Max:  Harry Bliss is a great interview subject. Part 2 of the interview is now up.

Simon:  He’s living the dream as a cartoonist. And we have interviews with additional New Yorker cartoonists coming up.

 

 

 

1 of 18: “Tree Talk” by Jason Adam Katzenstein

View this cartoon as made available by Condenastore.com.

Simon:  First up is a cartoon by Jason Katzenstein, and it’s a cute one. It’s direct, it’s funny, and, as a good cartoon should, it relies on the drawing to put across the humor. Did you like this one, Max?

Max:  I did indeed. It’s a beguiling drawing and more importantly, the caption is artfully phrased. The ellipsis after “Crazy story…” effectively evokes the William Tell story in the mind of the reader.

Simon:  I agree, well-phrased. I give this a high 4. Incidentally, talking trees are not as uncommon as you might think in The New Yorker. The Cartoon Bank includes at least three.

Max:  I tip my hat to your bottomless appetite for researching cartoons, Simon. I give this one a 4 as well.

For more on Jason Adam Katzenstein, check out jasonkatzenstein.tumblr.com

 

2 of 18: “The Not-So-Grim Reaper” by Harry Bliss

View this cartoon as made available by Condenastore.com.

Max:  Mr. Bliss is next – incidentally, he’s the subject of our first Cartoon Companion interview – with the Grim Reaper centered behind an enormous tree counting down to mayhem hide ’n’ seek style.

Simon:  This is Harry Bliss at his darkest. Death is practically staring the reader in the eye, his face obscured only by his cold, bony fingers. The oldsters scurrying away is disturbing.

Max:  Don’t they look blissfully ignorant, like elands on the great savannah before the lion pounces? To your point, Simon, grandma is eyeing the tree rather suspiciously.

Simon:  Oh, it’s clear that the oldsters sense that Death is near, which is why you see those three little three lines signaling alarm above the head of the guy on the right, and why the old woman is practically jogging with her walker and the man in the wheelchair is whizzing by, all to escape the inevitable. This is a cartoon where Death is definitely “It” in this fatal version of a children’s game.

Max:  I get the impression the slowest one will feel Death’s icy finger. I give it a 5. It’s wonderful.

Simon:  I give this a high 4.

For more on Harry Bliss, check out harrybliss.com

 

3 of 18: “Baby Elephant Plant” by Farley Katz

View this cartoon as made available by Condenastore.com.

Simon:  Up next is a Farley Katz cartoon with an imaginative drawing of elephant heads on the stem of a potted plant. I think this is a commentary on the unregulated genetic experimentation going on these days, like that creepy human ear grown on the back of a mouse.

Max:  Agreed, this particular species is definitely a GMO! And we’ve certainly a range of expressions on the beasts – that pachyderm in the middle doesn’t seem too happy with his lot in the pot.

Simon:  But I question why this elephant speaking, and I wonder to whom it is speaking. Nevertheless, I give it a 4.

Max:  This issue is off to a strong start. I’ll give it a 4 as well.

For more on Farley Katz, check out farleykatz.com

 

4 of 18: “Window Shopping” by Kate Curtis

View this cartoon as made available by Condenastore.com.

Max:  Our next cartoonist is new to the Cartoon Companion, Simon. Ms. Curtis offers us a reverse on the latest trend in action clothing, that of “Inactive Wear”. What did you think?

Simon:  Not bad, and the drawing is serviceable. It’s a bit obvious, but it made me smile.

Max:  Yes, not bad. I like the way the models, or mannequins, have eyes wide open despite the slothful poses. I’ll give this one a 3.

Simon:  I’ll match your 3.

For more on Kate Curtis, check out cluestolife.wordpress.com

 

5 of 18: “Sky Writing” by Seth Fleishman

View this cartoon as made available by Condenastore.com.

Simon:  Next is a cartoon by Seth Fleishman. I love this cartoon. It’s simple and hard-hitting. Despite the words “I quit” in huge puffy letters, the humor is understated. A wonderful cartoon!

Max:  Yes, I burst out laughing when I saw it. So perfectly arranged, and the biplane has just begun its pilot-less dive. All the Fleischmanesque elements are on display here: the minimalist pen lines, jet black shapes, absence of washes, and no caption. Outstanding!

Simon:  I agree. Seth has that unusual but very recognizable style that speaks volumes. I’m giving this the top mark: 6.

Max:  I can’t believe you beat me to it, but I also give this cartoon a rare 6.

Simon:  I believe the Mystery New Yorker Cartoonist also enjoyed this one.

Mystery New Yorker Cartoonist:  I usually find Seth Fleishman’s drawing jolting and un-New Yorkerlike, but this idea is very good and if done by one of the heavy hitters, it would have been a classic. I would have preferred if it had more perspective. But whatever. I give it a 5.

For more on Seth Fleishman, check out condenaststore.com/Seth-Fleishman

 

6 of 18: “Maternal Oversight” by Benjamin Schwartz

View this cartoon as made available by Condenastore.com.

Max:  Dr. Benjamin Schwartz’s cartoon presents a baby monitor on steroids in this era of ubiquitous surveillance. And in this case, instead of Big Brother, we have “Big Mother“ watching. It’s quite nicely drawn. What did you think, Simon?

Simon:  Yes, it’s well-drawn, and I especially like the low angle from the child’s perspective. The gag is nothing much. We’ve seen plenty of gags about surveillance and Big Brother. This seems like an easy joke to me.

Max:  I confess to a small shiver upon seeing this scenario. It’s a reminder of how heavily monitored we are. I can only imagine how it’ll be as this young child grows up. I give this one a 3.

Simon:  This is a mother who is preparing her child for the brave new world. This cartoon is a bit too on the nose. I give it a 3.

For more on Benjamin Schwartz, check out newyorker.com/contributors/benjamin-schwartz

 

7 of 18: “Puffin’ Wolf” by Liana Finck

View this cartoon as made available by Condenastore.com.

Simon:  Next up is a Liana Finck cartoon that features the Big, Bad Wolf and the three little pigs. For the life of me, Max, I have no idea what the wolf is doing. Can you help me?

Max:  Well, it depends on what device you use to view the cartoon. It helped to see it on a large screen to divine that the wolf is using an inhaler to clear his lungs for huffing and puffing with maximum lung capacity.

Simon:  Ah, that explains it. I had trouble figuring it out on a phone and a tablet.

Max:  As with any judging competition, we have to mark down for head scratching. The gag was fine, and I recognize it’s a tough concept to render. Nonetheless, I had to look a couple times before I got it, so I mark it down to a 2 for Ms. Finck, a previous “Top Toon” recipient.

Simon:  It would have been a simple matter to draw a close-up of the wolf’s head with the pigs’ abode in the distance. Instead, we are presented with a flat composition. A little perspective would have gone a long way. I also give it a 2.

For more on Liana Finck, check out newyorker.com/contributors/liana-finck

 

8 of 18: “Farm Indolence” by Edward Koren

View this cartoon as made available by Condenastore.com.

Max:  Well, Simon, we haven’t seen Mr. Koren in a while. Wow, this is one of his densest and scratchiest cartoons to date.

Simon:  Mr. Koren has had hundreds of cartoons in The New Yorker, but this may be his scratchiest. It’s clearly a take on the whole concept of mindfulness. As you can guess, I’m gonna mark this down because the character knows that he is making an amusing remark.

Max:  Indeed, Simon, it’s your pet peeve. I found the density of this composition a little distracting. I do like the contemporary reference to “mindfulness”, particularly as popularized by indolent stars such as Gwyneth Paltrow. Nonetheless, this one didn’t do much for me. I’ll give it a 3.

Simon:  Yes, it was unnecessarily busy. The farm animals in the background didn’t add much. I give this a nominal 3.

Max:  I suppose the farm animals suggested all the work to be done by the fella lazing on ground. This spontaneous day off has not delighted his partner.

For more on Edward Koren, check out edwardkoren.com

 

9 of 18: “Three’s Not a Crowd, Except with You” by Emily Flake

View this cartoon as made available by Condenastore.com.

Simon:  Next is a cartoon by Emily Flake. The humor is pretty dark for her, and maybe even PG-rated. Those are words that no man wants to hear.

Max:  A rabbit punch to the male psyche! It’s a strong comeback line and lands well.

Simon:  I like it as well. I give it a 4.

Max:  This one might be torn out of the magazine and stuck on a lot of refrigerators of young, frisky couples. I give it a 5.

For more on Emily Flake, check out emilyflake.com

 

10 of 18: “Mixed Up Mafioso” by Edward Steed

View this cartoon as made available by Condenastore.com.

Max:  Well, Simon, guess who’s back again this week?

Simon:  Some readers of The New Yorker might find this cartoon by Ed Steed to be a tad distasteful, perhaps due to the bloody corpse that one gangster is dragging by the leg, or the blood-spattered bat that the other gangster is holding. I guess Mr. Steed felt that the blood on the murder weapon gave the cartoon some added graphic interest.

Max:  My God, this is a horrifying cartoon, and at the same time, hysterically funny. Mr. Steed has reached new depths of taste and new heights of humor all at the same time. He’s in a class by himself.

Simon:  I can think of no cartoonist who can come up with such depraved, comic gems. This cartoon leaps over the line of good taste and lands in a very funny place. It’s a high 5 for sure. I would give this a 6, but then I would feel obligated to perform 20 hours of community service.

Max:  I don’t even know how to rate it. I don’t think our system can accommodate a cartoon of such wickedness. I surrender – it’s a 6.

For more on Edward Steed, check out newyorker.com/contributors/edward-steed

 

11 of 18: “A Classic Descent” by Roz Chast

View this cartoon as made available by Condenastore.com.

Simon:  We have a Roz Chast cartoon that combines the classics with New York City living. I suppose anybody who has lived in a city apartment might equate the laundry room with the underworld.

Max:  Indeed, a journey down to those generally dank, underlit confines is not unlike the descent Orpheus makes to the realm of Hades.

Simon:  Quite a few New Yorker cartoons combine the classics or high art with the banalities of modern life. Just think of all the Shakespeare cartoons in The New Yorker. This one is well-done and humorous. I give it a solid 4.

Max:  Yes, I agree this is one of the best Roz Chast cartoons in recent memory. She captured the mashup of an ordinary urban experience and a Grecian legend. I give this a 4 as well.

For more on Roz Chast, check out rozchast.com

 

12 of 18: “Too Close for Comfort” by William Haefeli

View this cartoon as made available by Condenastore.com..

Max:  An impressively complex composition from Mr. Haefeli. The use of multiple levels, unusual perspective, and artistic story-telling fused seamlessly in this cartoon. What did you think, Simon?

Simon:  This is a somewhat unusual drawing for him, as he usually focuses on the faces of his characters. It’s beautifully drawn as always. His art has an almost theatrical quality to it, which works well here, since the setting is an intimate, black box type theater off-off-off Broadway.

Max:  But in addition to the theater location being off-off-off Broadway, unfortunately, I feel the same about the caption. The gag is everything, and this caption fell short for me. I give it a 3.

Simon:  I enjoyed it more than you. I give this a 4. I imagined that the couple is attending this production only because she knows someone in the cast.

Max:  Unfortunately, I’ve had to endure my share of sparsely attended productions from that distance. Perhaps I’m just suffering from a flashback.

For more on William Haefeli, check out condenaststore.com/William-Haefeli

 

13 of 18: “Blame Game” by P.C. Vey

View this cartoon as made available by Condenastore.com.

Simon:  Next up is a P.C. Vey cartoon set in an office, as his cartoons frequently are. This one didn’t strike me as particularly funny. What about you, Max?

Max:  Agreed. Mr. Vey had a string of hits with us recently, but this one misfires. It’s a static drawing and an uninspired concept. We’ve often commented on his strange and quirky sense of humor. This one seems prosaic by comparison.

Simon:  Yes, it seems forced. It barely rates a 3.

Max:  We always expect great things from Mr. Vey, but this was too ordinary for me. I’m forced to give this cartoon a 2.

For more on P.C. Vey, check out pcvey.com

 

14 of 18: “Eyes in the Sky” by Victoria Roberts

View this cartoon as made available by Condenastore.com.

Max:  We haven’t seen Victoria Roberts in awhile, but here she’s back with eyes in the sky. I think she takes us in a strange direction by having the observing couple compare them to the goggle-eyed Olsen twins. The Olsen twins?! Are they still alive?

Simon:  They are 31 years old, according to Wikipedia. Isn’t this cartoon dated? I thought the Olson twins had their heyday a decade or more ago.

Max:  Whenever it was, this is certainly not their heyday. Perhaps this cartoon sold many years ago and finally floated to the attention of someone. Who knows? I know this cartoon is hereby rated a 2.

Simon:  If you’re going to have something graphically interesting, as this one is, the cartoonist should have a better caption to go with it. I’m going down to a 2 as well.

For more on Victoria Roberts, check out victoriaroberts.net

 

15 of 18: “Movin’ On” by Ellis Rosen

View this cartoon as made available by Condenastore.com..

Simon:  The next cartoon is by a relative newcomer, Ellis Rosen. It’s another New York subway cartoon. I guess these are subway lines that have gone their own way.

Max:  Yes, wayward trains all, anthropomorphized to satirize any high turnover institution, from Starbucks to NYU. I’d classify this cartoon as a “titled“ gag, my least favorite.

Simon:  I wouldn’t call this a titled cartoon per se, but the words largely constitute the cartoon. It’s a cartoon that follows the Rule of Three. It plays on the transitory nature of employment these days. Not bad. I give it a 3.

Max:  The first two train gags are humorous in their own right and build toward a payoff. Unfortunately, the L train gag didn’t do it me. I give it a 3 as well.

For more on Ellis Rosen, check out ellisrosen.tumblr.com

 

16 of 18: “Funny Money” by Mick Stevens

View this cartoon as made available by Condenastore.com.

Max:  Mr. Stevens is back with a couple of investment banker types gazing upon the clouds. And what is it they choose to see in the clouds? What else? Bags of money.

Simon:  This is a very funny gag, and the caption is a perfectly phrased. These are just two big kids with money on their minds. It’s a nice, understated commentary on greed-heads.

Max:  Yes, and he helped the drawing – as well the reader – by making the fluffy clouds look like the closed end of a canvas money sack. A very funny cartoon. I give this a solid 5.

Simon:  I’m right there with you, Max. This is a 5.

For more on Mick Stevens, check out mickstevens.com

 

17 of 18: “Trolley Problem” by Trevor Spaulding

View this cartoon as made available by Condenastore.com..

Simon:  Next up is a Trevor Spaulding cartoon that plays on the hypothetical that ethicists love known as the “trolley problem”. This is a clever take on that.

Max:  And in place of the trolley is The Little Engine That Could, a children’s favorite everywhere.

Simon:  The Little Engine That Could has appeared in quite a few New Yorker cartoons—a durable subject for sure. I like this cartoon and the drawing, and I give this a 5.

Max:  Tell me more about the “trolley problem” and then I can choose my score more wisely.

Simon:  Basically, there’s a runaway trolley, and you have a choice of pulling a track-switching lever that will result in one person’s death or doing nothing, which will result in many deaths. There are variations, but never one where the trolley itself has to make the ethical choice of actively causing one death or passively allowing multiple deaths.

Max:  Like one presented with the trolley problem, I’m vacillating between a 3 and a 4 … so I choose a 5 for philosophical reasons.

For more on Trevor Spaulding, check out trevorspaulding.com

 

18 of 18: “A Little Help” by Will McPhail

View this cartoon as made available by Condenastore.com.

Max:  Our final cartoon is from our illustrator extraordinaire, Will McPhail. Interestingly, we are presented with a rather spartan office – not one associated with a titan of industry. What you think, Simon?

Simon:  I’ve seen variations of this joke before. It’s also old-fashioned, showing an old, white male boss giving direction to the young female assistant. But that aside, it just didn’t do much for me.

Max:  Often, we see tremendous detail and texture in Mr. McPhail’s cartoons. This one deliberately reduced the business stature of the boss by having a calendar on the wall with … a little kitty! The boss doesn’t appear to be working on much of anything—no computer, just a piece of paper and little else. I’m almost surprised this cartoon made it into The New Yorker. I must give one of my favorite artists a 2.

Simon:  We’ve seen some spare cartoons by Mr. McPhail. Think of the one with Juliet on the balcony from some weeks ago. You make an interesting point that the character appears to be a low-level executive, and yet he has a personal assistant? Not these days. I give this one a 2.

For more on Will McPhail, check out willmcphail.com