Battle of the Business Cartoons

I create a lot of business cartoons, which is kind of ironic since I gave up my business career to draw cartoons full time. Business related cartoons seem to come relatively easy to me, and I love doing them! They’re some of my absolute favorites (maybe its therapy, or revenge, or maybe a little of both)! I read up on business most days to see what’s new and to keep up on the jargon. Not surprisingly I’ve also read my share of business cartoons.

I thought it might be interesting to compare some colletions of business cartoons from some of the major business publications out there – The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s and the New Yorker. (OK, the New Yorker isn’t technically a business magazine, but I needed another book!)

(Note – Just so we’re on the up and up here, my business cartoons have been published in both Barron’s and The Wall Street Journal. I’ll also be listing the books alphabetically to avoid any favoritism.)

Barron’s Book of Cartoons

Published by Prentice Hall Press in 1999, this collection of business cartoons begins with a pleasant foreword by Edwin A. Finn, Jr., editor and president of Barron’s. It’s a nice introduction and I get the feeling that Finn has a real affinity for the cartoons and cartoonists that appear in his publication.

The book, although the smallest of the three, has 100 business cartoons by artists including fellow Harvard Business Review regular Leo Cullum, Roy Delgado, P.C. Vey and Mick Stevens (who supplied the cartoon for the cover) to name just a few.

There’s some great stuff in here. One of my favorites is a Thomas Cheney cartoon showing a man behind a desk talking to another man (possibly an applicant?) while various fights, chokings and chases ensue behind them through the office’s windows. The caption reads “As you may have already gathered, we’re family-owned-and-operated.”

Another classic is Cullum’s boardroom with downward trending graphs. The man at the head of the table is obviously angry and confronts one of the workers with ‘What happened, Caswell? You were in charge of the feng shui.’

But it’s not all just business cartoons either. Barron’s includes a smattering of other cartoons like Nick Downes’ optometrist with a baseball bat throwing a pair of glasses into the air saying “Here’s something else you should never do with your glasses.”

All in all, every cartoon is solid both in art and humor, and a few are laugh-out-loud funny. Finn and art director Pamela Budz have a superb volume on their hands here. Highly recommended!

The New Yorker Book of Business Cartoons

Bloomberg Press released these 110 pages of New Yorker business cartoons in 1998. David Remnick provides a lovely introduction that ends with this quote that I very much agree with – “We call these ‘cartoons,’ a word that shrugs off pretensions of importance. But they are perhaps the most important thing The New Yorker publishes.”

Obviously there are some brilliant business cartoons here. The New Yorker is known for the top notch cartoons it publishes and this book doesn’t disappoint. Contributing cartoonists include Lee Lornez, Bob Mankoff, Robert Weber and, again, Leo Cullum. (Guy really gets around doesn’t he?!)

One of my favorite business cartoons in the book is by Michael Crawford. It shows four bees, each with labels underneath that read “Worker”, “Queen”, “Drone” & “Consultant”. “Brevity is the soul of wit” indeed!

Roz Chast, who Remnick labels “certified genius” in his foreword, chimes in with a storefront with two signs. One reads “Mom & Pop General Store” while the other reads “Going Out of Business, Slowly But Surely”.

Unlike the Barron’s book, the New Yorker Book of Business Cartoons is all business. All of the cartoons are great, but I find fewer that are belly laugh funny, opting instead for a little more intellectual slant and a little drier wit. That being said, I own almost every New Yorker cartoon published and I relish them with childish glee. Pick this book up in hardcover before you can’t find it anywhere but Ebay any longer.

The Wall Street Journal Portfolio of Business Cartoons

Dow Jones and Company published their 172 page volume in 1999 (the late 90’s were good years for cartoon collections!). “Pepper… and Salt” editor Charles Preston and WSJ editor Robert L. Bartley both contribute good forewords. At almost twice the number of business cartoons (and twice the number of forewords) as either the Barron’s or New Yorker books for around the same price, this is some serious business cartoon value.

The book is loosely organized by decade beginning in 1950. Notable cartoonists include Aaron Bacall, Dave Carpenter, Sidney Harris and H.L. Schwadron.

One of my favorites is Earl Engleman’s police line-up of businessmen with an unseen policeman instructing ‘Number two, step forward and say ‘You can’t lose if you invest in this stock.'”

An absolutely outstanding example of wordless business cartoons is Mike Twohy’s businessman walking down the street with a dollar on a stick in front of him (it also graces the book’s cover).

It’s a good book, and most of the cartoons are spot on, but in some ways the older business cartoons seem more dated than their rivals in the other two. I know that sounds lame, and I have no idea how far back either the Barron’s or New Yorker collections pull their cartoons from, so it’s difficult to be fair here. The WSJ book certainly presents much older topics (women entering the workforce, hippies, etc…) which makes it a very different read, and an interesting addition to any cartoon library.

So what’s the verdict?

Each collection of business cartoons is excellent and should be on every cartoonist’s wish list if not already owned, but if I had to pick just one?

It’s a difficult decision. The New Yorker book seems a no-brainer. I mean, it’s the New Yorker. But then again, the Barron’s book seems a little more accessible, and offers a wider range of topics. The Wall Street Journal collection is a lot of business cartoons for the money, and there’s a lot of great stuff there too!

For my money, the Barron’s Book of Cartoons wins out. OK, so it’s not all business cartoons (technically, the title never said it was), but I like the fresher feel of the humor and the art.

The New Yorker book is certainly brilliant stuff, but it seems a little too familiar for me to give it the victory. Of course this comes from a guy who reads book after book of cartoons, so take that with a grain of salt.

The Wall Street Journal book is great too, but it just doesn’t resonate with me the same way the Barron’s book does. I think the older feel of some of the cartoons detracts from it in some way for me.

So, the winner is Barron’s! I’m sure editors Budz and Finn are breathing a collective sigh of relief now that this is over and they can get back to running their publication. Good job you two!

Make sure you buy the Barron’s Book of Cartoons! It’s an absolutely necessary addition to any cartoonist’s collection!

(And while you’re at it, check out my business cartoons here at our favorite little cartoon site!)