Max:  The cover says spring, but the weather says winter.

Simon:  March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. In between, it’s basically a chimera.

1 of 12: “Cavemen with Issues” by Avi Steinberg

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Simon:  First up is a cartoon by Avi Steinberg, and it shows three cavemen who are bemoaning the lack of sartorial options available to them. I see this as a clear meta-cartoon which plays on how cartoonists typically depict the animal skins worn by cavemen. I’m really not crazy about meta-cartoons because they’re self-referential, like movies about making movies.

Max:  I was a bit distracted by the resemblance of these Cro-Magnons to Portland hipsters dressing up for some Friday microbrewery event. They’re so rotund that I cant help but think the fellow clutching the cudgel is in reality wielding a barbecued turkey leg.

Simon:  There are three things that bother me about this drawing. First, the cavemen, as you accurately point out, don’t look like primitive individuals. Second, they pretty much look alike, not just their body type but even their faces. The only distinguishing feature among them is the middle one’s lighter hair. Third, they’re all lined up in a row, which is kind of a boring presentation.

Max:  I think the middle chap is fresh from the blowout hair salon. I give it a 2.

Simon:  I agree. It’s a slow start for the cartoons in this issue. I give it a 2 as well.

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2 of 12: “Report Card Pushback” by Barbara Smaller

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Max:  Ms. Smaller is next with a cheeky young lad reluctant to share his less-than-stellar report card with old pops. I think it’s a fine caption. I wish I had used that line back in the day.

Simon:  The premise is pretty common, namely, the child bringing home his report card to a disappointed parent. It also relies on a cartoon convention where a child uses adult expressions. This tradition goes back to the early days of The New Yorker. I’m thinking of the famous cartoon where the child tells her mother at dinner, “I say it’s spinach, and I say the hell with it.” That Carl Rose cartoon originally appeared in 1928, according to the Cartoon Bank.

Max:  We count on you, Simon, as the oracle for historical New Yorker cartoons. I think the propulsiveness of the“fetishizing adjective creates a moment. I give this a 4.

Simon:  Well, you don’t seem to recall your parts of speech very well, my dear Max, because fetishizing is a gerund. I now understand your earlier comment about wishing you had the caption in mind back in the day. And I thank you not to hurl non-words like “propulsiveness” in my direction. I give this a 3. It plows old ground.

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3 of 12: “Cold Day in Hell” by Harry Bliss

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Simon:  Next up is a Harry Bliss cartoon. This the best Harry Bliss cartoon I have seen. The gag hits the mark and the drawing is magnificent. Look at those smoking mountains. They look like something from an early German engraving.

Max:  Yes, Albrecht Durer comes to mind. The monumentality of this composition creates a counterpart to the small speaker in the foreground, who in the midst of the flickering flames of hell feels … a draft?

Simon:  Of course we see hell as a setting for innumerable cartoons, but this may be the best representation of hell in any New Yorker cartoon. Look at the cliffs on one side and the cauldron of fire on the left, as the damned trudge along.

Max:  What about the devil himself? One arm akimbo, leaning on his trident as he casually oversees the march of the apostates. No reversal of faith here in Bliss. I agree with your assessment and give it a 5.

Simon:  And note that the smoke this time is not white as in last week’s Bliss cartoon but a more appropriate gray.

Max:  This is the last place where a pope would be elected!

Simon:  Hell, I’m going all the way with a 6 on this, consequences be damned.

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4 of 13: Office Predicamentby P.C. Vey

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 Max:  P.C. Vey comes up with yet another of his peculiar compositions and gags. Such an odd combination, but it works.

Simon:  I like this cartoon because it’s so quirky. Although he often draws a typical office setting, the hole in the middle of the floor and the cluelessness of the coworker create a surprising result. I give this a solid 4.

Max:  I think any office worker will recognize the “culture of courtesy” evident as the man in the hole inquires politely about a ladder – clearly a second attempt at the question. I liked this as well and give it a 4.

Simon:  You obviously have never worked in a law office, Max.

Max:  That would’ve called for quite a different caption!

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5 of 12: “Moon Lighting” by Kim Warp

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Simon:  Okay, up next is a Kim Warp cartoon. We haven’t seen a lot of Kim’s work, but this one is very imaginative. Its something I‘ve never seen in a cartoon before: a natural satellite that has its own point of view. I like it.

Max:  This is a geophysicists dream cartoon. Whats great is imagining ourselves orbiting from the moon’s point of view. What other logical conclusion could we draw?

Simon:  And of course, it’s a comment on people who see the world revolving around them.

Max:  Look at the way the sun is imagined as seen from the moon. Smart stuff. I predict this cartoon will be taped to walls in astronomy labs all over. I award this a 5.

Simon:  I agree. This fine cartoon merits a score of 5.

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6 of 12: “Finest Cuts” by Trevor Spaulding

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Max:  I’m unsure of the humor here. Is the implication that this fellow came all the way back from Florida with a felled palm tree?

Simon:  But of course. These lumberjacks can think only about cutting down trees, so even when they’re on vacation they bring home a souvenir, and what more appropriate souvenir for a lumberjack is there than a cut down palm tree?

Max:  Yeah, I suppose, the busman’s holiday transposed to a lumberjack’s holiday. It’s so-so for me. I give this a 2.

Simon:  This cartoon works for me because it’s so visual. The humor can only be conveyed in a drawing. I might have added a few more tree stumps to make the point, but that’s minor. Im giving this a 4.

Max:  I also can’t help wondering how this fellow got that palm tree through baggage screening.

Simon:  He probably greased some palms.

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7 of 12: “Snack Workout” by Mick Stevens

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Simon:  Next up is a Mick Stevens cartoon. It’s a funny gag with the refrigerator on top of a pyramida nice contrast.

Max:  This concept correlates to those fitness buffs who run an extra mile in order to justify a Mars bar.

Simon:  I like that there are no people, just a pyramid with steps and a fridge. One thing that struck me as a little odd is that the cloud resembles the vegetation in the lower right.

Max:  Nonetheless, the composition is elegantly presented, as well as the gag. Though no antiquarian, I couldn’t help conjecture that this ziggurat is half Egyptian and half Aztec. Either way, I give it a 4.

Simon:  I concur with you and also give it a 4.

Mystery New Yorker Cartoonist: Gentlemen, I’d like to jump in here. The biggest compliment a cartoonist can give is to say he/she wished they came up with the idea themselves. I wish I came up with this Mick Stevens cartoon myself. 

Mr. Stevens is a real pro. While some cartoons could really use a laugh track, Micks cartoons seldom need to be sweetened.” His style is never overdoneI do twitch sometimes when one of you credit a cartoon for being beautifully rendered. I see it as too illustrative. Cartoonist Pat Byrnes once told me, say the joke and get off the stage. Thats not to say the cartoon cant be beautiful, but it shouldnt be rendered. Gag cartoon sets should be comically depicted. I dont want to be looking up peoples nostrils or have my attention drawn to the background, not initially anyway. But nor should cartoons be so primitive they can be mistaken for doodling in a grade school notebook–Steven’s work is right in the middle, in a sweet spot. Alright my lecture is over, class dismissed.

 I think it sneaks by with a rare 6 from me.  

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8 of 12: “Irritated Kong” by Edward Steed

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Max:  All right, moving on to the parents of King Kong, in which we have Kong himself pretty irritated that his parents would show up unbidden. What you think. Simon?

Simon:  This composition is quite a departure for Ed Steed. The buildings are carefully drawn by his standards and the apes’ hair is filled in, which is unusual because he normally just relies on a black outline. I did not find King Kong particularly convincing. I would have preferred a more terrifying (and irritated) Kong. He resembles a person in a gorilla suit. I like the parents much more because of their accessories: the purse, bonnet, and necklace on the mom and the dad’s cane.

Max:  It’s worth mentioning that one of The New Yorker cartoonists, who shall remain anonymous, emailed us and pointed out quite accurately and insightfully that Steed is a crafty gag greater with a wonderful sense of misdirection. It often takes a moment or two to fully register where the gag is coming from, and it’s always worth the effort. This one is a departure from his usual approach.

Simon:  I agree. It’s a fairly obvious gag for Steed. That doesn’t make it bad, but it’s step down from his usual excellent gags. I give this a 4.

Max:  I have to go with a 3. It’s too straightforward for my concept of a Steed cartoon.

Simon:  I do think the idea of King Kong having parents who probably had to commute from an outer borough of New York is amusing.

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9 of 12: “Zombie Shack” by Frank Cotham

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Simon:  Next is a Frank Cotham cartoon. This is one of the stranger cartoons we’ve seen in a while. We have the hillbilly shack that often appears in his cartoons but in an almost surreal flat landscape. The people crawling toward the shack under that dark cloud present a dystopian world.

Max:  Yeah, and whats disturbing about this composition is the way in which these zombielike people are crawling from every direction. Chilling, isnt it?

Simon:  I agree. It’s really not funny. It’s just bizarre. Still, it’s thought-provoking in a strange way. I give it a 3.

Max: I appreciate the feeling that this cartoon engenders, but it left me a little cold. Ill give it a 3.

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10 of 12: “Yams to Die For” by Bruce Eric Kaplan

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Max:  Bruce Eric Kaplan is next, and he returns with a familiar premise: a couple arriving at a  suburban house, with the husband making a snarky remark.

Simon:  Yes, this is snarky, but is it funny, or maybe more important, does it merit a cartoon?

Max:  I think that the word “yams” helps to punch up the gag line, but it falls a little flat for me. I give it a 2.

Simon:  This is something you might hear a character say in a situation comedy. I also give it a 2.

Max:  Also, it’s confusing to have what looks like a holiday ornament on the door. It’s mid- March and we’re closing in on St. Patrick‘s Day

Simon:  I also noticed that. Mention yams and Thanksgiving comes to mind. Maybe the cartoon was submitted months ago, and Mr. Mankoff wanted to make sure that it made it into the magazine before the regime change.

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11 of 12: “Royal Pooch” by Jack Ziegler

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Simon:  The next cartoon is by Jack Ziegler. It’s nicely rendered with the tapestry on the left and the large vaulted room. I also like the low angle, appropriate for the dog’s eye view of the world.

Max:  And the King at the top of the stairs tossing a treat 30 feet to the dog highlights not only the architectural space but almost the emotional space.

Simon:  I agree with all that, but the gag is not all that funny to me.

Max:  It’s not bad, and as you know I am often seduced by cartoons with kings and castles. It’s a little on the cute side, but I still like it enough to give it a 4.

Simon:  And as you know, I’m not a fan of cute. I’m giving this a 3.

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12 of 12: “Millennial Opinions” by Will McPhail

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Max:  McPhail is at one of his favorite locales, a coffee shop. And rather than a caption he just has a title “Twenty Year-Olds Loudly Knowing Things.” What you think, Simon?

Simon:  I don’t think this is even a cartoon really. It’s just a critical comment with a drawing illustrating it. What you think, Max?

Max:  The draftsmanship is outstanding as usual, but yes, I can only think that this has to do with millennials self-consciously braying out their opinions. I’m not sure that it’s a fully formed gag. I reluctantly have to mark this down to a 3 for one of my favorite artists.

Simon:  I agree it’s beautifully if slickly drawn. Note the coffee cups in the foreground, and it’s well-framed. But I don’t think it’s funny. I don’t even know if it’s supposed to be funny. I’m going to give this a 2.

Max:  These are shocking times—a 2 for McPhail. Also, I want to go back to one of your previous comments about McPhail characters’ mouths. The speakers look like they’re trying to widely open one side of the mouth for some reason. Is this a side comment or just as artist’s affectation?

Simon:  I think clearly the latter. Having the corners of one’s mouth wider than the middle of the mouth is so unnatural and odd-looking that it’s almost a signature feature of his cartoons. It’s strange because everything else he does make sense graphically.

Max:  Yeah, I’m trying it now and I’m starting to get TMJ!

Simon:  Sounds like the premise for a cartoon that we may someday see in The New Yorker.

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