Archive for the ‘Comic conventions’ Category

Sense-shifting pun jokes

December 2, 2023

A common joke form exploits an ambiguous expression E. Prior likelihood or the preceding context in the joke favors one understanding for E, but then fresh context (in the joke) brings out another, more surprising one. The effect is that the sense of E has shifted as the joke proceeds. It’s a pun, son. Used in a sense-shifting pun joke. (Puns get used in all sorts of jokes: knock-knock jokes, one type of riddle joke, and more.)

I now offer two examples that especially tickled me, to show how such ((phonologically) perfect) puns work. Then some comments on a different joke form, formula pun jokes, which can turn on imperfect puns and involve a different kind of set-up / pay-off from sense-shifting pun jokes.


Who will read the readers?

November 17, 2023

The new issue of the New Yorker (dated 11/20/23) brings us a Psychiatrist cartoon by Elisabeth McNair, one of a special subtype I’ll call In-Group Psychiatrist (in which a patient from some extraordinary group — a dog, a robot, a squid, what have you, in #1 a book — is being treated by a therapist from that very group):

(#1) You wonder whether the notebook the therapist is writing on is itself preparing to publish its thoughts, and then it’s books all the way down

McNair is new to this blog. So a few words — her own — about her, and then some more cartoons she’s done for the New Yorker, starting with, yes, another In-Group Psychiatrist.


Promissory note: a cascade of fishy puns

October 6, 2023

(I am wretchedly sick again and in great pain, for complicated reasons I won’t explain here. Had nevertheless hoped to show that I could do a posting using only my damaged right hand. This is as much as I’ve been able to get together, but I have to admit temporary defeat on the larger project, so this is another promissory note about pun cartoons.)

Through friends on Facebook yesterday, a Chuck Ingwersen cartoon with a cascade of four flagrantly imperfect puns — with a fish theme:

The pun census: halibut punning on hell of it; cod punning on god; haddock punning on headache; herring punning on hearing

A couple of these puns are phonologically very distant, but they can be understood easily because the context provides rich clues: halibut, in particular, is in the context of the idiom ‘(do something) just for the hell of it‘.

Though the word play is intricate, it’s merely phonological: despite the piscine theme of the puns, the cartoon is firmly located in just one world, that of diners in a restaurant; the characters are not also various species of fish, interacting in a metaphorical world. This isn’t a defect; almost all pun cartoons are merely phonological. But a few are also what I’ve come to call semiotically satisfying, evoking a parallel metaphorical world that complicatedly maps onto the base world. More on this below (I’m always on the lookout for semiotically satisfying cartoons).



Never-ending rock & roll

September 19, 2023

Today’s Wayno / Piraro Bizarro is a Sisyphus cartoon — the Greek mythological king (punished by having to endlessly roll a rock uphill) made into in a cartoon meme (many examples listed on the Page on this blog on comic conventions) — and also an echo of rock & roll music as a continuing theme in Bizarro cartoons (most recently in my 9/16 posting “Original Rockers”, about AC/DC), these two elements joined in a pun on rock and roll:

(#1) A classically Greek Sisyphus (muscular, wearing only a Greek tunic), rolling his rock while musing on the end of rock & roll as the dominant form of popular music (if you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 3 in this strip — see this Page)

Out of all this, two topics for a little more comment: the end of rock & roll (“so over this fad”); and cartoonist’s favored memes (for Wayno & Piraro, these include the Psychiatrist meme, in almost any form you can imagine; for Bob Eckstein (“bob”), these include the Sisyphus meme, with various things standing in as the rock and various characters standing in as the roller).


A Biblical moment at the therapist’s

September 16, 2023

Today’s Wayno / Piraro Bizarro, a Psychiatrist cartoon with a Biblical theme:

(#1) Wayno’s title:”Revised Translation” (if you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 4 in this strip — see this Page)

Note the concessions to the ancient setting in the furnishings of the therapist’s office. (Do not write me about the impossibility of writing with a quill pen on parchment in the fashion shown in the cartoon; this is, after all, a kind of imaginative fiction, combining features of some fictional world and the modern real world. Get a grip on things: there were no psychoanalysts in Flood Times.)

However, a Biblical theme is appropriate for the day, since it’s Rosh Hashanah, Jewish new year.


The Long Hello

September 15, 2023

(Warning: after the McPhail, there will be some tasteless jokes, including two sexual ones)

By Will McPhail, a delightful Ascent of Man (in this case, a self-possessed young woman) cartoon in the latest (9/18/23) issue of the New Yorker:

(This blog has a Page on comic conventions, including cartoon memes (like Ascent of Man); and also a Page on Will McPhail cartoons)

So: the cartoon meme, plus a joke meme that plays on liking long walks on the beach as a stock sentiment in American personals ad (I don’t know the history of the formulaic expression).


The pumpkin spice of August

August 31, 2023

Retailers are rushing the season: while little pumpkins peek out from the ironweed and goldenrod of late summer, the scent of pumpkin spice suntan oil blankets the beaches, heralding a torrent of pumpkin spice lattes soon to be sweeping through city streets. No, it’s not your addled perceptions, it’s an actual thing.

From NBC News, “Autumn arrives earlier than ever for Starbucks and others with pumpkin menu items: The number of limited-time pumpkin launches more than doubled to 86 in August 2022 compared with 2019”, by Amelia Lucas (CNBC) on 8/31:

In most of the U.S., tree foliage is green and temperatures are warm. But for many restaurants and retailers, fall is already here.

Halloween candy and pumpkin spice lattes used to wait until after Labor Day to make their annual debuts, ushering in the start of fall several weeks before the season officially begins. But in the past few years, restaurants and retailers have been releasing their autumnal food and beverages even earlier.

… [But] fear not — plenty of companies are sticking to normal seasonal boundaries.

Reynolds’ Hefty isn’t releasing its cinnamon pumpkin spice-scented trash bags until September.

Below, there will be a brief refresher about the substance and its cartoon career, just so I can replay Bob Eckstein’s charming cartoon about pumpkin cartoon-memes, from last fall; Bob has now turned this into the logo for his newsletter on substack, so I can give you this version:

Three cartoon memes: Seeker and Seer / Wise Man, Sisyphus, Desert Island — see my 11/1/22 posting “Every meme is better with a pumpkin in it”

Suppose I just showed you the first of these, out of the blue, without any background or information (all that stuff I’ve just been feeding you) — a pumpkin on a ledge outside a mountain cave — what would you need to bring to it to understand why I might find it so irresistibly funny that I smile every time I see it, sometimes break into happy laughter?


herd it / heard it

August 30, 2023

The pay-off to an elaborate set-up tale, giving a pun on a familiar expression (in this case a song title). From Vince the Sign Guy: Vince Rozmiarek of Indian Hills CO and (from his Facebook page) “his lighthearted puns shown on local community signs”:

Phonologically, there’s a stretch of speech that’s both I herd it through the grapevines (the pun, the pay-off from the vineyard cow story) and the nearly homophonous “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (the model, the song title); semiotically, however, that stretch of speech is either about one of these situations or the other, not two nearly identical situations

Specifically, there’s no metaphorical structuring of the vineyard cow situation (in the story) on the basis of the information exchange situation (in the song). Their only relationship is phonological.

This isn’t a defect; most puns are merely phonological, and that’s fine. Vince Rozmiarek’s vineyard cow story is a great little joke, of a recognizable genre of punning: the set-up + pay-off story based on a formulaic expression — for short, a formula pun.

It’s just that a small number of puns are what I’ve sometimes called — I’ve wrestled a long time with ways of saying this — satisfying, meaning semiotically satisfying: the participants are represented as belonging to two worlds at once. They are anteaters, say, with the formicavore’s passionate hunger for the insects, but they are also diners in conventional American restaurants, insisting on specific kinds of table service and exhibiting dining quirks (like an aversion to spicy food). The first of these worlds is systematically mapped into the second, in an elaborate metaphor. (The restaurant-going anteaters are a recurring theme in Bizarro cartoons.)

From this month in my postings: on 8/3 “Brief shot: cock time”, about the expression cock time:

An atrocious pun [on clock time], but satisfying in that some … item is not merely introduced into a context for a near-homophone, but participates in the world of that model expression. We see something that’s a cock [a man’s penis] and a (kind of) clock.


Wise Man

August 30, 2023

Thoughts provoked by John Baker’s comments on my posting yesterday “The back-to-school cartoon”, about this Brendan Loper cartoon:

(#1) I noted that “the original seer-consulting cartoon”, in the New Yorker of 12/5/22, had a different caption

JB commented:

For a second, by “original seer-seeking cartoon,” I thought you meant the first ever such cartoon. Any idea how this trope began? Is it primarily a New Yorker thing?

My response, and some notes from my files on the cartoon meme in question.


De Interpretatione

August 11, 2023

From the New Yorker issue of 8/14 (arrived in my mailbox yesterday), two cartoons about interpreting what we perceive — on what we see, a Stephen Raaka cartoon on the perils of pointillism; and on what’s been said, a Will McPhail drawing paired with this issue’s winner in the caption contest, with a text about literal vs. figurative understandings.