The New Yorker’s website has merged its paper cartoons with web animation into a series of ten-second creations that deliver neither the punch of a static cartoon nor the fun of a quick web video.
Ten seconds is eight or nine seconds too long. Single-panel comics are haiku jammed halfway through a looking glass; the process of getting them is nearly immediate, but requires your perception of the situation to flip over halfway. It’s safe to say that New Yorker subscribers are some of the world’s most practiced readers, and safe to assume that it takes those readers two seconds, tops, to read a New Yorker cartoon.
This is a good amount of time to invest in a cartoon. If it’s not funny, it’s quickly forgotten. And if it’s hilarious, the rapid intake makes the cartoon hit harder. The New Yorker’s cartoons are rarely hilarious; they’re not meant to be knee-slapping guffaw-makers—it’s just not their style. Rather, they’re dry and sly, a subtle inversion of ordinary life that makes the lips curl upward a bit. I often think “Wow, that’s funny,” but rarely do I show it. Drumming up expectations for the cartoon and stretching it out five times as long in video form deflates the fun.
The intro music—usually a few jazzy notes on the bass while a cute cat pulls a sign bearing the “RingTails Presents/A New Yorker Cartoon” logo across the screen—says “Get ready, folks, you’re gonna laugh at something cute and wacky!” We’ll just see about that.
The “camera” pulls back to reveal a doctor holding a needle. As soon as the nervous little boy is in the frame, we’ve got the whole story. Because doctors are supposed to say something reassuring—and we know we’re watching a cartoon—the first law of comedy is to do the exact opposite of what the audience expects from a normal situation. So of course the doctor says “This is going to hurt like hell.” The little boy’s weeping underscores the point too heavily. It’s the cartoon itself saying “See what I did there?” The whole enterprise would have been a little more interesting if the doctor had said “Relax. You’ll just feel a little pinch and then our benevolent alien overlords will welcome you into the comforts of their heavenly bosom.”
Comics are notoriously difficult to translate into moving pictures, and getting a familiar cartoonist’s style right in motion can be tough. Gahan Wilson’s loopy, maniacal style, for instance, translates visually but suffers in translation. Nevertheless, apparently there are folks who like these little hybrids. Editrix Emily Gordon herself told me over coffee, “You know, those video cartoons are really popular.” I’m sure they are, and so are Big Macs and American Idol—quick, cheesy, and overdone.
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Emdashes, founded in 2004, is written and drawn by Emily Gordon, Martin Schneider, Pollux, Jonathan Taylor, and Benjamin Chambers, as well as occasional guest contributors. All posts before October 2008 are by Emily Gordon.