April 9, 2009

A rant, part III

…wherein I become a little less ranty. After part I and part II, lets look at a couple of New Yorker cartoons that I actually really like.

But first, to respond to two comments I've received about this extended bout of vitriol: (1) Yes, I'm sure the cartoons were in general much better in the golden age of The New Yorker, the '50s and thereabouts. Makes sense. All the more reason why the magazine should go the extra mile to hire worthy talent today. (2) Of course many of the cartoons lack timeliness because they were drawn months earlier; I know all about evergreen features and articles in the magazine business. But something about Bernie Madoff, or any newsworthy figure, necessarily has a timeliness element to it. If Roz Chast can't draw it when the topic is still a fresh one—or The New Yorker can't run it—then it should be killed.

Now, then, onto goodness. I love these cartoons:
The basis of most humor is the conflict between expectation and reality (which is why the best way to make a baby laugh is to surprise him), and this cartoon is a pretty stark example: That comically over-the-top stereotypical prison goon is this guy's mom. If the word "Mom" were instead "Dad," or "Phil," there'd be no joke here, of course (or at least not a good one). "Susan" or another female name would be okay, by "Mom" nails it. Clever enough, but what really makes me laugh is the drawing. Not just the boilerplate-scary ex-con, but the blandly cheery look on the driver's face. He doesn't look scared or concerned that his mother has turned into Mr. Zsasz; he seems to just be making friendly, typically parent-pleasing conversation. This really works.I have a little more trouble putting my finger on why I like this one so much. First of all, I think it's extremely well drawn; this writer has a terrific, clean yet light style that's perfect for the dry wit that suits New Yorker cartoons best. Also, and maybe this doesn't say anything good about me, but I find inherent humor in hosptials: the surgical masks, the gas tanks, the prone woman on the table; I like dark comedy. Plus, "Feldman" is just a funny name (sorry, chief). Finally, I suppose it's just the clever juxtaposition of surgery and getting lost on the road that this artist synthesizes so skillfully. Another example of what every cartoon in The New Yorker should be like. Perhaps, maybe, someday: I will continue to dream.

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