CSotD: Artists’ insights

While we await further development on things that aren’t funny, here’s a look at something that really is.

Or will be when it releases in October, but you’ll have forgotten by then, so pre-order it now, from the publisher or at your local bookstore.


Joe Dator is a frequent New Yorker contributor, but even if you hate New Yorker cartoons in general, stick around and bear in mind that Charles Addams commented on life in the city in their pages, as did Peter Arno, as still does Roz Chast.


As does Joe Dator, but, like them, it’s not the only thing he does, and he goes into some detail about the task of pleasing editors vs the task of pleasing himself.


This, for instance, is a cartoon about modern life but it’s not particularly Gothamcentric.


And this one didn’t get past the editors, but it got a laugh from me and is only one of many such panels that I’m glad he included in the book, because I leaf through a lot of cartoons that the NYer editors liked but that leave me cold and he has many more arrows in his quiver.

Also, I think this guy has cut ahead of me a few times.

Even his New Yorkerish cartoons have an above-average bite. Observational humor is supposed to be insightful, after all.

I won’t apologize for what is admittedly a rave review, because the biggest challenge in reviewing Dator’s book is narrowing it down to a reasonable number of examples rather than simply scanning and posting the whole thing.

The book is a combination of text and cartoons in which he explains his process, as well as his purpose:

This book will not tell you how you can be a cartoonist. But it will tell you how I am a cartoonist. And you can take that information and do what ever you want with it. Hey, it’s your life, not mine.

That informal tone is much more readable for the casual fan than most of those “How Comics Work” books that go into deep explanations of more than you wanted to know, and that, as Twain (more or less) said of classics, everybody praises but nobody reads.

Even cartoonists and aspiring cartoonists will get the idea that, if Joe Dator does own a tweed sport coat, it doesn’t have elbow patches.

There’s nothing wrong with clarity, and this is more like a friendly conversation in a bar than a profound, over-stuffed college lecture. You can even pretend the cartoons are sketched on cocktail napkins, if you’d like.

Most of them stand alone, but within categories that make sense if you’ve been following his narration.

Others get more detailed treatment. For example this cartoon, and then, on the facing page, his process.

Which is a good example and I don’t need another but I’m going to provide one anyway as an example of why I had so much trouble limiting the selection:

And, if you think he’s being mean to podcasters, how’s this?

You should see the ones I didn’t scan and post.

No, I mean that. You should see them.

Pre-order it now, before you forget.


Then, while you wait for it to arrive, go over here to the Lily, where you can get inside the mind of another cartoonist, Gemma Correll, who explains in graphic format why she does what she does, with the only text outside her drawing being this short intro:

Like Dator, she takes you behind the scenes rather than simply talking about her published work, but her narrative is more deeply personal and not nearly as involved in discussions of the process.

Plus you can read it right now.


And this personal note and advice

About 20 years ago, I was providing educational services for schools within the circulation area of the Glens Falls (NY) Post-Star. One of the features we ran was short, serialized novels aimed at an upper-elementary grade level, with curriculum guides for their teachers.

I became dissatisfied with the quality of what we could purchase and began writing my own, using the graphic services of young artists willing to provide 14 chapter illustrations and a series logo in exchange for a small three-figure payment and an equal share of future sales.

It was a bit of a gamble on their part, but they weren’t rolling in money anyway, and the stories ended up in papers throughout the US and Canada and a few other islands and continents.

For a starving artist — and I’ve been one — it was nice to get a royalty check for $150 or more from time to time, especially since it was always unexpected and because even the checks from the slow-selling stories added up over time.

The market for such things has collapsed, but, if I were still doing it, I’d have to rope in some new young artists, because my stable — Christopher Baldwin, Clio Chiang, Dylan Meconis and Marina Tay — are no longer starving.

I recently sold some stories to the education program of the Seattle Times, and when I let the artists involved know, one of them asked, instead, that I donate her share to a non-profit in her city that has been doing important work throughout the pandemic.

I was pleased that she is now in a position to turn down money, of course, but equally glad she took a chance on a low-paying gig back in the Olden Days when I could still afford her.

And, looking at them all, I was happy that the wider world has seen the quality of their work, not just hers. It’s not inevitable, but it’s a goal worth shooting for.

It also reminds me of my old Irish pub band, because we had a rule that we would never play for free, but that we would accept a low offer if the gig sounded like fun, as long as it was clear that nobody else involved was gonna get rich, either.

Go thou and do likewise:

Don’t ever work for “exposure,” but don’t be afraid to take a flyer on something that might be fun, as long as it includes lunch and helps pay the rent at least a little.


wotthehell anyway


One thought on “CSotD: Artists’ insights

  1. You prompted me (compelled me) to go to my library and get both volumes of Matthew Diffee’s Rejection collection : cartoons you never saw, and never will see, in the New Yorker, then look through the questionnaires until I found out that it was Marisa Acocella Marchetto who answered the question “where do you keep your rejected cartoons?” with “In boxes. And boxes. And boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes.”

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