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Oh Waiter, There’s A Fly In My Dinner, But Who’s Complaining??

May 30, 2012

As mentioned in previous posts, I used to draw a lot of B&W gag cartoons on spec; that
is, on speculation, i.e., I hoped a magazine might like a cartoon well enough to buy it).

Here’s one that’s more than 20 years old. It predates my using Photoshop, and was all done by hand. Alas, it never sold. But I chanced across it recently, and it made me laugh. Nothing like enjoying your own work… : P

Several things bother me, however: 1) the drawing looks stiff and labored 2) the waiter’s legs, which I hid behind the table, are too short 3) the drawing has no depth because there’s no shading 4) it also looks static because there’s very little variation in line thickness 5) my signature’s too big and obvious, the sure sign of an amateur who is worried about getting credit.

Still, it makes me laugh.  : )cartoon showing hungry salivating fly sitting at table in posh restaurant as waiter approaches carrying a large baked fly on a platter

Have I learned anything in 20 years? Here’s a cartoon I did last year. (I thought it would be fun to retain the frog motif.)

It’s a bit sloppy, but it has more energy. The thick and thin lines give it some “pop.” The grayscale shading (added in Photoshop) mimics a tradition ink wash and adds some tone. The lines are more supple and assured. I inked it quickly and didn’t worry about following my rough pencil lines precisely.

The proportions look good. The frogs are bigger than they would be in real life, but that’s OK– it’s a difference that doesn’t really register, and they need to be seen and recognized as frogs. My signature is not competing for the reader’s attention.

cartoon showing two frogs who are a male and female couple at front door of church speaking to usher who is seating guests at wedding, frog says to usher: We're friends of the groom, implying wedding is for princess marrying frog prince

But I’m asking myself: how clear is the joke? What exactly is the joke??

My original thought: a princess is marrying a frog; two frogs show up at the church where an usher is seating guests; the frogs tell the usher they’re “friends of the groom,” like it was the most natural thing in the world. It’s a funny gag if you share my frame of reference– but have I given the reader have enough information to infer what I was thinking?

The church setting seems clear, and the man is wearing wedding attire, complete with tails, cummerbund, and boutonniere. But if I had to do over, I’d include king and queen characters (wearing crowns) behind the frogs, looking down at them with disapproval. I think that would better communicate the idea of a “mixed marriage,” and help the reader get the joke.

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What do you think? Is a cartoon funnier if it looks spontaneous and dashed-off? Did either of these cartoons make you laugh? Do we need more frog cartoons, or are you ready to support a ban on them?? Hope you’ll leave a comment.

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31 Comments leave one →
  1. May 30, 2012 9:54 AM

    I got the “Two for the groom.” joke immediately. But then again, my blog is about all of the morons out there, so I’m not sure if I answered that question conclusively for you.


  2. May 30, 2012 11:21 AM

    It is fun to see the evolution of your style, very nice! Both illustrations made me laugh and I “got them”.


  3. May 30, 2012 1:43 PM

    Toothsome said: “I think my toad head bartender guy would fit into your scene better than those 2 sloppy frogs you’ve got in there– What do you think Mac Giggles?”
    🙂 🙂 🙂

    Your illustrations are great as usual my friend. Enjoy your day! 🙂


    • May 30, 2012 2:15 PM

      A toad-headed bartender–! Of course!! It’s absolutely brilliant!! That’s just what we need for the wedding reception! The frogs will feel comfortable with him because of his toad head, and the people will think: well, at least he’s got a human body… it’s the perfect solution! Pure genius!! : )

      Mac Giggles says: “Merci cher Toothsome, je suis honoré pour être votre apprenti humble!” : )


  4. May 30, 2012 2:31 PM

    Both funny and so cool to see how your drawings have evolved. I only knew the enlightened you so it’s fun to see what’s changed. And I got both jokes, but really loved the simplicity of the second one as it stood. Even the dogs got a kick out of it!


    • May 30, 2012 3:57 PM

      The Enlightened Me… ha!! I think I’m going to introduce myself to people that way from now on. Of course, if I say anything beyond that, they’ll know I’m lying and/or dreaming… : (

      As usual, Tracey, your kindness and support are off the scale. Good to have your feedback, especially on that second cartoon. Perhaps the lesson for me is: trust your instincts, don’t over-think an idea. Somewhere in the Canon, Sherlock Holmes says that the true mark of an artist is knowing when to stop. He was right, as always.

      Thanks again!! : )


  5. May 30, 2012 3:25 PM

    Hey Mark, I liked both cartoons, but you’re right the second looks much more spontaneous and the wash effect compliments it very well. After forty years of drawing, my sketches are far superior to my final product–a problem of being selftaught and having a Type A personality.


    • May 30, 2012 4:01 PM

      Mort, your comment made me laugh out loud– I can identify completely!! I’ve lost track of all the times I’ve looked at a final and thought: the sketch was better– a lot better!! If you ever manage to solve this problem, please clue me in– and I promise to do the same! : )

      Thanks for the laugh, the kind words, and for stopping by– all sincerely appreciated.


  6. May 31, 2012 9:58 AM

    For the top one, it’s never too late to add shadows, a small parcel label around your signature and some steps coming up from the cellar, for the waiter (he’s not got to the top step yet and the table’s too close to it!

    For the second, I’d have a before and after pic, and in the second have a pic of the bride and groom.

    Good to see some evolution of your style. I’d never have thought of varying the thin/thickness of the lines.

    All my artwork from years ago lacked shadow. I didn’t know how to do shadow and didn’t understand about tonality until I started using Photoshop and could experiment and then use the undo button. That freed me up to paint and draw properly, so in a way (a big way) Photoshop and digital art helped my ‘real media’ art.


    • May 31, 2012 1:59 PM

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Val. Your suggestion about having the waiter coming up from the cellar to explain his seeming lack of legs made me laugh– ingenious!! : )

      I was really struck by what you said re Photoshop and the Undo button as a liberating force. I could say exactly the same. I’ve had the same thought many times, but your comment was the first time I’d ever heard it expressed. Ink washes for me were a disaster– totally unforgiving. I experimented with cross-hatching, but often made a hash of that as well. Digital media has given us all much greater freedom to fail. Perhaps some of us need that more than others. It was certainly something I needed.

      Good to see you, thanks for a very striking insight.


      • May 31, 2012 5:19 PM

        The only problem with getting familiar with painting and drawing via digital media is the desire to click a ‘back button’ when one is painting with watercolour and realising that there isn’t one! 😉


        • June 1, 2012 10:18 AM

          Haw!! : )

          I wish someone would invent an Undo command for real life in general– it would sure come in handy!! : )


  7. May 31, 2012 11:02 AM

    Yes, I got the two grooms joke and I laughed. I do like the idea of the king and queen characters (wearing crowns) behind the frogs, looking down at them with disapproval.


    • May 31, 2012 2:10 PM

      Thanks, TT. Reader comments re that second cartoon have certainly been reassuring. Not sure why I had sudden second thoughts about whether the composition could communicate the gag. Over-thinking and over-drawing: both true perils for the illustrator-cartoonist!! : (

      Just the idea of a king and queen looking at a frog with disapproval seems very funny– I’ll definitely have to use that sometime!! : )

      Thanks as always for your kindness and support.


  8. May 31, 2012 8:15 PM

    I’m loving them both. It would be interesting to see your first sketch take more of the style you have adopted now. What you do now is great, I always love seeing the different thicknesses of lines which helps to clarify the distance of a particular areas in your drawings, and the ink effect really adds depth. Considering a lot of your drawings are limited in tone, you always know how to place the inking well to give the drawing that much needed ‘oomph’ as they call it : )


    • June 1, 2012 10:55 AM

      Whoa!! What an ego-boosting comment!! I’m going to get out my special digital scissors and snip it out of my monitor so I can hang it on my wall!!

      That was a very intriguing analysis. I hadn’t really thought about line thickness as helping to clarify the spatial relationship between objects. That certainly sounds a lot more sophisticated than “it makes it look better somehow…” : P

      Thank you, dear Sabine, for your kind and wonderful comment. : )


  9. June 1, 2012 3:25 PM

    They both made me laugh! I didn’t see any of the problems you had mentioned. Funny… artists are their own worst critic. I think you should submit the first cartoon again… a fresh pair of eyes would appreciate it I think!


    • June 2, 2012 10:40 AM

      Thanks, Christine. Yes, why are artists so self-critical? It’s totally inappropriate, especially in the case of obvious geniuses like you and myself… : P

      OK, I’ll submit that first cartoon to Adventurous Dining Magazine– it should be a natural for them… : )

      Thanks as always for your cheerful support!!


  10. June 2, 2012 12:05 PM

    Haha Mark! I love the look on the waiter’s face in the first one! LOL! He is so proud of their restaurant’s speciality! And a big old toad like that would hold a knife and fork in his hands at the ready for that sumptious, piping hot roast fly! I like the shadows on the second one and I think your style has definitely evolved! Like maybe the difference between the first Woody Woodpecker and the second Woody Woodpecker. I didn’t get the second one right off the bat but after I did I laughed. It’s funny! I also think it would be funny if it was a question. Friends fo the Groom’s? And if Adventurous Dining Magazine doesn’t buy the first one they are crazy! 😀


    • June 3, 2012 11:37 AM

      Yes, that’s quite the snob face on the waiter– he must buy his cookie jars at Pottery Barn… : P

      You know, I love your idea of having the usher deliver the line in the second cartoon– I think it would be much funnier! He could have his eyes closed and be wearing the same snob face as the waiter, and put a little “arch” on the word ‘groom’: “Friends of the groom, I presume??” Aw, man! That woulda racked up a sale for sure!! I gotta start consulting you on captions!! : )

      Thanks as always for your rollicking fine support!


      • June 4, 2012 10:35 AM

        Haha! Yes that waiter is definitely the kind of customer PB is shooting for! 😀
        Oh I love that idea to have that usher have that . . uh let’s just call it the PB expression . . . And having him say I presume also adds to his air of frog tolerant snobbery! Love it Mark! 😀


  11. June 3, 2012 5:35 PM

    Certainly your 2nd cartoon looks more “natural” and confident plus complex in line texture than the lst one. I didn’t get the 2nd one when I first saw it. Maybe if there was a bubble over the groom’s head of his private thought about this duo of frogs, it might be clearer to all readers.

    Or may be I’m just dumb. 😀


    • June 4, 2012 12:17 PM

      Dumb?? No way!! Only the most intelligent people visit this blog… : )

      Very glad to have your feedback, and you’re certainly not the only one who was a bit puzzled by the second cartoon. Humor is a mysterious concept, and so is human perception. (How’s that for a couple of whopping understatements??) It’s good for someone like me to get feedback on cartoons and illustrations, and try to decide if I’ve given readers enough visual cues without giving everything away. It’s a challenge trying to find the right balance.

      Always good to see you, Jean, thanks so much for your comment.


  12. June 3, 2012 9:12 PM

    I absolutely loved the second one! You know what’s funny, it was one of those rare moments where I didn’t get the joke right away yet it had, as you said, great energy and I laughed right away. Kind of like Tom Hanks or Will Ferrell. They’re hysterical even when they’re just standing around.


    • June 4, 2012 12:24 PM

      Energy rushes in where Humor fails to tread?? : )

      Ha! Thanks, Amelie, what a very kind comment, that’ll keep me going for awhile. Interesting– I’ve noticed many times that great energy on stage can salvage a weak song or joke, but hadn’t really thought about the extent to which a funny drawing might help offset an ambiguous gag. Hey, good to know it can happen!!

      Thanks as always for your support! : )


  13. Margie permalink
    June 3, 2012 11:35 PM

    There can never be too many frog cartoons – they are so ribbetting.


    • June 4, 2012 12:27 PM

      Haw!! Well, that little quip made me laugh so hard I fell off my lily pad!! Thank you, Punster Queen!! : )

      Well, off to get a towel… : P


  14. June 4, 2012 10:58 AM

    What a journey, Mark! 20 years! WOW! Congrats to you!

    I didn’t get the joke for the second one, but the first one made me laugh!


    • June 4, 2012 12:32 PM

      Yes, it’s been quite a journey: 20 years, and people still don’t get my cartoons… : (

      Just teasing, Inge! Hey, you laughed at the first one, so that’s 50% of the total– my goal is to someday hit 100%!! : )

      Many thanks for all your good cheer and support!


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