Max:  It’s official: the Summer of Hell.

Simon:  The Underground is now the Underworld.




1 of 17: “Zebra Exposé” by Joe Dator

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Simon:  Our first cartoon is by Joe Dator, with a behind-the-scenes look at the African savanna. Max, do you recall seeing anything like this during your recent safari?

Max:  No, I was not privy to the savanna “back of the house” in Kenya last month; however, who knows? I do find this gag refreshing and original in concept. One thing to note based on my recent experience: you would never see a couple of tenderfoots ambling across the savanna with a couple of backpacks – bad idea! Other than that, I thought the composition was well rendered.

Simon:  Mr. Dator has artistic license to include the tourists. It’s a well-drawn cartoon, albeit a little on the jokey side, but overall a solid effort. I give it 4.

Max:  I have to agree with you, Simon, a 4. We’re off to a good start in this issue.

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2 of 17: “Unusual Musical” by Charlie Hankin

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Max: Mr. Hankin brings us a theater-themed cartoon in which the marquee not only announces a very unusual type of play but also adheres to the Rule of Three in quoting critical reviews. Which one did you like, Simon?

Simon:  I suppose “too long” is the best of the three, but none of them brought down the house. I feel the gag is too much of a stretch.

Max:  Just imagine what this musical would’ve been like – I’m guessing long stretches of intense but static activity. I also found the review quote “unsettling” the funniest of the critical comments. Good presentation, I give this a 3.

Simon:  I found the premise slight. I give it 2.

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3 of 17: “Joggers Slighted” by William Haefeli

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Simon:  Next is a William Haefeli cartoon featuring an urban scene of joggers. All three characters are smiling broadly, but not all of those smiles convey a friendly greeting.

Max:  It was a little confusing that all three characters had the exact same smiles plastered on their faces. Why should the woman on the bench bother with a big smile if she just said “I don’t want to talk to you”. I didn’t think the caption quite fit the drawing.

Simon:  Oh, the humor derives from the contrast between her impolite comment and her facial expression. This reminds me a bit of a William Hamilton cartoon from probably more than 40 years ago, where one person in a couple says to other couple, “We know them. We hate them.” Here a somewhat similar idea is presented, but in any case, this was well done, and I give it a 4.

Max:  Hmmm, I barely remember cartoons from 40 minutes ago! Your bottomless knowledge of cartoons notwithstanding, I have to disagree. The gag would have worked better as a thought balloon. I give this a 3.

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4 of 17: “Rebuked Caveman” by Frank Cotham

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Max:  Our next cartoon is from Frank Cotham, and he is back in prehistoric times again, this time around with a pair of cavemen clearly at odds with a less-than-contemporary colleague.

Simon:  It’s a funny gag, but what really makes this cartoon work is the body language of the two cavemen on the left. They look disappointed and a bit peeved. I also like the introductory phrase “In case you haven’t heard”— a very modern expression for a Cro-Magnon man.

Max:  Yes, the hominid in the middle, with his disapproving glare and left arm akimbo, certainly conveys disgust with the out-of-touch caveman. Funny stuff, I give this a 5.

Simon:  Nicely done. I give it a solid 4.

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5 of 17: “Piñata Redux” by Liana Finck

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Simon:  Up next is a Liana Finck cartoon. I have two questions for you, Max. First, is this set in someone’s home or a hospital? I couldn’t tell from her drawing. Second, are we to assume that this fellow broke that leg or perhaps the other leg at some earlier time?

Max:  I believe the patient is now recuperating at home, not that it matters that much. And clearly he had a previous injury in the same location requiring a cast. Of course a cast resembles a piñata, thus we imagine a squadron of stick-wielding children in a whacking frenzy.

Simon:  A cast resembles a piñata? Hmm. In any case, it’s not a strong cartoon, considering both the illustration and the gag. I give this a 2.

Max:  The term “piñata” has expanded in meaning over the past decade, but I don’t think this cartoon broke new ground. I give this one a 2 as well.

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6 of 17: “Straight from the Dog’s Mouth” by Christopher Weyant

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Max:  Mr. Weyant is next with a cartoon featuring a dog executive giving some bad news to a colleague about the rest of the marketing team. Well, Simon, what you think happened to the rest of the marketing team?

Simon:  I guess they’ve gone to that big corporate marketing meeting in the sky. It’s funny as is, but I might have switched the dog and the person, so that the person was giving the news to the dog, since it’s the dogs who are sent to “live on a farm.” Did that occur to you, Max?

Max:  No, I think the the point of the cartoon is turnabout would be fair play if animals were in charge. Not bad, I like the dog’s snazzy suit, I give this one a 3.

Simon:  We’ve seen this kind of cartoon, where an animal is in the executive suite. This is a not bad effort, but I agree it’s only a 3.

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7 of 17: “3-D Nude” by Edward Steed

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Simon:  We have Mr. Steed’s cartoon next, and I guess you could say it’s an example of deviant art or perhaps just a deviant artist.

Max:  It’s unlikely that this piece will hang in the Metropolitan Museum of Art anytime soon. On the other hand, it’s very funny – clearly this artist has drawn most of his nudes in the conventional manner, then donned the 3-D glasses to give her breasts an added dimension.

Simon:  Yes, we clearly know where the focus of this artwork is. Steed adds some color, and no caption is a plus. Once again Ed Steed pushes the envelope of good taste, and for that I award him a 5.

Max:  The colors are absolutely essential to this cartoon. The eye logically follows the magenta and blue colors from the easel, to the 3-D glasses to the painting – admirable! I give this a 5 as well.

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8 of 17: “Mystery Meat” by P.C. Vey

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Max:  P.C. Vey gives us a look at an honest butcher who makes no false claims about the reduced sale price of his “mystery meat”. What you think he’s charging. Simon?

Simon:  “Mystery meat” is certainly the phrase that comes to mind. It’s a pretty direct gag, and one can’t overlook that huge hunk of whatever.

Max:  Right, P.C. Vey excels at conveying a bug-eyed astonishment in the case of the taken aback shopper. Effective enough, I give this a 3.

Simon:  I give it a 3 as well. As far as your comment about the shopper being bug-eyed, I think all of his characters have that look.

Max:  Normally true, but in this case the butcher’s relatively flat eyes contrast well with the eyes practically popping three inches out of the woman’s head.

Simon: The Mystery New Yorker Cartoonist offers his considered opinion below.

Mystery New Yorker Cartoonist:  I was trying to choose among the three funniest cartoons in the new issue: a charming George Booth, an effective Ellis Rosen, and, what I ultimately chose, a hilarious P.C. Vey because it triggered the biggest laugh from me. This is vintage P.C. Vey, writing you don’t take much notice of, but that’s because he’s such a pro. But fantastic to see a George Booth in the issue, and his drawing alone was leaps and bounds better than a couple of efforts in the issue. The cartoon earns a 5.

Max:  I note that Michael Maslin was also quite fond of this cartoon, as expressed in Inkspill,

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9 of 17: “Dead on Arrival” by Kendra Allenby

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Simon:  Next is a cartoon by a relative newcomer, Kendra Allenby. I think we have seen only one other cartoon by her in the magazine. What do you think of this offering, Max?

Max:  I think the drawing is effectively rendered. The couple on the left is concerned about a presumably aged neighbor living in the dilapidated house on the corner. The new barometer of health is the frequency of Amazon packages arriving at your door.

Simon:  I didn’t get that the house is dilapidated, but perhaps that’s due to my choice of viewing device. While it was a good artistic choice to have the street curve so you could see the houses on the left as well as Mr. Willis’s house, the perspective isn’t quite right. If you’re drawing a delivery truck and a house very small to convey distance, the street needs to extend further down. And the caption is just a humorous aside rather than a gag for a cartoon.

Max:  Yes, it‘s a commentary on our evolving retail attitudes. Your comment about the house’s dilapidated condition is fair warning to any cartoonist – more and more subscribers are just viewing The New Yorker on their mobile phones. In the larger formats, Mr. Willis’s house clearly suffers from peeling paint, roof rot, and a sagging porch. Online shopping is an easy target these days, so the gag’s just okay for me. I give this one a 3.

Simon:  I will be charitable to this newcomer, and give her a 3 as well.

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10 of 17: “Heads, You Lose” by Will McPhail

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Max:  Will McPhail brings us a rather magisterial and, at the same time, macabre scene, in which the King beseeches an array of spiked heads “to welcome his enemies”. How do they do that, Simon?

Simon:  I think this is a cartoon where Mr. McPhail’s excellent draftsmanship actually works against him. The heads are realistically drawn and thus grotesque, and that takes away some of the humor for me.

Max:  Agreed, and it’s a bit late for the severed heads to provide an enthusiastic welcome. McPhail’s realistic portrayal strays a little too far into the macabre to support this rather long caption. I give this a 3.

Simon:  And you have to stare at this grotesque image for quite some time just to get through the lengthy caption. Plus, these pikes seem to be standing on their own, which adds to the grotesquerie. I note that one pike has been reserved for I suppose yet another head. Because of these issues, I give it merely a 2. Our criticism notwithstanding, Will McPhail won the Reuben award this year for best single-panel cartoonist. Congratulations!

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11 of 17: “Pop-up Scenario” by Roz Chast

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Simon:  The next cartoon, by Roz Chast, plays on the popularity of the phrase “pop-up”. In this case, pretty much everything is pop-up. How did this one strike you, Max?

Max:  I thought the concept was solid; however, the drawing didn’t convey the “pop-up” aspect in either the man, the furniture, or the house. Did you have that problem as well, Simon?

Simon:  Exactly, Max. This is a generic drawing that does not the link up in any way with the notion of pop-up. Perhaps that was Roz Chast’s concept, that pop-up doesn’t really mean anything, but the drawing did not enhance the gag.

Max:  Right, and it appears the poor fellow has the shakes as well. Alas, I shall not quail from my duty, I must give this cartoon a 2.

Simon:  It pains me to do so, but I will also give this Roz Chast cartoon a 2.

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12 of 17: “Automated Graft” by Tom Chitty

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Max:  Mr. Chitty provides us with our first political cartoon of the issue. This is rather surprising given all the tumult in Washington D.C. these days. I found this cartoon to be a surprisingly light-hearted take on the way in which funds are gathered and influence doled out.

Simon:  Yes, this is clearly a cartoon on pay-to-play. It’s a good concept for a cartoon, but I found it complicated to read. First you have to literally read what’s on the screen, then you have to read the title above it, then you have to see what the guy in the suit is doing, and then there’s a little tag on the machine that reads “ACM”. So I found it kind of cluttered.

Max:  Though there’s a lot going on, it’s worth getting to the payoff word, “advice”. It’s a telling sendup of the gauzy world of lobbying. I give this a 4.

Simon:  You accurately zeroed in on the key to this cartoon, Max; “advice” is the word the cartoon turns on. I give this a 3.

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13 of 17: “Jury of Musical Peers” by Ellis Rosen

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Simon:  Okay, next up is an Ellis Rosen cartoon set in a courtroom. I really enjoyed this cartoon, perhaps because I can hear that dirge playing as I look at it.

Max:  Yes, it’s comical to see an orchestra of 12 peers sawing their way through a piece of music synonymous with bad news. Could the conductor be the prosecutor?

Simon:  I believe so. It’s an easily read illustration, even though it’s fairly complex, and the concept is quite strong. I award this one a 5.

Max:  Yes, Simon, I’m right there with you, a 5. I also like the avuncular defense attorney’s hand on the poor loser’s shoulder as he presages what looks to be an adverse verdict.

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14 of 17: “Fairy Tales – with Ads” by Maddie Dai

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Max: One of the magazine’s newer cartoonists, Maddie Dai, brings us a parody of Little Red Riding Hood. In this case, the fairytale executives are looking to pump up revenue by adding “product placement”. What did you think of this gag, Simon?

Simon:  It didn’t do much for me, and the drawing is lumpy, kind of lying there, much like the wolf.

Max:  I like mashing up the crassness of product placement with the innocence of a beloved fairytale. The caption is on the mark, but I don’t disagree with you about the drawing – it looks a bit static. As we noted before, cartoonists need to be careful depicting small items. When viewed on a mobile phone, some detail is inevitably lost. Nonetheless, I thought the gag was clever, I give it a 3.

Simon:  A visually more comical and interesting commercial product, such as a can of beer,  would have aided this cartoon. Of course, the caption would need to reflect that. I give this a 2.

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15 of 17: “Audacious Dater” by Barbara Smaller

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Simon:  Barbara Smaller’s cartoon is a bit of a switcheroo. The guy is being refreshingly frank about what’s in store for the evening, although not in the order we expect. What was your reaction to this, Max?

Max:  Well, this audacious dater has certainly turned your typical evening on its head. And, is this a first date?

Simon:  I like the accepting look on the woman’s face. I think that helps to move the gag to a high 3.

Max:  Yes, I believe the gentleman’s candor has found fertile ground, I give this a 3.

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16 of 17: “More Cats” by George Booth

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Max:  Well, well, if it isn‘t Mr. Booth with one of his bare lightbulbs and impossible domestic situations. What do you think of the return of Mr. Booth, Simon?

Simon:  It couldn’t have come sooner. In fact, I wish it had come a lot sooner. I miss his bare light bulbs, his harassed homeowners, and the mangy animals. So I welcome this cartoon with pleasure. It’s a nicely understated gag, with all of those critters filling up that small space.

Max:  Right, and am I the only one looking all over for the delphiniums?  Of the 30+ cats in the room, I did spy a pair mating in the front right. I give this one a 4.

Simon:  I give this a 4 as well and hope to see more cartoons by one of The New Yorker’s best active cartoonists.

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17 of 17: “School of Rock” by David Sipress

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Simon:  The next cartoon is by David Sipress, and it the evokes not only rock groups of the ‘60s but perhaps one of the earlier books of the Bible. It’s a clever gag.

Max:  Well, this is a generational joke to me because I attended about half those concerts as I hazily recollect. Unless a reader is a true rock aficionado, this joke may only half translate.

Simon:  Max, you’re considerably older than I am, so you appreciate this cartoon in a way that I don’t fully appreciate, but I am familiar with these groups and their music, and I give this a 4.

Max:  Yes, I do have that extra year or two of golden wisdom on you, Simon. The old stereo and vinyl records in the cartoon bring back warm memories on this 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. I give is a 4 as well.

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