Chon Day – An Appreciation

Chon Day. If you love cartoons but that name doesn’t ring a bell, this is your lucky day. Day is one of my absolute favorite cartoonists; I can’t think of a week that goes by that I don’t grab one of his books for inspiration, to marvel at his beautiful economic line, or just a quick laugh.

Here are just a few cartoons from his 1945 collection, I Could Be Dreaming, that I know are just going to knock your socks off:

Carton Day Cartoon 1

Day’s art is great, and it reads immediately almost 70 years later, but what stands out to me with this cartoon is the wording of the gag. I can imagine this caption written by lesser cartoonists going any number of ways:

  • “I sure hope I’m gonna like it here.”
  • “Boy I hope I like it here.”
  • “I don’t think I’m going to like it here.”

But the “Oh, I do hope…” is the perfect contrast to the character and scene and it reminds you how much time and effort it takes to get a single sentence just right.

Carton Day Cartoon 2

Another good gag, but this time the art really shines. Look at how few lines are used to get the idea of the kitchen across. And I know I’d be tempted to have something like “Ace Plumbers” on his overalls, but Day’s pipe wrench tells you exactly who this person is. And the expressions on the characters faces – they both know what’s happening, but you get the feeling that each is trying not to upset the other. Amazing.

Carton Day Cartoon 3

I think Chon Day was at his best when he worked without a caption, and let me tell you, that’s not easy to do. When you look at this cartoon it reads immediately as Ship Christening Ceremony, but with only just enough visual cues to do so. There’s the officer’s uniform, the bunting, the rivets, and, of course, the dowager and bottle. And what a wonderfully silly idea!

Carton Day Cartoon 4

This cartoon is all about the caption for me. It’s easy to read this as “Ten percent of this is wool,” and, in fact, I distinctly remember reading it that way when I first read this book. But then you wonder where the joke is. Is it the coat? The women? And why is the caption worded that way instead of “This is ten percent wool?” Then you reread the caption and are rewarded upon close examination. Even the italics are perfect.

Carton Day Cartoon 5

Although technically not wordless, here’s another example of how great Chon Day was without a caption. I love how it reads left to right, then left again: man on stilts, angry woman, black eye. And Day draws your eye where it’s needed with the wash on the window shade, and the top hat and tie. One more thing too, mainly because I still struggle with it, look at how masterfully the brick is suggested with just a few lines. Wow.

Carton Day Cartoon 6

I don’t know if this predates Brother Sebastian, but it’s a wonderful example of how Chon Day could be funny and gentle at the same time. I personally stay away from religion in cartoons because a) I’m worried about offending, and b) I don’t know enough about it to do it well. But Day found so much to play with. And, again, look at how much is conveyed with so few lines: the tree, the brick, the stained glass…

Carton Day Cartoon 7

I thought this went especially well after the previous cartoon because it’s kind of dark and ominous. I mean, it’s a guy with a net luring a boy into his shop! I’m assuming he just wants to keep the boy and make him work there, but still… you just could not do this cartoon today!

Carton Day Cartoon 8

I’m going to end with what I think is basically the perfect Chon Day cartoon; it’s subtle, relatable, deftly drawn, and still hilariously funny, even today. Perfect.

Want to check out more Chon Day? Here’s some additional reading:

Also, you can pick up these Chon Day collections:

5 Cartooning Books You Should Read Right Now

When I was starting out as a cartoonist I checked out pretty much every book about cartooning in the state of Illinois. (Thank you, Interlibrary Loan!) Like any subject, some books were good, some not so good. But a few were so good that I went out and bought them so I’d always have them close at hand.

For those of you not familiar with these 5 classic cartooning books, you’re in for a treat. Admittedly, some are a bit dated, so the information on markets and technology isn’t going to help, but the depth of practical cartooning knowledge they have to share never goes out of style. And if you wanted to buy them all for yourself, you could get a pretty amazing cartooning education for around $47.00 (and most of that is shipping).

So let’s get to it:

The Cartoonist’s Muse by Mischa Richter & Harald Bakken

The Cartoonist's Muse Mischa Richter and Harald Bakken

This is probably my favorite cartooning book about writing gags and I return to it every couple of years. Chapters include Simple Association: Incongruity, Visual Cliches as Idea Sources, and Developing and Polishing Cartoons. It’s aimed mostly at writing gag cartoons instead of strips, but any cartoonist will benefit from its deep analysis of how to generate gags, and how gags work. Do not miss reading this book.

At the time of this writing you can purchase The Cartoonist’s Muse at Amazon for less than $5.00

The Arbor House Book of Cartooning by Mort Gerberg

The Arbor House Book of Cartooning by Mort Gerberg

Gerberg’s book is an embarrassment of cartooning riches. Materials, theory, basic drawing, writing, and layout are all explained deftly and deeply with plenty of concrete examples for clarification. Chapters include What Is a Cartoon?, So How Do You Get Your Ideas, and Putting It All Together: The Whole Picture.

The later material on other genres and markets is probably no longer as useful, but the first half of the book is pure cartooning gold.

At the time of this writing you can purchase The Arbor House Book of Cartooning at Amazon for less than $5.00

Cartoonist’s and Gag Writer’s Handbook by Jack Markow

Cartoonist's and Gag Writer's Handbook by Jack Markow

Much like Gerberg above, the last bits on markets and careers is dated, but the front half of the book is as useful and inspiring today as it was when it was published in 1967. Markow clearly explains different types of gags and, more importantly, how they’re built. Chapters include The Reverse, Ready-Made Captions, and Has It Been Done?

At the time of this writing you can purchase the Cartoonist’s and Gag Writer’s Handbook starting at around $25.00. (Note, there are more recent editions than the one I’ve linked to, but I don’t own those specific editions.)

Jumping Up and Down on the Roof, Throwing Bags of Water on People by Mark Jacobs

Jumping Up and Down on the Roof, Throwing Bags of Water on People by Mark Jacobs

With a series of interviews of successful cartoonists (Gross, Handelsman, Kilban, Rodrigues, Savage, & Wilson), Mark Jacobs shares not so much how to be a cartoonist, but what it’s really like. Each artist talks candidly about the art, the business, and life in general. My pal Mike Lynch suggested it to me years ago and was so enthusiastic about it I purchased it online while we talked about it. I’m glad I did, it’s a gem.

At the time of this writing you can purchase Jumping Up and Down on the Roof, Throwing Bags of Water on People at Amazon for less then $7.00.

The Art of Cartooning by Syd Hoff

The Art of Cartooning by Syd Hoff

While some of the drawing tips up front may seem simplistic, ignore it at your own peril. (Plus you have to see how he draws a gangster using only the letters in Chicago!) Hoff expertly demonstrates great expression, figure, composition, and line & shading. And the writing chapter is great too! 

At the time of this writing you can purchase The Art of Cartooning at Amazon for less than $5.00.

If that’s not enough for you, some additional titles I don’t own anymore but remember fondly include:

Any cartooning books I’m missing?