Max: Good morning, Simon. Ready for the big double issue, December 19 and 26?
Simon: Indeed, Max, and only 13 cartoons! Let’s plunge in…
All the cartoons for this issue can be viewed here as made available by The New Yorker.
#1) Page 10: “Ye Olde Organist”, David Borchart
Max: We’re looking at one of the most magnificent cartoons seen in the magazine in quite a while. The Baroque theme of the cartoon is matched by the intricate artwork.
Simon: Mankoff must have been blown away by the art—he gives this cartoon a full half-page and drops it in right after the table of contents. Not many David Borchart cartoons make it into The New Yorker, but he’s a fine artist. Did you notice that his line is surprisingly shaky, except for the figures? Interesting.
Max: What I noticed – and possibly because I’m famished – is that the organ pipes looked a lot like rows and rows of tasty baguettes to me.
Simon: You might want to eat before you critique cartoons. But, yes, I see what you mean.
Max: One last observation: this gag also works for me because of that perfectly named fella, Hans, who is taking a mighty breath to improbably make the organ’s sonorous sounds. And it’s got all the grandiose elements so lacking in my own humdrum life. I can’t resist, Simon, I give it a 5.
Simon: The gag is smile-worthy but not much more than that. The art moves it from a 3 to a 4 on the 6-point scale we devised. And I give your life a 2, Max.
For more on David Borchart, check out ghoulisland.com
#2) Page 46: “Crossing the Desert”, Bruce Eric Kaplan
Simon: This Bruce Eric Kaplan cartoon turns on the neologism “hangry”.
Simon: Hungry + angry, of course. No wonder you’re an embarrassment to your children.
Max: This is an unusual composition for BEK, who usually has the two blocky figures coming out of the upper left, but with this cartoon he’s got a desert theme — I’ve never seen that before from this artist.
Simon: Right, and the setting is usually a city street or a living room. He has a bold and spare line with a lot of white that gives his cartoons a cold look, and the empty-eyed people contribute to that, too. But I like the two lines converging in the background to give a sense of distance in a very simple way.
Max: Nice direction for BEK, I’m giving him a 3. Admittedly, I’m not normally a big fan of his style, but I think that this departure is a positive one. The composition is very effective; the gag is so-so.
Simon: Agree—3. Next.
For more on Bruce Eric Kaplan, check out bruceerickaplan.com
#3) Page 56: “Wheel Re-invented”, Liana Finck
Max: This is by Liana Finck, one of the artists nurtured under the Mankoff regime based on her youthful, off-beat point of view. We’ve seen many of these “invent/reinvent the wheel” cartoons. But this cave dude, grimly dragging his newly invented wheel on a set of miniature wheels, is a great gag!
Simon: Yes, a funny and imaginative variation of a caveman wheel gag. I just wish she would spend a little more time developing her art. The toes on this guy are curling into the ground.
Max: But because the subject of the cartoon is a caveman, her style actually works pretty well. I’m giving her a 5.
Simon: The style works well enough not because it’s a caveman gag but because it’s a simple gag. She gets a bonus point for having no caption, so that brings this cartoon up from a 4 to a 5 in my book.
For more on Liana Finck, check out newyorker.com/contributors/liana-finck
#4) Page 60: “Roman Consul”, Lars Kenseth
Simon: We haven’t seen much of Lars in The New Yorker, but this is a great cartoon, very timely and highly political.
Max: As Captain Kirk would say, “Spock, explain.”
Simon: The cartoonist is comparing Trump with Caligula, who supposedly appointed his favorite horse to the Roman consul.
Max: Ah-hah! So he’s comparing the President-elect to a bloodthirsty and possibly insane tyrant.
Simon: As Trump would tweet, “So unfair!” or probably “SO UNFAIR!”
Max: I’ll say. Caligula had better hair. Now that I understand the cartoon, thanks to you, Simon, I give it a 4. Not crazy about his cartooning style, but it’s quite effective for this cartoon.
Simon: The figures look like jellybeans or gel caps to me.
Simon: Lars pulls down a 5 from me. Great gag, good drawing.
For more on Lars Kenseth, check out patreon.com/larskenseth
#5) Page 83: “Urban Hamster Wheel”, Paul Karasik
Max: We’ve got the hamster wheel here, a symbol of urban futility, of a life of quiet desperation. In the middle of endlessly spinning around one guy asks the other—a question we’ve heard many times—what’s the difference between a metaphor and simile.
Simon: The question I ask is: Is this gag funny enough to merit a cartoon based on a common cartoon image? My answer is: not really.
Max: I’m with you: 2.
Simon: But the art is good. The cartoon has strong visual appeal, regardless of the caption. I’ll give it a 3.
For more on Paul Karasik, check out paulkarasik.blogspot.com
#6) Page 98: “List of Sighs”, David Sipress
Simon: This is a great cartoon of the disgruntled-wife/bewildered-husband genre. A bit stereotypical but a very funny gag.
Max: Yes, anyone who’s been in any kind of relationship—or indeed in your case, Simon, many relationships—knows this particular scenario intimately. You can even build on this unspoken vocabulary: there are eye rolls, dismissive hand flaps, and all sorts of other non-verbal cues, but it’s the sigh that causes the husband to ask every time, “What’s the matter?”
Simon: I can relate for sure. My second wife, I believe it was, had a whole symphony of sighs. But back to the cartoon—Sipress usually draws a bigger room with smaller people. This one features bigger characters.
Max: Very true. Note also that he likes zany framed art on the wall.
Simon: His drawing style has a naive look, so he can’t really depict representational art in his cartoons. How about that pole lamp, straight out of a 1966 Sears catalog?
Max: So you give it —?
Simon: 5 for the great gag. I’m afraid I’ll never be a fan of his art.
Max: 5 for me, too.
For more on David Sipress, check out facebook.com/david.sipress
#7) Page 102: “Road Narrows”, Michael Maslin
Max: Michael Maslin does a great job with this concept cartoon. It’s a take on road signs that suggest multiple meaning, like Slow Children Ahead. I especially enjoy how the road narrows abruptly to a disappearing point, and we have a wonderfully perplexed-looking motorist confronted with this surreal situation.
Simon: Yes, surreal is the operative word for this cartoon. I like the high horizon represented by a single horizontal line and the great emptiness beyond the road. A 5 for me.
Max: Definitely a 5. Plus no caption, a bonus.
Simon: By the way, Michael Maslin has a great website for cartoonists called Ink Spill.
For more on Michael Maslin, check out michaelmaslin.com
#8) Page 103: “Santa’s List”, Danny Shanahan
Simon: We have Danny Shanahan, one of my favorite cartoonists, with a Trump cartoon. I’m thinking that Donald Claus here is crossing out his own name from the naughty list and maybe checking to see if his wife is actually on the naturalized list. She looks so naughty when she squints, which is always.
Max: They probably both practice that weird squint in front of the mirror. I bet they have a squint coach. They probably have squinting contests.
Simon: And she lets him win. So does this cartoon deserve the full-color treatment? I think it has to be a socko gag to merit that, and I don’t think it does, especially since Trump is such a goldmine for gags. I give it a 3.
Max: I give it full scores: a 6. Bonus for no caption.
For more on Danny Shanahan, check out newyorker.com/contributors/danny-shanahan
#9) Page 108: “Fired at Xmas”, Jack Ziegler
Max: We’ve got a Ziegler here, the classic fellow that’s just been sacked and he is loaded up the cliché cardboard box of belongings and is ready to walk out the door. His phone rings and…well, I guess it hits too close to home. Put me down for a 4.
Simon: Jack Ziegler is a great cartoonist, one of Mankoff’s favorites, and I think he nailed this one. Yes, it’s dark for the Christmas issue; the emotional impact is powerful and yet it’s a funny cartoon. The mostly bare, cold walls, the anger and frustration of the sacked worker … the feeling I get is almost existential, like the way I feel when I look into the void of my own soulless self. I give it a 6.
Max: Perhaps you should pay a visit to a good cartoon psychologist.
For more on Jack Ziegler, check out newyorker.com/contributors/jack-ziegler
#10) Page 111: “It’s a Dog’s Life”, Charlie Hankin
Simon: Up next we have a Charlie Hankin cartoon. We don’t see much of his work, but he’s a fine artist; check out his website. Great gag and beautifully drawn. A solid 5.
Max: I see your 5 and raise you 1 to a 6. This is brilliant, and what really make it for me is the ultimate doggie bar. Note that the dogs are entirely anthropomorphic except for their heads. The artwork is top-notch. One is rewarded by looking at every detail … the skyline tells you in a few lines that you’re in an urban setting, the items in the doggie cart—
Simon: Clearly urban dogs prefer abstract art, judging by what’s on the walls. Nice diagonal shadow across the wall, too. All around, a great dog cartoon.
For more on Charlie Hankin, check out charliehankin.com
#11) Page 112: “Deceased Houseplants”, Roz Chast
Max: What does Roz have for us this week?
Simon: Tombstones. She really follows the Rule of 3, doesn’t she? The third is better than the second is better than the first, as it should be.
Max: Right, this is a solid build. There’s no distraction; the gag is as clean conceptually as you get can get.
Simon: Does it bother you that there are no other tombstones in this cemetery, none behind these three?
Max: Nope. She get s a 4 from me.
Simon: Same here, a 4. Good, workmanlike cartoon.
For more on Roz Chast, check out rozchast.com
Max: Once again we are going down the well-traveled path of the of the desert island in the middle of the ocean —except a 180-degree reversal, where the guy just walked off the island and onto solid ground.
Simon: A great reversal-of-expectations gag and a clever variation on a familiar cartoon trope. I love the caption. I’m in for 6.
Max: 6 it is for me, too.
For more on Mick Stevens, check out mickstevens.com
#13) Page 125: “Santa’s Disgruntled Helpers”, Robert Leighton
Simon: We’ve seen versions of this before: the elves complaining, wanting to unionize, or otherwise expressing dissatisfaction with the working conditions or revealing unflattering things about Santa.
Max: The elf shop is so well-drawn. I think this is one of the most inventive compositions that I’ve seen. I score it a 5.
Simon: I do like all the locomotives lined up on the left. You get the sense that this is piecemeal work that these elves do. And the white space behind the elves works well. But because it’s not that original a gag, I give it a 4.
Max: You wouldn’t see the word “pissed” in The New Yorker not so many years ago, not in a caption. Their and perhaps society’s standards have plummeted.
Simon: Personally, my standards have never been lower.
For more on Robert Leighton, check out robert-leighton.com
Max: That’s it for this issue, Simon—just 13 cartoons.
Simon: Bob Mankoff, if you’re reading this: more cartoons. The rest is just filler.