What a bear does in the woods

The New Yorker is the holy grail for panel gags.  Extremely talented cartoonists slave for years to get their gags into the New Yorker.  They have the highest standards in the cartooning world.

And then sometimes they run mysterious items such as this:

Okay, I get that it’s the woods.  It’s a grove of maple trees, with their syrup taps.  I get that there is a bear in the woods.  I get that the bear is holding a plate of pancakes.  I get that the bear is removing some of the syrup from one of the trees for his pancakes.  I understand that there is humor, somewhere, in this situation.

What I don’t get is the look on the bear’s face.  The bear is glancing to his back, as though he is expecting trouble, as though he expects the tree’s owner to jump out and arrest him for stealing syrup.

I’m sorry, that’s just one angle too many.  A bear with a plate of pancakes?  Funny.  A bear getting syrup out of a tree for his pancakes?  Funny.  A bear anxious about getting syrup out of a tree for his pancakes?  You lost me.  Why should the bear care if someone is going to catch him stealing syrup?  He’s a bear.  He’s even a tough bear, you can tell by the way he’s squinting, as if to say “yeah, you just try and stop me, sucka.”  Maybe it’s the squinty eyes that ruins it for me.  If he was looking around guiltily, I can kind of see how that would be funny.  But this?  I’m sorry.

Why couldn’t it just be a bear going about his business, getting syrup for his pancakes like you or I would get it out of the refridgerator?  That’s pretty funny.  But the element of criminal activity makes no sense.  It doesn’t add to the joke, it muddies it.


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this cartoon would have made a good illustration for my Bourne v Long Kiss piece. hit counter html code


18 Responses to “What a bear does in the woods”
  1. robolizard says:

    I dunno… I kinda like the bear more. Of COURSE he’s anxious about the syrup. He knows society will wrestle happiness away from us at any cost!

  2. teamwak says:

    Sometimes a bear seeking syrup looks shifty. Thats just life in the big city!

  3. See, now I think “the element of criminal activity” is just the extra edge that this cartoon needed to cross the line from Flintstones-style “this is how a bear would eat pancakes” situation comedy over to something a little more neurotic and human. Clearly this is not the bear’s maple farm. He did not set up the taps or their collection bins. But he’s an opportunist. And he knows bears are not supposed to do this kind of thing–they’re not supposed to walk upright, or eat pancakes off a plate, and they’re probably not supposed to care much about condiments if they do. So while I’m sure some of his shiftiness can be attributed to a fear of criminal or civil prosecution, I suspect his greater concern is getting caught being human. I can only imagine The Far Side must have constantly confounded and enraged you.

    • Todd says:

      On the contrary; The Far Side was a constant source of delight. And maybe if this cartoon had a caption that explained why the bear held the maple farmers in such disdain while he ripped them off I could go with it.

      • serizawa3000 says:

        I remember that section in PreHistory of the Far Side where Larson tells about those cartoons of his that confounded and occasionally offended readers…

        “Cow Tools.” That was the one… πŸ™‚

      • greyaenigma says:

        “Blackie knew that stealing from Old Farmer Grizzly was risky.”

        “Sonny needed his maple fix. He just had to watch out for the cardinals.”

        I like the being afraid of getting caught acting human angle — it’s a classic of anthropomorphic fiction: “I say, Wendell, I think your analysis of Heidegger is lacking it’s fundamentals–” [Farmer walks in.] “MOOO!” “Cluck cluck cluck.”

    • teamwak says:

      Homer Simpson in The Homega Man.

      looking at a Far Side calender “I done get it, I dont get it”

    • serizawa3000 says:

      Two words: “Cow tools.” πŸ™‚

      • greyaenigma says:

        Now you have to post that one. Don’t make us go and look it up.

        • serizawa3000 says:

          I just tried looking it up and can’t find it, but I can describe it…

          A cow is standing on two legs, facing the reader, and on the workbench in front of the cow are some “cow tools.” Something like a hammer, something like a saw… and something I have no idea what it was… very crudely fashioned…

          So it could be “If cows made and used tools, this is what they’d be like.”

        • robolizard says:

          Here its yah dorky poops-http://www.p-worm.com/pic_weak_images/cow_tools.jpg

          I like the bear one [and this one] a lot because it attempts to be so human. I feel like the characters in budumching panels are always mugging for the camera.

  4. Anonymous says:

    What comes through in some of the comments is how the New Yorker has a code for “neurotic world”, an aspiration for an abstract, cold (read: “intellectual”) style trying so hard to be “not funny” in their one-panel comics, that involves adding one more layer than necessary for the joke, a kind of over-determination that by nature leads to ambivalent cul-de-sacs, while undermining any of that desire for a basic resolution to the joke – the “Flintstones” factor mentioned above.

    As long as people are comparing to The Far Side, wouldn’t Larson be the author who somehow manages to do the opposite, he is the Bunuel-oriented at heart, and seems to remove one too many layers, but in such a way that we readers connect the dots and find something funny, absurd and memorable and oddly, everyday.

    • Todd says:

      Well, more often than not I find that the current New Yorker editorial policy is to feature drawings of people walking down the street, eating in restaurants, drinking in bars, standing in a room, etc, and then some kind of hip, snarky text is printed at the bottom. Most of the time the drawings are good, sometimes not. I know this is a long-standing tradition at the New Yorker, but they don’t feel like real panel gags to me.

      • Anonymous says:

        Yes, the artist Richard Prince come to mind, whose work with the New Yorker cartoons specifically did what could be called “mashups” of different punchlines and cartoons. In what could be called this series “late” period, they started to become more obviously composed of layers, introduced into the art of painting etc.. which I guess to some degree, at least the layered part, matches the sentiment I mentioned earlier in the New Yorker.
        It IS a thought, why do they need the image, why not be brave and just try blank spaces with captions.

  5. nicklyn says:

    Is the pope Catholic? Does Dolly Parton sleep on her back? Do one-legged ducks swim in circles? Does a bear shit in the woods?

    β€œDon’t shit wear you eat.” Fuck you. I’m a bear. Where do you expect me to shit?

    Smokey, the Bear is always with his shovel. Sure it’s a handy tool for fighting forest fires, but the shovel’s primary function is burying the undigested remains of pancakes and maple syrup.

    The bear in the cartoon is Catholic. Like all Catholic bears, he’s given up blueberries for Lent, but yesterday he had some with his pancakes. He’s trying to remember his morning bowel movement and if he has buried his stool yet. The undigested blueberry skins would of course be visual. The bear is looking over his shoulder at the Popemobile, just now pulling up to the edge of the forest.

  6. gdh says:

    One way or another, that second cartoon is a review of Children of Men.