Max: Just when I thought the state of the world could not be more dismal, I discover that the current issue includes only nine cartoons.
Simon: I’m writing a letter to the Editor and to my Congresswoman.
Max: To the ramparts, Simon!
Simon: Shoulder to shoulder! But first, let’s look at these cartoons.
All the cartoons for this issue can be viewed here as made available by The New Yorker.
#1) Page 18: “Cave Women”, Jeremy Nguyen
Simon: Our first cartoon is by a brand new New Yorker cartoonist named Jeremy Nguyen. I learned this from reading Ink Spill.
Max: Well, Simon, this is always an exciting moment when a new cartoonist bursts like a supernova across the grand stage of The New Yorker. Mr. Nguyen has started off with a hit, with a nod to the Flintstone oeuvre.
Simon: I checked out his website and he does a lot of fun illustrations. What struck me is that of the innumerable caveman cartoons that we have seen this is the first one that I recall that features only cave women.
Max: Yes, it’s a new day and for that I give him an introductory 5. The gag is very funny. These names are a stitch and utterly indistinguishable to our post-historic ears.
Simon: I interpreted it as a commentary on unconventional names for men these days. The Joes and Bobs of yesteryear have given way to Schuyler and Skylark or whatever. It’s also a bit of a meta-cartoon because where else but in a cartoon would you find the names Ug and Gog? I also give it a well-earned 5. Congratulations, Mr. Nguyen.
For more on Jeremy Nguyen, check out jeremywinslife.com
#2) Page 24: “Upper West Side Coffee Talk”, William Haefeli
Max: For our second cartoon we have the instantly recognizable style of William Haefeli with another of his spectacular compositions. I’m guessing Upper West Side for this trio of urbanites with their “Anything but Starbucks” pour-over coffees.
Simon: Look at the warmth that’s conveyed in this drawing. It’s simply magnificent. What about the gag, Max?
Max: Good question, Simon. Just as Wikipedia has replaced the Encyclopedia Britannica, it seems YouTube is replacing network television as our common visual reference. And a You Tube remake? That’s a new one—great gag.
Simon: I think it’s a bit of an easy target, so I give the gag a 3, but the drawing is a 5 (6 for anyone else, a scoring handicap for which I can offer no justification). I think that averages out to a score of 4 for me.
Max: Though never known for your computational wizardry, Simon, you are indeed correct. I, however, will see your 4 and raise it to a 5; this is a beautifully rendered cartoon with an original gag.
Max: Shall we find out what a real New Yorker cartoonist (who prefers to remain anonymous) thinks of this cartoon?
Simon: Sure, let’s ask.
Mystery New Yorker Cartoonist: Busy drawing that in the hands of a lesser artist would be a problem. I do agree with Simon that “it’s bit of an easy target”, but it’s still one of the better cartoons in the issue. Haefeli is great at creating people I love to hate and his work always feels contemporary. Solid 4.
For more on William Haefeli, check out condenaststore.com/William-Haefeli
#3) Page 33: “Capturing Jitters”, Drew Dernavich
Simon: Our third cartoon is by Drew Dernavich. This one really didn’t do it for me. I think the problem is that it almost but does not quite make sense. How does a coffee shop rely on outrage?
Max: As someone familiar with the utility sector, renewable energy is at the top of everyone‘s list. In this forward-looking coffee shop, management is seeking to improve profit margins by harvesting the nervous energy from these jacked-up denizens. It could rival wind power or solar as a renewable energy source.
Simon: I get that he’s equating outrage and energy, but I think it’s a thin basis for a gag. I’m sorry, Drew, but I’m giving this a 3.
Max: The energy output varies from the person tearing out their hair to the couple on the left. Hmmm, are they arguing which yoga studio to attend? I give this one a 4.
For more on Drew Dernavich, check out drewdernavich.com
#4) Page 37: “Pneumatic Interns”, Farley Katz
Max: We haven’t heard from Farley Katz of late. Well, he’s back and with an intriguing concept here. What you think, Simon?
Simon: This is a funny gag that is conveyed well by the strong drawing. The cartoon is a nice commentary on the frat boy mentality on Wall Street.
Max: But the pneumatic tube concept—don’t you have to be well in your 50s to have seen one? Nonetheless, the mechanism is readily comprehensible, and, I suspect that’s really how hedge fund managers snag their young recruits.
Simon: You forget that Elon Musk has proposed the hyperloop, a hypothetical means of transportation very similar to what this cartoon portrays.
Max: Elon musk…isn’t that a new cologne fragrance? I’ll give this one a 5 for bringing back the tube.
Simon: I give this a 5 too. My one criticism of the art is the frat house, which resembles a shed with a Greek pillar stapled onto it. Incidentally, I know exactly what the cartoon is referring to because I once worked as a temp at a Wall Street firm while secretly writing the Great American Novel. Unbelievably, they fired me for – can you believe this? – daydreaming.
Max: Who knew daydreaming would define your future career as a cartoon critic?
For more on Farley Katz, check out farleykatz.com
#5) Page 40: “Early Ellipsis”, Alice Cheng
Simon: And we have a second brand-new New Yorker cartoonist, Alice Cheng, again according to Ink Spill. Max, I confess that I don’t get this one. Please explain.
Max: If I hadn’t started messaging on an iPhone within the last year, I would have no idea what the image means. After sending a text message these days, you’ll see when someone is formulating a response. In terms of a visual, it appears in the form of an ellipsis within a cloud.
Simon: Of course! I should have seen that. But the way it’s drawn threw me off.
Max: It took me a moment as well, and that’s why I consulted with a millennial barista to confirm my suspicions. I also like the general attitude of the pigeon as if he’s thinking, “So, I did my job, didn’t I?”
Simon: Once again, Max, you’re projecting your own neediness onto a cartoon creation. As for the cartoon, I’m not big on anachronism gags, so I give it 4.
Max: Alice, welcome to the wide world of New Yorker cartoon criticism. You’ve earned yourself a solid 5.
We know little about Alice Cheng other than a citation in Ink Spill.
#6) Page 49: “The Vitamin Water Miracle”, Roz Chast
Max: Simon, for what seems like the tenth issue in a row, Roz is featured and this time in rare form. I think this is the funniest cartoon I’ve ever seen from her! The concept that Jesus changes water into – not wine – but vitamin water is an inspired gag.
Simon: I loved this cartoon. It works on so many levels. First, there’s the bold decision to depict Jesus. When Jesus is in a cartoon, typically he’s a passive figure, but here she has Jesus delivering a punchline. Magnificent. And look how beautifully rendered this is. The expressions on the various characters are detailed almost reverently.
Max: Indeed, this is Jesus in full sales mode. Check out the skeptical faces of (possibly) Mary Magdalene and assorted onlookers. I give this one a massive 6.
Simon: I also award this is a righteous 6 and agree that this is the best cartoon of the issue. One thing I notice is that Roz draws hands very small. It’s as if she used Donald Trump as a hand model.
Max: By the way, what kind of container is that on the floor: a flagon or an urn?
Simon: If this is a set-up for a Greek urn joke, I’m not biting.
For more on Roz Chast, check out rozchast.com
#7) Page 56: “Maternal Instinct”, Liana Finck
Simon: Next up is a Liana Finck cartoon, she of the idiosyncratic art style. I think the gag is very funny.
Max: Once again, we’re back in the province of the hovering parent; in this case an out-of-shape mom offers to touch toes for her son. Great concept, but I confess the peculiarities of her art style get in the way of the gag.
Simon: I’m not even sure I understand the logical consistency of her drawing. If you look at the guy, his legs are parallel in a more or less natural way, but the mom’s legs look like they are drawn so that they are on the same side of her body. Very strange. And is that little ball on the end of the limb of the tree on the left supposed to represent foliage?
Max: I‘m going to have to mark this one down to a 3. We’ve lauded Ms. Finck’s humor concepts in past blogs – usually her art style complements her gags well – but in this case the art is too distracting.
Simon: I concur—a 3.
For more on Liana Finck, check out newyorker.com/contributors/liana-finck
#8) Page 64: “Call Me Fish Mail”, Zachary Kanin
Max: Kanin is back and this time with a bang. This stubbly Mafioso brought forth a guffaw from me, busily stuffing dead fish for his victims into regular business envelopes.
Simon: Yes, I think the idea of a gangster doing paperwork and bringing his work home to boot is great, plus it’s portrayed as a domestic scene where he has a wife to help remind him about his victims—quite funny. However, I believe you’re wrong about him sending fish to victims, who are already dead. I assume the fish are messages to rivals whose subordinates he has bumped off. In The Godfather, Luca Brasi didn’t receive a fish—he was sleeping with them.
Max: I meant soon-to-be-victims. Mailing a dead fish is the classic calling card from the Mob, meaning “soon you’ll be dead.”
Simon: Perhaps one of our readers who is a mob capo can comment before our dispute turns ugly.
Max: Regardless, as you said, the funniest part was the element of domesticity as the gangster pauses to remember to send one to “Skinny Frank”. Great stuff, give it a 5—nah, I revise it to a 6!
Simon: I give it a solid 5. In any case, these fish are destined for the dead letter department.
For more on Zachary Kanin, check out newyorker.com/contributors/zachary-kanin
#9) Page 69: “Jury Duty”, P.C. Vey
Simon: Our final cartoon is by P.C. Vey. This was a scary and funny cartoon in our post-fact world. What do you think, Max?
Max: It certainly hit home for me that we are in an parallel universe when it comes to the truth these days. I also felt that Mr. Vey captured the moment well, with the bug-eyed looks from the jurors taking in the alternative facts.
Simon: Oh, I thought that the jurors looked impassive and not at all surprised by his reference to alternative facts, which is a commentary on the normalization of all of this nonsense.
Max: I’ll cling to my belief that the jurors are stupefied that plausible hyperbole has percolated into the courtroom. I give it a 5. This is one of P.C. Vey’s best and most topical cartoons.
Simon: I give it 5 too, and I wish I’d had that defense attorney on my side way back when. I might be living a very different life now.
Max: Yes, bridge toll evasion is a serious crime.
For more on P.C. Vey, check out pcvey.com