Max:  On this week’s cover: Harry Bliss’s rendering of the Flatiron Building—with accessories.

Simon:  Wonderful art and great gag.

1 of 14: “Couch Lament” by Bruce Eric Kaplan

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Simon:  The first cartoon is by Bruce Eric Kaplan. It depicts an unusual scene for him: a family with small children. Usually Mr. Kaplan depicts a man and woman, and often one is annoyed or aggravated in some way with the other. Here the dad yearns for human isolation. I sometimes think all of Mr. Kaplan’s characters yearn for human isolation.

Max:  Yes, I agree, the characters that populate his cartoons are often commenting on the coldness of the human condition. This was made all the more brutal by the attendance of three small children. It gave me a shiver.

Simon:  Yes, cold and lonely is the world of BEK. His cartoons remind me in some ways of de Chirico’s paintings, had de Chirico included figures.

Max:  Uh, sure, Simon, whatever you say. For me, this man exhibits a psychological issue so deep it would probably be covered under Obamacare. I have mixed feelings about this cartoon, but can’t deny its power; I will give it 4.

Simon:  I agree it’s powerful but not funny, and really in a sense a cry for help or perhaps a cry to be left alone. I give it a 3. It certainly made me think.

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

 

2 of 14: “Simon Says” by Emily Flake

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Max:  Moving to the warmer side of the cartooning spectrum, Emily Flake brings us a roadside sobriety test sendup. It’s a funny take on the whole Simon Says game, except this time with consequences.

Simon:  It’s sort of a cute cartoon, if drunk driving can be considered in any sense cute. I like the long shadows and the gestures of the characters. It’s moderately funny.

Max:  The officer looks like he‘s having fun, as opposed to the hapless motorist who’s got his finger up his nose and foot up in the air. I think the artwork is very effective. I particularly like the 30° tilt of the entire composition. It adds to the sense that this fellow is about to pitch backwards.

Simon:  You may think I’m being this solipsistic, but do you suppose the caption is a play on my own name, Simon Seznick?

Max:  As Cartoon Companion penetrates into the subconscious of The New Yorker cartoonists’ world, I just can’t help but think it’s either a subtle tip of the hat to you, Simon, or we should undergo a field sobriety test as well. I give this a 4.

Simon:  I think you’re being a bit generous. I’m going to give this a 3.

For more on Emily Flake, check out emilyflake.com

 

3 of 14: “Dear John Letter” by Robert Leighton

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Simon:  Next up is a cartoon by Robert Leighton. I like it. It’s a little jokey, but it gave me a smile.

Max:  I think this cartoon is quite clever on a couple of levels. The Dear John letter recipient interrupts defending his shortcomings to reemphasize his shortcomings. Good choice of “nit-picking”, by the way.

Simon:  As you know, I have criticized cartoons where the speaker is self-aware. Here we have just the opposite—a character who is completely unaware—which is where the humor lies. I give this one a solid 4.

Max:  The set of the mouth is very effective at conveying complete indignation. I think this cartoon is quite good. I give it a 5.

Simon:  One quibble I have is that his right forearm looks a little distorted. Its too big.

Max:  No detail is too small to escape the eagle eyes of the cartoon critics.

For more on Robert Leighton, check out robert-leighton.com

  

4 of 14: “Life of the Party” by William Haefeli

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Max:  Mr. Haefeli comes to us with another complex composition. I thought this was further commentary on the snarky suburban party; as the white wine goes down, the venom rises. What did you think, Simon?

Simon:  This is a brilliant composition. There are no fewer than eight characters in various postures and positions—really a tour de force. The scene depicts sophisticated folks who are either writers or would-be writers and how they see the world. The gag is so-so. By the way, I don’t agree with you that Haefeli typically depicts suburban scenes. This could very well be an apartment in Manhattan or Brooklyn.

Max:  Mmm, I don’t have any way of knowing. It’s more commentary on the social strata of educated, upper-middle-class folks. Judging from their outfits, I’m leaning more towards Jersey than Westchester. I, too, felt that the gag was a little flat. A great drawing and a so-so gag is like a fine pilsner that sat open too long. I give it a 3.

Simon:  I give this one a solid 3, but only because I just enjoyed looking at every corner of the drawing. Note the patterns on everyone’s clothing and the focus of people close and far away. Maybe that’s not the way to evaluate cartoons, which is all about the funny as Mr. Mankoff would say, but I still enjoy the cartoon.

Max:  I especially appreciated the inventiveness of creating a group of Easter Island-size faces in the foreground that creates that intimate snarky little circle. Fine artwork!

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

 

5 of 14: “Adult Supervision” by Harry Bliss

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Simon:  Next up is a cartoon by Harry Bliss, who also did that magnificent cover of this issue. It’s a bar scene, and it might be an ode to the irresponsible and possibly alcoholic father of two children. It’s a funny gag but a bit frightening. I imagined two kids tied to a lamppost like dogs outside a coffeeshop. Setting this in a bar makes it all the more disturbing—but very funny.

Max:  How do you spell irresponsible? I’m thinking this drawing is set way out in the exurbs based on the country style of the chairs and folksy ambience. Or maybe I feel better thinking the two kids are within the cozy confines of their country community.

Simon:  Perhaps that is just wishful thinking on your part, although we know that Mr. Bliss’s studio is located in rural New Hampshire. Still, I can’t help thinking that it’s 3 p.m. and the dad just picked up his kids from school.

Max:  Simon, I applaud your parental instincts. I do think its funny and a strong drawing that physically conveys the lax attitude of the duty-shirking parent. I give this a 5. I like the element of danger.

Simon:  I will give it a well-deserved 4.

For more on Harry Bliss, check out harrybliss.com

 

6 of 14: “Mar-a-Lago Easter” by Paul Noth

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Max:  The heavy outlining style of Mr. North works beautifully on what looks to me like Mar-a-Lago. Clearly our sitting President is issuing instructions here. If you think the previous cartoon featured poor parenting, what you think this one, Simon?

Simon:  The New Yorker never used to include blatantly political cartoons, but it crossed the Rubicon on that issue months ago. One night argue that all of the recent Trump cartoons in the magazine are not true political cartoons because they don’t criticize his policies, just his dubious character. Anyway, very funny gag and well executed. Noth’s drawing captures Mar-a-Lago and these somewhat perplexed kids very well. But the focus of the cartoon is that staring bunny. It adds an element of absurdity to the situation, which is probably appropriate.

Max:  Yes, the focus is divided between The Donald‘s famously small hands and the wacko-eyed bunny. The word selection in the caption is perfect, especially “water hazard”. Are these kids from a cult? The boys all have suits and jackets like they’re interviewing for a law firm. Very funny, I give it a solid 5.

Simon:  No, the kids are normal, but the adult is not. I’ll go with a 5 as well. This cartoon shows the crass insensitivity of the speaker, whoever he may be.

For more on Paul Noth, check out paulnoth.com

 

7 of 14: “Eyes Wide Shutby David Sipress

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Simon:  Okay, next up is a David Sipress cartoon of an office worker with his head on the desk. It wasn’t thrilled with this one. It’s another cartoon featuring a self-aware character. It doesn’t really seem like a New Yorker cartoon for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on. What do you think, Max?

Max:  This one fell short for me, which is unusual for such a cartooning titan as David Sipress. We see an old fellow losing steam, and frankly, there wasn’t much steam in this cartoon to begin with. I’m forced to give one of our finest and venerable New Yorker cartoonists a 2

Simon:  I give it a 2 as well. I’m having a tough time trying to articulate why it seems unworthy of The New Yorker. Maybe it’s the thought bubble that comprises the whole gag. Anything else to add to this, Max?

Max:  In these perilous times, a cartoon like this seems like a throwback to the Eisenhower administration.

For more on David Sipress, check out facebook.com/david.sipress

 

 

8 of 14: “Stone Age Fashionista” by Danny Shanahan

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Max:  Danny Shanahan takes us back several thousand years into his imagining of the sartorial preferences of cavemen.

Simon:  I like this cartoon. Of course it relies on cartoon cliché characters: cavemen. This is the second caveman sartorial cartoon recently. Last month there was one by Avi Steinberg, which I wasn’t crazy about, but this one is very nice. Look at the self-satisfied expression of the caveman speaking.

Max:  Yes, clearly this caveman is feeling fabulous. And look how he’s lording it over his fellow caveman, who is clearly stuck in last year’s style. His arms are so outstretched, he looks ready to take flight with giddy amusement.

Simon:  It’s another solid 4 for me.

Max:  I will go with a 4 as well, a very solid, fun cartoon.

For more on Danny Shanahan, check out  newyorker.com/contributors/danny-shanahan

 

9 of 14 “Duck Blind Dynasty” by Will McPhail

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Simon:  Next up is a Will McPhail cartoon, and for change he takes us into the wild with a couple of hunters and a hound dog. I didn’t think this one was funny. It’s a pretty obvious criticism of hunters, who look like a couple of hicks. I found it condescending, even though I’m no fan of duck hunting, while I will admit to enjoying an occasional duck a l’orange.

Max:  As always, McPhails prodigious talent with illustration is on full display. I think he could open up a museum populated solely by his New Yorker cartoons. One thing caused a ripple of confusion for me was the resemblance between our hunters and that pair on Duck Dynasty. Am I seeing things, Simon?

Simon:  I think that was just a shorthand graphic way of showing that these hunters are that sort of person.

Max:  Nonetheless, the resemblance is too jarring. And the last thing those fellows would spout is some psychobabble about the ducks not wanting to be killed.

Simon:  Interestingly the mouths are stretched up instead of down in a way that that we’ve talked about before.

Max:  That’s the artist’s affectation, and I do have a lot of affection for McPhail’s work. But the Duck Dynasty comparison put me off and the gag didn’t quite land. I give it a 3.

Simon:  I’m to go down to a 2. What do you make of those big forearms?

Max:  Oh, that’s from totin’ tubs of moonshine!

For more on Will McPhail, check out willmcphail.com

 

10 of 14: “Miffed Mascot” by Zachary Kanin

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Max:  Again I complement Cartoon Editor Bob Mankoff for programming this cartoon at the beginning of the baseball season. It’s a nice twist to have the mascot storm out to the mound with his criticism of baseball as a show. What did you think, Simon?

Simon:  Mankoff enjoys baseball. We’ve seen him in some of his videos wearing a Yankees cap. And you don’t see many soccer cartoons in The New Yorker.

Max:  I imagine the mascot to be a theater major dropout sweating up a storm in that bedraggled costume. In the meantime, he sees these highly paid baseball “entertainers” just standing around spitting and squinting.

Simon:  Why is the mascot telling the players to add pizzazz? Is it because the mascot is a charismatic figure and would like to see more of that on the field? And what kind of mascot is that? It looks like a mound of cookie dough with limbs and a head. I think the artwork is clumpy-looking.

Max:  Regardless of artistic quibbles, I actually think this is rather funny and I give this a 4.

Simon:  I like some of Zach Kanin’s work, but this one doesn’t do it for me. I’m giving it a 2.

Max:  Simon, you may be have to be benched!

 For more on Zachary Kanin, check out newyorker.com/contributors/zachary-kanin

 

11 of 14: “Clean Energy Canine” by P.C. Vey

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Simon:  Next is a cartoon by P.C. Vey. It’s a couple out and about with their dog. This one has a certain strangeness to it that’s appealing but a little puzzling. What you make of this one, Max?

Max:  Given that the progressive states are pushing for more renewable energy, this cartoon is certainly in sync with the times. That being said, however, Im not sure what they mean by generating more energy than he uses. Is there a little rechargeable battery pack strapped to the pooch? Conceptually, I find it kooky.

Simon:  Obviously it’s a small windmill that generates energy that somehow can be compared to the energy the dog uses by merely existing. So it’s a cartoon that almost makes sense. I give this a 3 even though it’s kind of a head-scratcher.

Max:  It’s in tune with today’s energy trends. I think it somehow works — at least a 3 for me.

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

 

 

12 of 14: “Tedium Baitby Edward Steed

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Max:  Speaking of unusual and strange, next up is Edward Steed. Hmmm, it took me a moment to recognize what was going on here; in fact, I had to see this one on a larger screen to recognize the stack of greenbacks luring the unsuspecting youth to a life of corporate enslavement.

Simon:  I thought of Saul Steinberg when I saw this cartoon: the block letters, the simple style, the abstract nature of the cartoon. Did Steinberg come to mind for you, Max?

Max:  I confess he did not. I focused on the implications of chasing a tasty stack of greenbacks into the maw of corporate America.  But now that you mention it, the stark dimensions and caption-less irony smack of the legendary Steinberg.

Simon:  It’s interesting commentary, as well as an almost frighteningly spare cartoon. The depiction of corporate America as a blank-faced cube with a single door leading to the darkness within is very powerful, though a tad didactic. I like it. I give it a 4.

Max:  I thought this was a devastating – and at the same time hilarious – commentary on how corporate America enlists us into soulless jobs by offering little packets of greenbacks…hey, it worked on me! Scary and funny stuff, I give it a 5.

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

 

13 of 14: “1890s Selfie” by Tom Chitty

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Simon:  We’ve doled out plenty of criticism when it comes to Tom Chitty’s work, but this cartoon is a very effective combination of his somewhat ornate style with the subject matter. There’s a kind of a steampunk quality to it that I like, and it has no caption, which is a plus. What do you think, Max?

Max:  This is my favorite Chitty cartoon of all time. The 1890s selfie stick with a huge format bellows camera is a great image. And get a load of those outfits! Somehow Chitty, with his unusual style, makes this work beautifully.

Simon:  Yes, I give this a 4 and encourage Mr. Chitty to continue along this line of cartooning.

Max:  I thought this was such a strong and funny composition that Im giving this a 5.

For more on Tom Chitty, check out drawnbytom.com

 

14 of 14: “Ant Rentalby Liana Finck

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Max:  Here we’ve got a realtor ant showing a couple of renter ants around the prospective apartment. If this setup isn’t a cartoon cliche, it certainly should be added to the running list maintained by Bob Mankoff. I think it’s a pretty funny variation on the theme. What about you, Simon?

Simon:  I also like this one. The realtor premise crops up often in The New Yorker, probably because Manhattan residents face apartment-hunting with fear and anxiety, thus making it an appropriate subject for cartoons. This cartoon suits Ms. Finck’s art well. When she goes for simple, I think she succeeds. I might also mention that Michael Maslin noted that her style suggests that she belongs in the school of Thurber, that is, not realistic, but good enough to get the joke across.

Max:  I especially liked the second part of the caption where the realtor extols the virtues of— instead of a view of Central Park—standing water under the kitchen sink. I imagine that would be high on the list of desirable traits for an ant couple just starting out. Minimal artwork, but not much called for, I give this one a 4.

Simon:  I’m torn between a 3 and a 4; there is really so little art in this is at all. But I’ll settle on a low 4. Let’s leave the last word to the Mystery New Yorker Cartoonist. who also has some good things to say about this final cartoon.

Mystery New Yorker Cartoonist:  I didn’t think there were any home runs in this issue, but it was a whole lot better than last week’s, and I thought there were some good ideas (Noth’s Easter eggs, BEK’s family circus ‘toon, Haefeli’s short story, Shanahan’s cavemen…) and, in some cases, nice drawings (but Haefeli’s composition was too complicated, and is there an eye missing from Shanahan’s?). Peter Vey’s doggie with windmill was the most pleasant drawing in the issue (it’s nice when he is not drawing just cubicle scenes). Perhaps a more graceful yet concise caption would have made this the best in the issue. And this was the best Chitty cartoon he has done. 

Hard choice but I’d like to give my highest grade to Liana Finck’s ants. Compelling drawing that is ridiculously sparse but, in this case, necessary to make the joke work, coupled with a creative set-up and a caption that effectively explains it yet it was still a surprise. I’m giving it a 5 because it is so the right cartoon for her style, whatever that means. 

Max:  Until next time…

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