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 fishing cartoons.
As we pass midsummer, fewer days remain to get away from it all. The solitary joys of being on the water with a fishing pole beckon. Many of us view fishing as the ultimate combination of relaxation and sport … others view it as a colossal waste of time.
Our first cartoon is a wordless gem from Tom Toro. His skillful blend of ink washes creates a majestic setting in the wilderness. Not a single mosquito blemishes this idyll. The purist’s fly-fishing rod and white line magically flex into the daydream desires of this river angler.
Humans aren’t the only creatures out fishing on the river, as Matthew Diffee shows. A fine illustrator, Diffee packs delicate details into this drawing: rippling river reflections and stands of trees framing snow-capped mountains. In reality, though, like many meals, it sometimes comes down to the condiments.
Another renowned illustrator, Harry Bliss, captures the drama above and below the waterline. We eavesdrop on a rather sarcastic pescatarian conversation as a solitary raptor flies close to the tree line.
Many have fond memories of the hours spent with a parent toting rod and reel. In between comfortable stretches of silence, conversations can take a surprising turn. The daughter in William Hamilton’s impressionistic fishing hole can’t resist posing an impertinent question to dear old dad.
Patience is an essential virtue with fishing; sometimes, they just ain’t bitin’. No matter, it can still be a time of contemplation away from the hustle and bustle of civilization. Except for “Type A” folks, that is, they just find it boring. Michael Crawford seems to have found an outlet for one fidgety fellow. The contrast between the scene’s tranquility and the impending blast sharpens the humor.
Fishermen are known for their specialized equipment, lucky rods, and no-fail bait. Of course, when going for bigger fish, as Joe Dator suggests, it’s good to have a backup bait plan. No problem—just leave it to Mom. The pound cake/chum dichotomy hits the humor target.
Dropping a line off the side of a boat is as natural to a fisherman as breathing. And it doesn’t take much in the way of equipment as Liana Finck’s piratical chap knows. Pirates are iconic cartoon characters, so finding a truly original pirate gag is always a challenge. The cartoonist has succeeded here.
Liam Walsh’s improbable fishing scenario requires a highly complex drawing. The bending poles, taut lines, and craning heads create a sculptural tableau. The ravenous fish, of course, gets the laugh.
Occasionally, the tables are turned in the contest between man and fish. Gahan Wilson’s ghoulish sea creatures show considerable resourcefulness in their skirmish with a dockside angler. Note how Wilson portrays the scene from the fish’s point-of-view with wavy lines for the above-water images.
A true fisherman never misses an opportunity to drop a line in the water. Hugh Brown shows how it’s done. His cartoon is a fine example of how cartoonists see the world differently, in this case by re-imagining how a crane could function.
Our final cartoon is a dazzling tour-de-force by the irrepressible Jack Ziegler. As readers, we must take a moment to piece together all the visual clues—including the sign in Capt. Billy’s restaurant and the ladder leading from one business establishment to the other. And then, in an instant, the full story dawns on us. Granted, there’s no fishing shown in this zany masterpiece. That’s left to the imagination.