Anatomy of The New Yorker’s Pig at the Complaint Department Cartoon




This week a familiar cartoon showed up on the The New Yorker’s last page as part of its continuing Caption Contest. The cartoon, of a pig at a complaint department, was drawn by Mick Stevens,  who has been contributing cartoons to The New Yorker for thirty four years .


Why was the cartoon familiar? Fans of the classic sitcom, Seinfeld, remember the episode “The Cartoon” (it aired January 29,1998) in which Elaine, inspired to submit a cartoon to The New Yorker, stays up all night working on cartoon ideas and finally comes up with the pig at the complaint department. (The New Yorker’s current cartoon editor, Bob Mankoff recently delved into the episode in great detail on his blog). In the episode, as Elaine hands her sketchbook to Jerry, we catch a glimpse of her pig cartoon.


So how did Elaine’s cartoon end up in this week’s New Yorker, some fourteen years after it appeared on television?



For clarity’s sake, Elaine’s cartoon – the one we see on her sketchpad, is not the cartoon in the current New Yorker. In an email conversation I asked Mick how he came to draw Elaine’s cartoon, and he wrote:


Bob [Mankoff] asked me to draw it up for a possible caption contest and/or use in his blog in reference to the Seinfeld episode.


I also asked Mick if he referenced Elaine’s cartoon, as there’s an undeniable similarity between the two.


I didn’t look at the Seinfeld cartoon first but it turned out to be similar.


Curious about the original cartoon that appears on Elaine’s sketchbook, I asked Bruce Eric Kaplan, the New Yorker cartoonist who wrote the Seinfeld episode, if he drew the cartoon we see on Elaine’s sketchpad.  I also asked if he still had the original – I thought it would be fun to post on Ink Spill.  Bruce replied in an email:


I didn’t draw it!

They asked me to but I didn’t want to.

Someone in the art department did it.

I don’t know who has it or if it still exists!


You might wonder why this flurry of detective work on my part about a brand new version of a fourteen year old drawing of a pig. Much like Elaine’s pig, I have a complaint.  A number of news stories that appeared following the publication of Mick’s version of Elaine’s cartoon,  such as appeared on Gawker and Yahoo News suggest that The New Yorker has “republished” Elaine’s cartoon. Hmmm, maybe I should write them a letter…


Dear Gawker and Yahoo News:


I really enjoy your sites – I’m a fan! – but Elaine is a fictional character who submitted her drawing to a fictional New Yorker.  The real New Yorker never published Elaine’s cartoon.


Michael Maslin


Many other sites ( and there are many) tell us that Mick’s cartoon is “the same one” or in at least one case “the very same one” as seen in the Seinfeld episode.

Well, no, actually it isn’t.



When I was a little kid I spent a lot of time stretched out on the living room floor, drawing.   It’s where I’d be after school, with a #2 pencil in hand and a pad of paper, the television a few feet away from my face.


Instead of sweating over homework, I’d spend hours attempting perfect renditions of Batman and Superman — getting them right was just about the most important thing in the world (I never did get them right).


The floor remained my work area up until late high school, when I “liberated” an old wooden drafting table (a Lackawanna Drafting Table, to be precise) from an abandoned neighborhood garage. I must’ve seen photographs of cartoonists working at drawing boards, and figured I should work on one too. I was never comfortable there; the angle of the board never made sense to me – in my mind, the floor was the preferred place to work, where I could hover directly over the paper, inches from it.  Despite my “issues” with the board, I diligently worked at it all through college and brought it with me to New York City when college ended.


When I planted roots in upstate New York, I decided to store the drawing board and construct a makeshift desk. I went to the lumber yard and found some boards that looked pleasing enough, took them home, cut them to fit my narrow room, then aligned and supported them with a couple of 2 x 4s. These boards serving as a desk have easily survived a thousand coffee spills, ink and paint spills, innumerable slashes from x-acto blades and decades of the press of elbows.  And no wonder:  they’re floor boards.

Your Twinkie

The news that the Hostess company has filed for bankruptcy reminded me of one of the drawings I did ages ago poking at the super rich, “That will be Williams with your Twinkie” (it appeared in The New Yorker, September 5, 1983). For the record: I love Twinkies. Should they disappear, we will all be the poorer for it.