This post is part of a series of guest posts promoting books by some of our favorite cartoonists. You can find previous book posts here.
If asked which books I would bring with me if stranded on a desert island, my answer would be “short ones.” I don’t have much time. I’m going to die soon. Real desert islands are uninhabited by humans for a good reason– they’re uninhabitable. Centuries ago, when ships were the only means for overseas travel, shipwrecks stranded castaways on these tiny God-forsaken specks, which was a cause for grief, not gags.
However, the Desert Island cartoon has been irresistible to cartoonists from its first incarnation in The New Yorker magazine in 1931 to the present day, producing more cartoons in The New Yorker and everywhere else than any other trope.
With their new book, Ellis Rosen and Jon Adam have collected some of the best of the bunch. But don’t take it from me; here’s what Ellis and Jon have to say about this evergreen cartoon idea and what inspired them to create an entire book around the subject.
Listen, we don’t make the rules. You’re not a single panel cartoonist if you haven’t tried your hand at the desert island cartoon at least once. You draw the palm tree, the castaway, and then ask yourself, “What’s so damn funny about being stuck on a tiny desert island?” And then you have to answer yourself. What IS so damn funny about it?
If you ask the 100+ contributors of our book, Send Help! you’ll get a lot of different answers. That’s the fun thing about the desert island trope—even after decades, cartoonists still manage to wring out fresh ideas. So why not put together a collection?
That idea seemed like such a no-brainer that we were surprised to learn no one had done it before. It would be easy—simply ask our friends for some unpublished desert island cartoons they had sitting around, plop them together, and voilà—a book! How hard could that be? Very hard, it turns out.
We reached out to people we knew personally and cast a wide net through several cartoonist communities. We received a slew of submissions—every single one about desert islands. We encountered a lot of similar jokes, and in some cases, identical ones. The one we received the most was a dessert island gag, as in, a cupcake-shaped island or some other very literal representation of a dessert.
But we also received a lot of similar, if not identical, funny jokes. That was harder. Do we choose the one we saw first or the one by the cartoonist we’re most scared of? Maybe the one with the better drawing, or the one from someone who has dirt on us? It was a juggling act, and our sweaty hands did their best.
It’s hard to reject someone, especially if you’re Ellis, a meek child who suffers from a debilitating fear of offending anyone. It can even be hard for Jon, a callous monster intent on destroying everyone’s dreams. No matter what, though, we had to reject some people, even people we know and like. That’s the nature of putting together a book like this.
Then, of course, with two editors, we each had our own perspective on what was funny. Agreeing was easy, but anytime we disagreed, we would fight to the death via text. There were many fights to the death, like this one:
ELLIS: What did you think of Stacy’s submission?
JON: Not her best work. We should ask her to send some more.
ELLIS: But I loved her cat one. It’s brilliant! I fell over in my chair, laughing.
JON: I don’t know, it was meh for me.
ELLIS: Sigh. Pistols at dawn?
JON: Eastern or Pacific time?
Not the best way to spend an afternoon. In the end, though, our different viewpoints were more of a strength than a weakness, enabling us to include a wide variety of jokes and ideas. So what if Ellis ended up covered in makeshift bandages? You can’t make a cartoon collection without a few battle wounds.
That is the story of this book: A dual effort between two editors stranded alone on an island, looking at an endless sea of submissions, hoping to find the right cartoons for a book that would keep us afloat. We certainly enjoyed creating it, and we think you will enjoy reading it. If you don’t, please don’t let Ellis know. He’s quite sensitive.
Find links to order Send Help! from your favorite booksellers at ReadVoracious.
This post is part of a series promoting books by some of our favorite cartoonists. You can find previous book posts here.