A few months ago, I received an advance copy of Joe Dator’s new book, INKED: Cartoons, Confessions, Rejected Ideas And Secret Sketches.
I’ve known Joe since he was a young man at loose ends in the early ’90s looking to get his act together, but not sure what that act was. By the time he found out, I had become Cartoon Editor of The New Yorker and had inherited a great group of New Yorker cartoonists from my predecessor, Lee Lorenz. But I needed to assemble a great group of my own if New Yorker cartoons were to continue to be relevant, and by relevant, I mean funny. Ok, funny and relevant, but funny first.
From the start, funny was Joe’s lodestar. Even before he flourished as a cartoonist, he was and is a comedy nerd with—as I recall—a special fondness for Dudley Moore and Peter Cook.
This book is a collection of Joe’s greatest hits and a bunch of instructive misses, missteps, and false starts. He delves into the devilish conundrum of cartoon creativity and the agonizing hamster wheel of acceptance and rejection-rejection-rejection at The New Yorker’s cartoon department.
To the extent that I contributed to this agony, I’m sorry. To the extent that it produced this great read of a book, I’m ecstatic.
Enjoy the following excerpt from Inked that Joe has been generous enough to share with us.
WHO IS WALTER?
There’s a character who shows up quite often in my cartoons. He’s doughy, balding, middle-aged, with a mustache and a striped tie. I started putting him in my cartoons when I needed a generic businessman type. He has appeared often enough that I gave him a name: Walter.
But who is he, really?
Walter was somewhat inspired by a man I knew, who was a supervisor in a call center, at a time when I worked there to make ends meet. I started drawing him in my sketchbook when I was in between calls.
As a character, he’s bland and boring. He works in an office, in some thankless middle-management position. He lives in the suburbs, bound up by his responsibilities, and has long ago given up on any dreams he might have had. He has completely embraced his grey buttoned-down lifestyle, resigned to the fact that this is where life has brought him, and it’s too late to turn back. His life is so stifling and restrictive that his one and only small, sad attempt at a bit of flair is to grow a mustache.
When I first started drawing him, Walter was an avatar of the person I didn’t want to become when I worked in that office. I thought if I drew him I could avoid turning into him. I’ve had fun putting him into absurd situations, just to see him react in the most aggressively dull way possible.
As I’ve grown older and the world has changed, my feelings towards Walter have shifted quite a bit. His life of boring albeit steady employment now looks like an enviable and unattainable goal for millions of Americans. I feel more empathy towards him. I see him now as an avatar of who we all are, stuck in our absurd situations, in our absurd bodies, living our absurd lives. And to Walter’s credit, it doesn’t bother him a bit. Call him clueless, unambitious or mediocre, but at least Walter is Walter, and that’s ok with Walter.
Be Walter, my friend.
This post is part of a series promoting books by some of our favorite cartoonists. You can find previous book posts here.