Two of my recent New Yorker cartoons, start to finish, in GIF form. Separated by pictures of otters, so it’s not so visually confusing.
Before they were published, they were just scribbles in a sketchbook.
Then I decided to see what they would look like all drawn up
and given a proper caption.
And the good ones, like this one, get published.
My original idea on this was a skeleton sitting at a desk. Funnier or just more macabre?
If you’ve never visited Incidental Comics, the blog from cartoonist Grant Snider (who is frequently featured in the NY Times Book Review), you should. His short-form narrative comics are among the most satisfying I’ve ever read. They are frequently very meta: comics about comics, or about the process of writing, or drawing, or creativity in general. His drawings are effectively simple and I love his use of color, which is artful and often symbolic. And the comics themselves are playful, insightful, and read like poetry. Since I’m working on a picture book of my own, I thought it would be a good time to repost one of my favorites from his site here. Point taken, Grant!
Never has life – my life – imitated art so perfectly as it did last week.
I drew up this cartoon earlier this year, which was published in last week’s New Yorker:
As you can see from my sketchbook entry below, I didn’t get it right on the first try. I don’t really know what I was thinking on my initial doodle – “Would anyone like to give up your seats for an equally crowded flight later on?” It makes some sense but it’s not that funny. My next attempt – “Would anyone like a free voucher in return for helping us count seats?” – is funnier. Like an airplane above Newark airport, I was circling around the idea looking for a place to land. And I finally got there.
I have no idea why the airlines intentionally overbook flights. I mean, I do, but I don’t. I understand why they might have a policy which would allow for their frequent and well-heeled customers to make last-minute reservations, and then deal with the fallout from there, but it seems like an insane way to do business. A seat is a seat, right? If you’ve ever seen a live taping of a TV show, you know that they sometimes do something similar, in that they give out more tickets than they have seats. However, they solve the problem by making it first come, first serve. And it’s usually free. It’s not “let’s charge people hundreds of dollars on tickets that we can’t accommodate and then try to bribe somebody to change their plans at the last minute.”
Anyway, on the day after the magazine was published, I flew to Los Angeles to speak at the August meeting of the National Cartoonist Society’s LA chapter, among other things. (Jenny Fine snapped a shot of me presenting in front of the graffiti-covered wall at Stories.)
My return flight home was Saturday at noon. As I was waiting to board, the gate agent repeatedly announced that they were looking for one person to volunteer to give up their seat in return for a $500 voucher. I usually don’t spring for things like that, but the next flight back to NYC was only three hours after, so I figured that was a small price to pay. I didn’t have to be back for anything, and as it was my seat was in the last row, so I didn’t mind giving that one up.
After letting the plane fully board and then approaching the desk to claim my reward, I was then told by the agent to hurry onto the plane. The deal was off. There were half a dozen passengers who hadn’t yet showed up, so I had to board the plane. At least I got a seat upgrade – I was sitting closer to the front of the plane, and some other sucker was in my former seat. But still. I wish I had had a copy of my cartoon with me to show the United gate agent. He would have been possibly the only person who wouldn’t have asked me “Where do you get your ideas?”
The very first week that I submitted cartoons to the New Yorker was in June 0f 2002. I took the train down from Boston and took this issue back home with me:
So Harry Bliss‘ public library lion has always kind of been on my brain. It’s a great image. One day this spring after I had been in Bryant Park I was revisiting those lion statues and thought of this idea, which eventually made it’s way online and into the magazine this week.
The cat is the well-known public figure whose name is actually Tardar Sauce (according to her Wikipedia page which will be longer than mine ever will be), probably appearing in the New Yorker for the first time, at least in print. Also a first-time thing for me is using a tool other than a scratchboard knife. I wanted the trees to be a texture other than that which I could create with my own hand, so they’re the result of a sponge dipped in ink. Yes, this was a crafts project! I did not do dishes with the same sponge afterward.
(It is a lie that it’s the first time I used a sponge – I used a sponge a little bit in last week’s cartoon about guy-dominated startups, but I had drawn this one first, and I’ve already started writing this blog post.)
So, for those who read my entry on Jane Mattimoe‘s A Case for Pencils blog, consider the process to be updated. Knives and sponges it is. And while we’re talking cats, a true confession: I really wanted to see the Acro-Cats circus this weekend in Brooklyn – come on, cats playing cowbell! – but the shows were all sold out. Great for Samantha Martin, the creator of the show, but bad for me. Hopefully they will come back again. Are you happy now, Mrs. Sauce?
One day recently I was thinking about whether all those cooking shows on TV really help people to become better in the kitchen, or if, at the end of the day, it’s all just mere entertainment. But it occurred to me that those shows might actually put pressure on those who have to cook dinner regularly. Kind of like the Victoria’s Secret fashion show (which apparently is on right now because I see people angrily Tweeting about it) – I wonder if moms just say “I don’t need this in my life.” And that led to this cartoon, in this week’s magazine.
I really sweated one particular detail in this one, which was the image on the TV. My instinct was to show a plain white screen, and you should almost always listen to your instinct. Instead, I overthought it and tried to put a silhouetted image in there. I thought some people would get the joke more easily if they saw a hint of Mr. Flay on the screen. But I can’t draw anything resembling a likeness, especially at this scale, and having a clunky approximation doesn’t help. Your eye wants to fill in the rest of detail that you know is there, that’s been started but not finished, and it’s an unnecessary distraction. It’s beside the point.
When I returned to the white screen it seemed empty to me, so I then scratched in what I thought would look like a vague shot of food. But this was even worse. I found my eye constantly being drawn over to it, and thinking “what the hell is that?” So then I colored the screen in fully, thinking that would be an improvement, but to me it looked like the set was off. This took way longer than it should have. So I went back to the white screen, which suddenly looked fine.
Obviously, you could have asked: why didn’t you show the room from an angle where you didn’t see the front of the TV at all? Well, maybe it just all comes down to laziness. But I wanted to trust my first instinct about the perspective. Yeah, trust the instinct. Bah. You could also ask: why Bobby Flay and not Anthony Bourdain or Mario Batali or somebody else? Instinct. You could also ask: is she cooking the sweet potato soup with the blue corn tortilla chips in it? Hey, now who is overthinking everything?
Here’s my cartoon in this week’s New Yorker, done with Black Friday in mind. But it could also apply to anytime in December, or early January, or President’s weekend if it was at a car dealership, or Valentine’s Day, or – you get the idea. This is America, after all. Does anybody else sometimes feel like you’ve got to sneak out of a store if you’ve been there awhile and haven’t bought anything?
My initial sketch cut the figures off at the knees, which is an awkward place to do it. The are no rules for this kind of thing, at least nowhere in the Constitution that I can find, but generally if you’re gonna crop a cartoon person you do it around the waist. When I went to do the final drawing for this, though, I decided to include the full figures. Because this scenario presents something of a physical confrontation and not just a line of witty dialogue it seemed to warrant that arrangement. When this cartoon is adapted for an off-Broadway show, the director may want to do the blocking differently. I’ll leave that up to him.
I’m in the New Yorker again this week with a cartoon began as this idea:
Yup. “The gym,” with some cavemen standing around and large boulders on the ground. It’s a fragment of an idea, that I wrote down a while ago and figured that I’d do something with it later. But I kept looking at it and thinking “meh” and moving on to other fully-realized ideas. This happens a lot. When I go to draw my weekly batch, I paw through my sketchbook and if a concept requires too much work, then sometimes I leave it for another day.
I did that a couple times with this, but then I must have had just the right amount of coffee, because I realized all it needed was a simple scenario to illustrate it.
For a moment I considered trying to invent a clever prehistoric treadmill, or some primitive version of a modern stationary bike or elliptical machine using a pterodactyl or something, but that seemed to make the joke weaker. The pile of rocks was enough. Things were, you know, simpler back then.
And here’s the final version that ran.