Technology titles and comedy bombs

A man’s sitting in front of a PC. His wife’s looking over his shoulder at the screen, which displays the words “ME ME ME ME ME ME”. “I’m just updating my blog”, he says.

OK, it’s not very funny the way I tell it. But when I saw the cartoon in Private Eye, coffee came out of my nose.

I love cartoons – good ones, that is. Not dreary smugfests such as Fred Bassett, or the used-to-be-funny Garfield, or the everybody-in-the-world-gets-it-but-me impenetrability of Doonesbury. I mean the comedy bombs of The Perry Bible Fellowship, the bile of Steve Bell, the profanity of Get Your War On, the one-shot gutbusters in Private Eye or the inspired lunacy of Gary Larson.

I like Gary Larson so much that I nearly put myself in hospital carrying the two-volume Complete Far Side, which weighs roughly the same as a house, around a Mancunian shopping centre for two hours. With hindsight, I should have bought it on the way out of the shopping centre, rather than immediately on arrival. Still, it was worth it to see my favourite cartoon of all time lovingly reproduced on thick, glossy paper (a man visits a doctor’s surgery with tiny cow heads growing all over him. “I’m sorry,” says the doctor. “You’ve got cows.”)

Other than in newspapers, though, cartoons are thin on the ground. Private Eye runs them, of course, but that’s still largely a current affairs title; it’s a similar story with the Spectator and the other heavyweight news analysis titles. In the world of consumer magazines, though, cartoons are a rarity. Edge runs a strip on the letters page, and PC Format ran an (ill-advised, I reckon) strip featuring one of its own journalists (nooooooo!!!!!), but that’s about it.

Cartoons are particularly thin on the ground in my neck of the woods, the tech sector. I don’t think it’s because technology can’t be funny (Private Eye’s managed to get good mileage from iPod jokes, such as an orangeman with an iProd) or because tech doesn’t have characters (Jobs, Gates and Ballmer are crying out for the Steve Bell treatment). So there must be some reason. Maybe it doesn’t fit with the glossy, high-tech sheen of the tech press, or maybe it’s because publishers don’t think cartoons are worth the money (although you can say more in a one-panel cartoon than in a seven-page feature sometimes). Maybe it’s because good cartoonists aren’t interested in the tech sector. Or maybe it’s because the readers aren’t interested.

Or maybe it’s a combination of all of these factors. Can anyone shed some light?

15 thoughts on “Technology titles and comedy bombs

  1. tm says:

    So where does dilbert fit in then? I mean yes, it is only really funny if you have any experience of offices/technology/ludicrous hr procedures, but a great many of us do. For example this week I was off sick for *one day* but me and my manager had to go through a ‘return to work interview’ procedure. Fortunately we both saw the funny side, but none the less…

    I guess over time it is wearing thinner but then what doesn’t? All comedy seems to have a shelf life. Ever watched laurel and hardy or charlie chaplin? Not very funny now-adays is it?

    Oh and I’d tell you may favourite far side but there are four that I love and I can’t make up my mind. I’m not typing them all out…

  2. Squander Two says:

    You seen Achewood? It’s absolute genius. All the main characters have blogs, which is a tad odd. And they do address tech issues.

    I once saw a management consultant saying that he finds it exasperating when he finds that a client’s staff have Dilbert cartoons stuck on their walls, screensavers, etc. Not because they’re bad for discipline or rebellious or anything stupid like that, but because, if you’re managing your business correctly, your staff shouldn’t even get them.

    Bloom County was still the greatest. And Steve Bell’s utter crap. I’ve never understood how he can get the work.

  3. Stephen says:

    Can’t understand the appeal of Steve Bell myself: it’s as if a particularly obsessed adolescent learned to draw, if not well, then at least better than most of his peers, and then proceeded to draw variations on the same feeble “joke” for about, what, six years now? Bush is an ape; OK, got it the first time. Wasn’t that funny then. But for fuck’s sake give the greasy spot on the ground where the dead horse was a break, willya?

    On the tech cartoon front, though, I’ll take your word that they’re thin on the ground in the printed media (sorry, I know it’s your job but I just don’t read it much). In the online world there is Penny Arcade, of course; PVP is also not bad; MegaTokyo is good sometimes; Day by Day has some tech content; User Friendly is mildly amusing; and although Shlock Mercenary is really space opera, there’s a lot of good tech and science thinking and knowledge in it.

  4. paul says:

    Cost. A good cartoon strip will cost as much as a few pages of good copy. So when an editor is looking at their budget, it’s easy to say “hmmm, if I get rid of that 1/4-page strip which no one seems to get anyway, I can stick in an extra four-page feature.” That, and I guess it’s easier for an editor to see value in the written word, given that most of them are writers themselves.

    My favourite Far Side cartoon is the school for the gifted, with the kid pushing a door that has a sign on it that says “pull” :)

  5. Gary says:

    > Can’t understand the appeal of Steve Bell myself

    Ach, funny’s always in the eye of the beholder. He makes me laugh, anyway.

    You’re right about online, and PVP in particular. I find many of the others a bit self-referential and in-jokey, though.

  6. Squander Two says:

    > draw variations on the same feeble “joke” for about, what, six years now?

    Yes, to be fair to him, he does come up with a new joke every few years. Reagan was a piece of wood for eight years. Kenneth Baker had no nipples for a few months. John Major was the colour grey for six years. My sides, my sides.

    > He makes me laugh, anyway.

    Really? Blimey. I thought even his fans tended to think “That’s funny” rather than actually laugh.

    And, for his bizarre explanation of why you shouldn’t draw cartoons of Mohammed, he can just fuck off and die. “But you target the powerful, not the weak.” One of the world’s largest religions and the most important divine prophet in history not powerful enough for him, apparently. But he’ll satirise Charles Kennedy.

  7. Tony Kiernan says:

    >>John Major was the colour grey for six years. My sides, my sides.

    That was Spitting Image. Bell had him with his underpants outside his trousers. No difference really.

    Surely all cartoonists come up with a characterisation and stick to it? Back to Doonesbury, Dubya’s been a astrisk-faced roman helmet for five years or whatever, now. FFS, Schultz had Linus lugging that blanket around for 50 years.

  8. Squander Two says:

    > Bell had him with his underpants outside his trousers.

    Wasn’t he grey as well? Difficult to tell with a black & white cartoon, I suppose.

    > Surely all cartoonists come up with a characterisation and stick to it?

    Well, not necessarily, but, even when they do, they either come up with some fresh jokes as well as the characterisation or they’re really boring. Linus’s blanket wasn’t the joke. Reagan being made of wood was. Bush being a chimp is. If Bell had done Calvin and Hobbes, there would have been six months of strips with the punchline “He’s a tiger!”

    (I found Bell dull and unfunny back when I agreed with his politics, in case anyone’s wondering.)

  9. Linda Jones says:

    Loved your description of the blog cartoon – orange juice would have come out of my nose I think. Though I’d have suggested instead of ME ME ME it could say LIKE ME LIKE ME!

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