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Helen Capewell
OCA Learning Log
Student Number: 522802
Degree: Illustration
Current Level: 2

Turning Pictures into Words

Exercise 2

The more research I did based on the time this cartoon was made, the more I began to unravel and understand what this cartoon could mean. It felt like quite a lot could be dissected for such a simple 'gag' cartoon, and despite not fully understanding what was truly happening in this cartoon, I felt compelled to try. After all, to describe the idea for an artist to draw upon, one should probably fully understand the reason for requesting the cartoon.

Chas Addams, Technology (1950s)

What is in the cartoon

It is hard to avoid the main element in this cartoon, given the scale and position of which it stands. Taking up the majority of the frame stands a very large computer system. The point of view positions us slightly to the right of the machine, giving us a view of two sides of the machine. A small businessman like character is seen exciting a tiny door on the right hand side of the machine, carrying a briefcase and lifting a hat above his head. To the far left we see a chair angled towards us, sitting in next to a control panel on the machine. The control panel appears to contain buttons and switches in a small desk cubicle that extrudes out of the machine. Surrounding this is lights, temperature gauges, tape recordings and other switches, dials and buttons. Standing surprised is a cleaning lady holding a mop in mid job. She looks over her shoulder to find the small man leaving the machine.

A few details in this picture raises questions for me. The positioning of the chair suggests it has been in use. The man leaving the machine is very well dressed with a suitcase and hat, is he working the machine or a suspicious character leaving once he suspected everyone else had left. Does he shut down the machine from the inside? Or is the gag supposed to represent the silliness of the scale of the machine and its grandness, and that man still needs to do the labouring work?

The 50's

I love the style of this cartoon. I love the design of the cleaning lady, mopping the floor during the after hours of a working day. Dressed in a maid uniform with a head scarf covering her hair with a front knot, I particularly like the shoes and how they resemble converse. In all she is very 1950's in style. The chair rotated to the side is a modernist design with the legs slightly angled out and pointed at the ends, much like many interior furniture that are from this period. Both distinct details create a time and place in this cartoon, as does the giant computer. Which then begs the questions, why was this illustration created, what is it based on and what does it mean?

Looking at a timeline of the technology advances in the 50's, likely to be focused on America, there are very major inventions and developments that have gone on to shape the world today. UNIVAC was the first commercial computer delivered to the United States Census Bureau in 1951. When learning of the timing of this huge machine and a possible connection with this cartoon, I continued to learn that this computer became famous for predicting the results of the Presidential race between Dwight D. Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson.

When I first looked at this cartoon, I wanted to understand what the 'gag' actually was. I felt I could see a few possible outcomes for this cartoon so in all, I didn't find it very funny. I just felt lost, like I was missing something. Perhaps my age has a part to play in that! Apart from the fact the computer is huge and a very small man exits the interiors of it, this felt as much of what the joke was, which could be funny. But then, the more I dove into the period, and tried to put myself in that time, politically, other ideas for the gag to come to mind.

What if it was Eisenhower who was exiting the computer system? I can't say I know much about American history and their presidents, but after a quick search, the characteristics of the small man resemble some features of Eisenhower. A literal way to show its predictions were correct? The machine is huge, no one is on the control panel of the machine, and only a cleaner is in the room at the moment of this small guy exiting. The odd timing of this man exiting the machine, with no other staff controlling the machine, compared to the real prediction that UNIVAC became famous for... It could be looked at like an almost gameshow entrance, revealing the winner from behind the door, and he takes his hat off to great everyone in the audience, in this case the first person he encounters is the cleaning lady. Was Eisenhower a particularly small man? I wonder if this was the topic the commission was based on? Unless it was just Chas Addams having fun with the idea.

Ok so it probably isn't as complex as that, but... why not! The more photos I see of him the more I believe it's him leaving the machine! Plus it is very hard to find information online about this cartoon, I'm unable to locate anything other than where this photo was taken, The Advertising Archives.

The UNIVAC was quite a beast of a machine - it's scary! Is the cartoon just an exaggeration of this? Or actually an honest take of the ghastly machine, and the humour of the man exiting it is mocking the ability of the machine and its ridiculous size? Of course technology was feared by many in those days, ironically it still is! Each breakthrough through generations is lead with doubt and fear that technology will one day replace mankind. Interestingly this feels to be happening at rapid rates today, and with AI on the horizon, who knows how quickly this will happen!

Seeing a cartoon based on technology from different periods, you wonder if this is from fear, fandom or disbelief. The twist in this cartoon is that the man is very much needed in the system and is yet to be replaced. Does it mock the advances, or does it mock the people who fear it?

Why is this man so small?

Have I looked too much into this? I think it is lost on me!


A modernist illustration, representing the future of technology and despite the advances and the grandness, it still requires humans to work it (from the inside). The machine should be large like a room. On the side it will have a small door where a very short businessman, finely dressed with a briefcase will exit, putting on his hat at the end of a long shift. A cleaning lady dressed in a maids uniform with headscarf covering the hair, will be surprised to see the gentleman exit the large machine as she mops the floor during the after hours.

Word Count: 98

Research the 'gag' cartoon

There's something very clever about the gag cartoons and the ability to deliver a punchline through visual information. The cartoon by Chas Addams may have been a little lost on me, however it doesn't take away from the detail and the clever composition that collectively produced a pleasing and humorous cartoon. I'm a fan of adding details in single illustrations, i personally enjoy connecting the dots when seeing these hidden "easter eggs" within illustrations. For me, the more (or less, sometimes a simple gesture can be the perfect gag) details that are in an illustration, the more I think it has been planned / thought out. That said, the genius delivery of a single illustration with little to know other information in the picture other than that of the joke is where the art becomes brilliant. Many of these style cartoons I associate with greeting cards.

Taking a look through the works of each artist mentioned in the task, I could easily identify which style I found most amusing. Gary Larson hit the spot more than the others. His style felt modern and silly with the humour but very clever in its delivery. Many of his works brought a giggle, though one picture I thought was great for this exercise was the "Boneless chicken ranch".

As a Vegan, this is a terrible cartoon, though it is the kind of silly that I like! The simplicity of the idea is so perfect, and the composition is clever in the way you read the image. The "Boneless Chicken Ranch" sign is the juxtaposition that instantly grabs your attention in the cartoon, and then, as your eyes scan below the sign you start to see / understand why the chickens are laying the way they are. What makes me enjoy this cartoon is the style in which Gary Larson draws. The eyes of the chickens the foreground gives life to the birds so you know they're not dead chickens spread across the ranch, they're just pancakes with eyes that question their purpose in life. I feel like I can hear them saying "now what". Either that or they look drunk! This is definitely the kind of thing I would draw for Inktober if the word prompt was boneless! It's brilliant, I love it. The more I look at it the more I love it as well.

Unlike other cartoons I have come across by Gary Larson, I would consider this a silent cartoon. However of course, if the sign was part of this cartoon, it might be difficult to know what is happening with the chickens. On that basis, this cartoon has the punchline written within the cartoon.

The combination of the sign and the chickens laying boneless is what makes this a funny cartoon. In fact, I would go as far as saying its their eyes that makes the joke more funny. Because you know they're alive, you can see they are free to run around with fields upon fields, yet they're boneless. It was always said as a child when learning about the bone structure, that without them, we'd be a blob on the floor. Gary Larson has taken that concept and made it the perfect gag in this simple image!



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