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 teacher cartoons.
As children finally flood back into brick-and-mortar schools, we pause to pay homage to those on the educational front lines: the teachers. Though underpaid and underappreciated, their collective influence on our lives is vast. Our cartoonists recognize that as well.
Clear instruction is the hallmark of a great teacher. With his class already dressed in the classic striped jerseys and berets, Shannon Wheeler sums up a mime instructor’s conundrum. One can only imagine organizing a group project.
Our favorite teachers always seemed to “tell it like it is.” In Mick Stevens’ classroom setting, these kids aren’t being coddled by a politically correct educator. There will undoubtedly be a test on these nuggets of wisdom. The deep black of the old-school chalk blackboard draws the reader into this caption-less classic.
A parent-teacher conference can often turn confrontational depending on little Johnny’s Mom or Dad. In Barbara Smaller’s drawing, pinned-up drawings and the oversize alphabet create an incongruous setting for the anticipated cross-examination. Note the exaggerated size disparity between the two characters; it is both endearing and effective.
Facebook, Tik-Tok, and cell phones all make the world a more complex place for our teachers. Behaviors from social media spill over into the classroom from the cyberworld. Realizing her limits, Maddie Dai’s perky teacher is confident where she can be of greatest help.
As children develop, they wrestle with self-image. The classroom is a place to grow and try out new aspects of their evolving identities. If you’ve ever wondered about the origin of alternate name spellings, Jack Ziegler offers some insight. To make this adolescent scenario believable, he takes care to create a high school setting–note the imposing tomes on the teacher’s desk.
The communication between parent and teacher can be intense. Emily Flake underscores the combative nature of this conference as she depicts her opponents hunched over tiny furniture as they lock horns. The pleasantly familiar classroom trappings contrast with the heavy goings-on.
Teachers must adjudicate an astonishing range of emotional dramas in the classroom. Sobbing children are the norm in the early years of elementary school. Who knows what nerve will be struck today? In Harry Bliss’s charming scene, the sartorial dilemma is heartwarming, as is the teacher’s reassuring hand, but there’s a dark undertone touching on bullying and materialism.
Kids seem to get smarter every year. The pint-sized future MBA candidate in David Sipress’ cartoon poses a tough question to the gob-smacked teacher. Note how Sipress has placed the boy on the far right in front of a blank door. Two simple concentric lines tip us off to the boy’s energetic hand waving.
Alex Gregory’s clean, straight lines create a sense of orderliness in this classroom. The young student doesn’t seem particularly cowed by the teacher’s authority; note how he leans forward aggressively, and she sits back, absorbing his comment. In fact, this pint-sized influencer seems to feel he’s a bit beyond the whole school thing.
Time moves on, and so our society continues to evolve. William Haefeli has a keen eye for, among other things, the mainstreaming of the LGBTQ community. Here, a student astutely corrects the teacher on a fine point of grammar. The oversized ears, non-existent jaws, and meaty, three-fingered hands are all elements of Haefeli’s instantly recognizable style.
We close with a true teaching moment from the late Gahan Wilson. His normally ghoulish sensibility is tempered by a tender moment—the passing of the torch. There comes a time, regardless of the era, when the master confers graduation upon the apprentice.