The Tritoons gather by the river

diabolus in imaginē, at the tri-state corner (where NY, NJ, and PA are joined), in Milford PA, on Sunday 9/30, funny funny funny. Viewable on tape today. As announced today on Facebook by one of the Three Weird Brothers, Bob Eckstein, using this cartoon of his (from the 5/19/14 New Yorker) as a visual:


The Milford Readers and Writers Festival in Milford PA (#3 — the first one was in 2016). “New Yorker Cartoonists Talk About Funny!” with Bob Eckstein, Christopher Weyant, and David Borchart, moderated by Carol McManus (tape shown on CSPAN-2 today starting at 2:18 pm ET).

I missed the beginning of the event, because I didn’t see Bob’s notice until after the panel had started (just after 11 am my time). Low-key, thoughtful, and amiable, with constant laughter as the three of them showed overheads of cartoons by artists who’d influenced them, cartoons of their own, and cartoons of each other’s. Illustrations of the standard gag types — cartoon memes (or tropes) — and thoughts on cartoon topics (all three revel in absurdity and dislike mean-spirited cartoons) and on the difficulty of captioning and on the complexities and the pleasures of drawing for different audiences and purposes (editorial cartooning, drawing for kids, illustration, different magazines, the New Yorker as it’s changed over time) and on what other people find funny (or, alas, not) and on the impossibility of making a living by cartooning for the New Yorker (among other things).

The Delaware River Tritoons at the event, with a special guest who turned up in the audience:

(#2) At the Milford Readers & Writers Festival, clockwise from top left: David Borchart, surprise guest George Booth, Chris Weyant, and Bob Eckstein

(Booth is 92, by the way, and is still submitting cartoons and covers to the magazine.)

All four have Pages on this blog: Borchart here, Booth here, Weyant here, and Eckstein here.

On the location of the little town of Milford:


The Delaware River is the boundary between PA (on the west) and NJ (on the east). That’s NYC in the lower right corner; Reading PA (outside of which I grew up) is just south of the lower left corner of this map; Allentown PA is where I was born; Stroudsburg PA (roughly in the middle of the map) is just a few miles north of Mt. Bethel, where my man Jacques’s parent lived; and just below the upper right corner of the map is the little town of Woodstock NY, which gave its name to the famous 1969 rock music festival.

Cartoons from the three guys: from Eckstein in #1 (more on this to come); a Borchart that I posted about some time ago, an ambiguity cartoon that still totally cracks me up:


and a pointed Weyant editorial cartoon with a Magrittean disavowal:


“If I have to explain the joke, it’s not funny”. The caption of #1. Bob did not say, “If I explain the joke, it’s not funny”. Cartoonists are in fact often given to explaining jokes, to themselves and to other cartoonists, in an attempt to analyze (a) how the jokes work and (b) what makes them funny. And then there are people like me, who do such analyses as academic exercises. We all love cartoons, enjoy them immensely; insofar as we can understand how they work, our pleasure is deepened, not diminished.

Bob also did not say, “If I have to explain the joke to you, it’s not funny to you”, though that would be more accurate. It would also be more professorial, which would undercut the humor of #1 (whose central figure is, after all, a clown).

Cartoons are communicative acts, with all the usual complexities of such acts; the formal characteristics (verbal and visual) of the acts are just one piece of the whole. There’s also a source of the acts, the cartoonist, whose intentions (as far as we can divine them) can be relevant; and various audiences for the acts, whose characteristics, knowledge, and reasons for acting as audience are very important; and a sociocultural context in which the acts take place, absolutely crucial to understanding how the cartoon works.

One of the things I do on this blog is try to piece out how cartoon understanding works, and what makes cartoons funny. There’s a lot to be said for even apparently very simple and artless cartoons, but some obviously require very special knowledge on the part of the audience.

Some of the cartoon memes really only work well if you have experience with that particular meme: Grim Reaper maybe, certainly Desert Island.

Other cartoons are pretty clearly devised as puzzles for the audience to solve: the cartoonist expects you to work through what’s going on, until you have a satisfying Aha! experience. (The trick is to make the puzzle challenging, but still easily solvable.) See, for example, my 8/19 posting “Another puzzle in cartoon understanding”, about a Leigh Rubin Wizard-of-Oz-based cartoon.

The Tritoons (alluding to three cartoonists, and playing on the musical term tritone). Some notes on the exceedingly learnèd playfulness in the title of the posting. From Wikipedia:

In music theory, the tritone is defined as a musical interval composed of three adjacent whole tones. For instance, the interval from F up to the B above it (in short, F–B) is a tritone as it can be decomposed into the three adjacent whole tones F–G, G–A, and A–B.

… In classical music, the tritone is a harmonic and melodic dissonance and is important in the study of musical harmony.

… The name diabolus in musica (“the Devil in music”) has been applied to the interval from at least the early 18th century

More specifically, diabolus in mūsicā (ablative sg. case of mūsica ‘music’ as object of the P in), which I have analogized to diabolus in imaginē (ablative sg. case of imagō ‘drawing’) — ‘the devil in drawing’, specifically cartooning.

(I told you it was exceedingly learnèd.)

One Response to “The Tritoons gather by the river”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    It occurs to me now (10/23) that the posting should have begun with triabolus in imaginē rather than diabolus in imaginē — 50% more devilry, bad things coming in threes, and all that.

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