Max: Hello, Simon, and happy New Year.
Simon: Thank you, Max. And what better way to start the New Year than with a review of the 17 cartoons in the Jan. 2, 2017 issue of The New Yorker.
Max: We’re on the same page, Simon, and that page is …
All the cartoons for this issue can be viewed here as made available by The New Yorker.
#1) Page 20: “Snow White”, Peter Kuper
Simon: Here we have a take on Snow White a la Walt Disney. This is another example of cartoon characters stating grievances about their workplace conditions. We saw that in that last issue with one of Santa’s elves complaining about his Christmas bonus.
Max: I think you have overlooked a political angle here: as you may recall, this $15 an hour promise came straight out of the mouth of our progressive Democratic candidate, Bernie Sanders, six months ago.
Simon: No, I got that. It’s timely political commentary. I just think the cartoon relies on an overworked gag.
Max: I really enjoy Kuper’s sense of “Woodland Gothic”; look at the details in all the furniture! And the animals, those getting-ready-to-strike incendiary glares they’re lasering at innocent Snow White. These woodland animals are fed up.
Simon: Well, the art is straight out of the Disney sketchbook. Incidentally, Walt himself was no fan of the unions. His animators went on strike in 1941.
Max: Thank you for the Fun Fact, Simon. Anyway, the gag works and the I appreciate the art. I give it a 5.
Simon: Well-executed, I agree, but a 4.
For more on Peter Kuper, check out peterkuper.com
#2) Page 24: “Hire-Wire Act”, Seth Fleishman
Max: The high-wire act cartoon is one of the most spare compositions I’ve seen in a long time. It’s literally three-quarters white space. This blank area adds to the height – and the heightened sense of alarm – when the obnoxious bicyclist goes blowing by. In this case, the poor fella fumbles all of his juggling apparatus.
Simon: They’re called “pins” or “clubs” in the juggling business. Yes, I like this composition because it’s so bold in its use of negative space. It really makes for a surprisingly dramatic image. I give it a 4.
Max: I give this one a 5 because it’s a funny gag as a commentary on self-righteous bicyclists, and I like the art.
For more on Seth Fleishman, check out condenaststore.com/Seth-Fleishman
#3) Page 25: “Hobby/Income”, William Haefeli
Simon: We come to one of our favorite artists, William Haefeli. The first thing you may have noticed about this cartoon, Max, is that the characters are not middle-aged yuppies but an elderly couple — quite a change for him.
Max: The man on the couch is practically melting into the furniture as he resigns himself to this idea of a hobby. This is a wonderful composition, starting with the large-bellied lamp to the left and going to the upper right with the greater detail. The latticed window emphasizes the powerful perspective that he always brings to his cartoons. The gag is strong. I’ll give it a 6 for such an outstanding composition.
Simon: This is a gorgeous cartoon. Look at the brocade design on the pillow, the texture of his sweater, the trees outside the window. Note the dramatic low angle and the placement of the old guy very close to the surface. His wife has that cheery smile while making a pointed remark.
Max: Great expression on both of their faces.
Simon: I read Haefeli’s comments on the wonderful website, A Fine Case For Pencils, which focuses on how The New Yorker cartoonists produce their artwork, and I still can’t figure out how he creates his distinctive look. Maybe the weave of the paper helps. The gag is funny but not great, so I give this a 5 primarily because of the art.
For more on William Haefeli, check out condenaststore.com/William-Haefeli
#4) Page 27: “Tumbleweed”, Liana Finck
Simon: Liana Fink has a very spare style and narrow line—almost the opposite of Haefeli.
Max: Her art borders on the nonrepresentational. Look at the smoke coming out of the chimney. It looks like a deflating balloon. She has an interesting, quirky, and personal style, but this one falls a little flat for me.
Simon: What does a rolling pin to have to do with a tumbleweed? It’s not as if the rolling pin is chasing a ball of dough across the prairie.
Max: Yes, it’s a strange juxtaposition, I’ll give her that, but it’s an absurdist headscratcher for me. I give it a 2.
Simon: I’d say it’s funny if you don’t think about it too much.
Max: That’s our problem, Simon, we overthink these.
Simon: I give it a 3.
For more on Liana Finck, check out newyorker.com/contributors/liana-finck
#5) Page 32: “Staying in Power”, Robert Leighton
Max: As you know, Simon, I’m a sucker for anything that has to do with castles and hordes of peasants with pitchforks and flaming torches. Think of the problem the artist is trying to solve: simultaneously showing the last seconds of a king’s serene reign, and the swarming horde of smelly rabble about to upend everything. The hilarious agent in all this is the page gently breaking the news to the king that he’ll be toppled momentarily. I think Leighton solves the problem elegantly; the hallway detail is perfect. I give it a 5 for a pretty good gag to boot.
Simon: Good observations, Max—for someone who, unlike me, has never attended art school.
Max: Weren’t you expelled for tracing?
Simon: Let’s stay focused on the matter at hand. I agree he solved the problem with an admirable economy of line and deep perspective down the narrow corridor. I especially like the understated expression of the messenger and the blank look on the king’s face. I match your 5.
For more on Robert Leighton, check out robert-leighton.com
#6) Page 37: “Broke His Nose”, Kim Warp
Simon: I don’t like it much when the characters know they are saying the funny line or, in this case, if you’ll excuse the expression, the punchline. It’s like they’re talking to the reader.
Max: The chap with a broken nose gave me a chortle at his well-deserved predicament. The woman with the crossed arms looks very capable – perhaps a mixed martial arts champion?
Simon: Despite the self-awareness of the characters that I mentioned, the phrasing is funny: “we’re good” and “this gentleman accidentally.” 3 for me.
Max: A 4, she scares me.
For more on Kim Warp, check out warpcartoons.com
#7) Page 38: “The Birds”, Michael Crawford
Max: We’ve got three crows on the wire who are jest gonna sit this one out ‘cuz they’re not in the mood for swarming a la “The Birds”.
Simon: It’s a dated reference, and not particularly funny to me. Generally I’m not crazy for Michael Crawford’s style, with his uniform ink wash and scratchy line, but it works well here with the flock of birds in the background. I give it, with all due respect to a beloved cartoonist who passed away a few months ago, a 3.
Max: I concur: 3.
For more on Michael Crawford, check out newyorker.com/magazine/2016/07/25/remembering-an-adored-cartoonist
#8) Page 39: “Grandmother’s House”, Harry Bliss
Simon: Presumably the driver in the Prius is singing this to other family members, perhaps to his or her kids. So, I guess the singer is referring to his mother. You agree, Max?
Max: That’s my take on it. Regardless of who is singing, Bliss imagines the psychodrama to be played out, while relying on a dark rendition of a rollicking, feel-good children’s song. Bliss has a knack for this delicate discomfort. Interesting choice to make the windows opaque. I score it a 4.
Simon: I agree with your 4, despite the self-aware lyrics.
For more on Harry Bliss, check out harrybliss.com
#9) Page 42: “Curious George, Dad”, Roz Chast
Simon: This is another departure for Roz. Just last week we had the brother of Frankenstein, and this time we have the father of Curious George. Roz is moving in new directions with her characters.
Max: Right—usually her characters are neurotic urbanites. I also like these crazy monkey dudes sitting in such a normal living room setting.
Simon: The dad has everything a little bit wrong, but he’s trying so hard. You might have missed the scribbled tangle of line over Curious George’s head indicating annoyance.
Max: Yes, I think that’s her iconography for “grrrrrr”. Her gag was quite smart. I give it a 5.
Simon: It’s funny that she’s made absolutely no effort for the young monkey to look like Curious George. Bottom line: this rates a 5.
For more on Roz Chast, check out rozchast.com
#10) Page 47: “Improv Sketch Artist”, Benjamin Schwartz
Max: One of my favorite cartoon artists, Mr. Swartz has a wild take on this new era of policing. The cop asks a traditional granny – who’d be more comfortable with the old school Irish copper – for ideas for the improv sketch artist cop.
Simon: That’s Dr. Schwartz to you. I read his bio. He graduated from Columbia Med School. But I must be missing something with this cartoon.
Max: It’s a play on “improv sketch”, like he’s a performer and a police sketch artist.
Simon: Ooooh. But one does improv; one isn’t an “improv sketch artist.” That’s a stretch in my opinion. Huh … Mankoff doesn’t usually go for plays on words. Well, good art, but a forced gag. I give it a 3.
Max: You would have upped it to a 4, which is my score, had I not had to explain it to you.
Simon: Sometimes it takes two people to fully appreciate a New Yorker cartoon.
For more on Benjamin Schwartz, check out newyorker.com/contributors/benjamin-schwartz
#11) Page 48: “Infinite Baguette”, Michael Maslin
Max: This is the second issue in a row for baguettes to enter our discussion. This time it’s one of those absurd constructs where the artist looked to a familiar concept and took it to the illogical extreme: similar to the bottomless cup of coffee, or the all-you-can-eat buffet, here’s the same concept extended out to the horizons as an “Infinite Baguette”. Yeah, it’s a stretch, but I like warm baguettes, and like last week, I’m hungry. A score of 5.
Simon: Absurd, yes, but funny? Whimsical, perhaps. And if a cartoon includes color (here, yellow), it should be for a really good reason, which I don’t see here. A 3 for me. One oddity I noticed is that every letter is capitalized except for the initial “a” in “al’s”. Hm… just hmmm.
For more on Michael Maslin, check out michaelmaslin.com
#12) Page 51: “Caveman Tech”, Kaamran Hafeez
Max: We’ve seen a spate of cavemen cartoons of late; many of them have been exemplary. This particular one, however, didn’t do it for me. The clubbing had a bit of a slapstick feel to it.
Simon: True. This has an almost Sunday funnies look to it. I half-expected “Kapow!” to be over the head of the victim caveman. It also bothers me that the left hand of the guy swinging the club is awkwardly drawn; his hand should be turned about 90 degrees. It looks almost like he’s hitting the other caveman underhanded with a flick.
Max: Yeah, that part didn’t work for me either. This cartoon seems out of character for The New Yorker. I have to give it a 1.
Simon: I actually think the gag is pretty funny. Obviously, it’s a comment on how technology has displaced people or left them behind, so that they’re getting metaphorically hit over the head. I give it a 3 despite my quibbles with the drawing. Hafeez is a good cartoonist, and he has a confident line that I like. His cartoons pop up in a lot of places, like the “Pepper … and Salt” feature in The Wall Street Journal.
For more on Kaamran Hafeez, check out kaamranhafeez.com
#13) Page 54: “Insecure Fire Hydrant”, Jason Adam Katzenstein
Max: Here we have a lonely fire hydrant wondering why cars don’t park near it. I don’t believe that I’ve never seen a cartoon that featured a hydrant thinking about life.
Simon: This may be the start of a trend of self-reflective hydrant cartoons.
Max: It’ll be the new desert island theme. The drawings a little flat – as in two-dimensional – but it gets the point across very well and is strong conceptually. I rate it a 4.
Simon: I think it’s a funny cartoon that plays on people’s insecurities. I’m giving it a 5 on the strength of the gag. I agree to drawing is pretty flat, and the woman is simply not well-drawn.
For more on Jason Katzenstein, check out jasonkatzenstein.tumblr.com
Simon: This is a hilarious cartoon, and it’s well drawn. It combines two common themes in The New Yorker cartoons: death and technology, and I think this melds them very effectively.
Max: Oh, there’s no question about it, this to me is the cartoon of the issue, I give it a 6. There couldn’t be in a more absurd situation than to be part of some Macy’s Day-like Parade and then somehow get rerouted – with the casket. Utterly bizarre, over the top!
Simon: I’m also awarding it a 6, even though I have one quibble, and that is with the couple on the float in front of them. I think they look so stiff the way they’re posed that they almost look like store mannequins.
Max: Yes, like they’re on an enormous wedding cake, kind of “American Gothic” meets “Hee Haw” all right wrapped up into one image.
Simon: Anyway, hats off to Paul Noth.
For more on Paul Noth, check out paulnoth.com
#15) Page 61: “Amazon Fulfillment”, Mick Stevens
Max: A very timely cartoon, as I have been surveyed to death in the last three or four weeks for the most banal and ordinary experiences. To see this guy pop out of an Amazon box just takes the cake for me. I give it a 5 even though I’m not that crazy about the drawing.
Simon: I don’t really share your enthusiasm. I get the irony: a live person getting a customer’s input about the online shopping experience. Popping out of the box is cute, but that’s about it. A 3.
Max: Simon, I took this cartoon as more of a sendup of surveys taken to the ridiculous extreme, a zeitgeist of our over-surveyed era.
For more on Mick Stevens, check out mickstevens.com
Simon: Okay, Simon, you got to use the word “zeitgeist”, now let’s move on.
#16) Page 64: “Facial Expressions”, Frank Cotham
Simon: I’m an admirer of Frank Cotham. His brushwork is superb, the wash is dark like his humor, the line is slightly wobbly and suggestive of something off-kilter, just a great talent. Usually his cartoons depict a couple with serious communications problems, but here you have a business setting. Just look at those grim faces, I give it a 4.
Max: I’ve been in video conferences where it’s easy to goof on the presenter and mug to no end with your fellow conferees. Brought back old times. I’ll give it a 4 as well.
Simon: Yes, you were in charge of plugging in the video equipment and then leaving immediately.
Max: At least I left the room voluntarily, as opposed to being removed by security.
Simon: That only happened twice.
For more on Frank Cotham, check out condenaststore.com/Frank-Cotham
#17) Page 70: “Tried Worrying”, Will McPhail
Simon: Here we have one of your favorite artists, Will McPhail.
Max: It just takes a fraction of a second to recognize the artistic cartoon mastery of McPhail. This piece is almost painterly. And, as always, he draws the eye to the important facets of the work and allows the background to fade accordingly. That being said, the gag is not up to the graphic. To my own surprise, I give this a 4.
Simon: I think this is a funny gag just because it’s the reversal of the typical advice that worrying over something won’t help, or do something instead of worrying about it. It’s beautifully drawn. The overweight patient is perfect. One thing I find a little distracting is his decision to draw the corners of the mouth downward of the people speaking, which gives them an expression that perhaps not what was intended or at least what I expected, like the character is complaining or annoyed. Anyway, I’m giving this a 5.
For more on Will McPhail, check out willmcphail.com
Max: Okay, that’s a wrap for this issue.