Max: The good doctor on the cover appears pensive as we lead up to the Inauguration.
Simon: On the bright side, we have 19 cartoons in this issue, up from a paltry 13 last week. Looks like The New Yorker is finally getting its priorities straight.
Max: I attribute the change entirely to this blog.
Simon: The butterfly effect at work.
All the cartoons for this issue can be viewed here as made available by The New Yorker.
#1) Page 25: “Un-Real Estate”, Danny Shanahan
Simon: We have a Danny Shanahan cartoon up first. This is a quintessential New Yorker cartoon for two reasons: (1) it’s about New York, and (2) it’s about real estate. The realtor is attempting to console a young couple who probably would like to buy a brownstone in Brooklyn, but can only afford to buy literally a brown stone.
Max: Yes, look at the forlorn and dejected bushy-haired fellow, with his hands jammed into his pockets, and notice that the property being shown is a bit shop-worn—clearly an outer borough fixer-upper. And the idea there might be a sixth borough turbocharges the gag.
Simon: What you think the number five borough is—Staten Island?
Max: Staten Island, no question.
Simon: I like the cartoon. I give it solid 4.
Max: I concur with a 4.
For more on Danny Shanahan, check out newyorker.com/contributors/danny-shanahan
#2) Page 29: “Milk Shock”, Drew Dernavich
Max: What flummoxed me to begin with, Simon, is the term “clickbait”. Though a mid-low level IT executive here at Cartoon Companion (actually, the only IT staff member), I’ve never heard of it.
Simon: Well, Max, you could possibly elevate yourself to mid-level tech person if you knew that clickbait means something intended to attract Internet surfers to click on something. Here the cartoonist relies on the old web headline grabber that fill-in-the-blank will shock you.
Max: Ah, right! And it calls to mind those poor little kids they splash on the carton. Tugs at your heart strings, doesn’t it? Though I don’t like the gag, Dernavich’s strong style and bold lines work well here, so I’ll give this one a 3.
Simon: I think you are hampered by your own ignorance of popular culture, if I may say so, Max. I agree that Drew’s strong style, so reminiscent of a woodcut, works with this cartoon. I don’t think it’s a great gag, but it’s novel enough to merit a 4. By the way, I understand that [Cartoon Editor] Mr. Mankoff does not normally tolerate large signatures, but I guess he lets Drew Dernavich get away with large initials.
Max: (Sigh) It must be grand to be the King of Cartoons.
For more on Drew Dernavich, check out drewdernavich.com
#3) Page 38: “Boxing Pugs”, Tom Toro
Simon: This boxing scene combined with the dog walker is a great gag. I really enjoyed the illustration and the absurdity of a dog walker getting so far as to be in a boxing ring with an armload of pugs.
Max: Now Simon, I thought this kind of wordplay was frowned upon by Mankoff. What happened to that standard?
Simon: Good question, Max. Clearly he’s is willing to consider and even promote such wordplay. What you think of the art, Max?
Max: Funny you should ask—I was just about to ask you what is going on in the background. It appears to me there are billowing clouds with large buzzing mosquitoes. Could this boxing match be an improbable sequel to the “Rumble in the Jungle”?
Simon: I believe it’s supposed to be a crowd with flashbulbs a-poppin’, but it’s a little unclear to me.
Max: Well, based on the ambiguous background and the pug pun, I’m marking it down to a 3.
Simon: I think the gag is funny, and I don’t mind the wordplay. I give it a 5.
For more on Tom Toro, check out tomtoro.com/cartoons
#4) Page 41: “Hard Rock Lutist”, Seth Fleishman
Max: This Fleishman fella is growing on me every issue. Once again he uses the most spare of lines, this time to depict a Renaissance lutist plugged into a Grateful Dead amp stack. Keep in mind, this cartoon has no caption. I’m captivated by the elegant artistry; I give it a 5.
Simon: I do like his art, but this gag relies solely on exaggeration and incongruity. I think it’s a little on the ridiculous side of funny, and therefore I mark it down to 3.
Max: Simon, of all people, objecting to incongruity and exaggeration? Shame on you!
Simon: I’m ashamed of many things, but not of my criticism of cartoons.
For more on Seth Fleishman, check out condenaststore.com/Seth-Fleishman
#5) Page 44: “Mixed-up Romeo”, Will McPhail
Simon: We have another of fine illustration by Will McPhail. Note how detailed and beautifully drawn the two figures are and how utterly absent of content is the rest of the image.
Max: It’s a masterpiece! This is his fifth cartoon in four issues; that’s got to be some kind of record. And the gag, Simon, what you think of the gag? Honestly, I could almost hear the withering tone in “Who the hell is Rapunzel?”
Simon: It’s a good gag, mixing two genres, highbrow Shakespeare and middlebrow (I guess) fairy tales, and capping it off with the very modern phrase “who the hell”.
Max: Simon, I consider fairy tales unibrow.
Simon: That reminds me, my first wife was named Rapunzel. I soon discovered she was a bottle blonde.
Max: I understand that she had hair extensions, so that first time you tried to climb, you wound up in the ER.
Simon: And a painful experience it was, both physically and emotionally. I give the cartoon a 5.
Max: Yes, a solid 5 as well.
For more on Will McPhail, check out willmcphail.com
#6) Page 48: “Wolf in Grandma’s Clothes”, Edward Koren
Max: Speaking of fairy tales, we have another one with this storybook concept. Oh, and another realtor theme as well. It’s pretty cute: in the front door, out the back door—that’s been the staple of many silent movies and operas for hundreds of years. This one works pretty well.
Simon: I think you use the right word in describing this cartoon as cute. That to me is not high praise for a New Yorker cartoon. Wry, whimsical, absurd perhaps, but not cute.
Max: I have to say, I’m not crazy about Koren’s art style. It’s a bit too squiggly and scratchy for me. I’m afraid I have to score this as a 3.
Simon: Edward Koren has been drawing cartoons for The New Yorker for decades, and some people like his idiosyncratic style, while others feel the need to scratch themselves after looking at his cartoons. I also give it a 3 in part because I’m not all that wild about his style either.
For more on Edward Koren, check out edwardkoren.com
#7) Page 49: “Generous Barbarian”, Frank Cotham
Simon: Next is a Frank Cotham cartoon. He returns again and again to the barbarian chief on horseback and the peasants who comment as he passes by. I feel this is one of his best.
Max: Yes, I concur, and it has some overtones for our pork barrel style democracy.
Simon: It’s very dark with the skulls. The artwork is noteworthy in that he has posed the horse and rider at a very sharp angle.
Max: Yes, I agree the artwork is is compelling, especially the little patch of grass above the rump of the horse under the scudding skies. Brrrrr, the Dark Ages! Yet there’s that little silver lining where the peasant sounds absolutely gobsmacked about his free stocking stuffer – a skull. I’m intimidated into scoring this a 5.
Simon: No less than a 5 for me as well. I also want to mention that I love the way he draws faces, not only of people but of animals. The expression on the horse’s face is priceless.
For more on Frank Cotham, check out condenaststore.com/Frank-Cotham-Cartoons-Prints
#8) Page 52: “A Child’s Reflection”, Carolita Johnson
Max: A rather sweet commentary on the domestic scene here. The beautifully drawn toddler talks knowingly to her reflection about her perceived role in our patriarchal (and evolving) society.
Simon: It’s skillfully drawn, with the little girl shown in reflection but with her back to the viewer. Note the discarded doll on her left and the rather full-figured mom fitting into her dress. I think this connects mother and daughter through a shared a feeling of anxiety about body image. It’s kind of a sad state of affairs really.
Max: Simon, are you tapping into your own anxieties? I think this is a sweet scene and I like the triangle of images of the very angular abstract doll, the more rounded child, and – as you so archly observed – a woman in the fullness of life.
Simon: We haven’t seen a lot of Carolita Johnson’s work, but she’s quite good. I recall seeing her in the documentary “Very Semi-Serious”.
Max: I give her a 4. And you Simon?
Simon: I like it enough to score it a 5. And the cartoonist herself has a few well-chosen words for our readers.
Carolita Johnson: Hi, this is Carolita Johnson. The cartoon you discuss of mine is a scene lifted from a Norman Rockwell painting, in which an older woman and a child are in the same positions. I liked the scene, and challenged myself to come up with a caption. Much more is attributed to a cartoonist’s intent that most cartoonists ever even dream of. Michael Crawford, my late husband, used to say, when someone asked him what a cartoon meant, “just look at the cartoon.” He had no meanings to offer. We’re artists and experimenters. We submit many cartoons every week, brainstorming with ourselves, and sometimes our captions are completely random, off the top of our heads. Sometimes I don’t even know why a cartoon is funny to some people. Sometimes I don’t even think my own cartoons are funny. But we figure it’s the job of our editor to decide if they’re funny. If we don’t sell a cartoon, we sometimes just change the caption to something else, to see if it works better that way.
For more on Carolita Johnson, check out carolitajohnson.squarespace.com
#9) Page 53: “Art Bore”, Michael Crawford
Max: This one is bittersweet for us because, as you know, Michael Crawford passed recently. It’s fitting they still print his wonderful cartoons.
Simon: Yes, he will be missed. I thought this was a good cartoon because of the directness of the image of someone you definitely don’t want to meet at a party.
Max: When I looked at this fellow gazing into my eyes, ready to initiate a banal conversation, I couldn’t help but strategize on how to immediately disengage. And the caption? Perfectly captured in the name tag.
Simon: So what you give this, Max?
Max: Well, I’m a softhearted fellow. In memory of Michael Crawford, I’ll give it a 6.
Simon: I award it a bonus point for no caption, bumping this up to a 5.
For a tribute to the late Michael Crawford, check out newyorker.com/remembering-an-adored-cartoonist
#10) Page 56: “Proust”, Harry Bliss
Simon: Next up is a Harry Bliss cartoon. Harry Bliss always draws with great precision, but I think this one takes the cake.
Max: This is one of the most intricate cartoons I’ve seen in a long time. The eye can’t help but linger on the details.
Simon: Absolutely. He evokes an entire world with this drawing right down to the easy chair that the character will soon plop himself into.
Max: It’s a scene of comfort, of refuge, and almost timeless in its setting. Also, an inspired choice of author to call out. Who could be more self-absorbed than Proust? I give this a 6.
Simon: I agree it’s a 6. The gag is whimsical and imaginative. These books may be his only companions, not counting the dog. I have one tiny quibble, and that is that the books don’t look tall enough, and I doubt this character keeps Penguin paperbacks on his bookshelf. But that’s minor. Bravo, Mr. Bliss.
For more on Harry Bliss, check out harrybliss.com
#11) Page 61: “Space Dance”, Matthew Diffee
Simon: Here’s another great artist, Matthew Diffee. Look at the care he takes in his artwork. You can even detect the subtle ruffle of atmosphere enrobing Earth.
Max: Take in those brilliant stars, Simon; this is dazzling artwork. Drink in the contrast between the highlighted astronauts and spacecraft, and the inky deep black of space.
Simon: So what about the gag? It’s a pretty long caption.
Max: Simon, here’s what I think: the gag is not quite worthy of the cartoon. I think this gag is a little on the trite side for such a stupendous drawing. I can’t help but mark this down to 4.
Simon: The gag is good but not great. I give it a 5, mostly for the art. Since this is the first Matt Diffee cartoon we’ve reviewed, I want to mention his wonderful collection of cartoons, Hand Drawn Jokes for Smart Attractive People. Don’t let the title intimidate you, Max.
For more on Matthew Diffee, check out matthewdiffee.com
#12) Page 62: “Carrot Top”, Pat Byrnes
Max: Here’s a cartoon reproduced in not one but two colors – and you know what that means: the grading get a little steeper. However, that advantage it counterbalanced by the absence of a caption. I believe we are looking at a trio of bunny rabbits behaving like sharks encircling a desert island carrot.
Simon: Precisely, but I had to look twice to make sure that it was in fact a submerged carrot because that is not something you see every day even in cartoons. I think this is a brilliant take on the desert island theme, which of course has been done to death.
Max: Yes, the desert island theme is indeed a vertiginous climb for any cartoonist, but this one is certainly worthy of publication. I give it a 4 verging on a 5, but I’ll stick with the 4 because it took a moment or two to fully understand the scene; I first thought the island tree was a giant asparagus!
Simon: I’m going to go all the way to a 6, in part because I think the idea of menacing bunnies is a great gag and the artwork is really imaginative.
For more on Pat Byrnes, check out patbyrnes.com
#13) Page 65: “Speedo”, Roz Chast
Max: The Speedo is a classic test of manhood; can you wear it or not? The Emperor did not choose wisely, regardless of his sycophants’ comments.
Simon: The Emperor’s new Speedo is both a funny and horrifying take on this familiar cartoon concept. I found this cartoon a little too disgusting to look at, even though it was intended to be disgusting. Still, I give this Roz Chast cartoon a 5 because it’s a funny gag.
Max: I concur, the Emperor hits the mark. I give it a 5 as well.
For more on Roz Chast, check out rozchast.com
#14) Page 66: “Homeward Mouse”, Liana Finck
Simon: Next is a Liana Finck cartoon. This is a very funny gag that could work only as a cartoon.
Max: The cartoon artwork is excellent. We’ve been critical of Liana Fink’s drawings in the past in terms of execution. This cartoon, however, is wonderfully rendered for this gag. That little notch and hole at the bottom of the structure certainly gives one pause as to how exactly Mr. Mouse might slither into the comforts of home.
Simon: And no caption. A 5.
Max: She’s had a very strong spate of cartoons of late. I’ll give it a 5 as well.
For more on Liana Finck, check out newyorker.com/contributors/liana-finck
#15) Page 70: “Hipster Caveman”, Danny Shanahan
Max: Here we have the venerable caveman theme by Shanahan. Correct me if I’m wrong, Simon, is this not his second drawing in this issue?
Simon: You correctly count up to two, Max. Tell me, did you know what beard oil was before you saw this cartoon?
Max: I’ve never heard of beard oil. I can’t even imagine where this concept might have sprung from … perhaps from those hipsters up in the Northwest.
Simon: I confess that we are somewhat hampered by our own cultural ignorance. I give this cartoon a 3, but I give our own hipness a 1.
Max: Well, I guess if I add those two together and divide by two, I give the cartoon a 2.
For more on Danny Shanahan, check out newyorker.com/contributors/danny-shanahan
#16) Page 73: “Smug Diners”, William Haefili
Simon: This is yet another beautifully drawn Haefili cartoon. I love every element of it. The expressions of concern by the chef and the waiter are wonderful.
Max: That chef and that waiter look so hip, I’ll bet they could tell us all about beard oil. In terms of the gag, I felt let down by the “aftertaste” angle. It’s a 4 for me.
Simon: I thought the gag was great because it exemplifies a certain smugness of New York diners, as if they know better than the chef. I give this a solid 6.
For more on William Haefeli, check out condenaststore.com/William-Haefeli-Cartoons-Prints
#17) Page 74: “Construction Site”, Robert Leighton
Max: This cartoon to me is a throwback to an earlier style of cartoons in The New Yorker. It could have come right out of the ‘50s or ‘60s—seen it before, nothing new.
Simon: I’m giving it a 5. I like how the construction worker is talking to other guy like a schoolmarm or a mom. The partially hidden construction equipment is well-done.
Max: Yeah, Leighton is a favorite draftsman of mine, but I’ve seen too many “hey, buddy, whatcha lookin’ at?” cartoons for this to rank above a 3.
For more on Robert Leighton, check out robert-leighton.com
#18) Page 83: “Confused Cowboy”, Michael Maslin
Simon: This cartoon is a bit on the silly side.
Max: Again, I’ll use the word “cute” and not in a pejorative sense. It’s that reverse-of-the-usual approach that we’ve commented on in previous posts. The artistry is sufficient to invoke the Old West; however, I think this particular gag falls flat. I give it a 3.
Simon: I’m with you, podner, and not in the personal relationship sense—3. By the way, Michael Maslin has a website called Ink Spill, devoted to information about past and present cartoonists for The New Yorker. He’s married to Liza Donnelly, also a New Yorker cartoonist.
For more on Michael Maslin, check out michaelmaslin.com
#19) Page 84: “Awkward Date”, Bruce Eric Kaplan
Max: It’s Bruce Kaplan again with one of his signature spare drawings. He’s created an asymmetric field of view – almost a cantilevered composition. Simon, what you think of the gag?
Simon: It’s an okay gag, certainly one that New Yorker readers can appreciate. The overprotective parent has been a source of other New Yorker cartoons. I also want to comment and amplify on your remarks about the composition. I think the inclusion of a chair and part of one arm on the far right are dramatic and interesting artistic choices.
Max: The artist creates these middle-aged folks with an economy of pen strokes. I note they’re having coffee – that initial nervous time to quiz each other. I give this a 5 for strong composition and a gag that’s au courant.
Simon: Once again I am in agreement with you —a 5 for me as well. I think this cartoon will have deeper meaning if you read Bruce Eric Kaplan’s very funny and poignant memoir I Was a Child. It’s available via his web site below; I recommend it.
For more on Bruce Eric Kaplan, check out bruceerickaplan.com
Max: Until the next issue then …