Max: Well, Simon, what do you think of the cover illustration of a sledder speeding down a hill?
Simon: It makes me think of Pogo’s immortal words: “From here on down it’s uphill all the way.”
Max: I miss Pogo and his critter friends.
Simon: They lived in a swamp, and you know what happens to swamps …
All the cartoons for this issue can be viewed here as made available by The New Yorker.
#1) Page 20: “Advising Tarzan”, Mick Stevens
Simon: We start off with a Mick Stevens cartoon. It’s set in a lawyer’s office, and the client is none other than Tarzan. I think this is a great gag, and what I really enjoy about this is the small detail of Tarzan crossing his legs in the chair. Did you get that?
Max: Simon, it’s the very first thing I noticed. And there’s more: look at how the caption is phrased; instead of a lawyerly “I’m going to refer you”, Stevens chose “I’m going to send you to someone who’s more familiar…”. Perfectly phrased, don’t you think?
Simon: Yes. I really enjoy this one for another reason: the lawyer is not the butt of the joke. I don’t like gags that go for the low-hanging fruit, and this one reaches high. I give it a 5.
Max: I think we’re swinging from the same vine on this one, I give it a 5 as well.
For more on Mick Stevens, check out mickstevens.com
#2) Page 24: “Heavenly Meta-humor”, Paul Noth
Max: Simon, we’re moving into the more ecclesiastical section of our cartoons. Here we have God as the exasperated humorist.
Simon: I really enjoyed this cartoon because it’s sort of a meta-cartoon—a cartoon about humor itself, and specifically that when you have to explain something the humor evaporates.
Max: Exactly! And here I was about to explain this meta-cartoon, inadvertently trapping myself in the cartoon’s quandary – I’m finessed into a 4.
Simon: I’m going to see that 4 and raise it to a 5. I like that God, a familiar cartoon character, is in an unusual cartoon situation. And I especially like the quizzical look of the person God is speaking to.
Max: The same quizzical look I had when attempting to explain the gag.
For more on Paul Noth, check out paulnoth.com
#3) Page 27: “Last Words”, Harry Bliss
Simon: Number three is a Harry Bliss cartoon. I think we’ve had three Harry Bliss cartoons in consecutive issues. This is another beautifully drawn cartoon. Note the perspective and the depth of the room conveyed through his line and use of ink wash.
Max: I admire the construction and draftsmanship of this composition, with the the bed curtains echoed by the shorter window curtains, all set off by a spray of flowers.
Simon: And what about the gag? It’s again another dark statement from Mr. Bliss.
Max: Dark but funny! I give this one a 5. He certainly didn’t hold back when it came to skewering grandma’s last words.
Simon: I’m tempted to give it a 5, but I’ll stick with a 4. The cynicism is a bit blatant for me.
For more on Harry Bliss, check out harrybliss.com
#4) Page 33: “Dead Books”, Roz Chast
Max: Well, we have our friend Roz back, again with her series of three objects. Simon, is this a recurring thematic concept? Shall we refer to it as the Chast triptych?
Simon: We have seen her apply the Rule of Three religiously. And once again we have a morbid theme. This one to me is not her strongest. That third book title is a winner, but the other two not so much for me.
Max: “Who moved my urn?” earned a hearty chuckle and a coveted score of 5. Though a tad morbid, it strikes the right humorous tone.
Simon: I don’t mind the morbidity, but it’s interesting how large it looms in all of her work, including her new book. I give this cartoon a 4.
Max: I would also call attention to her middle book, “Eating for Eternity”. Do they worry about Omega-5s beyond the pearly gates?”
Simon: Well, in eschatology, omega is the symbol for the end of everything. If you don’t believe me, ask Wikipedia.
For more on Roz Chast, check out rozchast.com
#5) Page 34: “Dragon’s Breath”, Jason Adam Katzenstein
Simon: We’re up to number five, a Jason Katzenstein cartoon. St. George and the dragon, a common cartoon duo, are mixing it up in a coffee shop.
Max: What you think you they ordered—a quadruple machiatto?
Simon: St. George looks pretty caffeinated and ready to rumble. I think the dragon may have had some chai or herbal tea from a box that features a bear in pajamas. He seems pretty mellow.
Max: Another staple of urban coffee shops is the chessboard. Here we see a chessboard floor with a Harry Potter-esque combat scene unfolding upon the squares.
Simon: Hmm, the floor reminded me of a Vermeer interior.
Max: Katzenstein’s drawing style is is quite deft. Note the reflective tables and startled patrons; nonetheless, the gag isn’t quite up to the art. I give it a 3.
Simon: For the gag to work, he has to depict a lot, especially the responses of the other customers. That detracts a bit from the focus between the dragon and St. George. The gag is not bad, playing off a couple squabbling in public. I give it a 4.
For more on Jason Katzenstein, check out jasonkatzenstein.tumblr.com
#6) Page 39: “Little Drummer Boy”, Bruce Eric Kaplan
Max: Kaplan fully departs from his typical conversing middle-age couple by depicting children. And what self-aware children they are! What do you think, Simon?
Simon: It’s a common cartoon concept to have adult utterances from the mouths of children, so for me it has to be pretty good to score high. I feel this is just so-so.
Max: I like the New Age angle of the young boy attempting to drum out his demons, only to knowingly announce that, the drums notwithstanding, still gotta have a tantrum.
Simon: I give it 3.
Max: I’ve never been to a Montessori school, but I imagine this is what it’s like. I’m giving it a 4.
For more on Bruce Eric Kaplan, check out bruceerickaplan.com
#7) Page 42: “Sensitive Barbarian”, Peter Kuper
Simon: Number seven is a cartoon by Peter Kuper, with an unusual drawing and a lengthy caption. This character looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger, but the words sound like Donald Trump.
Max: This is indeed Conan the Barbarian squatting by the fire. Interesting cartoon shape, almost like one of those oval cameos. And the caption, Simon, what did you think?
Simon: I didn’t mind the long caption in this case because I don’t think the gag could work any other way.
Max: I can almost hear the gutteral Teutonic rumble of Conan as he talks about crushing your enemies and then, in a bizarre shift, I could imagine the higher pitch squawk of Donald Trump protesting about some perceived media slight.
Simon: But of course we know it’s not Donald Trump because this character has very large hands. I give this a 5.
Max: I’m intimidated into giving it a 5 as well. I can’t bear the sound of lamentation.
For more on Peter Kuper, check out peterkuper.com
#8) Page 45: “Hibernation?”, Joe Dator
Max: Joe Dator has given us many a chuckle, Simon. What about this one? I’m a little confused by the hibernation theme.
Simon: This is a great gag. The idea of a bear hibernating in a couple’s bed is inspired.
Max: Oh, yeah, I saw that, but ever since I got my new king-size Tempur-Pedic mattress, I think it’s possible for the bear to enjoy a firm snooze without disturbing my side of the bed.
Simon: This is a very small point, but look how irregular the drawers in the bedside table are. It just seems a little out of place given the care that he takes with the rest of his drawing. Regardless, the cartoon is 5-worthy. Does the detail of the bear seem out of place to you, Max?
Max: No, it’s a nice artistic choice; the penciled fuzziness looks just right with the contrast of the rest of the drawing in ink. After looking at the drawing further, I’ll give it a 5. I got used to those irregularly shaped drawers.
Simon: That’s because you own several pairs of irregular drawers.
For more on Joe Dator, check out joedator.com
#9) Page 48: “Corporate Wistfulness”, Barbara Smaller
Simon: Next is a Barbara Smaller cartoon that features executives in a palatial office looking down at, I imagine, the unwashed masses and feeling a bit nostalgic for an earlier time in our nation’s history, such as a few weeks ago.
Max: This cartoon, Simon, made me shiver to realize what I’ve suspected all along: the corporate mega-class really doesn’t care who’s in power, they‘ve got their hooks in that deep.
Simon: I took it slightly differently. I thought this cartoon turned on the corporate class’s concerns about uncertain times ahead.
Max: Simon, you may choose to go all soft-hearted on these corporate barons, but I remain a staunch proletariat … well, at least until my ship comes in. A 5 for something so incisive.
Simon: It’s a good, understated political cartoon, so I give it a 4.
For more on Barbara Smaller, check out condenaststore.com/Barbara-Smaller
#10) Page 49: “Whining Diner”, P.C. Vey
Max: Mr. Vey presents us with a dining banquette in his inimitable style and flattened sense of perspective.
Simon: The cartoon appears to poke fun at political correctness even at diners. What do you think of the gag, Max?
Max: Well, I think it would’ve worked better last year during the heyday of political correctness. Unfortunately, this cartoon is now exactly two weeks out of vogue.
Simon: Not in heartland America it ain’t. So what’s your score?
Max: I give this one a 3, pretty decent gag I suppose. I sometimes find Vey’s powerful pictorial interpretation a tad distracting.
Simon: I think you just have to accept a certain strangeness to enjoy his cartoons. I can do that, but the gag is nothing special. I give it a 3 as well.
For more on P.C. Vey, check out pcvey.com
#11) Page 51: “Erudite Gangster”, Frank Cotham
Simon: Frank Cotham is one of my favorite cartoonists in The New Yorker. Here is a familiar topic in a completely different setting. Usually the mobster is about to push someone off a pier, and the victim is usually standing in a bucket of dried cement.
Max: The idea that the mobster actually testifies – instead of taking the Fifth – about his abominable actions is a nice twist. And the line about the “rhetoric turning nasty” paints a blackly humorous sequence in the mind.
Simon: The only word that he might have added is “rather” before “nasty”. But the gag is very funny. I give it a 5.
Max: Yes, I will be the other shoe in the cement, a 5 for me as well. This is the most entertaining mobster we’ve seen since Tony Soprano.
For more on Frank Cotham, check out condenaststore.com/Frank-Cotham
#12) Page 52: “Friendly Skies”, Zachary Kanin
Max: I’ll tell you right out of the gate, Simon, Kanin has notched a 6. Perhaps I’m experiencing a PTSD flashback from too much business travel, but this is one of the funniest captions I’ve seen. I hereby preemptively declare this “Cartoon of the Issue”!
Simon: We part ways on this one, Max. I have a problem with cartoons where the character knows that they’re being funny and are delivering a funny line. I think that’s what we have here.
Max: “Pouty faces” and “magically add more chairs to the airplane”—clearly you’ve not spent enough time in hyper-crowded airports of late. Great caption, the artwork is fine, it gets the job done. And yes, I think I’ve groused to this agent on more than one occasion.
Simon: To me, this is just kind of snarky albeit funny. I’ll hand this one a 4. As for your “business travel”, I don’t think your failed attempts to bring in contraband maple syrup from Canada make you a member of the business class jet set.
Max: Snarky is as snarky does, I’m sticking with my 6.
For more on Zachary Kanin, check out newyorker.com/contributors/zachary-kanin
#13) Page 55: “Cat’s Sartorial Lament”, Amy Hwang
Simon: Next up is an Amy Hwang cartoon. This is a bit of a departure for her to have a anthropomorphized animal here: a cat in women’s clothing. Maybe my XY chromosome is getting in the way of my humor, but I don’t think this one was all that great.
Max: Oh, I like this one, I think that the cat with its disconcerted little face sold this gag. And I’ve heard this lament for years, that today’s fashions favor only the few.
Simon: Now that you’ve enlightened me, I think I can give this one a solid 4. For a propeller head you’re surprisingly sensitive.
Max: As a proud participant of this week’s Woman’s March, I’ll give this one a 5. Right on, Amy!
For more on Amy Hwang, check out amyhwang.com
#14) Page 60: “High Dungeon”, Lars Kenseth
Max: I find Lars’s style idiosyncratic; the main characteristics here are his squashed characters. What did you think of the gag, Simon?
Simon: This cartoon is timely, but it won’t mean much in a few weeks. It’s hard-hitting political satire, nothing subtle about it.
Max: This is a hyper-topical commentary with a shelf life of about a week; nonetheless, it’s funny (today), so I give it a 4.
Simon: The political landscape today is a such a rich field for satire that a cartoon really needs to be exceptional. I give this a 3.
Max: I think our venerable cartoon editor, Mr. Mankoff, took a risk to step out on such a short-lived construct – an extra point for him.
Simon: Yes, he usually prefers cartoons that address timeless themes, but dangerous times call for drastic measures.
For more on Lars Kenseth, check out patreon.com/larskenseth
#15) Page 66: “Double Bait”, Liza Donnelly
Simon: Our last cartoon is by Liza Donnelly, who incidentally is married to Michael Maslin, also a New Yorker cartoonist. This cartoon is clever, and it has no caption, a plus. It’s a bit hard to discern what is on the hook of the fish behind the fisherman, but I’m not sure it matters.
Max: I had to put my nose right up to the magazine to discern the jovial fish provided an all- American hot dog as bait. Historically, we’ve seen a number of these ice fishing cartoons, but why? Where does this come from? Simon, have you ever known an ice fisherman?
Simon: I understand that they do a lot of ice fishing in Wisconsin and Minnesota, but that may be some Nordic myth. I really like the expression on the fish’s face. That fish really expects to land a big one.
Max: Well, I reward that expectant fish with a 4, and with relish!
Simon: I refuse to take the bait and make a bad joke about relish. Instead I will give Ms. Donnelly a 5 for this cartoon.
For more on Liza Donnelly, check out lizadonnelly.com
Max: Well, Simon, I think this issue was a top-drawer compendium of cartoons in a wide variety of styles and topicality.
Simon: We applaud Mr. Mankoff and Mr. Remnick for their discernment and good taste … like they care what we think.