certainly strange and well done in a simple, twisted way. The “for no reason for no reason” is really a great line. Did you hesitate at all in reading the caption, Max?

Max:  Nope, I went straight to reading it twice. Once again, Mr. Steed reveals a sly sense of humor. Whether he makes you look twice or read it twice, he is truly the most devious of The New Yorker cartoonists.

Simon:  I’m going to go with a 5 on this one. Another strong effort by Mr. Steed.

Max:  He strikes a chord all right, and a very dissonant one at that. I give it a 5.

Simon:  I wonder among The New Yorker’s readers if they are divided among fans of his and people who are put off by his cartoons. His humor appeals to some folks, like us, but I can also understand why others might find them simply dark and nasty. Incidentally, Ink Spill included an article about Steed’s recent LP cover art crammed with demented humans.

 For more on Edward Steed, check out newyorker.com/contributors/edward-steed

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