My cartoon in this week’s issue of the New Yorker, from original idea to submission sketch to final published image:
Category Archives: New yorker
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?
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.
It’s suddenly that time of year when my hand is sticking to the page, because of the humidity. It’s time to break out those cooling summer cartoons! An issue of the New Yorker makes a nice face shield. And you can use the back issues – you know you’ve got them lying around – to cover your other body parts.
I did this one a few years ago and am still waiting for the movie to be made about this summer superhero.
For this week’s issue I thought of a similar idea. Full disclosure: I got my grad school degree in drawing shade. My professors said it was at least 5 degrees cooler than the other students. So it seems like a good thing for me to focus on.
What does this post have to do with R. Kelly? Nothing, really. But keep reading anyway.
Awkward situations always make great comedy. For my cartoon that appears in this week’s New Yorker, I was thinking about those performers who get right in your face on the subway and demand that you pay attention to them. Of course, you never ever want to do that. What would happen if one of them found a way to get sweet revenge, and to confront you in a place where you couldn’t merely look away or pretend that they weren’t there? I thought of a situation where a singer somehow followed a guy into his office building elevator, and I drew it up like this:
Good enough, but I wasn’t sure the drawing was getting the job done. I like how you enter into the elevator the same way this employee does; you identify with him and so you’re drawn into the scene. It’s a dramatic way to set it up. But I thought maybe it was too dramatic. I don’t like how you can’t see the rest of the elevator. It somehow makes it scary, like there’s something hidden in there, but that’s not part of the joke. Also, by positioning him outside the elevator, he looks like he’s maybe not going to walk in, and the whole point is that he can’t avoid the situation. And I didn’t want to draw both of them inside the elevator from this angle because it’s forcing them into a space that’s too small. The narrative element would be lost. So I drew it from another vantage point:
This was the one that the editors approved. It’s a little less dramatic this way because as the viewer, you’re now an outside observer instead of identifying with one of the characters, but it works a little better. I mean, they both work – look, we’re not trying to solve world hunger here! I don’t even know if we’re trying to solve world laughter. But even for cartoons, if it’s worth doing, then its worth doing well, because if even one person can spend money on a New Yorker magazine instead of spending it on food, then I will have done my job. (And now I guess we know where I stand on world hunger.)
Another issue was that the viewer’s vantage point is a little too high. The reader should be standing in the elevator with the two people, not hovering above it. So I experimented with perspectives. I know – so much to think about! When do we get off this ride, right?
And that kind of looks like a notebook page from anyone who took drawing 101 and had to learn about vanishing points. For some reason it took me more attempts than usual to nail this:
It’s still not perfect. It might be funnier if the space was tighter and a little more uncomfortable, and it might have been better to widen the room (in other words, making the perspective not technically correct) in order to more easily show that it’s an elevator door. But I don’t know if I could do both of those things simultaneously. And in trying, there would probably be some cartooning version of Occam’s razor that I’d be violating in overthinking it. So this is the way it appears:
Man, I’m exhausted by that! Let’s all go eat something.