Too Much White Space in New Yorker Cartoons? (Audio!)

NPR commentator John McWhorter raises an interesting question for New Yorker cartoon lovers and creators, and indeed most gag cartoonists like myself when he asks “why are all the people in the cartoons white?”

While McWhorter calls the magazine “magnificent,” he also suggests that the racially monochromatic cartoons look “a bit backwards.”

“Take away the cell phones and computers and reading these cartoons is like going back in time to reading the funnies in the era of ‘How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.'”

Most comic strips and animated TV shows and movies try to “include blacks, Latinos and Asians just enough to at least suggest modern America,” but not the New Yorker, notes McWhorter.

Of course the New Yorker is hardly racially biased, but why then are the cartoons so overwhelmingly white? And, now that I think about it, why too are mine?

To be honest, I’ve thought about it before, but I’ve always sort of sidestepped the issue by referring to my characters as more “generic” than white. They’re “every-people” you could say.

I discussed the NPR report with my wife while I showered and she got ready for work and told her my theory on race in my own cartoons. “But to anyone else they’re just white, honey,” she said, and I had to admit she was right.

Maybe it’s because I grew up in rural Iowa where you saw more livestock in school than non-Caucasians. We had two black students, one male and one female who, whether they liked each other or not (I don’t remember) were each others’ de-facto dates for any dance/event in high school.

I went to college and was surrounded by a more accurate representation of race in America. I befriended many and grew to understand and embrace cultures and ideas outside my own. When asked to design the t-shirt for one of my fraternity’s events, I included two black men in a crowd scene of about ten people. A fraternity brother (Caucasian for the record) later chidingly thanked me for adding some “token blacks” to the drawing. I was horrified and avoided any ethnicity in my cartoons for a long time afterwards.

I think too that being your garden variety white male aged 18-35, I’m a little gun-shy about trying to add ethnicity into my cartoons. What if I draw a black person’s lips too large? What if the slant of an eye in an Asian character appears more like a racial caricature? What if the color brown I choose for a Hispanic person is just completely wrong?

So I’ve stuck to my “generic” white cartoon characters and played it safe. And it’s worked for me. Over the last few years my cartoon business has grown and I was able to quit my day job and draw funny pictures full time.

But maybe it’s finally time I expanded my palette of colors. Working in black and white as I normally do, blacks and Hispanics will end up being different shades of gray. And I’m going to have to figure out how to draw some different hairstyles, but I have to agree with McWhorter that it’s time gag cartoons began to more accurately represent the America we live in.

Please, though, cut me some slack. It’s going to take some trial and lots of error to get this right.

Wish me luck, and I look forward to trying to stretch my cartoons a little farther.

And make sure you check out the NPR audio! Interesting and thought provoking stuff!

Cartoonists’ Favorite Cartoons

I ran across this page in my online cartoon wanderings and just thought it was fascinating. The National Cartoonists Society asked some well-known cartoonists to describe some cartoons they thought were exceptionally funny.

Here’s a sample answer from New Yorker cartoonist Mick Stevens:

“There are so many cartoons I’ve loved, it’s hard to come up with one in particular. Sometimes it’s not easy to explain why a joke is funny to us. One of my favorites is Jack Ziegler’s: A picture of the Empire State Building next to a tiny box of french-fries, aptly titled “The Empire State Building and a Side of Fries”. He’s a wacko, that guy.”

Check out the rest of the answers! They’re a hoot!

“How’s the Squid?”

One of my favorite cartoonists, Jack Zielger, has a new collection of his cartoons, “How’s the Squid?” coming out in early November.

Zielger’s sense of humor is one of those things that’s easy to admire and impossible to duplicate. For example, one of his cartoons shows a toaster labeled the “Munch Master” contains two freshly toasted pieces of bread shaped like the head of the figure in Munch’s “The Scream”.

There’s a small article about the upcoming book at

And if you’re looking for any Christmas gifts for your favorite online cartoonist…

24 Hour Comics

“The Dare: To create a complete 24 page comic book in 24 continuous hours.”

Sound crazy? It gets worse…

“That means everything: Story, finished art, lettering, colors (if you want ’em), paste-up, everything! Once pen hits paper, the clock starts ticking. 24 hours later, the pen lifts off the paper, never to descend again.”

Cartoonists will displaying their own super-human powers (thanks to plenty of coffee I suspect) when 24 Hour Comics Day rolls around this coming April.

Supporting comic book shops will be staying open 24 hours and hosting artists trying to complete the Herculean task.

“Obviously, with an hour per page you’re not going to get the most polished possible work, but in the works people have created there is an amazing strain not only of raw energy but of cleverness, wit, and pure human emotion, plus a surprising amount of grace,” notes About Comics publisher Nat Gertler.

I have to admit, I’m toying with the idea of doing this myself. True, I’m not a comic book artist/writer per se, but I think it’s a wonderfully challenging idea. I’ll have to keep thinking about it…

24 Hour Comics Day will be April 23, 2005.

Bill Griffith – Inside the Cartoonist’s Studio

This week’s guest is none other than Bill Griffith of “Zippy the Pinhead”

So, without further adieu…

1) If you were to cast a movie entirely with cartoon characters, what movie would it be and who would star in it?

“King of Comedy” (Martin Scorsese), starring Yosemite Sam, Little Iodine and Butt-Head of Beavis & Butt-Head.

2) You’re a syndicate editor launching a new comic strip. What’s the worst possible title you can think of?

“Those Wacky Neighbors”

3) A light bulb over a cartoon’s head signifies an idea, while a string of random characters denotes swearing. Invent a new cartooning icon and what it means.

@@@@@@@@@@@@!! It means: “I’m leaving the country if that guy’s reelected!”

Thanks a bunch for the answers, Bill (and thanks again for sending them again after my hard drive crash)! I guarantee that if our readers weren’t ‘having fun yet’ that they are now!

Please make sure to check out “Zippy the Pinhead”!

Undecided about the upcoming election? Order a ‘Zippy for President!’ t-shirt and help put an honest to goodness pinhead in the oval office!