Cartooning Virtuosity

Posted by on February 14th, 2011 at 5:05 PM

The situation in Ed Stein’s Freshly Squeezed comic strip is that Liz’s elderly parents have lost their home in foreclosure and have had to move in with their daughter and her husband, Sam, “squeezing” two couples into a house meant for one family. One day last month, Liz goes with her mother to the foreclosed house to pack up her parents’ belongings preparatory to moving everything to a new location.

While there, in the house she grew up in, Liz sits for a few minutes on the swing on the front porch and reminisces about her childhood. Stein enhances the mood visually by transforming Liz momentarily into the little girl she once was, showing both the adult Liz and her childhood self side-by-side on the swing. Then comes this strip in which Liz’s mother joins her on the swing.

Nothing earth-shattering here, but for the sake of his joke, Stein has deployed all the resources of the medium—imagery and timing, blending word and picture. When her mother comes into the picture, Liz’s childhood self disappears (“pop”), signaling the cessation of her reverie. But when her mother sits down beside her, Liz is transformed into her little girl self once again, and her adult self disappears (“pop”).

The sequence of images is masterfully timed: the first panel reestablishes the visual situation from yesterday’s strip; the second panel establishes “pop” as the signal symbolizing the evaporation of the reminiscent mood; the third panel reminds us that the intruding woman is Liz’s mother; and the last panel repeats “pop,” signaling the disappearance of the adult Liz and the return of the nostalgic mood.

In the present to which Liz momentarily returned in the second panel, it takes only the presence of her mother to revert again to the past—or, more precisely, to the enduring relationship between a mother and her children, which, despite the occasional intervening of adulthood, will always perform the trick Stein depicts here.

As I said, nothing earth-shattering here. Just the nicest nuances of which the medium is capable. The strip reveals Stein’s sensitivity to the medium, how attuned he is to the ways in which it works its particular brand of magic. Imagery, timing, verbal-visual blending. (Try reading the words without looking at the pictures—or the pictures without reading the words—and the comedy isn’t there; in fact, there’s almost no “story” without words and pictures in tandem.)

Stein also produces editorial cartoons through his syndicate, United Feature, and while other editorial cartoonists are doing strips as well as editoons, Stein is surpassingly deft at both formats, deploying the resources of each in ways that exploit those resources most effectively. Here, for instance, is the editorial cartoon he produced three days after the shooting in Tucson:

In duplicating the map displayed at SarahPac, the Sarah Palin site that targets Democratic opponents whom voters should not return to office, Stein resorts to the editorial cartoon’s most powerful device, simple imagery, to suggest that Palin’s imagery, the cross-hairs of rifle sights, might have led to the shooting.

Two other recent Steintoons also derive their power from a single image.

In the first, the image implies that we have one more mountain to climb before we have eradicated the legal (or quasi-legal) bigotry about homosexuality.

And in the second, Stein uses the classic image of a ransom note to assert that the Grumpy Old Pachyderm is holding the U.S. government hostage—scarcely the sort of maneuver that distinguishes good politics. This cartoon is one of the most effective of its kind that I saw last year. Nicely done.

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One Response to “Cartooning Virtuosity”

  1. WLLilly says:

    …I suppose Stein must’ve gone somewhere on his computer/the Net for all those ” kidnapper ” typefaces-fonts ?