An article that looks at the breakdown of ethnicity and sex in cartoon characters in the NYer. Among the not-surprising findings is that there are stereotypically driven appearances of women and men and the proportion of males represented is higher than females. The tone of the article is that this is a not-so-good thing and better reflecting the world would be a good-thing.
But here's a point that I didn't see mentioned, and I'll ignore the NYer for now and take a broader view. Cartoons are very often meant to be funny. To elicit a smile or a laugh. AND to do so with a very great economy of words. Sometimes with no words at all.
How can one do this? By playing along with the expectations of the audience. By using instantly understandable and recognizable situations, that's how. Not "true" situations, but instantly recognizable tropes.
For humor to exist, the reader's brain has to be, very quickly, jarred out of its rest position. Setup + unexpected twist = funny. So what happens if, in addition to the gag, the characters don't fit expectations in the setup? Such as, for instance, the overbearing executive is played by a slim woman rather than a big fat old white guy? Well, the humor train gets derailed. One's brain pauses to say to itself "Hey, look at that character. Why is there a slim woman yelling instead of an old guy? What's going on? Is she the boss or what?"
The flow is impeded. The comedy golf swing is interrupted as surely as someone coughing loudly at the Masters during tee-off at the 18th hole.
So, presuming this is indeed the case, there's an issue. Namely a sacrifice of humor for a social goal. Now lets add the fact that most cartoonists are freelancers and are trying to convince an editor to buy their wares. An editor who isn't worried about gender distribution but about "Will this amuse my readers?" How motivated will a cartoonist be to "damage" the overall joke in order to address the article's social concern?
Worth a thought or two, I think.
You know what? I just realized that I've got the material for a cartooning moment in hand. So let's go! This past March 15th, the Wall Street Journal ran a cartoon of mine. And it's common to look at a cartoon and think that what you see is what there always was. But ... not so really.
To illustrate, here's a sequence of four versions of that cartoon. The topmost was what was "bought". I put the quotes because the real message was "We'll buy it if it's put into portrait form and simplified". The WSJ's space always calls for portrait and the original was too landscape. Furthermore, the WSJ prints the toons very verrrrrry small. So lots of lines become lots of mush. Accordingly, I got to work on simplifying and getting the visual to come through more easily. As you can see in the first three, I was still enamored of my cityscape and interior and tried so hard to keep them. But I finally realized it was not going to work and I'd have to get out the editorial scissors and wield them mercilessly. Which brings us to the bottom image; the one that appeared a few weeks ago.
What do you think?