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Comic: Seventeen Words For Snow


Drawing this particular cartoon left me thinking rather deeply about the nature of single-panel “gag” cartoons, and humor/art in general. As far as the work-to-payoff ratio goes, gag cartoons must be somewhere towards the bottom of the artistic pile. The punch line in a cartoon is typically simple and immediate, and afterwards, the cartoon offers its reader little else. There aren’t a lot of layers; unlike a poem or a painting, the cartoon has used up its usefulness as soon as it’s been ‘gotten.’

And yet the time expended by a cartoonist to conceptualize, lay out, draw, ink, scan, color, edit, and upload a cartoon is considerable. Certainly not as substantial as the time it takes to sculpt or to paint well or to write in long-form, but nevertheless time consuming, and far more so than the amount of time a stand-up comedian must commit to telling a joke.  (Exception: those cartoonists who merely scribble.) Perhaps this is why it’s rare to encounter a painting, a novel, or an opera that delivers only one punch line. There are exceptions, of course, such as the pop artist Nelson De La Nuez et al., and various songwriters, but in general, art must provide more than an “ah ha!” moment, because otherwise the payoff isn’t anywhere near enough to justify the amount of work that was put into it. (And De La Nuez relies on selling shitloads of his punch line infused prints at sidewalk fairs.)

So, I believe that gag cartoons are expendable and disposable. They end up on refrigerators and next to toilets, rather than on the walls of museums or waiting rooms. But therein lies their power. They get in and they get out, like a skilled assassin. And if they fail, they’ll try again tomorrow. They have the ability to comment on more topics and to make more allusions than most other art forms. And when cartoons succeed a lot of the time, as is the case with the work of a Gary Larson or a Sam Gross, you’ll have a hard time convincing me of a more cumulatively enjoyable or heady art form. 

Seventeen Words For Snow is a single-panel comic written and illustrated by Dave Low. Here are a few additional words he’d like to include in this space for the purpose of drumming up hits in Google Search: cartoon, drawing, humor, artists, infidelity, and the Boston Beaneaters.

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