Cartoon critics Phil Witte and Rex Hesner look behind gags to debate what makes a cartoon tick. This week our intrepid critics focus on S.E.X.
New Yorker cartoons are justifiably famous for their subtle sophistication and understated wit. Each week, the foibles of Gotham’s princes and paupers are laid bare in black and white. Yet underneath that sophisticated veneer, the baser instincts are never far from the surface. Anatomy of a Cartoon explores how sex and the single-panel cartoon have evolved over time.
Adam and Eve is a good starting point, one that Leo Lorenz exploits to great visual effect. Amid the Sturm und Drang of banishment, Adam has a wry confession.
The soaring, sword-wielding angel sets the tone, completely at odds with Adam’s frat boy revelation. Leo Lorenz is a master of high comedic drama.
In another scene packed with activity, Lorenz twists an outdated cartoon cliché with his amorous cave dudes knocking out the ladies … literally. Fortunately, one savage heartbeats with admirable finesse, as a flowery offering replaces his tribe’s more heavy-handed approach.
Fast-forward several million years to the pinnacle of ancient sophistication, the Roman Empire. Unfortunately, in James Stevenson’s 1964 cartoon, this Roman holiday seems to have fizzled; these elegant partygoers know a dud when they see it.
The asymmetric composition creates a sense of physical isolation among the would-be revelers that sets up the punchline.
Speaking of orgies, Joe Dator takes inspiration from Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code—only in this scenario, the Illuminati’s most scandalous ritual becomes … well, a bit ho-hum. The rendering of the ornate two-story gallery and variously attired participants imparts a paradoxical formality to the setting.
Zachary Kanin persuades us the Illuminati did not have a monopoly on depraved excess with this riotous scene of kinkiness. The poor schlub at the door now knows some boundaries might be in order. The dripping occult star symbol on the wall pushes this scene over the graphic edge. And a caption that ends in the word “smidge” gets an extra credit point.
The duo in Danny Shanahan’s S&M-themed cartoon might set legal imaginations on fire. Instead of the traditional whip, this dominatrix wields a leather briefcase to quivering effect.
The begging barrister brings home the gag with “lengthy and expensive!”
The sexual fantasy scenario gets a raucous treatment from a New Yorker institution, George Booth. His wild-eyed denizens follow their libidos all over one of Booth’s classic decrepit interiors.
Don’t miss the poor pooch scrambling for the back door.
Leave it to Charles Barsotti to turn a turn-on into a laugh. An apple indulging in fantasy phone sex? A visual and comedic gem.
We check in on Santa’s elves for a look at Santa’s darker side. Hmmm, it appears St. Nick hit the holiday sauce, judging from his latest loopy email.
Veering back to more conventional fare, J.C. Duffy anticipates the Me-Too era with this cautionary tale.
The doldrums of the marital bedroom are a fertile subject for numerous cartoonists. Sex is a rigorously scheduled activity in the staid household depicted by Bob Mankoff.
But there’s good news from Bob Mankoff as well; spontaneity and playfulness need not expire in this couple’s marriage.
Where does it all lead? This caption-less cartoon by Shannon Wheeler says it best.