On Dan Piraro’s Bizarro blog on the 9th, thoughts on cartoon memes, especially the Ascent of Man meme, with this wonderful new cartoon:
The Caveman meme, with the paleo guy lounging provocatively in a men’s fragrance ad (plus the pun, of course)
I was discussing cartoon cliches last night with someone I met at a friend’s house and he mentioned that Bob Mankoff, the cartoon editor at The New Yorker, recently put together a list of them. Without reading the list, the ones that come to my mind most readily are “crawling through a desert,” “stranded on a tiny one-tree island,” “two people in a bar,” “a psychiatrist’s couch,” and the famous “ascent of man” line of evolving mammals, like [the Bizarro in my 4/10/17 posting “A primate with a pipe”]. There are dozens more, of course.
Two reasons cartoonists love to use these cliches are 1) they are setups that lend themselves well to saying something about the human experience, and 2) they are a fun way in which cartoonists can engage in a sort of friendly competition. For us, it’s less about who has sold the most books or gotten the most cartoons published, it’s about putting your best psychiatrist’s couch joke out there and seeing how it stands up against your cartoonist heroes.
I’ve done quite a few “ascent of man” cartoons like the one above [dressing up the chimp]. The most famous (of mine) and the one I’m most proud of can be found [in my 8/1/15 posting “Bizarro devolution”]. As you can see…, it isn’t funny, but it’s poignant and true and I think it will stand the test of time. If there are people around in a couple hundred years and they come across that cartoon, they’ll still get it.
The one today is a little more opaque, I think. It’s a product of my belief that all humans have a sense of arrogant pride about how much we’ve created as a species –– complex language, writing, philosophy, the innumerable discoveries of science, modern technology and medicine –– yet most of us never achieve anything of note at all. A very tiny fraction of us have created the amazing world we live in, the rest of us have just learned how to use it. In short, the overwhelming majority of us have evolved to where we are now, then do nothing more than turn around and try to dress up the chimp for a cheap laugh.
I’m no different, of course. I’ve not contributed anything life-changing to the planet. I just draw silly pictures for money in an effort to stay out of an office cubicle. So far, dressing up the chimp has worked okay for me.