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 our online life.
Our online horizons have expanded as COVID drives more services and activities into cyberspace. Meetings, family reunions, and even visits to the doctor now take place on flickering screens. Our cartoonists are keenly attuned to this new reality and blend it with traditional themes to create a modern twist.
The most venerable of the traditional cartooning themes—the desert island—receives a cultural update from the pen of cartoonist Bob Eckstein. All the classic elements are in place: the impossibly tiny island, one or two castaways, endless sun-drenched ocean, and of course, the iconic single palm tree.
Another timeless cartoon trope is the “Guru on the Mountain” theme. Again, the principal visual elements rarely vary: the cross-legged sage sitting atop a remote mountain and the enlightenment-seeker climbing up in search of wisdom. One can only imagine the guru’s consternation as cartoonist Kaamran Hafeez introduces him to the Twitter era.
The Grim Reaper has been an instantly identifiable image for centuries. The black cowl alone is enough to send shudders down the spines of us mere mortals. But time marches on, and even Death himself gets tech-savvy, as illustrated by David Sipress.
St. Peter has manned the Pearly Gates for eons. Until recently, he hasn’t needed anything more than parchment and a quill pen to confirm Heaven’s worthy entrants. Earth’s mushrooming population, however, might put a strain on such a time-honored system. A possible online solution is proposed by Mick Stevens.
Everyone’s got advice for creating a bigger online presence. Former New Yorker Cartoon Editor Bob Mankoff imagines those services might be required by the chief deity himself—who is unvaryingly represented by a fluffy white beard and flowing robe. The lofty phrase “heed unto the word of the Lord” clashes comically with the lowly “funny blog.”
The strongest of the Greek mythological Titans, Atlas, dared to battle Zeus and his Olympian cohort. In defeat, he was condemned to carry the world on his shoulders. That indelible image has persisted for thousands of years. Leave it to Jack Ziegler to wrench an antiquarian symbol into the modern era.
Classic stories are another target for the fevered imaginations of our cartoonists. Julia Suits puts Ali Baba in quite a predicament: he’d better recall that password before the Forty Thieves lose patience.
Thanks to PlayStation3, Don Quixote can virtually tilt at windmills in air-conditioned comfort. Joe Dator’s got an artful eye for our knight-errant’s suit of armor and Sanchez’s dumpy peasant garb.
In another classic send-up, Robert Leighton shows Dr. Frankenstein losing interest in creating a monster. Why? Because there’s more interesting stuff to do on the Web. His hunch-backed lab assistant, Igor, looks worried that his current skill set might not be appropriate for the doctor’s new enthusiasm.
We fast-forward a century from Mary Shelley’s 1818 horror classic to Kafka’s 1915 disturbing novella, The Metamorphosis. The passive salesman in the story, Gregor Samsa, is helped out by cartoonist Charlie Hankin–at least he’ll have a snazzy online hashtag. Perhaps his family will finally understand him, though texting data rates may apply.
Only the doyenne of single-panel comics, Roz Chast, could come up with a protean struggle in the mind of Shakespeare’s most famous protagonist … over shopping. We end with the image of the Prince of Denmark’s priceless expression as he sorts through his options and the implications of his choice.