Two remarkable cartoon books

… edited by Bob Eckstein and published by Princeton Architectural Press:

The Ultimate Cartoon Book of Book Cartoons (by the World’s Greatest Cartoonists), 2019. (33 contributors)

(#1) Bob and the Book Cartoons cover

Everyone’s a Critic: The Ultimate Cartoon Book (by the World’s Greatest Cartoonists), 2020. (37 contributors)

(#2) The Critic cover

The books are physically beautiful; they are also affectionate tributes to independent bookstores and to cartoonists as a group. (The very American boast world’s greatest points to the strongly American focus of the books — a very heavy concentration of New Yorker cartoonists, in fact, though others are included.)

Both books include a list of contributors, with thumbnail descriptions for each (and a list of the page numbers for their cartoons in this book). The descriptions mostly provide straightforward biographical and career details, but there are a few eccentric, obviously self-created entries, like this one for Nick Downes (who will appear below) in the first book (his entry in the second book is more conventional):

Nick Downes … dedicated himself to becoming a magazine cartoonist back when there were magazines. He persisted in this endeavor after learning that his fallback career, pinsetter [in a bowling alley], had also become obsolete.

The physical and commercial books. Both are book-lover’s books, hard-bound in sewn bindings, on heavy acid-free paper, with the cartoons handsomely reproduced, one per page  — and offered at the ridiculously low list price of $20 each (well, the absurd $19.95), so that they are easily affordable. Hard to beat.

Themes, tropes, or memes. A number of these can be discerned in the books. One from Eckstein’s Introduction to the first volume (p. 4):

One of the all-time great cartoon tropes is the “Meet the Author” cartoon (see pages 40, 50, 63, 118, 122, 127, 128, and 135). I think this is because the release of tension is a key component in making a joke work, and there is nothing more tense than a book event. As any bookstore owner will tell you, a lot can go wrong at a book event…

I’ll turn now to a different cartoon meme, Identify This, for cartoons that are puzzles in understanding, because they depend on the viewer recognizing a character or author and a piece of writing associated with them, all without any explicit identification in the cartoon.

Three Identify This examples from the first volume.

— Nick Downes’s girl with the broken-glass injuries:


Ah, that’s Alice! From Wikipedia:

Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (also known as Alice Through the Looking-Glass or simply Through the Looking-Glass) is a novel published on 27 December 1871 (though indicated as 1872) by Lewis Carroll and the sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865). Alice again enters a fantastical world, this time by climbing through a mirror into the world that she can see beyond it.

Paul Noth‘s tragic young man with with the rare heart ailment:


Ah, that’s Edgar Allan Poe, and the beating heart belongs to a murder victim in one of his stories. From Wikipedia:

“The Tell-Tale Heart” is a short story by American writer Edgar Allan Poe, first published in 1843. It is related by an unnamed narrator who endeavors to convince the reader of the narrator’s sanity while simultaneously describing a murder the narrator committed.

The body is under the floor, and its heart continues to beat, quite audibly (or, at least, the murderer thinks so).

Sam Gross‘s Puritan woman who got an A confronts a neighbor who got an A+:


Ah, that’s Hester Prynne, the Nathaniel Hawthorne character! From Wikipedia:

The Scarlet Letter: A Romance is a work of historical fiction by American author Nathaniel Hawthorne, published in 1850. Set in Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony during the years 1642 to 1649, the novel tells the story of Hester Prynne, who conceives a daughter through an affair and then struggles to create a new life of repentance and dignity.

In the novel, Hester’s scarlet A (for Adultery) is a mark of public shame she is obliged to display.

Extra: a missed opportunity. Among the New Yorker cartoonists in the two books is William Haefeli (4 contributions to Book Cartoons, 7 to Critic). In my 6/30/10 posting “Footnote on marriage equality”, I note that the cartoon there — where in a trendy diner, a gay man complains to his male partner: “I refuse to squabble in public until we’re legally married.” — is

One of a long series of Haefeli cartoons on upscale — this is the New Yorker, after all — gay male life in NYC, or a metropolis very much like it.

Not only on upscale gay male life in NYC, but especially on these men living together as couples. A world that is very poorly represented in cartooning. Or, for that matter, in popular culture in general, even given advances in recent years. In fact, this poor representation was the subject of another Haefeli cartoon, in my 7/12/10 posting “Fair and balanced”, showing a gay male couple at home, watching tv, one man griping to the other:

I actually saw ten gay characters on television this week — which alnost balanced  out the 2,174 straight characters I saw.

Yes, hyperbole. But you see the point. And since gay male couples are a significant theme in Haefeli’s work and he’s drawn some wryly funny cartoons on that theme, it’s disappointing not to see a single one of them in these books.


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