I submitted this cartoon to the New Yorker in 2007 and it was rejected. It was an almost-but-not-quite kind of idea, but worth revisiting.
I finally got around to revisiting the idea a while ago, and came up with a much simpler and better setup, which appears in this week‘s New Yorker:
So it took six years to come up with a better cartoon for this one simple idea. The process wasn’t so simple, but as I retrace my steps in those six years, I can definitely see the formula for success. My approach was to say “whatever,” move on to the next thing, forget completely that I had ever done this cartoon in the first place, go to sleep, get up the next day and drink coffee, eat and drink as I usually do, work at some stuff, work at some other stuff, get up earlier some days and later some days, do social things every once in a while, try to eat healthy, go on vacation, waste time on the internet, try to lead a normal life, try not to lead a boring life, go to the doctor, return my DVD copy of the Wire Season 3 Episodes 1-2 because it was scratchy, decide to sign up for honors points at hotels in case I ever need to use them but then forget what my password is, have my appendix explode, have a bunch of relationship problems, drink a bunch of Shiner Bock one summer for some reason, go to a baseball game at Wrigley Field for the first time, buy long-sleeved shirts in the springtime when they’re cheaper because stores are trying to clear them out, do a Vine video, Google “Murray Head” because I didn’t know he was the guy who sang “One Night in Bangkok” because who needs to know that information, get rid of a bunch of books I don’t need anymore, upgrade my phone, and then wake up one day and then think “hey – I have a funny idea about warning shots that’s better than the one I had several years ago.”
This process was all pretty intentional, and it worked so well that I’m going to use it for every cartoon I do that gets rejected. But I don’t want to be protective of it. I’m happy to share this process with you for you to use in your work as you see fit.
You might think my cartoon in this week‘s New Yorker is a copyediting joke to appeal to the punctuation police, the nerds who are always getting upset about these things. That view is dangerous, because it overlooks the fact that punctuation can be objectively bad. They get away with it, because most of the time they’re so small that we don’t notice what they’re really doing. But if you are able to zoom in on your screen or with a pair of magnifying glasse’s ( <see what I mean? Stupid apostrophe inserted himself in there when i wasn’t looking) you will often be shocked at how horrible apostrophes really are:
And it’s not just apostrophes. Quotation marks can be just as repellent:
Or, as T.S. Eliot wrote:
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but with a misplaced semicolon;
Security cameras: they’re everywhere, right? You’re probably starring in a security film right now. There are people whose job it is to stare at security footage all day and night, and so for my cartoon that appears in this week’s New Yorker I had the idea to essentially take that scene – people staring at a bank of security screens – and give it a caption that made it into something different. Kind of like I did with this, a few years ago:
Below is the sketch that I had initially drawn. If you can read my scrawl you can see that I had written that the security guy was not, in fact, on the job watching security footage, but was in the break room watching noir films. It made humorous sense to me that the folks who watch grainy footage of dimly lit hallways and empty parking lots would, in their free time, be drawn to films with shadowy interiors and darkened street corners. But my fellow cartoonist Paul Noth suggested to me that it made even more humorous sense that they would be watching “classic” security footage instead, for whatever reason.
I knew Paul was right. Not just because he sits around in his own free time and watches hours of classic security videos on the Hidden Camera Channel, which he often does, but also because he’s got great comic instincts. And so I went with that. I hated the first draft of the finished art work that I did
so I did another version that I was a lot happier with, and voilá:
The last decade has not been a kind one for illustrators who prefer hand drawing. With the obvious exception of New Yorker covers, illustrations in print and digital media have often been pushed out in favor of infographics, photographs, or various things you could just put under the category of Things That Are Not Illustrations.
The world of criminal justice still needs artists, though. We’ve still got to have people who can quickly render a mugshot of a suspect or sketch out a courtroom scene. This has always been fascinating to me: artists doing the work of the law. I don’t imagine the 21st century artistic temperament being a great fit for this field. I mean, who are the people who are drawn to doing this kind of art for a living? (I used to draw on gravestones for a living, so I can ask these questions.) I look forward to news coverage of courtroom events because it’s the one time when we get to see real live art, and it’s not always pretty. Have you ever looked at courtroom art? There is a good sampling here. Some is great and some is outright terrible. A lot of it is what I’d call “fittingly uncomfortable.”
Once, in my college newspaper, I used a real police sketch in a cartoon. The face of this breaker-and-enterer was photocopied and plastered all over campus, so it was instantly recognizable to everybody. I had him breaking and entering into my cartoon panel. I probably didn’t have any other good ideas that week. >
I’ve tried a few times to publish a cartoon that captures the awkwardness and/or absurdity of an artist in the courtroom. There’s this one from a few years ago, which is kinda stupid (and is too similar to this one which I already had published and which I like a whole lot better):
And more recently this, which misses the mark:
But in the cartoon for for this week’s issue I was more on target, although you can see that my original caption was different. The Zimmerman verdict had been handed down the week that I was drawing this, and the experience of people trying to make sense of the trial helped give me the language for the caption that seemed more appropriate.
So this is the one that finally made the cut. And in case you’re wondering, yes: the pineapple is currently in the witness protection program.
My cartoon that appears in the June 24 issue of the New Yorker depicts two women talking while they are out for a walk. One of them is saying something that sounds like a tweet. You’d think it would be easier to draw two women walking: no backgrounds, no shadows, no dogs. Well, this one wasn’t. That is all.
This really is the perfect example of how ideas can start off rough and then marinate over a long period of time to become something good.
I drew this in my sketchbook a long time ago. It’s an usher telling a well-dressed couple that their seats are not in the orchestra pit, but the mosh pit. Yeah, go ahead and groan. I never drew it up for submission because I didn’t think it was worthy. First of all, you have to include both halves of the joke in order for it to work (orchestra/mosh) which means you’re telegraphing the punch line to the reader in advance. And it looks like the couple is getting pranked. Pranking is funny, but not in cartoons. That’s best left to Ashton Kutcher.
But opera vs. mosh pit was still a funny juxtaposition. That’s because mosh pits are outright stupid. Someone should do a different cartoon about them that has more to do with what actually goes on there. I’m not opposed to them. If you’re young enough or drunk enough they’re a great way to blow off steam. I prefer the crazy skank-dancing ones to the ones where people line up and batter each other like angry rams, but it is funny how they spontaneously materialize if the conditions are right and then disappear, almost like the Northern Lights if the Northern Lights had tattoos up it’s arm and grew up listening to System of a Down.
True story: somebody tried to kill me in a mosh pit once. The person kept pushing me into the trombone player, hoping that I would get knocked unconscious with the instrument (it was a ska band – how did you know?). This year at SXSW I was standing well outside of a mosh pit watching people crowd-surf with their backpacks still on. It made me wonder whether mosh pits were less dangerous now, or whether this was just good multi-tasking. I mean, if you’re crowd surfing for more than two minutes then it’s as good an opportunity as any to get some good reading done.
The point is, I never liked this cartoon. And then one day I saw something that had an opera box in it. I don’t remember what it was, specifically, but I had it on the brain when I came across this sketch again and suddenly the problems were solved. The visual cue for the opera box is better than the verbal one for the orchestra pit. That’s the last thing you expect the woman to be looking down upon. And she’s not getting duped. She wants in herself, which is a lot funnier idea from a humor standpoint because it makes you look at her again and say “wha-?”
From there all that was left to do was draw the revised scenario, which appears in the New Yorker this week. I had to use reference because I’ve never been to the opera before. Maybe someday I will get to go to one and dive into the crowd from the balcony.