The Perfect Cartoon?

New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff asks cartoonist Michael Maslin, and the results are two by James Thurber, a man who created many perfect cartoons. Although one of the picks is one of Thurber’s best known, we’d like to spotlight the above, along with Maslin’s analysis — of course, analyzing any humor — especially New Yorker cartoons — is like programming your Garage Band to the sound of one hand clapping….but sometimes you have to try:

The woman is classic Thurber, but look closely at the hippopotamus: at its eye and its eyebrow, at the curve of the mouth. What is that expression? There’s no answer. And so you look again, and again. I’ve been looking for thirty-five years.

The caption is short and uncomplicated, and Thurber didn’t try for a “funny” name for the doctor. And other than his name, all that’s left of Dr. Millmoss is the pipe, the shoe, and the hat. Try covering them up with your finger. The drawing works O.K. without them, but with them it’s a masterpiece.

No one could replicate this level of perfection…it’s innate.

Personally, we enjoyed this cartoon of Maslin’s:

Our analysis? Pretty simple: cute animals doing something funny. Gets us every time.



  1. …that first cartoon is supposed to be funny?

  2. The first cartoon reminds me of a naked emperor.

  3. and the pig says, “My wife is a whore.”

  4. Torsten Adair says:

    Thurber was a haiku master of cartoons. Simple, direct, but rarely laugh-out-loud funny. Compare and contrast with George Herriman… I believe those artists existed and survived because there was a lot of experimentation going on, and there were patrons who were willing to finance their masterpieces.

    I wonder if anyone has published an omnibus/ catalogue raisonné of Thurber’s work, but then, it probably is best in small doses, like haikus. Perhaps a page-a-day calendar would be best.

  5. Nick Jones says:

    “What is that expression?”

    Surprise and confusion, as the animal assumed that everybody knew about hippopotamus’ tendency to eat people.

    “There’s no answer. And so you look again, and again. I’ve been looking for thirty-five years.”

    That is easily the most depressing thing I’ve read today.

  6. Goofball says:

    Oh, wait, I get it–the hippo *ATE* Dr. Millmoss. Brilliant! I shall now ponder the eye and mouth for 35 years seeking enlightenment.

  7. Jeff P. says:

    Classic, brilliant humor lost on fanboys.

  8. Perfect? There’s nothing good about that cartoon. That hippo barely even looks like a hippo.

  9. Jackie Estrada says:

    Well put, Jeff P.

  10. is it april fool’s day? that thurber is a crappy, unfunny cartoon. anyone who says otherwise is being some weird kind of snob. just because it’s old doesn’t make it good.

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