Cartoon critics Phil Witte and Rex Hesner look behind the gags to debate what makes a cartoon tick. This week our intrepid critics take a look at Cocktails.
Cocktails have made a comeback, not that they ever went away. They moved from the bar to the suburban home and back to the bar in the span of a couple of generations. The mixed drink, long part of our social culture, has spawned many cartoons. It’s five o-clock somewhere, so let’s begin.
The enigmatic stone heads of Easter Island are the frequent subject of cartoons. They lose some of their mysterious allure when topped with straws, citrus slices, and cocktail umbrellas, as seen in this Chris Weyant cartoon. Their visages are stern, even during happy hour.
The paper cocktail umbrella, purportedly created by a bartender in Hawaii for tropical drinks, adds a fanciful element to alcoholic beverages. Drew Dernavich reverse engineers the paper version to create a miniature black umbrella that is equally useless and far less fanciful.
A surfeit of cocktail umbrellas may be an indication of excessive imbibing, something that even the baby bird in Robert Leighton’s cartoon recognizes. A warning to the dad: don’t drink and fly.
Once upon a time, when gender stereotypes were commonly relied upon in the cartoon world, men knocked back shots while women sipped sweet mixed drinks. It was during that time that Jack Ziegler drew this cartoon, playing on the idea of how we see ourselves and how others see us. Interestingly, all of the other bar chairs are empty, perhaps because the cartoonist felt that the existence of additional patrons would distract from the gag.
Leo Cullum loved drawing cartoons set in bars. This is one of our favorites. The expressionless faces contrast with the absurdity of the humor. The question mark in the caption, as if there is any doubt who ordered the drink, is the mark of a master.
Further along the absurdity scale is the work of P.C. Vey. Here, a character offers a word of caution while mixing drinks whilst waist-deep in quicksand. Though sinking in quicksand has long been a cartoon setup, few cartoonists have the imaginative powers to associate it with cocktail hour.
Salted-rimmed cocktails occupy a particular place on the drink menu. Whether drinkers actually enjoy the salt is a matter of speculation, but cartoonist Liana Finck leaves no doubt that this customer wants to consume every grain. An artistic note: the vertical and horizontal dots are a unique way to demarcate wall and floor space.
Seth Fleishman, known primarily for his intriguing cartoons without captions, takes a stab at the cocktail olive. This image reimagines the executive desk ornament of some years back referred to as Newton’s cradle. Fleishman’s clean, precise lines are unmistakable.
The martini is the classic cocktail. Its origin story is murky, but it may have been first concocted in San Francisco in the 1860s. It has remained a pre-meal mainstay ever since. Its potency is well known, so it’s no surprise that refills would lead to the scene depicted by Mick Stevens. Only the bartender remains upright. A nice detail: the fingers gripping the bar’s edge on the left.
The gourmand knows how to pair wines with food, but the serious drinker knows how to pair straight alcohol with challenging social circumstances, as seen in this cartoon by Michael Shaw. The cartoonist relies on a simple, wandering line, but still effectively conveys the scene. For example, the mother’s white hair is depicted with no hairline.
Mike Twohy considers novelty drinks and the people who order them in this cartoon, apparently set in a fern bar, itself a novelty whose time has passed. The conservatively dressed businessman has no need for weird additions to his drink.
We conclude with a cartoon by William Hamilton, who was a gentle critic of the upper crust. The Shirley Temple, a non-alcoholic mixed drink named after the child star, was a cocktail hour favorite of kids. The message conveyed to children may be questioned today, but the mom here knows that an adult variation on the drink will transform the mocktail into a cocktail. Cheers!