Well, if you eliminate political cartoons a la Pat Oliphant, and funny papers, and illustrations, and graphic novels, you are left with the spot cartoon–a single drawing or sequence of drawings that have no particular meaning beyond a simple comment on either something going on in the Zeitgeist or in common amusing experiences. For example, a great Peter Arno cartoon shows a lonely spot next to a street lamp. It is night, and a young couple is talking to a police officer. The guy is carrying the back seat of an auto, and he says to the cop, “We wish to report a stolen car.” No social message. No moral. Like any good cartoon, it is self-referential, and its only purpose is to garner a laugh. Like this one–
How are cartoons conceived? Well, in my case I may be thinking of something or observing something, and a switch occurs to me–something that relates to the original notion but turns it around or reveals an unexpected consequence.
Let me trace one idea I had for a cartoon. For some reason, I was watching some ants. What do ants do? They bite people. What if one bit an ant expert? How would the ant feel about that? How would he behave afterwards? And the cartoon flashes in my head. One ant is prancing about in a very conceited manner, and another ant says to his companions, “He’s been impossible ever since he bit E.O. Wilson.”
Of course, it all loses its punch when I explain how it came about, which is why I should never tell anyone where my ideas come from.
How did I get interested in cartooning? I suppose it was because when I was very little, my father would read me the funnies after I was tucked up in bed at night. My heroes were not sports figures or soldiers: they were Moon Mullins, Mutt and Jeff, and Ignatz Mouse. So I guess that’s when I started scribbling down little sketches. At Harvard, I had a lot of cartoons and stories printed in the Harvard Lampoon, and later, when I got a Master’s Degree in Journalism at Columbia, I contributed cartoons and a cover to the Columbia Jester.
In New York, I worked for various advertising agencies as a copy writer, finding time to submit cartoons to national magazines. I even placed a couple of drawings in Collier’s and Argosy; alas, they both went out of business, killed by television.
Of course, every cartoonist’s dream is to place a drawing in The New Yorker, and though I sent in hundreds of “roughs,” none were ever accepted. Frankly, I think the cartoons they do print just plain stink, but that may be sour grapes.
While working in New York, I met Na’ama, married her, and became the father of Gideon, Seth, and Aliza. Then our family returned to Boston where I took over the family business – we were wholesalers of glass and plastic bottles. After I retired, we divided our time between the USA and a home in Italy. Returning to America, we felt a need for intellectual stimulation, so when we heard about BOLLI, we enrolled and have been taking classes ever since. And every once in a while, an idea strikes me, and I draw it up.
Editor’s Note: Sam also provides cartoons for BOLLI’s newsletter, The Banner. This month’s volume, now available online and in hard copy, features yet another gem. Be sure to check it out!
One thought on “MEET MEMBER SAM ANSELL: What is a Cartoon?”
Sam, you’re a gem of a person and a terrific cartoonist. So nice to hear the inside story of how you come up with the pictures and words that make us smile, grin, chortle, and even laugh out loud. I agree about the New Yorker; with a few exceptions (I’m partial to Roz Chast), I’ve been finding many of the cartoons head-scratchingly blank or bland. They could do worse than publish one of yours!