Sitting, staring and thinking

Friend Drew sends some pages from his copy of The Complete Far Side by Gary Larson, a two-volume book I’ve occasionally drooled over but is quite expensive. He wanted to show me the Houdini cartoon (above) but also the work-related commentary that comes with it.

Larson unpacks a question often asked of him: how long does it take you to draw a cartoon?

It’s a bit like the usual “what do you do?” icebreaker but it probably happens during the struggle to accept the sublime answer of “I’m a cartoonist!” (Incidentally, I recommend you give this answer too, even if you happen to be something more in line with the times.)

Anyway, how long does it take you to draw a cartoon?

I’ve suspected an ulterior motive from some people who ask me this question. I think they want to check to see if I’m really working. In other words, is cartooning a real job? If that’s the hidden question, the answer is easy — no, it’s not a real job.

But I’m working on an additional theory: that this kind of question is an outgrowth of American culture. We just seem to want to quantify everything.

How long did it take for me to draw an average cartoon? I can’t compute that with any real certainty. First of all, I enjoyed what I did. And when you enjoy something, time is a disconnect.

There’s also a critical part of the equation which has nothing to do with the physical execution of the cartoon, and that’s the time invested in just sitting, staring and thinking. And it’s difficult to know if you’re not, in truth, just doing the first two.

There’s more to Larson’s point than these exportable nuggets but it’s too long to reproduce here.

I think Drew also sent me this commentary because it provides an insight into the brainwaves of a fellow obsessive-compulsive humorist:

If [Houdini’s skull is] too gruesome it doesn’t work. If it’s too corny it doesn’t work. [It] has to simultaneously capture silliness and scariness, horror and hilarity, sadness and stupidity. For me this meant draw, erase, draw, erase, draw, erase … for hours. I couldn’t get it, although I think in the end I got sort of close. (I now see that the head should have been tilted forward just a little, dammit.)

Ah, shit, I’ve got to buy this book haven’t I? Someone do me a favour and buy a couple of PDF bundles from the shop, quick!


Robert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist. He also writes books and articles. Read more at

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