NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

April 8, 2013

'I say it's spinach ...'

The satirical or humorous sketches which we now call “cartoons” probably date from 1732 or thereabouts when William Hogarth created “A Harlot’s Progress” and “A Rake’s Progress.” The word “cartoon,” although it is much older, has been used for sketches of this kind only since 1843, when Punch, the English humor magazine, applied the term to such drawings in its pages. Cartoons have of course proliferated widely and depict all kinds of things. Usually they are humorous, but many also carry a serious or even tragic social message. They can become historical documents that show the clothes, manners and customs of a place or an era.

I find that very often when I am doing or discussing something, a relevant cartoon comes to mind that illuminates or makes it humorous. I would love on these occasions to produce the picture itself, but since I carry copies of them around in my brain but not in print, my challenge is to find good words with which to show the picture graphically to a listener.

Since there are millions of cartoons abroad in the land, I can touch on only a few of my favorites for illustration, from two sources — the New Yorker magazine and a wonderful anthology of the English humor magazine Punch. Although I think my words will suffice to convey the substance of the cartoon and its humor, see if your imagination creates a picture.

For starters, when I am trying to figure out how to find a missed call or something on my Model A cellphone, I quickly identify with the woman in a 1929 New Yorker magazine cartoon who, with an annoyed expression on her face, is saying into the receiver of a rather primitive telephone, “Well, if I dialed the wrong number, why did you answer the telephone?” Or perhaps I am even more like the pudgy man in a business suit in another New Yorker cartoon of much more recent vintage. He is sitting across a table from a person who is unmistakably a gypsy fortune-teller. As she gazes into the crystal ball in front of her she makes a prediction: “You will never catch up with the new technology.” Anyone but me ever feel that way?

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