Max: The cover of this week’s issue screams “Play ball!”

Simon: And it’s our job at Cartoon Companion to call the balls and strikes.



1 of 14: “Australopithecus interruptus” by Danny Shanahan

View this cartoon as made available by The New Yorker Cartoon Bank.

Simon:  We start this week with a caveman cartoon by Danny Shanahan. We’ve seen a lot of cavemen traipsing through the pages of The New Yorker of late. The magazine seems to be stuck in the Paleolithic Age. Even back then there were visitors who came calling at inconvenient times, such as dinnertime. This cartoon turns wholly on the word “hole”, a funny and evocative word.

Max:  As you know, Simon, I can’t get enough of caveman single-panel cartoons!

Simon:  “Cave opening” would not been nearly as funny as “hole”. It’s a pretty good gag, and a new line for an old premise. I’m wavering between a 3 and a 4; call it a high 3.

Max:  I’ll have to up that score to a 4. The subtle turn of phrase in the caption was unexpected. And it made me look up the cave tunnel and think about drop-in visitors around dinnertime. I like this one.

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2 of 14: “Footprints, Evidently” by Shannon Wheeler

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Max:  We have a twist on the classic police lineup. Simon, did the police lineup make the Bob Mankoff cartoon cliché list?

Simon:  You bet. It’s #81, with a bullet.

Max:  Nonetheless, these clichés serve a comedic purpose; this one clearly shows the victim was the tap-danced upon during an assault or robbery, and the only recollection he had was of feet dancing away.

Simon:  That’s my take on this too, but why in the world would someone dance on someone’s back? Am I missing something here, Max?

Max:  This cartoon requires a pirouette of faith. The footprints on the victim’s coat are hardly those of a genteel dance step by an Arthur Murray instructor – more like being run over by a herd of bad guys.

Simon:  That’s the confusing part to me. If someone had trampled someone, I could see why that could be an assault. But dance? The footprints are reminiscent of how-to dance steps, not the imprints of a mindless mob. The whole concept so far-fetched that I’m scratching my head more than smiling. I give this 2.

Max:  Simon, you just have to open your mind to more esoteric interpretations. I’ll give it a 3.

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3 of 14: “In the Spotlight” by John Klossner

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Simon:  The next cartoon is by John Klossner. I thought this was imaginative and original. The fact that there are no other people or animals in the cartoon is also kind of arresting. Did you like this one, Max?

Max:  It’s not bad. I took it to mean the spotlight operator is going up to perform, and in his/her absence the spotlight has wandered. I might be missing something. I give this a 2.

Simon:  I have a different interpretation of this cartoon. The performer is the spotlight operator himself or herself. So the cartoon is depicting a performance. And I thought that it’s particularly amusing because the spotlight operator obviously does not need a microphone at all, so it’s ironic to have an open mic for a spotlight operator. I give this a 4.

Max:  Having run a spotlight at a rock show many years ago, I know how boring it can be. Also, one can get an overinflated opinion about the importance of shining such a bright light. Simon, you have shed light on this cartoon, so I’ll revise my score to a 3.

Simon:  I didn’t know that you were a roadie for Grand Funk Railroad. How were the hallucinogens?

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4 of 14: “Hard to Stomach” by Jason Adam Katzenstein

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Max:  Here’s the funniest cartoon yet – I liked the rather arch comment from the nearer snake, but the striped outline of the mouse was diabolically delicious. What did you think, Simon?

Simon:  Funny and macabre at the same time. The mouse outline is so absurd as to take the edge off the macabre element. It bothered me a bit that the snakes resembled cables. They appear too round. And I think Mr. Katzenstein overdid the rings on the body, and for some reason the faces of the snakes don’t read well, which is odd given the detail of the bodies.

Max:  You know, Simon, the Cartoon Editor at The New Yorker disapproves of too much facial expression. Also, I have no love lost for the occasional delectable mouse, so I give it a 4.

Simon:  It’s an interesting image for sure, and you certainly don’t see the expression on the mouse’s face. I’ll join you with a 4.

For more on Jason Adam Katzenstein, check out


5 of 14: “Rocky Corporate Road” by Drew Dernavich

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Simon:  Next up is a Drew Dernavich cartoon. I think this is one of his funniest cartoons in a long time. Instead of the friendly ice cream vendor, we have a bunch of suits behind the rollup door of an ice cream truck. Did you like this one as much as I did, Max?

Max:  I thought the shoulder slump of the disappointed young snacker was a nice touch. Of course, one can’t help but wonder why the corporate offices are rolling around in the truck – field work? It’s absurd, but it works.

Simon:  I’m surprised that the legal department at The New Yorker allowed the trademark Mister Softee logo–the man with the ice cream head–to be emblazoned on this cartoon truck. In any case, I’m going to go up to a low 5 for this one.

Max:  Perhaps the legal department was in an ice cream stupor when this one came across the desk. It’s a strong gag, I’ll give it a 4.

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6 of 14: “Puppet-Free Zone” by Bruce Eric Kaplan

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Max:  Mr. Kaplan brings us his fussy old couple, again inhabiting the upper center and left in the panel. The irascible old gent just doesn‘t want to see puppets in anything anymore, and I can’t say I blame him.

Simon:  I like this cartoon. It’s a great commentary on the trend of including  puppets large and small in theatrical productions these days. This old guy has outgrown puppets, dammit. I think this is one Bruce Eric Kaplan’s better cartoons, in part because it includes someone who we can relate to on some level, as opposed to the nihilistic characters he features so often.

Max:  Honestly, Simon, the last cute puppets I can recall were in the Sound of Music. If I could join the fellow on the couch in hearty agreement, I would. I give this one a 5.

Simon:  I am going to award this a 5 as well. It’s a strong cartoon and well-executed as usual. And I believe the Mystery New Yorker Cartoonist would like to weigh in at this juncture.

Mystery New Yorker Cartoonist:  This, and Danny Shanahan’s cave cartoon, were the only cartoons that got a rise out of me. I give them both a 4, with Bruce’s getting the edge.

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7 of 14: “Paramedicine” by Trevor Spaulding

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Simon:  Next we have a Trevor Spaulding cartoon set in what could be a pharmacy or something less than a pharmacy. It’s a cartoon that I suspect a lot of pharmacists and medical professionals who are skeptical of holistic medications will post on their refrigerators or perhaps their medicine cabinets.

Max:  The cartoon is set in one of those the grungy stores with a name like, “Healthy Life Vitamins“ or something. The preponderant odor is generally that of stale vitamin C–yuck.

Simon:  Yes, I have a beef with these stores that sell blue green algae skimmed from suburban pools and bees earwax concoctions.

Max:  They should just rename these stores “Placebo”. It’s a good gag and a complex composition–lots of detail and nice washes. I give it a 4.

Simon:  I agree with you once again, Max, and give it a 4.

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8 of 14: “Strong Coffee, Weak Writing” by Will McPhail

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Max:  As always, Mr. McPhail brings his true-to-life illustration style. There’s a ton going on in the coffeehouse background, but thoughtfully recessed with light gray washes. The place feels lively, and the classic inhabitant comes equipped with his indispensable accoutrement – an Apple laptop. But what about the gag, Simon?

Simon:  This really is a prototypical New Yorker cartoon. It features a writer or would-be writer in an urban coffeehouse. It screams New York. My only question is what is a server doing in a coffeehouse? Have you ever seen such a person?

Max:  Well, the cup alone screams Starbucks; however, the server didn’t bother me. It’s the right set-up for this gag. She’s a fine foil for this chap who’s obviously stuck on page 143 of his third failed novel.

Simon:  I agree he has to speak to someone, and the server is the likely person. Her expressions a little puzzling. I’m not sure if she’s sympathetic or just puzzled. It’s good but not great. I give it a 3.

Max:  I liked it more than you, Simon. Facetiously asking about a relatable protagonist is a clever gag line. I’m certain this young woman gets lots of quips, when she’s really looking for tips. I give it a 5.

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9 of 14: “Beard Sharing” by William Haefeli

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Simon:  Okay, next up is William Haefeli. He’s in almost every issue these days. The father could almost pass for an older brother.

Max:  They look almost identical, except for poor Dad’s comb-over and a bit of gray in the beard.

Simon:  I think he just has a receding hairline. In any case, the gag didn’t quite work for me. Once again, Haefeli’s character is making a pointed statement. It just seems too rehearsed. It’s not spontaneous.

Max:  I liked the detail on the younger man – contemporary tattoos, wristbands, and leather necklace. I also noticed the young chap is not holding back on snacking heartily in Dad’s kitchen! That said, the gag was a bit off for me, I give it a 3.

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10 of 14: “Memory Lame” by Roz Chast

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Max:  Ms. Chast has elected to go with a title and labels for this cartoon to map out the items stuck in her brain after all these years.

Simon:  I’ve seen other cartoons that depict memory lane as an actual path. I think the items she chooses are pretty funny, but not all of them are visually interesting. The TV playing without a cord is very funny, but the pieces of paper are not that interesting to look at, and the license plates resemble bundled newspapers. The group of kids is pretty funny.

Max:  I agree the classmates of yore and the TV are visually interesting, but the others are undistinguished. I would’ve preferred to just see a third item; as we know, Roz often adheres to the Rule of Three. And so do I for this cartoon, a 3.

Simon:  Yeah, it’s a 3 for me. Droll but hardly a knee-slapper.

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11 of 14: “Wrong Kittie” by Harry Bliss

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Simon:  Next up is a Harry Bliss cartoon featuring a kindly policeman, a small child, and an even smaller kitten. As usual, it’s beautifully drawn. What you think of the gag, Max?

Max:  I believe Mr. Bliss has tiptoed perilously close to Norman Rockwell territory on this one. And nothing wrong with that!

Simon:  I understand you to mean there is a mock-sentimental element at work here.

Max:  The diligent do-gooder policeman risks life and limb to rescue a kitten – which is sweetly sappy. Then Mr. Bliss whips it around with “No, the other kitten.“

Simon:  I like the expression on the kitten’s face. Just how many kittens are there up in that tree, anyway? Funny and absurd. But one thing bothers me. Look at the tremendous detail in every element of this cartoon, such as the woodgrain of the ladder, but look at the people’s faces. They’re almost abstract. The cop’s face is just dots and lines mostly. The girl’s face is slightly more expressive but extremely simply drawn. The contrast is striking. Did that bother you at all, Max?

Max:  Wow, that’s quite the exegesis for a single-panel cartoon! And, yes, that kitty is certainly throwin’ shade, I give it a 4.

Simon:  Yes it’s a strong 4 approaching a 5. By the way, Harry’s daily cartoon posts on his own website are frequently funnier than some of his that appear in The New Yorker. I invite our readers to check them out.

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12 of 14: “Over the Top” by David Sipress

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Max:  You know me, Simon, I can’t get enough of castles. And this one is timely because of all the C-suite shenanigans in the news.

Simon:  I took this as a political comment. In fact, I think that’s Steve Bannon going over the ramparts. It’s an okay gag. The lines indicating descent and where an unfortunate individual has hit the ground are a bit too funny-papers for me.

Max:  Yes, it’s a bit scratchy, but that style provides the energy for this cartoon–a major shakeup of the senior staff. I only wished Mr. Sipress had shown someone dangling by his feet; that would be Sean Spicer.

Simon:  So you agree it has political content?

Max:  Oh, yeah. It reminded me of the corporate upheaval where I work, bodies flying every which way. I give it a 4.

Simon:  I think this is barely a 3. It’s too obvious, and I’m not crazy for the style.

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13 of 14: “Intel by the Sea” by Corey Pandolph

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Simon:  Next up is a Corey Pandolph cartoon set in Mar-a-Lago, which I believe is Spanish for what-a-liar. This cartoon is explicitly political in nature. Since I don’t read the failing New York Times, please keep me current of current events, Max.

Max:  Simon, while you were reading old Garfield collections, the rest of the media repeated looped shots of Mar-a-Lago guests gathered around Trump’s patio table as he received a security briefing about North Korea.

Simon:  A gracious host shares his top-secret intel with his guests.

Max:  Apparently, the place is a security sieve with members and guests careening everywhere; all the while Trump enjoys mingling with the convivial plutocrats.

Simon:  Thank you for that intel. And with that in mind, I give this a 3. Too on the nose for me.

Max:  I admired this drawing with its swaying palm trees and tuxedoed waiter; however, the gag was a bit literal. I award a 4.

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14 of 14: “Unintended Consequences” by Amy Hwang

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Max:  Ms. Hwang depicts a pair of friends bound by political conviction. I like the concept of dual benefits here: saving the planet and saving money.

Simon:  It’s a funny take on people who feel they’re doing the right thing politically. Boycott is usually associated with angry protesters, not shoppers. It’s a typical gentle commentary by Amy Hwang.

Max:  I think Ms. Hwang comes closest to achieving a full spectrum look with her solid washes as they progress through five gradations of grey. The gag is funny and conveys a certain earnestness in the speaker. I give it a 4.

Simon:  I’ll give it a as well. And finally, I have a suggestion for the new cartoon editor, Emma Allen, who is taking over next month. I propose that she instruct two cartoonists with completely different styles and have them draw each other’s cartoons. For example, Edward Steed would draw an Amy Hwang cartoon and Amy Hwang would draw an Edward Steed cartoon. The results could be quite interesting–maybe not funny, but interesting. People would look at them and think, “Wow, I wasn’t expecting Amy Hwang to do a cartoon about an executioner. And look at that Ed Steed cartoon that features a cat; he has a soft heart after all.” So I put that out there for the new cartoon editor–no thanks is necessary.

Max:  And Simon, that’s why you’re cartoon editor of the Cartoon Companion instead of The New Yorker.

Simon:  Yes, dammit!

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