Michael Shaw: Let Us Now Praise Bad Cartoonists


Note: After my colleague Michael Shaw posted the following piece on Face Book this afternoon, I asked if he’d share it with Ink Spill. Accompanying the piece is Michael’s illustration, an homage to James Thurber’s drawing, “Touche!” originally published in The New Yorker,  December 3, 1932.


Call me Thurberesque. Why? Because it’s a nice way of saying I can’t draw very well. Oh, if it were as simple as failing eyesight or a lack of limbs. I could package myself as a triumph over indefatigable odds— maybe score a papal au- dience like that guy who plays guitar with his feet. Nope, it’s just the way I draw. Or more precisely, it’s the way the things I draw look— desks are made of cheese, wrists are optional, hands are switched, fingers missing, necks incomplete. Float- ing heads! The world I draw is an ill-at-ease chaotic jumble of multiple perspectives and lines meandering in all direc- tions. Just like real life. Or more precisely, life here in the Midwest.
I am a Midwestern by birth, temperament, and cholesterol count. This is no Keilloresque Midwest. That’s Minnesota. Minnesota is not the Midwest. Here are the boundaries— the Midwest may creep as far north as Madison, Wisconsin (but only in deference to Michael Feldman.) The Midwest stops at Kansas City. Ask Calvin Trillin or George Booth. They’ll tell you the Midwest pretty much stops in Missouri. Columbus, Ohio forms the eastern border, (but only as an homage to James the Thurb). Please go no further south than Hannibal, Missouri. (Which may be north of Colum- bus.) And there you’ve got the psychic map from which my work springs. Hope this helps!
One question still stands— why continue to inflict Michael Shaw’s cartoons on a largely innocent readership? First— my occasional appearance is the driving force behind my moth- er-in-law’s subscription. (Though the photograph of Charles Ray’s sculpture “Oh! Charley, Charley, Charley” almost sent her back to The Saturday Evening Post.) Second, and most importantly— one Christmas morning, now largely lost to the murk of memory, I received, along with a strapping G. I. Joe, a copy of “Thurber and Company”. And that was that.
The New Yorker was in no way responsible for this event. But what do I know? There are forces at work here both vast and inscrutable. And in the next installment, we’ll sniff the daisy chain of events that have nurtured the peculiar subspe- cies of outsider art that is a Michael Shaw cartoon. Don’t miss chapter two—Tragedy Plus Time Equals Tragedy, But Who Has Time Anymore?
First in a series of faxed advertorials on behalf of the cartoons of Michael Shaw. By Michael Shaw. (Originally sent Tuesday, August, 17th, 2004, 1:57pm)

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