Max:  A most imaginative re-imagining of Manhattan on the cover, Simon.

Simon:  If Saul Steinberg had drawn it, he would have included Russia and China rising from, dare I say, the continental shelf.

1 of 17: “Tic…Tac…Toe” by Seth Fleishman

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Simon:  We start with a Seth Fleishman cartoon which depicts two monks playing what must be the world’s slowest game of tic-tac-toe. I think it’s an imaginative idea, and it has no caption, which is a plus. What you think, Max?

Max:  Yes, I presume each illuminated letter took days.

Simon:  Artistically it’s quite interesting. We have two monks that are drawn in flat black and two dimensions, but everything else is depicted in perspective. It’s unusual, but I think it works. I also like the contrast of the simplicity of the figures with the ornate illuminated letters.

Max:  Yes, the intensely black garb and tonsorial hair almost inverts them into complete negative space. I also like the position of appeasement of the humble monk on the right with hands meekly folded in lap. I’ll give this a solid 4.

Simon:  I also give it a 4. I also note that the monks in their black garb almost look abstract. Quite an arresting image—not hilarious, but interesting.

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2 of 17: “Watch Over Me” by Drew Panckeri

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Max:  Next we have a cartoon featuring our friend Death. It’s a lighthearted look at the last moments of this mellow chap’s life, who seems to have inexplicably sucked the Grim Reaper into binge watching TV.

Simon:  I see this guy as something of a modern day Scheherazade, who staves off death not with exotic tales but by watching multiple episodes of Game of Thrones. I also like how Death has reclined almost in imitation of the TV watcher, and how the TV watcher seems completely oblivious to the fact that Death is literally at his side.

Max:  Scheherazade? Is that a hotel in Vegas? At any rate, yes, I think the supine seating angle on the couch says it all. I like this enough to give it a 4.

Simon:  I’m with you again, Max. I give this one a solid 4.

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3 of 17: “Mega-Snow Man” by Jason Patterson

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Simon:  Next we have a cartoon by Jason Patterson. We have not seen his work in quite some time, although according to the Inkspill bios of New Yorker cartoonists he has been drawing New Yorker cartoons since 2004. I thought this was a funny cartoon. I like how the top half of the snowman’s head is out of the frame because of the enormity of it.

Max:  Yes, and I like the way the kids are repelling down after having created the Mt. Rushmore of snow. Look how the parental couple are drenched with light that spills out onto the snowbank. If I’m not mistaken, they’re tucking into a vokda on ice and a white wine respectively at day’s end.

Simon:  The humor lies in the understatement, which is often the hallmark of New Yorker cartoons. I’m giving this another 4.

Max:  Well, I can’t just keep agreeing with you, Simon—it’s unseemly. Much as I enjoy the snowiness of it, we’re into spring at this point – I wish the outgoing Cartoon Editor would get his seasons right – I give this one a 3.

Simon:  The Mystery New Yorker Cartoonist would like to say a few words about this cartoon. I always defer to him or her.

Mystery New Yorker Cartoonist:  Admittedly, I’m partial to snowmen, admittedly I’m partial to Jason Patterson, who doesn’t appear here frequently enough, but this cartoon is probably the funniest in the current issue.

Of course, the one problem with this cartoon is its similarity to Charles Addams’ giant snowman built by kids with the parents asking the children what they have been up to all day. This cartoon doesn’t improve on that superior cartoon and for that I give this a 3.

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4 of 17: “Disgruntled Doggie” by Bruce Eric Kaplan

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Max:  We’ve got the classic Bruce Eric Kaplan woman; this time she’s positioned in the far right side of the panel instead of emerging from up left. I think the idea of a dog’s vanity overshadowing his appreciation for his mistress savior is a funny gag.

Simon:  It’s a funny gag, but I have a problem with the way it’s depicted. There is no need for that long title. All the cartoonist had to do was to draw the flyer larger to show what it is and he could have eliminated the title.

Max:  Indeed, I found this cartoon visually cluttered and the flyer too small. Normally BEK has a strong, clean compositional approach. I have to downgrade this one to a 3. Could this have been a rough draft that snuck in?

Simon:  Again I agree with you. This is a 3 cartoon—funny but with graphic problems.

Max:  I used to have a dog like that.

Simon:  A talking dog?

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5 of 17: “Banana Split” by Edward Steed

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Simon:  Next up is Mr. Steed with another highly unconventional cartoon, although perhaps this is conventional by his standards. This cartoon requires some interpretation. Two clowns have escaped prison via a tunnel. The line of banana peels, which would be very treacherous for a clown to cross because of the obvious risk of slipping on them, which is what clowns do. So they dig further to the second hole and to safety. Is that your take?

Max:  You sure drained that cartoon of humor, Simon. Yes, these evil-looking clowns have masterminded a way around the impenetrable triple line of freshly peeled bananas – oh, that fiendishly clever warden! It’s a deliciously absurd cartoon. I’m giving it the first 5 of the day.

Simon:  These clowns certainly look evil, despite the jaunty striped caps. I like this cartoon, but it is more bizarre than funny to me. I give this a 4.

Max:  And you know how I hate clowns!

Simon:  You can’t expect me to keep track of all of your phobias, Max. Say … the current Presidential administration might consider a similar role for banana peels on our southern border. In any case, it might provide some entertainment as well as border security.

Max:  Perhaps instead of banana peels, plantain peels might be more efficient.

Simon:  But of course the clowns are on our side of the border.

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6 of 17: “Pizza D’oh” by Jason Adam Katzenstein

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Max:  Jason Adam Katzenstein weighs in with an attempting-to-defy-gravity bat giving pizza making a try. What you think of this one, Simon?

Simon:  It’s funny, although a bit contrived. There is a funnier version of this cartoon that Arnie Levin did way back in 1987, according to the Cartoon Bank.  It shows a bat upside down and beneath it on the floor of the cave are car keys, coins, and other detritus. I like that one a lot more than this one.

Max:  Could the upside down bat be heading to Bob Mankoff’s List of Cartoon Cliches?

Simon:  Two upside down bat cartoons do not make a cliché, although there are a number of bat cartoons in the Cartoon Bank. Here, the gag is just too similar to an older New Yorker cartoon. I give this a weak 3.

Max:  That‘s a long time ago, Simon. Isn’t there an expiration date on prior cartooning? Perhaps not at The New Yorker.

Simon:  The only expiration date is on cartoon editors.

Max:  Anyway, like the pizza that the bat dropped, I was left a little flat by this one. Afraid I must go all the way down to a 2.

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7 of 17: “Cement Soup” by Liana Finck

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Simon:  Next up is a Liana Finck cartoon depicting two diners. I did not find this at all funny. It’s simply exaggeration, which is not in itself a basis for a cartoon. It also bothers me that it appears that the man’s thumb is drawn on the wrong hand, which looks strange even for one of her cartoons.

Max:  Liana Fink is the highwire act of cartooning, but her style does not lend itself to this particular cartoon. Frankly, I found it puzzling. Not the gag—I get it—but I was too distracted by the awkwardness of the fellow wielding the hammer, or perhaps unwielding would be a better description.

Simon:  And the cartoon has no focus. It just shows everyone and everything on the same plane, from the light fixture to the flowers to the people. The gag and execution are juvenile. I give this a nominal 2.

Max:  I see what you mean, but I also felt the right hand side of the cartoon hung together fairly well; the woman is effectively drawn, as well as the light, the flower vase, and the table. It’s just the man hammering the hearty soup that didn’t work for me, so I give this a 2.

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8 of 17: “Con Job” by Tom Chitty

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Max:  Before we discuss Tom Chitty’s latest, Simon, what are your general thoughts about a cartoon that uses a title – like this one – versus a cartoon that relies on a caption?

Simon:  A title is perfectly fine. It gives some focus on where you’re supposed to look and where the humor is, so I have no problem with it. Sometimes when there are both titles and captions it gets more complicated than it needs to be and often detracts from the humor.

Max:  Back to the cartoon itself, initially I couldn’t help wondering if this gag was a veiled swipe at our sitting President because of his recent jobs promises. On the other hand, it doesn’t look anything like him. I appreciate the complexity of the composition – with all of the ancillary characters kneading, squeezing, and otherwise providing services for this fellow – but I’m a bit lost about the “Job Creator.” Who is this?

Simon:  It’s a generic wealthy person living off the sweat of the brow of the other 99%. My problem with this cartoon is that it is strictly a political statement, not at all funny, and has no place in The New Yorker in my opinion.

Max:  Political? Yes, but in what way? The Occupy Movement? I’m lost and have to give this cartoon my first ever 1.

Simon:  You read my mind. This is a 1. It’s not even a decent political cartoon, which usually has some unusual or clever angle. It’s political propaganda.

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9 of 17: “Uptown Girl” by Jack Ziegler

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Simon:  Okay, our next cartoon is by the esteemed Jack Ziegler, and depicts Cinderella in an urban setting. It’s an okay gag, but we’ve seen a lot of Cinderella cartoons both in The New Yorker and in other publications. What you think, Max?

Max:  Funny you should mention it, the Cinderella theme is #20 on Mr. Mankoff’s Cartoon Cliché list. If you are going to attempt a cartoon on this esteemed list, then it better build on previous incarnations. I liked how Mr. Ziegler conveyed the rumbling urban setting; nonetheless, this is not a standout in the genre—a 3.

Simon:  I agree, a 3.

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10 of 17: “Knight Vault” by Seth Fleishman

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Max:  What, Mr. Fleishman again? Isn’t there a rule against two cartoons in the same issue? Speaking of rules, gravity is about to rule on this knight attempting a 20-foot pole vault. What do you think, Simon?

Simon:  It’s another imaginative gag by Seth. It’s whimsical. I didn’t laugh, but it drew a smile.

Max:  This is a one-of-a-kind gag, no question about that. And having a taste for the medieval, I‘m tilting towards a 4.

Simon:  Let me recover a moment from your wordplay. Hmfff. Now I’m sitting down. Taking our job a little more seriously, I give this a solid 3. No caption, unique idea, moderately funny.

Max:  I think Mr. Fleishman’s cartoons play very well on the glossy pages of The New Yorker. His deep blacks and elegant lines bring a more modern look to cartooning.

Simon:  It’s a clean look, if sometimes a bit abstract looking.

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11 of 17: “Doctor Shopping” by Frank Cotham

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Simon:  Next is a Frank Cotham cartoon. I think I’ve seen this city corner many times in The New Yorker. It’s funny gag that relies on the specific wording of the caption. I think he nails with “shop around for a doctor.”

Max:  Do I detect political overtones in this fraught era of repeal and replace…with not much?

Simon: That occurred to me as well. It’s a pretty good gag but nothing special. I give it a 3.

Max:  In contrast to the previous cartoon, here we have the more traditional style with rich washes and a literal, three-dimensional setting. I don’t know what’s going on with the poor fellow writhing on the sidewalk, but it doesn’t seem that the good Samaritan will return with a doctor in tow anytime soon. I’ll give this a 3 as well.

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12 of 17: “Sex Tape Critics” by William Haefeli

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Max:  Mr. Haefeli offers a little variation from his more typical suburban setting populated by upper-middle class adults. I think we’re dropping in on a frat or Millennials at their first job.

Simon:  No, these are adolescent boys for sure, Max. I don’t see a trace of the facial hair. It’s beautifully drawn and I love the black walls behind the boys, suggesting something secret and hidden, but the gag is only so-so. The “higher degree of showmanship” is the key to the caption, but I didn’t even smile at this one.

Max:  Speaking of age, I do notice the summer camp bracelets on the chap in the foreground, so perhaps they are in high school. They certainly appear jaded enough, and the caption is not bad. As usual with Mr. Haefeli, we get a strong composition, so I’ll go all the way to a 4.

Simon: “Not bad” to me means a 3, and that’s what I’m sticking with.

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13 of 17: “Rear Guard Action” by Paul Noth

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Simon:  Next is a Paul Noth cartoon. I thought this is one of the funnier cartoons in this issue. We have the setting of the generals around the map, which is a familiar premise in New Yorker cartoons, but this is a new and funny take.

Max:  If fact, this premise made #65 on the Cartoon Cliché list, called “Military Roundtable.” Its insight is that the planners of martial mayhem are always behind the lines, safe with their pomp and perks. I give it a 5.

Simon:  Yes, I agree, it has a nice edge to it. I wish I could read that map better, so at least I’d be better prepared for the next unnecessary war. I also give it a 5.

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14 of 17: “Here’s Looking at You” by Amy Hwang

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Max:  This next cartoon is an optically interesting concept, with one woman offering another a view of the park through a neighboring set of windows a few feet away. It’s got an only-in-NYC vibe.

Simon:  What a great take on apartment hunting in New York, and how a realtor will exaggerate the benefits of a particular apartment. I agree that visually it’s very imaginative, and that’s what makes the whole cartoon work. It appears that one has to look across a narrow street into the next apartment and through that entire apartment to get a glimpse of the park

Max:  I almost feel claustrophobic looking at it. When a cartoon can simultaneously be funny and impart a feeling, it deserves a 5 at least.

Simon:  It’s an exaggeration cartoon, which means only the best will get a high score from me, but visually it’s quite good. I will give it a 4.

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15 of 17: “Celestial Effects Artists” by Roz Chast

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Simon:  Next we have a Roz Chast cartoon, and not surprisingly, there are three individuals, all apparently in Heaven. I thought this was not a particularly strong cartoon. The first line about creating clouds is pretty good. Then the second comment about elephants confused me. I had to stop and wonder if that somehow was a reference to clouds that look like elephants, but then I got to the third guy with a really funny line about Saturn, and I understood that the second line is unrelated to the other two comments, which basically deal with things not on Earth, if you follow me.

Max:  I do follow you and I was thrown by the middle person as well. I even went back to the first speaker to double-check that I understood the progression. And yes, I agree the third speaker was the funniest. I think this cartoon would’ve been stronger had she stuck with the celestial theme and had the middle woman refer to shooting stars, a half-moon, or something like that.

Simon:  Given that’s a pretty basic problem, are we going to give Roz a below average grade?

Max:  That is strong stuff indeed, Simon. It’s difficult not to award a legend, but like Meryl Streep, you don’t bring home the statue every time. I’ll give it 2.

Simon:  That’s where I’m heading, with some regret, especially because I like the third guy’s line. Nevertheless, if you have to stop in the middle of the cartoon and scratch your head for second, it saps the humor from the cartoon. So count me in for a 2.

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16 of 17: “Recalled Message” by Joe Dator

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Max:  Joe Dater comes to us with a mobster sending a chilling message – this time with a twist.

Simon:  Cartoonists have gotten a lot of mileage out of the Luca Brasi scene from “The Godfather.” This one is pretty funny and well drawn, although I’m getting a little tired of this theme. I will go with a 3 for this one.

Max:  I’m up to a 4 because that fella on the right reminds me of the late actor Abe Vigoda of Barney Miller fame. That and the saturnine scowl on the seated Mafia don is very effective cartoon theater. This may be pushing the cliché list too far, but I do note a big fish/little fish connection here.

Simon:  I agree that the character looks a lot like that actor. I think you’re wrong though about the big fish/little fish cliché. That has nothing to do this cartoon.

Max:  I doubt the cartoonist intended it, but it’s our job to take cartoon criticism to its logical extreme.

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17 of 17: “Guarded Response” by P.C. Vey

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Simon:  We move on to the last cartoon, this time by P.C. Vey. Trips to the art museum are another common cartoon premise in The New Yorker, but I believe this is the one of the few where the guard delivers the funny line.

Max:  I thought this was a good gag because of all the museum security measures in place these days. For example, the closest you can get to the Mona Lisa in the Louvre is on your iPad.

Simon:  You mean that Gustav Klimt in your living room is not a poster?

Max:  Simon, I’ll have you know that’s an authentic piece, circa 2014. Harumph! Occasionally, Mr. Vey’s idiosyncratic style can get in the way of his humor, but here his style works very well with the look of the two museum-goers seemingly taken aback.

Simon:  I like the flat expression of the guard. I give this a 4. By the way, I looked at some old P.C. Vey cartoons, and his drawing style was less exaggerated, so his style has evolved, or maybe has just gotten more so.

Max:  I will have to go with the 3 on this one. It’s pretty good, but reminds me of the dismal state of affairs in the shrinking world of cartoon publishing.

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