Throughout the history of time, cartoonists have been perceived by the public as third-rate goof-offs with little artistic merit. Cave painters told stories on the rocks, but were often mocked for not portraying the mammoth with enough pathos. Hieroglyphics were lambasted by critics as “having no vanishing point perspective” and “toeing the Pharaoh line.”
Cartoonists today are an oft-maligned group. Nowhere is this more prevalent than on TV. They are portrayed as cowering recluses, simpering in their dark drawing rooms like vampires without the sexual prowess or the bite. This is a hurtful rumor. What follows is a list of a few key offenders. Do not believe their lies about cartoonists.
On Sex in the City, there was an episode that involved a cartoonist as love interest to the character Miranda. At first promising a portrait of a cartoonist who can have a healthy relationship, I was soon disappointed at how the plot developed. It was clearly written as a thin excuse to make fun of cartoonists. Instead of the expected handsome gent, this man was played by a Drew Carey look-alike. I have no problem with Drew Carey, but his physique does not represent all cartoonists. A young Harrison Ford, perhaps, or Cate Blanchett (who can play a woman or a man). To further the insult to cartoonists, this character’s main characteristic was peeing with the bathroom door open.
This cartoonist was not a recurring character, needless to say. The writers had their fun then disposed of him. Do you think the target demographic for Sex in the City has any respect for cartoonists after watching this episode? This final shot of him should tell you:
Of the three shows I discuss, The Office is the most understanding of cartoonists. In the episode where Pam, the receptionist, has a blind date with a local editorial cartoonist, there are plenty of jokes designed with the cartoonist in mind. This does not make up for the fact that the cartoonist character is a dim-witted egotist.
Pam tries to have normal conversation with this cartoonist, asking him where he gets his ideas.
“I just think about stuff that I see, or I dream them,” he remarks.Later, he draws a comic on a napkin for her. Then he proceeds to explain the joke, because obviously a joke is much funnier if you explain it. “This one is funny because it works on two levels.” And, “People say ‘don’t be edgy’ but I don’t know any other way.” Pam is naturally repulsed.
To top it off, he pulls this stunt, worthy of a twelve year old boy.
I like that the writers have got all the ‘bad cartoonist’ traits down. If there is a stereotype of a talentless cartoonist, this is it. However, it doesn’t help those people who don’t know a cartoonist personally. They probably assume that cartoonists are all like this. It breaks my heart.
In perhaps a conciliatory gesture, NBC ran a series called Caroline in the City, about a cartoonist named Caroline who drew a comic strip about a character called Caroline. In the real world, this comic would either
1) never be syndicated in a million years, or
2) get syndicated instantly and become more popular than Cathy.
I remember very little about this show. The only reason I watched at all was the connection to cartooning, but when I saw the show itself, all interest dissolved. Wikipedia describes the premise thusly: “Caroline Duffy is a cartoonist living in a Manhattan loft. She spends many episodes searching for a husband and meddling in the lives of those around her.” And, “Continuing a trend in 1990s NBC sitcom broadcasting, she spends almost no time working.”
So, a show about a cartoonist that involves little to no cartooning. Not that cartooning would make scintillating TV. My proposal for the Most Boring Reality Show Ever is American Cartoonist. Hours of footage of people hunched over drawing boards, filling in tiny boxes. Even if you put them all in a house together, you wouldn’t get any drama. They would sit around talking about cartoonists you’ve never heard of, and about line quality and Bristol board paper and the latest movie adaptation of a comic book.
Caroline in the City ran for a few seasons and has yet to produce a devoted following to match Ziggy.
We’ve learned today that, although the movie industry needs the fertile minds of cartoonists to feed the summer movie machine, television treats them with utmost contempt. While I could theorize that this contempt stems from envy, I suspect television just hates all people in varying degrees.
Don’t believe everything on TV. When you see a cartoonist on the street, give him or her a big hug. They’re fighting the good fight.