Max:  It looks like we’ll be reviewing the Russian version of The New Yorker this week, Simon.

Simon:  Such a cute butterflyski! Is he asking for asylum in Russia?

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1 of 15 – Page 23: “Cartesian Cartoon” by James Stevenson

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Simon:  We start with a cartoon featuring none other than René Descartes.

Max:  Well, my Latin’s a bit rusty, but is he saying, “I think, therefore I can add?”

Simon:  You obviously haven’t attained the Age of Enlightenment, Max, but close enough. This cartoon poses a philosophical conundrum for Mme. Descartes, who is less interested in what he is than what she needs.

Max:  Though creative in this well-rendered drawing, does this theme seem dated to you?

Simon:  It does, and while the cartoonist’s style seemed familiar to me, it wasn’t until I checked the First Federal Cartoon Bank of New York that I realized this that cartoon is by James Stevenson, a wonderful cartoonist for The New Yorker, who passed away recently. He had a beautiful control of ink, and his washes are rich and textured.

Max:  Unfortunately, the gag doesn’t quite wash with me. I give it a 3.

Simon:  The problem, as you noted, is the gag is dated, and we’ve seen many variations of it. If this were 30 or 40 years ago, which is when this cartoon was probably drawn, I’d have high praise for it. But today it’s a 3 for me as well. It’s certainly not the cartoon I would have selected to celebrate James Stevenson. There are far better ones on cartoonbank.com.

Max:  And what says the Mystery New Yorker Cartoonist?

Simon:  For our new readers, a word of explanation: the Mystery New Yorker Cartoonist is a real cartoonist whose work has appeared in The New Yorker. She or he selects one cartoon per issue to comment on.

Max:  I do so love mysteries. Take it away Mystery New Yorker Cartoonist.

Mystery New Yorker Cartoonist:  This may be the last time one of the greatest New Yorker cartoonists, James Stevenson, appears in the magazine so if I’m going to comment on one cartoon in this issue, it’s his–even if this cartoon originally appeared forty-eight years ago…even if I’d be lying if I said I totally got this cartoon. I had to look up the Latin translation but that says more about my education than his work. The drawing itself is enough for me.

Stevenson passed away a couple of weeks ago and cartoonists revisited his body of work, reminded of his genius (his obituaries also included slideshows of his work). He was a master of using wash and line (here are two other excellent examples). Stevenson’s work never looked like he fought with his medium. Too much new work today feels belabored and lacks spontaneity. And he was very funny.

Prettiest drawing in the issue. I give it a 4.

 

2 of 15 – Page 36: “Breaking New Ground” by Paul Noth

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Max:  Moving on to Paul North, this is a wonderful gag, especially that little finger point by the witness.

Simon:  Of course, we’ve seen a great many police lineup cartoons, but this one is unlike any I can recall and does not rely on a caption. The broken floor is a nice visual.

Max:  Mr. Noth always has that clean line, and though the police lineup is a venerable theme stretching back decades, I give this one a 5. Keep in mind the higher degree of difficulty that accompanies a captionless cartoon.

Simon:  Pow, you the gag immediately. Under the old, looser rating standards, I would have agreed, but today I award it a high 4.

For more on Paul Noth, check out paulnoth.com.

 

3 of 15 – Page 39: “Dishonest Donald” by Peter Kuper

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Simon:  This Kuper cartoon is topical and beautifully drawn. Note the atmospheric perspective of the trees in the background. All of the elements of the drawing, especially the finely rendered house, could hardly be improved on.

Max:  Could Washington’s father be any taller or more forbidding? The irregular outline of the cartoon lends it an almost sepia tone. I wonder, Simon, what influences you see in Mr. Kuper‘s bucolic scene.

Simon:  Interesting question. I see a little Charles Addams in the father’s face—he even looks a  bit like Charles Addams. Turning to the gag, I think this cartoon is about a month too late. I’ve already seen variations of this very same idea on the Internet.

Max:  Although I like the prefatory remark we now hear so often “To be honest…”. I wonder if everything not so qualified is a lie, or if “To be honest” means the opposite. These are confusing times.

Simon:  And “I inherited this mess” is phrase we’ve recently heard from our esteemed CEO, or rather President, so the line is current, but as I said, the gag has been bouncing around for awhile.

Max:  The drawing is yet another nicely rendered period piece. I give it a 4, though it’s a little on the dying edge of topicality.

Simon:  I give it a 4 on the strength of the drawing.

For more on Peter Kuper, check out peterkuper.com.

 

4 of 15 – Page 43: “Gun Fun” by Edward Steed

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Max:  Mr. Steed makes a reappearance after several weeks’ absence. Simon, I think he’s got a winner here.

Simon:  This is definitely in his warped wheelhouse.

Max:  Would any other animal be as funny as a chicken in this scene?

Simon:  They’re ducks, Max, not chickens. You evidently haven’t spent much time at shooting galleries. Ducks spin on a wheel or bob up and down. You shoot them as a duck hunter would. Who ever heard of hunting chickens with a rifle? Plus these cartoon birds have bills, not beaks.

Max:  Okay, enough. Turning to the art, Simon, do I detect echoes of Ralph Steadman here?

Simon:  Now you’re talking. Steed’s artwork seems to me like a somewhat crabbed version of Steadman’s. This cartoon works so well because of the parallel between the two groups. Each is getting something.

Max:  The full-throated funhouse of horrors is on full display here. Steed merits a 5.

Simon:  I’m going to give this a 4 even though I like the gag. It’s so cramped on the right side that it hurts the image. That’s probably why the magazine allotted to it a prized three columns. Just wondering … if these are his finishes, what do his roughs look like? I imagine stab wounds on Strathmore.

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

 

5 of 15 – Page 44: “Unauthorized Bio” by Jack Ziegler

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Simon:  Up next is a Ziegler cartoon of a man at lunch with his unauthorized biographer. It’s a funny and novel gag. I like the grim expressions on both faces.

Max:  And notice how the asymmetric aspect of this composition pulls attention down left onto the subject of the unauthorized biography.

Simon:  A well-executed drawing as always for Ziegler, but it’s not a belly laugh. I give this a 4.

Max:  Yes, I was a little confused by the pulling up of the suit coat until I sussed through the caption title. I give this a 3, which I know is heresy given the legendary stature of Mr. Ziegler.

For more on Jack Ziegler, check out newyorker.com/contributors/jack-ziegler.

 

6 of 15 – Page 47: “Dance of the Middle-Schoolers” by Jason Adam Katzenstein

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Max: Here the middle-school dancers ape the poses of Matisse’s “The Dance.” I recall a similar theme in a Ziegler cartoon late last year. “The Joffrey Ballet Just Barely Misses the 7:38 Out of Poughkeepsie

Simon:  Plus there are six additional cartoons on cartoonbank.com alone that rely on that painting. If a cartoonist wants to do an eighth cartoon for The New Yorker, it had better be damn funny to get above a 3.

Max:  It certainly captures the inner middle-school mind. I shiver at those memories. I give it a 3.

Simon:  I like what each individual is saying and how it relates to his or her position in the group, but this is a tough hill to climb given the repetitive theme. With that in mind, I give it a 3.

Max:  I suspect the central falling figure of Junoesque proportions is the teacher.

Simon:  If this were really an accurate depiction of a middle-school dance, or at least one at my middle-school, all of the boys would be on one side of the cartoon and all the girls would be on the other side.

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

 

7 of 15 – Page 48: “Snowbound” by Liana Finck

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Simon:  Up next we have a Liana Finck cartoon that necessarily relies on a lot of white space. I just didn’t think this was particularly funny. The drawing is okay, but the gag is so-so.

Max:  I found it funny-absurd that the St. Bernard would struggle nobly through mountains of snow only to be turned down by a dude with stadium-style beer gear.

Simon:  I would have used the more current expression “I’m good” instead of “I’m fine.” Based on our tougher standard, I’m going to drop this one down to a 2.

Max:  I go you two ratings better— a 4 in homage to all the beer crazies out there.

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

 

8 of 15 – Page 53: “Woke Fridge” by Drew Dernavich

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Max:  Simon, this cartoon had me scrambling for my urban slang dictionary. I had no idea what was meant in referring to the refrigerator as “woke”. What about you?

Simon:  Ditto. I have since learned that “woke” is akin perhaps to enlightened or aware or “with it”, to resurrect an old term. Even though we may have been handicapped by our lack of urban slang knowledge, I still don’t see what makes this appliance so woke. Is it the hashtag?

Max:  Right. I see a bunch of Post-Its…I see a # symbol…I guess I’m just not understanding why this refrigerator is in touch with the events and concerns of the day. I’m giving this a perplexed 2. Perhaps we can reach out to Mr. Dernavich.

Simon:  I guess if we have to ask, then it’s a 2. Shall I knock on his metaphorical door?

Max:  Sure, don’t be shy. He’s a cartoonist, not a border patrol agent.

Simon:  Uh…Mr. Dernavich? Drew? We at CC respectfully inquire as to the state of wokefulness of the refrigerator depicted in your cartoon, as we too would like to be fully woke.

Drew Dernavich:  Well I came up with that gag in my head, but as I was sketching it out I was challenged with the idea of – what does a woke fridge look like, exactly? I don’t know if you saw the GIF of that cartoon I put up on IG and Twitter, but in my first sketches I had the appliance holding a bunch of protest signs and such, and thought about putting specific topical hashtags on there. I showed it to someone and they thought that was too over the top, and maybe trivialized things. If I had a more breezy, cartoony style I could have anthropomorphized the fridge a little more, with a face or hands or whatever, but I don’t know if that would have been better.

Since the joke is really in the caption and not the drawing, I figured I needed to do as little as possible to convey that the fridge was more aware than the other appliances. Less is usually more, anyway. So it’s wandered away from its spot against the wall and has some post-it items on it, which are supposed to allude to news events, and the hashtag symbol without an actual hashtag which would have pinned the joke down to one specific issue.

That was my thinking – but it’s up to readers to determine whether this joke lands, or whether it’s any good. You win some and you lose some!

Max:  Well, there you go, direct from the cartoonist, the whole evolution of that cartoon.

Simon:  Very informative. Thank you, Drew Dernavich, for that thoughtful reply and for lending the appearance of respectability to our website.

For more on Drew Dernavich, check out drewdernavich.com.

 

9 of 15 – Page 54: “Getting Medieval” by Michael Maslin

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Simon:  All right, next up is a Michael Maslin cartoon. It’s a very urban New York cartoon based on the common complaint that not only has Manhattan become too expensive but that Brooklyn is now unaffordable. I think “Middle Ages” is a great punchline to this gag.

Max:  Yeah, the impossible housing prices in the New York metropolitan area is a venerable theme. Usually the joke turns on some clever though real situation. This is the first I’ve seen where the out-of-luck couple turns to time travel.

Simon:  Yes, that took me by surprise in a good way. Clearly, this is an outer borough. The peasant pulling his cart of hay is a nice touch. I’m giving this a solid 4.

Max:  And I like how the couple appears so relaxed that they’ve already blended into their new neighborhood. I, as you know, am a sucker for of all things castles and moats, so I give this a 5.

For more on Michael Maslin, check out michaelmaslin.com.

 

10 of 15 – Page 58: “Cramming” by Roz Chast

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Max:  Quite a departure here for Ms. Chast, with a 1950s-era robot sitting at a desk, cramming for a big test. What do you make of this one, Simon?

Simon:  That robot looks either like something from an Ed Wood flick or a costume at a kids’ Halloween parade. The lamp is also very retro. I like the gag a lot. The Turing test has become part of our language, so we’re starting see humor based on it. Did this one make you chuckle, Max?

Max:  It did indeed. As you know the Turing test is the philosophical underpinning of artificial intelligence. I also like some of the details. Is that a pen and a pad of paper there or perhaps flashcards that the robot will use to nail down this information for his test?

Simon:  And absent from this drawing is a computer. So how do you grade this, Max?

Max:  This is a high IQ cartoon and very well executed. I give it a 5. And you?

Simon:  I’ll go with a high 4.

 For more on Roz Chast, check out rozchast.com.

 

11 of 15 – Page 63: “Stairway to Heaven” by Frank Cotham

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Simon:  Next is a Frank Cotham cartoon. This is similar to one he did that was used for the caption contest some years ago.

Max:  As we’ve discussed before, it’s not common to underline a word in a caption, but I think they needed it here. Mr. Cotham’s artistic style is a throwback to an earlier generation of New Yorker cartoonists, one that I happen to enjoy.

Simon:  Yes, I like his style, but he almost always depicts shadowy interiors. Honestly, I don’t think the exterior view is nearly as effective. This cloud looks like it’s in isolation.

Max:  Yeah, although I like the compositional aspects of it, I was left a little flat by the gag. I’m going to give this a 2.

Simon:  It’s an okay gag and drawing. I’m giving it a 3, but I might be influenced by the fact that I love so many of his cartoons.

For more on Frank Cotham, check out condenaststore.com/Frank-Cotham

 

12 of 15 – Page 64: “Funny Bunnies” by Trevor Spaulding

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Max:  We have a Trevor Spaulding cartoon for the second issue in a row. Aren’t those bunnies cute?

Simon:  I feel that this is not even a New Yorker cartoon. Cute has no place in the magazine.

Max:  Yeah, I can almost see this cartoon in Reader’s Digest. Not a bad gag though.

Simon:  It’s just a little too sweet—and too obvious. The drawing is fine, but I’m going to drop it down to a 2. Sorry, Mr. Spaulding. It’s a jungle out there in Cartoonland.

Max:  I would also have to give this a saccharine mark down. 2 for me as well.

For more on Trevor Spaulding, check out trevorspaulding.com.

 

13 of 15 – Page 67: “Sick Humor” by Emily Flake

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Simon:  Next we have an Emily Flake cartoon. We haven’t seen a lot of her lately. This caption is a fairly long way to go for a so-so-gag, and I think that the figures are not all that gracefully drawn.

Max:  Hey, I have some of those petals, Simon, and the I know what she‘s talking about. I also like how she pumped up the caption with “if I run it through some of these sick effects pedals”— not bad.

Simon:  Well, we’re certainly getting our share of slang à la mode in this issue. I give this one a 3, and that’s probably generous.

Max:  I dig the character on the left. It’s a very strong drawing for me and I can appreciate how she is counterbalanced by the much busier right-hand side. She does look a bit suspicious of this argument; she finds it specious. I give it a 3.

Simon:  Then your 3 is higher than my 3.

For more on Emily Flake, check out emilyflake.com.

 

14 of 15 – Page 74: “Late Delivery” by Ellis Rosen

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Max:  Ellis Rosen brings us a winner here in my book. We’ve seen the maze many times, but this “sorry I’m late” part makes this cartoon really go.

Simon:  I believe this is only the second New Yorker cartoon by Mr. Rosen, but I’m familiar with his comic Bunnyman, which is much darker—more in the style of what used to be called underground comics. He actually has several different styles. For The New Yorker, he uses a more conventional style. It’s a funny gag.

Max:  It sure is, and it’s about something as prosaic as the pizza delivery, but the maze just dominates this cartoon visually and powers the gag line.

Simon:  Yes it’s proficiently drawn, with all of those hard edges and acute and obtuse angles. Usually a maze cartoon is drawn from the perspective of the scientists, but here you’re almost in the maze, just above the rodents’ heads. Hm, the delivery rodent (a rat, I presume) wears a uniform, even a hat, but the other rodent is buck naked—an artistic choice the cartoonist made. I’m going to give this a high 4.

Max:  I counter with a low 5.

For more on Ellis Rosen, check out ellis-rosen.format.com.

 

15 of 15 – Page 77: “Look Out Below” by Jim Bentonfirst-place-ribbon

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Simon:  Finally, we have a cartoonist who is making his first appearance at The New Yorker. Congratulations, Jim Benton. I took a look at his website. He has written and illustrated a number of children’s books, which apparently have sold more copies than there are children in the world, but he also draws cartoons. Again, he also has a variety of styles. What you think of his cartoon, Max?

Max:  I confess it took me a moment or two to recognize what’s going on, but it’s a very funny gag. The idea of knocking these potted plants from high up in some apartment building to get the expressions that he wants for his portraits is certainly original.

Simon:  And it gives new meaning to the term “action painting.” I got the gag after a couple of seconds, but I lingered over the horrified expressions of the pedestrians, which contrast with the almost vacant look on the artist’s face, not to mention the blank canvas that separates to two halves of the cartoon. My one quibble is that I had to look carefully at the artist’s left hand because the paintbrush kind of blended into the windowsill. He should have moved that hand a little bit so that you could read the brush better. That area is the whole focus of the cartoon. It’s a small issue, but it caused me to hesitate.

Max:  I also find it quite clever that he‘s got studies taped up above the more finished masterpieces. He is an artist of opportunity.

Simon:  It’s a clever idea and pretty well drawn. I like the edginess of it. I’m climbing the ladder to a 5.

Max:  We’ve been admonished that a 6 should be a classic. I haven’t awarded one in a week or two, and I’m getting itchy.

Simon:  Well, you keep your 6s to yourself and I’ll keep my 1s to myself.

Max:  I’m toying with a 6 I’m so fond of this one, but I’ll stay at 5.

Simon:  That’s all for now. Until next week, До свидания!

For more on Jim Benton, check out jimbenton.com