Friday, April 06, 2012

Serious funnyfolks: Bob Mankoff's update of "I say it's spinach," Lee Lorenz on banksters, and Chuck Lorre on, well, life


"I say it's government-mandated broccoli, and I say the hell with it."

by Ken

How audacious of our friend Bob Mankoff, not only the The New Yorker's cartoon editor but one of the magazine's elite cartoonists, to offer the above cartoon this week! What's audacious is that, while it's pretty funny in its own right, it really counts on the reader recognizing it as an hommage to one of the magazine's most famous cartoons, drawn by Carl Rose in 1928 with the caption provided by E. B. White.

"It's broccoli, dear."
"I say it's spinach, and I say the hell with it."

I should add that it was a common cartoon practice in those days, to have captions provided by gag-writers to fit drawings -- or vice versa. Not that I mean to reduce E. B. White to the status of a "gag-writer," but in this case that's what his function was.

If the Rose-White cartoon looks familiar, well, there are lots of places you could have seen it, but one of them is one of the posts I did after attending the Thurber tribute ringmastered by Thurber aficionado extraordinaire Keith Olbermann last June at New York's 92nd Street Y: "Bob Mankoff pays tribute to James Thurber's decisive role 'in shaping the modern New Yorker cartoon.'" Bob had been one of the panelists at the 92nd Street Y shindig, and he reconfigured the presentation he gave that night into one of his wonderful weekly newsletters-blogposts, "James Thurber's Giant Swoop."

No, it's not a Thurber cartoon. Bob was using it as an illustration of the state of cartooning that Thurber broke through. "In the early twentieth century," he explained, "cartoons were illustrated anecdotes," and "the same style was found in the early days of The New Yorker. This was all illustrated with select examples, on up to "this refreshingly less stilted and beloved cartoon from 1928," which he said "comes from the same template."

For Bob's description of how Thurber broke the cartoon mold, and how subsequent cartoonists have taken advantage of it, check out either Bob's own blog presentation or my hashed version of it. My immediate point is that he has established himself pretty well as custodian of New Yorker cartoon history, to the point of now offering this charming takeoff on the Rose-White cartoon. (Note, by the way, that he has eliminated the anecdotal "dialogue" format of the original.)


Lee was Bob's predecessor as cartoon editor of The New Yorker (from 1993 to 1997; for 20 years before that he was the magazine's art editor).

Lee Lorenz's name comes up frequently in Bob's blogposts, not least in the series (which I wrote about most recently in a post called "You'll never guess who drew tonight's first cartoon -- but you can't possibly miss the second") he's been doing on the first New Yorker cartoons of the now-veteran group of cartoonists Lee brought into the fold in the '70s, including Jack Ziegler, Mick Stevens, Michael Maslin, and Roz Chast. (Bob himself is part of that group, and had already written about the first cartoon of his that Lee bought.)

By the way, I stumbled across a terrific, wide-ranging interview with Lee Lorenz, done by Richard Gehr for The Comics Journal last August. In case you were wondering, Lee (who turns 80 this October) is still very much with us and still working. He talks freely about his non-cartooning interests (he's both a Pratt Institute-trained artist and a rabid jazz enthusiast and practitioner, on the trumpet), and fills in all kinds of background about the inner workings, editorial and political, of The New Yorker over the decades since he first glimpsed those insides, in the 1950s. He reveals, for one thing, that when he became art editor in 1973, the job had first been offered to New Yorker insider Roger Angell (the son of longtime fiction editor Katharine S. White and stepson of E. B. White).
[E]vidently they couldn’t come to terms on the money. The New Yorker was making all kinds of money, but they were very cheap. In fact, when they offered me the job, the lawyer who was supposed to negotiate the contract suggested that whatever I made as a cartoonist be deducted from my salary as an editor!

Richard Gehr offers this observation about Lee's cartooning style:
hese days, Lorenz’s brush strokes provide rich visual contrast to the pen-preferring cartoonists who dominate The New Yorker. Like the abstract expressionists he studied at Carnegie and Pratt, Lee’s lines radiate a lively in-the-moment quality. He often captures characters in motion who just happen to make you laugh out loud. And there’s an improvised aspect to his work that echoes both his own abstract-expressionist paintings and the jazz he began devoting himself to as a teenager.

If you're at all curious about any of these subjects, I can heartily recommend the Gehr interview.


If you watch any of the sitcoms that Chuck produces (the current list is Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory, and Mike and Molly), you know that at the end of each episode a vanity card is flashed, featuring whatever happens to be on his mind, subject to occasional network censorship. As a DWT reader once pointed out to me, the texts of the vanity cards are also archived online, at

I really loved the card from last night's new Big Bang Theory episode, and even though the power center he's obsessing over here is "the television business," what he writes seems to me eerily applicable to the broccoli-bullying Supreme Court justices, and predatory bankster elites, and really most everything we write about of a political nature here at DWT. I should warn you that Chuck was clearly not in a sunny frame of mind when he wrote this.

For me, the epiphany came in my second season on Roseanne. At thirty-nine years old I finally woke up to the fact that the principles I was taught as a child, like fairness and justice, have no place in the world of power and money. The rules of the sandbox, strictly enforced by a wise and compassionate adult, are laughable when the sandbox is the television business and there are Mercedes and Bentleys parked alongside it. What's odd is that twenty years later, despite my belated awakening to the reality of amorality, that old schoolyard programming continues to insist on its rightness. Ideas like "play nice," "share your toys," "no name-calling," "take turns" and "misbehaving gets punished" still resonate inside me as if they were some sort of fundamental truths. Of course, I now know that they are not. At best, they're ideals. Lofty goals to aspire to. The truisms of the real world are more along the lines of, "my ball, my bat, my rules" and "money talks, bull$#*! walks." Which brings me to our impending presidential election. A classic showdown between the lessons we all learned as children and, well... reality. Further complicating the situation is our collective, unconscious desire to be supervised by that wise and compassionate adult. But there is no such adult. The truth is, we are alone in the sandbox. The game we play, seemingly forever, is called "Ideals vs. Money and Bats." For what it's worth, I'm betting on the latter, but there's a little boy in me who insists on voting for the former.

Labels: , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home