Scene4 Magazine — International Magazine of Arts and Media
Scene4 Magazine-inSight

february 2008

The Comic Drama of Cartoons

by Ned Bobkoff

When I stepped off the subway on East 86th street in NYC, and hustled up a few blocks to the Jewish Museum on East 92nd Street, I got hit with a freezing wind. But it wasn’t the wind that got to me. “From the New Yorker to Shrek: The Art of William Steig” is an exhibit at the museum that is not only playful, insightful and finely drawn, but the “cartoons” are also, first and foremost, incisive distillations of human behavior.


A variety of human dilemmas personified, that often reach the pinnacle of full blown character insights. In short, character revelations within a facsimile, with all the coordinates intact; the startling wonders of human contraction done with exquisite design.

The cartoons reveal a variety of everyday paradoxes that often reach the pinnacle of full blown character insights. People_at_Steig-crlIn short, human revelations within a facsimile, with all the coordinates of a recognizable dillemna intact; done with impact and razor sharp design. In addition to the sheer fun of the cartoons, there is the added attraction of knowing that the artist is pulling you into the cartoon, on the hunch that you will not only recognize the situation, but also that you might make it your own.

Steig's approach to situational dillemnas are often close to being a nightmare. In fact they are like waking up in the middle of the night, and seeing your own face lying on the pillow next to you. Stunned by something that happened in a dream, and not knowing what to make of it. The edge of the nightmare shaved off by the clarity of the humor. Sure, I wouldn't place these faces on a pillow next to me, but the cartoons are certainly compelling to look at. The life of the cartoon is provoked and engaged by the drama within - almost Kafka like; or at least an assemblage of a frame of mind. Always something to laugh at with immediate recognition. Is it really me?


 The “cartoons” are also indigenously sad. Steig’s work ballasts the human quandaries by bunching and bundling expressions together with excellent draftsmanship.  The exhibit is a serious study in the art of drafting a “cartoon” with minimal fuss and getting down to the essentials without losing impact.


I felt like Gulliver waking up and discovering a host of Lilliputians trying me down. Jonathan Swift would have admired Steig’s work. For in its squiggles of frowning, smiling and posturing, lies the existential dilemma of what kind of face do I show the world? Especially when I wake up and find all other faces around me, tying me down? Therein lays the charm of it all: an ironic revelation of smiles inside a pocket of melancholia.


©2008 Ned Bobkoff
©2008 Scene4 Magazine

Playwright, director, and teacher, Ned Bobkoff has worked with performers from all walks of life in a variety of cultural and community settings throughout the U.S., Canada and abroad.
For more of his commentary and articles, check the Archives


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