Mike Lynch

A cartoonist and cartoon enthusiast who hasn’t appeared on this blog before.

The barest of brief Wikipedia information:

Mike Lynch [born January 18, 1962, in Iowa City IA] is a cartoonist whose work can be seen in Reader’s Digest, The Wall Street Journal, Playboy and other mass media markets.

Lynch maintains a substantial blog on cartoons, with material of his own and compilations of other cartoonists.  For example, a 9/24 posting on gag cartoons, from Dick Buchanan; a 9/21 posting on women cartoonists of the New Yorker, from Liza Donnelly; a 9/20 posting on cartoonists drawing on the wall at the Overlook Lounge in NYC.

Four cartoons from Lynch, covering various toon territories…

The pumpkin. For autumn, the harvest season, and (especially) Halloween, this grotesque pumpkin pie cartoon:


(An instance of a cartoon meme exemplified on this blog a number of times before but not named: someone crouched on a street corner with a sign describing some distress and asking for help, or somone carrying a sign

WILL WORK [or perform some specific task] FOR [specified reward]

Call it the Supplicant with Sign meme.)

A signal virtue of the cartoon is that it alludes in no way to the taste and scent of the season in the US: pumpkin spice. See my 10/23/17 posting “The pumpkin spice cartoon meme”.)

The caterpillar. An exercise in cartoon understanding:


The easy parts: you need to recognize that the scene is in a business office, that the machine behind the guy in the cartoon is a photocopier, that the speaker (the character on the left) is a caterpillar sitting on a gigantic mushroom; and that the caterpillar is describing how the photocopier can be adjusted (bizarrely, by using one or the other side of the mushroom).

None of this makes any sense unless you recognize the caterpillar on the mushroom and get the literary allusion in the operating instructions it gives. The cultural references are to an influential work of English fiction, originally written as a fantasy for children: Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865). From Wikipedia:

(#3) John Tenniel’s illustration

The Caterpillar (also known as the Hookah-Smoking Caterpillar) is a fictional character appearing in Lewis Carroll’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Introduced in Chapter Four (“Rabbit Sends in a Little Bill”) and the main center of interest of Chapter V (“Advice from a Caterpillar”), the Caterpillar is a hookah-smoking caterpillar exactly three inches high (a height of which he argues in defense, against Alice’s complaint). Alice does not like the Caterpillar when they first meet, because he does not immediately talk to her and when he does, it is usually in short, rather rude sentences, or difficult questions.

The original illustration by John Tenniel is something of a visual paradox, wherein the caterpillar’s human face appears to be formed from the head and legs of a naturalistic caterpillar

Part of the relevant text, with the crucial bits boldfaced:

… ‘Well, I should like to be a little larger, sir, if you wouldn’t mind,’ said Alice: ‘three inches is such a wretched height to be.’

‘It is a very good height indeed!’ said the Caterpillar angrily, rearing itself upright as it spoke (it was exactly three inches high).

‘But I’m not used to it!’ pleaded poor Alice in a piteous tone. And she thought of herself, ‘I wish the creatures wouldn’t be so easily offended!’

‘You’ll get used to it in time,’ said the Caterpillar; and it put the hookah into its mouth and began smoking again.

This time Alice waited patiently until it chose to speak again. In a minute or two the Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth and yawned once or twice, and shook itself. Then it got down off the mushroom, and crawled away in the grass, merely remarking as it went, ‘One side will make you grow taller, and the other side will make you grow shorter.’

‘One side of what? The other side of what?’ thought Alice to herself.

Of the mushroom,’ said the Caterpillar, just as if she had asked it aloud; and in another moment it was out of sight.

Alice remained looking thoughtfully at the mushroom for a minute, trying to make out which were the two sides of it; and as it was perfectly round, she found this a very difficult question. However, at last she stretched her arms round it as far as they would go, and broke off a bit of the edge with each hand.

‘And now which is which?’ she said to herself, and nibbled a little of the right-hand bit to try the effect: the next moment she felt a violent blow underneath her chin: it had struck her foot!

She was a good deal frightened by this very sudden change, but she felt that there was no time to be lost, as she was shrinking rapidly; so she set to work at once to eat some of the other bit. Her chin was pressed so closely against her foot, that there was hardly room to open her mouth; but she did it at last, and managed to swallow a morsel of the lefthand bit…

Among the many pop-cultural uses of this passage is Jefferson Airplane’s psychedelic hit song “White Rabbit” (from Surrealistic Pillow, 1967):

(#4) lyrics:

One pill makes you larger
And one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you
Don’t do anything at all
Go ask Alice
When she’s ten feet tall

And if you go chasing rabbits
And you know you’re going to fall
Tell ’em a hookah smoking caterpillar
Has given you the call…
Call Alice
When she was just small

The cartoon translates this fantastical scene into a more mundane office-management scene (while preserving the caterpillar, its mushroom, and its advice).

The synonym. A specifically language-related cartoon:

(#5) What Roget might have said instead of pretty: beautiful, attractive, good-looking, alluring; lovely, charming, delightful, appealing, engaging; ravishing, gorgeous, stunning, arresting, glamorous, bewitching, beguiling; graceful, elegant, exquisite, aesthetic, artistic, decorative, magnificent (selections from the NOAD on-line thesaurus)

This is also an exercise in cartoon understanding: You have to know about Roget and his thesaurus. From Wikipedia:

(#6) A modern Roget’s

Roget’s Thesaurus is a widely used English-language thesaurus, created in 1805 by Peter Mark Roget (1779–1869), British physician, natural theologian and lexicographer. It was released to the public on 29 April 1852. The original edition had 15,000 words, and each new edition has been larger…

The name “Roget” is trademarked in parts of the world, such as the United Kingdom. By itself, it is not protected in the United States, where use of the name “Roget” in the title of a thesaurus does not necessarily indicate any relationship to Roget directly; it has come to be seen as a generic thesaurus name.

Roget described his thesaurus in the foreword to the first edition:

It is now nearly fifty years since I first projected a system of verbal classification similar to that on which the present work is founded. Conceiving that such a compilation might help to supply my own deficiencies, I had, in the year 1805, completed a classed catalogue of words on a small scale, but on the same principle, and nearly in the same form, as the Thesaurus now published.

Roget’s Thesaurus is composed of six primary classes. Each class is composed of multiple divisions and then sections. This may be conceptualized as a tree containing over a thousand branches for individual “meaning clusters” or semantically linked words. Although these words are not strictly synonyms, they can be viewed as colours or connotations of a meaning or as a spectrum of a concept. One of the most general words is chosen to typify the spectrum as its headword, which labels the whole group.

Roget’s schema of classes and their subdivisions is based on the philosophical work of Leibniz, itself following a long tradition of epistemological work starting with Aristotle. Some of Aristotle’s Categories are included in Roget’s first class “abstract relations”.

This thesaurus was not merely a synonyms dictionary, with groupings of words in a language, but was built on a prior conceptual analysis — an analysis of the way categories of things are organized (either in the world or in the mind, it’s not always clear which is intended).

On Roget himself, from Wikipedia:

Peter Mark Roget FRS (18 January 1779 – 12 September 1869) was a British physician, natural theologian and lexicographer. He is best known for publishing, in 1852, the Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases (Roget’s Thesaurus), a classified collection of related words.

Peter Mark Roget was born in London. His obsession with list-making as a coping mechanism was well established by the time he was eight years old. The son of a Swiss clergyman, Roget studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, graduating in 1798. His life was marked by several depressing incidents.

Roget’s obsessive project apparently provided a way for him to work out his life-long depressions, but it also stood squarely in two related intellectual traditions: the devising of (universal) “philosophical languages” in the 17th century (George Dalgarno, John Wilkins, Gottfried Leibniz); and then the projects of the Enlightenment in the 18th, especially the French Encyclopédie, the great catalogue of all the things in the world.

The jury. Finally, a pun toon, a nice imperfect pun in fact:


pears /perz/ vs. peers /pirz/, in the formulaic expression jury of one’s peers; yes, 12 pears in a jury box. (In general, imperfect puns are especially easy to pull off in formulaic expressions, where the context of the formula can guide the audience to the basis for the pun.)

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