What’s So Funny?

It’s hard to tell. Sometimes my own drawing seems really funny to me. It’s rare, but occasionally I’ll laugh at my own joke. They come as surprises in some cases, completely out of the blue, as if someone else had thought them up. Often, though, the same idea that I thought was great one day seems really lame the next. It’s a mood thing. The same thing must happen with editors, too, especially when they see so many drawings every week. Their choices have to be determined to some degree by their frame of mind during that millisecond they have to look at each cartoon. As the all-knowing Sam has said on a couple of occasions, “It’s a crap-shoot.”

During our lunches and other get-togethers, some of the cartoonists I knew used to play “If I were the editor”, pronouncing judgement on the currently published drawings in the magazine. I once told Jack Ziegler that I had the whole thing figured out. I had decided that I knew what was funny. I might have been making a joke at the time, but part of me really believed it. I suggested that I might make a good cartoon editor. He said, “God help us all.”

In a gathering of cartoonists, you’re quite likely to find one or more sulking in a corner or hiding behind the proverbial potted palm. It could be connected to their recent experiences at the magazine, like the dreaded “drought” (Going for a long time without an OK) or it could just be their generally grouchy nature. Some cartoonists are much funnier in person than they are in ink, and vice-versa.

Cartoonists aren’t a laugh-riot all the time, or in some cases, a lot of the time. Like everyone else, we occasionally lose our sense of humor. I draw a batch each week no matter what my frame of mind. Strangely, I sometimes do some of my best work (According to my biased inner-editor) when I’m depressed about something. Not always, though. Sometimes I’ll do drawings that adhere to the form of a cartoon but have decidedly unfunny content, reflecting my bleak view of the universe that week. I recall once early in my career taking in a batch I’d done in an especially existential state of mind. Lee Lorenz looked over the batch as usual, hesitating briefly over some of those dark cartoons. Before I left his office he reminded me: “These things are supposed to be funny, Mick.”



  1. Anonymous says:

    Was that supposed to be funny? I couldn’t tell if that was funny…I’m not really a funny person.. like people say “I’m not a cat person”(did you get a visual? did a cat/human cross come to mind?)I’m not a pizza person either. In case you saw a resemblence.

    (that was me talking like you, I think) I wanna be just like you, talk like you(picture a bear everyone)walk like you…sing


  2. David Sipress says:

    Dear Mick,

    I love those ideas “from out of the blue.” How can we get more of them? I wish I could just travel to the Blue, find the person in charge, and set up a regualr account. I’d be glad to pay handsomely.

    Great blog. Terrific memories of those old lunches. Of course, my own memories of that time are tinged with rage, resentment, pain, and self-pity. While you guys were upstairs meeting with Lee, there I was, week after week, down in the lobby, waiting for you to come down so we could all go to lunch. I’d stand there, thumbing through my latest batch of rejections returned to me moments before by the receptionist, trying to discern if anyone had actually looked at the stuff, while I wondered to myself what life was like UP THERE– where you were– beyond the door one could only pass through IF YOU’VE HAD AN OK. Oh, well… I guess you can see I’m still a little raw.

    But then we’d all go out to lunch and after a few beers I’d already be thinking about next week, how next week would be the week I’d finally sell one. I’d look around at you guys and think, wow, I’m sitting here will all my cartoon heroes–this is pretty damn good.

    Besides, even though each of you was swimming in what seemed to me to be an endless sea of ok’s, nobody really looked all that happy. Little did I know then, as I do now, that the real suffering only BEGINS with the ok’s–that the only thing worse that wondering if you’ll ever get an ok, is wondering if you’ll ever get an ok AGAIN.

    Finally, yes, let’s hear it for depression. Every cartoonist I’ve spoken to or interviewed has identified personal anguish as a great source of material. Except for George Booth, who doesn’t seem to know the meaning of anguish, and thank goodness for that.

    Best, David

  3. m2 says:

    Re: “beyond the door one could only pass through if you’ve had an ok”

    True enough that you could only pass beyond the door if you’d had an ok, but having an ok, or even many oks did not guarantee entry to the Art Department — you had to be invited back ( at least one known exception: Mick).

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