Cartoon matters

Late on Thursday, a notification that Elizabeth Traugott and I  have been provided a summer intern for our project on “Linguistics in the Comics”; I posted our proposal here last month. Buoyed by this news, I talked enthusiastically about the project with the staff at Three Seasons, where I was having dinner. That got me into giving examples of cartoons illustrating some of the topics we are exploring (language play of various kinds, social dialects, errors, new and spreading usages; the conventions of the comics; the narrative structure of comics).

I happen to have brought the most recent issue (April 16th) of The New Yorker with me, so our conversation turned to the excellent cartoons in the magazine, and how varied they are, in both content and visual style. I noted the range of content and tone, from social commentary at one end to gag cartoons at the other, bringing up Bob Mankoff (the cartoon editor of the magazine) as one of the cartoonists who specializes in gags. I then looked at the issue and found that the second cartoon in it was by Mankoff:

The cartoon depends on all sorts of background knowledge: what scythes are, how Death, the Grim Reaper, is conventionally represented, etc. And, crucially, the story of Trayvon Martin in his black hoodie. This last factor makes the cartoon highly topical — but also likely to lose much of its punch as years go by and the story of Martin and Zimmerman recedes into history.

3 Responses to “Cartoon matters”

  1. Licia Says:

    I am Italian and I enjoyed the cartoon without making any connection with the Trayvon Martin story, even if I was familiar with it. In British English, the variety I am more familiar with, the association between hoodie and potentially crimilar behaviour is recorded by dictionaries, e.g. the Collins English Dictionary and, more interestingly, the Macmillan Dictionary, which povides the following information in its British English entry but not in the American one: Some people think that young men wear hoodies because they are trying to hide their face when they carry out criminal activities.

  2. Lauri Karttunen Says:

    Viivi&Wagner is a daily comic strip in Helsingin Sanomat, the leading newspaper in Finland. Viivi is a feminist and ecologist living with Wagner, literally a pig representing the worst features of the Finnish manhood.

    Every once and a while, the dialogue takes a linguistic turn as in this strip from last January. Wagner trumps Viivi with the fact that “ukko” is a name for an old man in Finnish and “eukko” is a name for an old wife.

    http://www.hs.fi/viivijawagner/1135270203350

    Pane 1:
    Viivi: “E” in French is a feminine marker

    Wager: So it is in Finnish:
    “UKKO” (old husband) and “E-UKKO” (old wife).
    Viivi: ?!

    Pane 3:
    Wagner: I’ve got the feminines under control.
    Viivi: Yes, yes.

  3. Death at play « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] figure of the Grim Reaper is one of stock subjects of gag cartoons; as I said in a discussion of a Bob Mankoff Reaper cartoon: The cartoon depends on all sorts of background knowledge: what […]

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