Jim Unger, creator of the comic panel “Herman,” died on May 29. He was 75 years old.
Whenever I see a Herman cartoon, it instantly brings me back to my childhood. From the late ‘70s through the early ‘80s, my parents were big fans of Herman. The bookshelf in the den of our house held two or three “Herman” collections. It was the first single panel cartoon I read and I loved it. If I didn’t understand a joke, it didn’t matter. The drawings were always fun to look at.
When I was in 2nd grade, I was playing a soccer game and my parents and my teammates’ parents were cheering us on. One of the parents had brought a Herman book and, during the game, several of them were cracking up at the cartoons (which of course was much more entertaining than watching a bunch of seven-year-olds chasing a soccer ball). During halftime, I saw a few of my parents' friends looking at the cartoons, laughing, and saying things like, “That’s so true!” and “Oh my God, look at this one!” I distinctly remember one woman laughing so hard she was crying.
From about 1978-1984, it seemed like everybody loved Herman. By the mid ‘80s, The Far Side had become hugely popular and Herman was suddenly yesterday’s news. Herman was still hilarious but The Far Side was both hilarious and “out there.” Since I was a little older, I understood all the Far Side jokes. I was hooked.
Over the years, I had somehow forgotten about Herman. The passing of Jim Unger reminded me of a brilliant single panel comic and a wonderful period during my childhood.
Thanks for the laughs, Jim Unger. You were one of the greats.
A while back, my friend Lucas Turnbloom, cartoonist of Imagine This, came up with a really great character: Do’Raath, The Klingon Barista. Do’Raath works at Starbucks and serves up lattes, mochas and cappuccinos…with honor!
Do’Raath isn’t a regular character in Imagine This (he only appears from time to time) but he never fails to crack me up. Below is one of my favorite Do’Raath strips. Other Do’Raath appearances are: Here, and here, and here.
And if you have never read Imagine This, do yourself a favor and go through the archive. It’s a very funny strip.
Cartoonist James Sturm wrote an article for Slate Magazine about his experience submitting to The New Yorker for the first time. The piece is titled “How Hard Is It to Get a Cartoon into The New Yorker?” and it’s an excellent read. He includes the cartoons he submitted (all of which are good and a few are very funny). Here’s one that cracked me up:
One reason the article is such a great read is that Sturm isn’t a gag cartoonist. He simply wanted to shake things up, try something new, and see if he could get his work published in the most prestigious venue for gag cartoonists. Hey, why not shoot for the stars? Sturm eventually gets a face-to-face meeting with cartoon editor Bob Mankoff. Did he sell any of his cartoons? Read the article to find out. One thing I found very interesting — shocking, actually — is that David Sipress submitted for 25 years before he sold a cartoon to the magazine. That’s dedication.
I’d be lying if I said I had no interest in getting my cartoons published in The New Yorker. I’d be willing to bet that most, if not all, single panel cartoonists would love to have their work appear the magazine, just to say they accomplished the feat. In the article, Sipress says, "If you are a gag cartoonist and after a while you are not in The New Yorker, you begin to feel like a failure.” I think there’s some truth to that. It’s like being an avid mountain climber not summiting Mount Everest.
When I was just starting out as a cartoonist, in 1993, I submitted a batch of cartoons to The New Yorker. They were literally the first 10 single panel cartoons I ever drew—and I submitted them to the Mount Everest of gag cartooning. What was I thinking? Well, I was clueless about the prestige of The New Yorker and delusional about the quality of my cartoons. Of course, a few weeks later my work was rejected. On the first page of the submission package was a handwritten note. It read, "We’ll have to pass as these aren’t New Yorker material." (Biggest understatement ever!) They wrote something else, which was semi-encouraging (“keep it up” or “keep drawing” or something similar). Bob Mankoff wasn’t the cartoon editor back then, but whoever it was certainly didn’t need to take the time to write a handwritten note on my amateurish submission. In Sturm's article, Mankoff mentions that he receives so many submissions that are “not even in the neighborhood.” The cartoons I submitted in 1993 weren’t even in the same country.
Over the past 18 years, I've accomplished some things I'm proud of in the field of cartooning. But I still don’t feel like my cartoons are in the neighborhood of The New Yorker. (I'd like to think they’re in the same zip code, though.) One day, I want to have at least one of my cartoons grace of the pages of the magazine. I’ve noticed that, over the past few years, Mankoff has been including cartoons that don’t really have the traditional New Yorker look—there’s been more diversity in humor and drawing style, which gives me hope.
So I guess I’d better start submitting. After all, it took Sipress 25 years. It may take a while, but I think I can get to the top of Mt. Everest. In the meantime, I’m having fun climbing.
My friend Fritz Wall, a fellow single panel cartoonist, emailed me the other day asking for some quick feedback on a sketch. I loved his idea — my only constructive criticism was that the baby’s name he used was too unusual. I suggested maybe changing it to “something else more 'common' - like Allison or Alex or any other name that people are used to seeing. Otherwise it might trip people up while reading it.”
Fritz took the advice to heart and said he’d change it to Skip. Instead he ended up using another name.
I guess it’s fitting. This kid has almost as much hair as I do. Well done, Fritz!
A friend of mine, Mike Witmer, is the creator of a hilarious strip called Pinkerton. It features four main characters—Tucker (a rabbit), Buckley (a fox), Steve (a guinea pig) and Martin (a moose)—who live in a national park called Pinkerton Park.
I’ve been following Pinkerton since it first began almost exactly four years ago. Today is strip #600 – quite a milestone. Go read Pinkerton and have a good laugh.
This week Tom Racine of Tall Tale Radio interviews Scott Hilburn of The Argyle Sweater, one of my favorite single panel features. Mike Witmer (cartoonist of the hilarious Pinkerton) and I are also on this show. Scott talks about his journey to syndication and answers all the questions he gets about his comic’s similarity to “The Far Side.”