Saturday, June 17, 2017

Harry Bliss and William Steig: No Spring Chickens

New Yorker cartoonist Harry Bliss publishes a daily syndicated cartoon called Bliss. Yesterday's cartoon offers a wry observation about getting older.
Harry Bliss, Bliss, June 16, 2017

The Bliss panel recalls a classic New Yorker cartoon by William Steig from almost fifty years ago that is, for me at least, an all-time favorite:
William Steig, The New Yorker, September 5, 1970, page 36

The Bliss cartoon is set at a contemporary cocktail party and it provides a clever line of conversation on the subject of aging, which of course is really the subject of mortality. The caption of the Steig cartoon, on the other hand, is not merely clever; it's brilliant, a real masterpiece: poetic, startling, biting—and far more memorable than the Bliss caption. Note how singularly disarming the word jackass is, coming as it does toward the end of an otherwise lyrical line. Steig's drawing too is one for the ages, no more specific to 1970 than it would be to 1920. It's such an inspired choice for William Steig, then nearly ten years older than Harry Bliss is today, to render this cartoon as a solitary line of timeless literate introspection rather than part of a more typical conversational exchange. These two cartoons embody almost the same idea, yet they are so unlike in execution...and in impact.

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