Cartoon critics Phil Witte and Rex Hesner look behind the gags to debate what makes a cartoon tick. This week our intrepid critics take a look at cartoons at the beach.
Zoom meetings, Netflix, cell phones … in the past year we’ve compressed our horizons into two-dimensional screens. Oh, to let the eye gaze upon sand and surf as summer approaches and the pandemic recedes! In this special series of captionless cartoons, our artists let the images do the talking about cavorting by the sea … or at least thinking about it.
Bobbing in the waves, albeit with anxiety, our middle-aged vacationer is determined to have aquatic recreation. Minimalist Charles Barsotti manages to capture the scene’s essence, including a one-word title, with the fewest lines possible.
As daylight hours lengthen, the urge to go to the shore can strike at any time. City dwellers slogging along concrete will pause, almost in a fugue state, to gaze at stray shafts of late afternoon sunlight between buildings. Jason Patterson takes that notion a step further with his urban dreamscape. His use of ink washes is masterful.
As the months creep toward summer, some pandemic shut-ins prepare for a long-awaited beach vacation through virtual simulation. Though Warren Miller’s technology may be a touch outmoded, the concept still holds. It would appear our would-be vacationer is definitely a beach chair guy, not a blanket sprawler.
The sufficiently inoculated among us are braving the friendly skies again. Airports, once deserted, are beginning to bustle with leisure travelers. As John O’Brien implies, deplaning and checking our coats means leaving our cares behind. Conveniently, he places the beach and all its beckoning amenities just outside the terminal.
Staking out a claim to a slice of sandy paradise is job number one upon arrival. Some just snap out a blanket and flop down. Not Seth Fleishman: his beach assault team plants their sun umbrella with all the brio of the flag-raising at Iwo Jima.
Half the fun of a busy beach is the people watching. Though the casual seashore atmosphere is typically a social leveler, some upscale locales create an additional social stratum with luxury cabanas. In John O’Brien’s mind, only the exotic dwell there. His sideshow depiction reminds us of the unusual sights and smells awaiting our arrival.
A stroll along the strand is usually rewarded with unexpected marvels. But finding a miniature homage to Virgil’s Aeneid? Veteran New Yorker cartoonist Harry Bliss deploys his considerable illustration skills in constructing this blast from the Trojan past.
The tides are merciless to our creations in the sand, no matter what stratagems we employ. Walls and moats all disappear under the relentless incursion of the surf—all, that is, except for a castle constructed by a familiar-looking vacationer. Even while chilling at the beach, according to Paul Noth, the seas still part for the leader of the Israelites.
A wide latitude of dress can be observed on the boardwalk, especially during peak season. Occasionally, however, the boundaries of taste are crossed. Marisa Acocella’s road sign indicates this wearer of daring European swimwear has exceeded those boundaries, and then some.
Sometimes a day at the beach isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Yelling kids, yapping dogs, and gritty food can be annoying. A complete day-wrecker, on the other hand, is floundering in the water far from shore. In Harry Bliss’ composition, the lifeguard must be otherwise engaged as a plein air painter, perhaps the man’s wife, coolly—and ever so slowly–memorializes the scene.
Alas, all too soon it’s over. The regular routines beckon and it’s time to head home. Shake out the blankets, dump out the cooler, and fold up the umbrella. Oh, and don’t forget to trudge past George Booth’s curmudgeonly porch-sitter and his flea-bitten dog; they capture the mood perfectly.