Max:  From this week’s cover, it appears that our President is breaking more than White House traditions.

Simon:  Every shot was a hole in one. Sean Spicer said so.

1 of 14: “Cuteville Crime-Stoppers” by Jack Ziegler

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

Simon:  We start this week with a cartoon by the late Jack Ziegler. Mr. Ziegler is gone, but his cartoons, thank goodness, live on. We’ve got a couple of cops on a grim stakeout on the corner of Tarragon Drive and Peppermint Way. Just the phrase “Stakeout in Cuteville” made me smile. What did you think, Max?

Max:  Ahhhh, cute loses a point right off the bat. But it’s Jack Ziegler, whose passing last week plunged us all into mourning. Nonetheless, we here at Cartoon Companion have a stern task of objectivity. This one was okay, well drawn, but ultimately it lacked the necessary frisson one comes to expect in a New Yorker cartoon.

Simon:  While I’m not a fan of cute either, this cartoon is actually a critique of cuteness, specifically, the cute names that developers give suburban streets. So is it ironic that a cartoon critiquing cute could itself be cute?

Max:  Though no depth is too great in a cartoon for us to contemplate, I think this one rides close to its surface and probably belongs in Hallmark. I give this a 3.

Simon:  I give this one a low 4. I nodded in agreement more than laughed because I’ve driven through enough of these cutely named streets.

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

 

2 of 14: “Catcher’s Lament” by Jason Adam Katzenstein

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Max:  Next up is a baseball cartoon from Mr. Katzenstein. You’ve noticed of late, Simon, that The New Yorker will occasionally publish cartoons depicting scenes well out of season. But here is a baseball cartoon in the same week that Major League Baseball teams threw out their first  pitches.

Simon:  It’s timely, but is it funny? It relies on the unexpected—that personal issues that arise among couples can also plague professional athletes on the field of play. Smile-worthy perhaps. The drawing, of course, is not realistic, which I found a little troubling because I have a distinct image in mind when I think of a baseball field, and this isn’t it.

Max:  Yes, I too was struck by the sense of confinement in this cartoon; the composition was so compressed as to feel claustrophobic. Ultimately, I didn’t find it terribly funny. Unfortunately, I feel that this one is a swing and a miss. I give it a 2.

Simon:  I’m not a fan of this cartoon either. I give it a 2 as well.

For more on Jason Adam Katzenstein, check out jasonkatzenstein.tumblr.com

 

3 of 14: “Bad Guys/Good Guy” by Kaamran Hafeez

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Simon:  Okay, next up is a cartoon by Mr. Hafeez. The setting of this one could be downtown Dallas rather than Manhattan. Here we have a a cowboy who, in contrast to the other cowboys and cowgirls, has not only a white hat but also white boots. Did you like the gag, Max?

Max:  It wasn’t bad, but I was distracted by the presentation. The fella in the white Stetson is named Bart, who for all you Western aficionados quickly associates with Black Bart – not a  white hat kind of name!

Simon:  I thought exactly the same thing, Max. In fact I looked up Black Bart and saw that he was the gentleman bandit of the Old West. So, yes, that was an odd choice of names. Setting that aside, I can say that the cartoon is cleanly drawn, but the gag is not all that great. I give this one a 3.

Max:  Yeah, pardner, I’m with you on this one, and hats off to his artistic ability. Mmm, a 2.

Simon:  Do you think PR firms are white hats? They’re more like people who can bleach a black hat white.

For more on Kaamran Hafeez, check out  kaamranhafeez.com

 

4 of 14: “Wake-Up Call” by Benjamin Schwartz

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Max:  Mr. Schwartz weighs in with an avian theme featuring our nation’s raptor in the middle of his morning ablutions. What you think this one, Simon?

Simon:  The birdwatching premise is not on the Mankoff cartoon cliché list, although it should be, not that that is a reason to downgrade this cartoon. The idea of a bleary-eyed bald eagle toweling off and brushing his teeth is an original and imaginative concept. I liked it.

Max:  I was struck by the strength of the composition and the unusual gag as well. We are living in a time when dignity is under assault from every angle. I give it a 4.

Simon:  I’m with you, Max—a 4.

For more on Benjamin Schwartz, check out newyorker.com/contributors/benjamin-schwartz

 

5 of 14: “VR in a Bar” by P.C. Vey

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Simon:  Next up is a rather unusual cartoon by P.C. Vey. It comments on the text toy du jour,  virtual reality goggles.

Max:  Simon, we’ve gone back and forth about P.C.’s peculiar style of cartooning; in this case his peculiarities underline a surreal situation. I think the gag is quite funny, though I would mention that a similar theme showed up in last week’s caption contest with two dogs locked in a similar condition – though with cone collars instead of virtual reality gear.

Simon:  I didn’t think of that cartoon—different setting and different concept. As for this cartoon, I just thought it was weird more than funny.

Max:  I think this cartoon steps squarely into this new dimension of altered electronic reality—a bold choice. I give this a 4.

Simon:  On behalf of us non-propeller heads, I give this a 2.

For more on P.C. Vey, check out pcvey.com

 

6 of 14: “Poor Piggie” by Liana Finck

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Max:  Another week, another composition from Ms. Finck—this time a massive pig laid out for feasting. I’m not sure if I get it, Simon, but are we to think that the pig choked on the apple stuffed in his mouth, thus causing his demise?

Simon:  That’s what the guy speaking believes. But before we critique this, I want to mention that we’ve seen gags involving pigs and apples before. There’s a fairly well-known Charles Addams cartoon from way back in 1939 where one pig says archly to the other pig, who is sort of posing with an apple in its mouth, “You certainly have a peculiar sense of humor.” That was a much better executed and funnier gag than this one. I’m not suggesting that a Liana Finck was riffing on that cartoon, but I’m surprised that the editors of The New Yorker let this one through.

Max:  I find it unlikely that she purloined this porcine predicament from a cartoon penned 75 years ago. I propose a statute of limitations on cartoons over 50 years old!

Simon:  I would filibuster against such a bill, Max. And I said that I don’t think that Ms. Finck was purloining anything. But turning to her cartoon, I was perplexed by the fork in the middle of the pig’s stomach. It seems to have nothing to do with the gag. Did that bother you Max?

Max:  Hmmm, do you reckon it’s some sort of PETA commentary? The fork just sets off a craving for ribs. I’m going to give it a 3.

Simon:  I think you’re being generous. I give this a 2. I might add that I didn’t mind her drawing for this particular composition, but I think the gag is rather silly.

 For more on Liana Finck, check out newyorker.com/contributors/liana-finck

 

7 of 14: “Instructions Not Included” by Shannon Wheeler

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Simon:  Next is a Shannon Wheeler cartoon. I’ve seen his work in a number of publications—he created Too Much Coffee Man—but not often in The New Yorker. This a clean composition, and the line is confident. I did not find the cartoon funny because even a child wouldn’t think that sheet music pages are instructions.

Max:  And are we to believe that the creature on the right is a young girl? She looks more like the boy’s diminutive Mom. Simon, what’s on top of the piano? I get the metronome, but what‘s that item to the left?

Simon:  I believe it is a plant overgrowing its pot.

Max:  I give this one a 2. It seemed a chorus or two short of a full sonata.

Simon:  You’re wading into unfamiliar territory if you think sonatas have choruses, but I agree with your assessment. I give it a 2.

For more on Shannon Wheeler, check out condenaststore.com/Shannon-Wheeler

 

8 of 14: “Counting Sheep Etc.” by Seth Fleishman

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Max:  We have the return of Mr. Fleishman, with Noah nestled under a deep black blanket. Simon, I must believe on some level this theme is on the list of Cartoon Editor Bob Mankoff’s list of cartoon clichés. What do you think?

Simon:  I like this gag. We have a very spare drawing that is typical of Mr. Fleishman. It’s easy to read, and there’s no caption. This is a pretty strong effort.

Max:  Just looked it up, and yes, #74, “Noah’s Ark”. Speaking of trivia: Have we ever seen a caption from Mr. Fleishman? I believe he’s the soul of cartoon brevity. It’s a nice Biblical variation on counting sheep to go to sleep, the best cartoon of the issue so far. I give it a 5.

Simon:  I give this a 4. And the Mystery New Yorker Cartoonist has some strong opinions about this cartoon and other cartoons in this issue.

Max:  Make way for the Mystery New Yorker Cartoonist!

Mystery New Yorker Cartoonist: Seven of the first eight cartoons were either a 1 or a 2 (and that is being very generous). By this time I chucked my new issue out the window. While this trend of drawing bad to sweeten the joke may actually be less annoying than the slickness of the couple of over-rendered cartoons in that group, none produced a laugh-out-loud moment anyway. If you are going to use this Pee Wee’s “I meant to do that” tack, the writing can’t be tossed off, too. This was the first joke/concept that worked, but the drawing really smacks of “I’ve never seen a New Yorker before.” It could just as easily have run in Highlights magazine. A New Yorker cartoon and a Highlights cartoon should not be interchangeable (go back and do the Highlights test for a few in this issue). I’ll see you guys next week. I’m going to make a sandwich.

Simon: I think we got the Mystery New Yorker Cartoonist in a hangry mood.

For more on Seth Fleishman, check out condenaststore.com/Seth-Fleishman

 

9 of 14: “Check Mate” by Mike Twohy

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Simon:  Up next is a cartoon by Mike Twohy. He’s had hundreds of cartoons in The New Yorker but very few lately. I see his work occasionally in The Wall Street Journal’s “Salt and Pepper” feature. This one combines two cartoon premises that are pretty common: the marriage counselor scene and the talking chessboard pieces. It’s a funny idea. What do you think of this one, Max?

Max:  I’m an admirer of the game, and I’ve noticed that the underlying humor in many chess-related cartoons revolves around the differing movement capabilities of the pieces.

Simon:  A couple things I thought were little odd about this drawing. First, it’s strange to see the the couple sitting so close to the desk of the chess piece therapist. Normally you would see them on a couch across a room. Also I don’t know why the bishop was chosen to be the therapist. God knows what a bishop would know about marital relations.

Max:  I think the bishop makes the most sense. It’s directly adjacent to the the king and queen on the chessboard. The knight would look ridiculous, a pawn would be too small, and the castle looks too similar to the Queen. I advance this cartoon forward 4 squares!

Simon:  I give it a 4 as well.

For more on Mike Twohy, check out condenaststore.com/Mike-Twohy

 

10 of 14: “Getting Schooled” by Bruce Eric Kaplan

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

Max:  BEK returns with another of his classic indoor suburban settings – this time with one of your least favorite tropes, Simon, that of a child speaking like an adult.

Simon:  You got that right, Max. I just think it’s too easy of a gag. You could take almost anything that an adult would say and stick in the mouth of a child. This cartoon may be something of a comment on artists of all types bemoaning their of inability produce a great body of work.

Max:  It’s a reversal of the hazing focus in today’s touchy-feely schools. Instead of the bullies causing anguish, it’s the self-flagellation for not having written the Great American novel by age 10.

Simon:  Yes, I give you that. It’s not simply a child speaking adult words. Point taken. I will end up at a low 3 for this one.

Max:  I’ll pile on with a 3 as well.

For more on Bruce Eric Kaplan, check out bruceerickaplan.com

 

11 of 14: “The Smell of Fear” by Kim Warp

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Simon:  A Kim Warp cartoon is next. I found this drawing very striking and very powerful. I also like the clear political undercurrent, given the fear that permeates our society these days. I’ll overlook the fact that sharks smell blood, not fear; dogs smell fear. What’s your view on this one, Max?

Max:  I was blown away by this drawing. It practically bursts off the page! These ultimate ocean predators are portrayed with strength, and the caption delivers with ominous overtones. I tried to hold back under our more strict scoring system, but I am compelled to award this extraordinary cartoon a 6.

Simon:  I’m giving it a high 5. It’s graphically powerful with a strong message that is quite dark.

Max:  Yes, unfortunately, it’s in the spirit of our time.

Simon:  It’s my fervent hope that no one will appreciate this cartoon a couple of years from now.

For more on Kim Warp, check out warpcartoons.com

 

12 of 14: “Doctor’s Orders” by Amy Hwang

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Max:  Ms. Hwang presents a doctor-patient theme in which the physician advises her to avoid anything that brings her joy.

Simon:  Amy Hwang’s humor is gentle, and her drawing style matches her humor nicely. For her, this cartoon is about as edgy as she gets. It’s a cute cartoon, but I think I’ve seen variations of this on greeting cards frankly.

Max:  Well, I think her style is engaging and, yes, a bit on the polite side. Simon, what do you make of the patient’s reaction to receiving the news that she’s entering the “No Fun Zone”?

Simon:  The patient doesn’t seem all that disappointed, and may even have expected the news. I a will give this a 3.

Max:  I think this has appeal, and I give it a 3. I would make one last observation, and this is a mild quibble, but it looks like the patient is sitting on the bottom step of an escalator.

For more on Amy Hwang, check out  amyhwang.com

 

13 of 14: “Head Penguin” by Michael Maslin

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Simon:  Next we have a Michael Maslin cartoon, which I would describe as absurd. He takes a quote from Shakespeare and seems to meld it with the Monty Python skit from several decades ago, where John Cleese in drag screeches about a penguin on the telly.

Max:  Simon, I lack your encyclopedic knowledge of English sketch comedy; nonetheless, this cartoon is one of the best takeoffs on the “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” from Henry IV. I thought the technique was interesting. What about you, Simon?

Simon:  Well, I note what looks like markers across the page to indicate a darkened bedroom. It doesn’t bother me, but you have some thoughts, yes?

Max:  The differing shading across the bed created a nice effect. It gave the room an interesting dimension and sense of low lighting.

Simon:  I would say no lighting.

Max:  Well, okay, maybe just a night light? or a glowstick inside the penguin? Light or no light, I‘m giving this a 4.

Simon:  I give this one a 3. It’s amusing in a whimsical way. And we are very fortunate that Michael Maslin himself has generously agreed to post his comments about the origin and evolution of this cartoon. He even sent us some preliminary drawings with proposed captions. Take it away, Michael Maslin.

Michael Maslin:  I began with the drawing of a seal in the living room and a caption.

I decided I liked the idea of the drawing enough to draw it finished but with the seal placed on the end of a bed.

I drew it, and, thinking for a moment I’d send it in, hesitatingly signed it (noting uncomfortably to myself it was way too Thurberish).  However, the drawing never made it into my folder of work to be sent into The New Yorker, and was left instead in the stack of odds & ends drawings.

It was discarded because just seconds after signing the drawing, “heavy lies the crown” flew into my brain as well as the idea of drawing a penguin instead of a seal (thus ever-so-slightly distancing the drawing from the Thurber seal in the bedroom connection…but not distancing it so much that I wouldn’t admit it was somehow in the mix).

There’s no telling why Shakespeare’s line presented itself, nor why the penguin was immediately substituted for the seal. The whole episode, from drawing the seal in the living room to drawing the seal on the bed to finishing the drawing of the penguin on the head all happened within about five-to-ten minutes.  The published drawing was done in one take —  it’s the drawing you see in the magazine.

Max:  Wonderful insights. And, in case anyone is not familiar with the Thurber cartoon, it’s included in this nice tribute to Michael Maslin by Bob Mankoff.

Simon: Thank you, Michael Maslin. Well, I was wrong about the Monty Python influence. I guess penguins are always good for a laugh. Plug in “penguin” and 20 cartoons pop up in the Cartoon Bank.

For more on Michael Maslin, check out michaelmaslin.com

 

14 of 14: “Early Bird/Sour Grapes” by Will McPhail

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 Max:  One of our finest cartoon illustrators is next, Will McPhail.

Simon:  This is a kind of a combo cartoon where you take one of Aesop’s fables and combine it with a well-worn saying. It didn’t do much for me.

Max:  I like the elegance of this composition very much, but the gag was just okay. I’m also beginning to have an issue with titled cartoons versus caption cartoons.

Simon:  Are you saying that you like captioned cartoons more than titled cartoons?

Max:  Yes, I prefer the traditional caption or caption-less cartoons. When I see a title taking place of the caption, it almost seems as if the artist is reaching for a quick fix. On the other hand, I suppose you can’t just have the bird musing to itself.

Simon:  The Ziegler cartoon, the first cartoon in the issue, has a very discrete title, which I think is less objectionable than one splashed across the top of the page.

Max:  Anyway, I give this one a 3.

Simon:  I give it a low 3. And finally, Max, have you noticed there is no Roz Chast cartoon in this issue?

Max:  I believe that’s the first time since we commenced publishing the Cartoon Companion that such a momentous event has transpired.

Simon:  Or not transpired. Well, to paraphrase Jimmy Durante, good night, Ms. Chast, wherever you are.

 For more on Will McPhail, check out willmcphail.com