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?
The New Yorker has teamed up with radio station WNYC to create The New Yorker Radio Hour, a show which will be broadcast locally here in New York City and also available online or as an iTunes podcast. The intention is not to merely be an audio version of the magazine, but to be a hybrid sort of production that features stories, conversation, and audio that you can’t do in a magazine, and they’re off to a good start so far. Radio: who knew? (although I have professed my love for the medium of radio here.)
Matt Diffee is currently running a segment on the show called “Life’s a Batch.” The idea is that he talks with cartoonists while they are working on their weekly batch of submissions, which somehow start off as a scratchpad of doodles, as below, and if we’re lucky, eventually get selected for publication.
It’s a short little bit, somewhat of a palate cleanser in between longer pieces. I was guest Numero Uno! and you can hear us briefly on Episode One and then continuing the conversations on Episode Two. If you’re really impatient and just want to get to our short phone conversations, they take place here:
and then here:
But you should listen to the whole episode, because it’s compelling stuff. Maybe next time they’ll get Seth Rogen and James Franco to play Matt and I, because: radio!
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?”
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.
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:
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;
My editor, Bob Mankoff, did a talk for TED that’s now making the rounds. This is perhaps an edited version for the internet; Bob has done a lot of work around the psychology of humor and how people read and interpret cartoons which is fascinating. If you’ve never seen one of his lectures, you should.
Bob nicely refers to me (roughly the 4:40 mark) as one of the cartoonists that didn’t “fade away.” I don’t like being pigeonholed, so you bet your ass I’m going to fade away the first chance I get, just to show that I can.