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New Yorker cartoons and timelessness

Posted July 13, 2013 into Comics by John Birmingham

I used to have an editor who was obsessed with timeless stories. Stories that had no connection to the news cycle. Stories that he could put anywhere in the magazine at any time. I find myself in mind of Max whenever I read the battered old copy of The New Yorker collected cartoons I keep in our back bathroom. For study purposes.

I got it for about twenty bucks at Riverbend, my local bookstore. Cheap at twice the price, or indeed many multiples more. It's been sitting in the back dunny for years. I like to think of it as a passive education for the children.

There are thousands of cartoons in the book, from the magazine's launch year in 1925 up until about 2006, if I recall correctly. Many of them are products of their time and have to be read as such. Without context they don't make a lot of sense. Many, however, could be published in any of the decades since the launch without any fear of being misunderstood. Sometimes certain themes repeat themselves, year after year, decade after decade. Sometimes a joke will come around again forty or even fifty years after it first appeared. I'm not even sure if the editors noticed.

I've been meaning to write a quick note about it for a while now and the magazine itself has finally given me the opportunity by publishing a list of the favorite cartoons of one of their favorite contributors, Bob Mankoff. You can see Bob's picks here, but below I've copied a couple that were also my faves.

The panel above could have been the work of James Thurber, who made merry with the gender war many years before Germaine Greer ever enlisted. It's not Thurber's work, however. The same, simple direct linework and captionless straight-to-the-point joke were, in this case, the work of Chon Day. The cartoon could have been published any tie between 1925 and 2013.

The one below, another of my faves, probably couldn't have been set loose in the wild before the mid-1960's because of the use of the word 'bastard'. It's appearance in public during a performance of the play 'The One Day of the Year' caused a hell of a stink in 1961 when it debuted at the Palace Theatre in Sydney.

There's something genuinely sweet and innocent about it to my mind, and to Mankoff's. The push button interface on the landline phone dates it after, say the mid 1980s and makes me wonder when it will pass into anachronism because the younger generations will have no idea what Mr Penne is actually holding in his hand.

"Cartoons are either in the realm of reality or fantasy," Bob writes. "Everything about this can’t possibly happen; it defies logic and reality and yet it leads to hilarity."

10 Responses to ‘New Yorker cartoons and timelessness’

yankeedog swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted July 13, 2013

Don't forget Charles Addams' work.

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Rob has opinions thus...

Posted July 13, 2013

The same goes for Punch cartoons. I have a fondness for the endless riffing on middle class public servants stuck on desert island and the series More Man in apron. Luckily I had an english mom who grew up in world war 2 and bought everything english to put on her bookshelves.

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ShaneAlpha swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted July 13, 2013

I defy you to not laugh at any Don Martin cartoon. Or a Sergio Argones margin cartoon. And for the english types, Ronald Searle St Trinian's cartoons.

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Paul_Nicholas_Boylan has opinions thus...

Posted July 13, 2013

Those are the best New Yorker cartoons you could find?

John Birmingham would have you know...

Posted July 13, 2013

Oh He'll no. They're not even my faves. But they are among my faves of the ten from the linked article. And thus the most easily copied. <i>T</i>he New Yorker has some ferocious defences against unauthorised copying.

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damian asserts...

Posted July 13, 2013

So much to love, so little time.

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puma has opinions thus...

Posted July 14, 2013

Love them too. My uncle was a cartoonist with them. 92 covers.

John Birmingham puts forth...

Posted July 14, 2013

Whoa! Respect.

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Disco Stu ducks in to say...

Posted July 14, 2013

A comedian a little while ago came up with the theory that every New Yorker cartoon could be captioned "Christ, what an asshole." I haven't seen one yet where it doesn't work.

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