Cartoon: A Very Useful I.D. Card

Cartoon: If Penises Came On I.D. Cards

(Larger version can be viewed here.)

This is actually a cartoon from years ago, which I just redrew this week. Here, for comparison, is the original cartoon:

Cartoon: If Penises Came On I.D. Cards (original version)

Normally I don’t go back and redraw cartoons. But I’ve always been embarrassed by the drawing in this cartoon; I drew it in about two hours, when I was very tight against the deadline, and I’ve never been able to look at it without wincing. Things I dislike about the drawings in the original cartoon:

  • It’s completely graceless.
  • The expressions aren’t good (except for her expression in the final panel).
  • His face in the close-up is boring.
  • He’s looking under the ID card instead of at it in panel three.
  • Except for the final panel, there’s no use of body language to convey expression.
  • The proportions of the heads are “wrong.” Which is an odd thing to say, I know, because my heads are never anatomically accurate; but there is a consistent non-anatomical way I draw heads, and compared to that, these heads (especially the boss’ head in panel one) are wrong.

So when an (the?) editor of Z Magazine’s German-language sub-site asked me to reletter this cartoon into German (he provided the translation), I decided to redraw it before sending it to him. I retained the basic layout, although I pulled the “camera” back in panel one so I could do more with body language. I kept her facial expression and body language the same in the final panel, almost line for line. Other than that, I redrew the whole thing. I don’t think it’s one of my best-drawn cartoons ever, but to my eyes it’s a decent-looking cartoon, with some nice linework here and there. (I played around with adding backgrounds, but they always seemed to detract from the strip.)

So I emailed the editor the newly redrawn strip. The next day, he emailed me back, to let me know he hadn’t realized there were two versions of the strip. Could I instead reletter the other version, which he said was “clearly the better one”?


(I should mention that the Zmag editor is a nice guy and a pleasure to work with.)

Things the Zmag editor liked better about the original version:

  • In the original, her body language isn’t so cocky from the start, which the editor thinks is more natural for the situation of a subordinate being talked down to by her boss.
  • In the original, “moderately acceptable” is “a fact perceived as being rooted in the employee’s inferior sex that also justifies her continuing to be a lowly subordinate”; in the redrawn version, the boss’ body language makes it an accusation.

I can see the editor’s point. Frankly, the boss’ body language in panel one of the new version is over-the-top. My reasoning was that the bigger the change in the boss’ attitude between panel 1 and panel 4, the funnier the gag, but perhaps I overdid it.

I like the subordinate being cocky from the start, and did that on purpose. This gag is of the form I think of as “the mystery explained!”; the reader sees something that seems unnatural or doesn’t make sense, and then the resolution of the strip (in this case, the caption) provides the explanation. Making the scene a bit unnatural from the start — by making the subordinate character weirdly cocky, because she knows something the reader doesn’t know (that she has a penis ID card) — is what builds the mystery, which in turn makes the gag work.

In my opinion. On the other hand, obviously the original cartoon worked better for the Zmag editor, and it’s hard to argue with what works better for a reader.

In the end, I have to follow my own tastes when it comes to my own cartoons. We went with the redrawn version (and the editor was very nice about it!); if you’re interested, you can see it in German here. (A whole bunch of translated cartoons in German — including several more by me, and a couple by my pal Kevin Moore — can be viewed here.)

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31 Responses to Cartoon: A Very Useful I.D. Card

  1. 1
    nobody.really says:

    “If Penises came on I.D. Cards”
    (Larger version can be viewed here.)

    Honestly, Amp, it’s not about the size. It just isn’t, ok?

  2. 2
    Ampersand says:


    (And I very rarely say that.)

  3. 3
    joe says:

    what’s a raise?

  4. 4
    Dave says:

    I like it when people explain what they are doing and why they are doing it. You realize that there is just so much more than you know that goes into human creations we encounter. It is like those commentary tracks you can get when you watch a movie. Even a movie such as Nightmare on Elm Street exhibits amazing technical mastery that is unappreciated by the viewer. The sad thing is that there is just not enough time to get to appreciate the skills that go into everyday life experiences. I think every profession has its standards, expectations and methodologies that are just opaque to the lay public.

    The only problem I have is I don’t understand the point of the cartoon to begin with. The woman seems to have gained some sort of personal triumph over the boss by displaying an ID card showing her boss’s penis. Since it is presumably less than impressive in size, he must now give her a raise.

    If I were being evaluated by a woman (and I have been) would I expect to get a raise by confronting her with a picture showing that she had small breasts? This desperate ploy, I know, would be terribly counterproductive. So, why should it work for this woman?

  5. 5
    anna says:

    No no, Dave. The point is that the woman is showing that she has a penis (on an ID card) therefore she is a man and men like her boss will think better of her.

  6. 6
    Myca says:

    Lovely comic, Amp. I really like the change to the faces, especially the detail to the boss in the third panel, and I would love to see a colored version of this.

  7. 7
    Holly says:

    So wait, women with penises can get ahead in the world by showing them to people? I had no idea. Here I thought women with penises died due because EMT’s and physicians stop providing them with emergency medical care. I mean, I get the idea behind the cartoon and I am not doubting for a second the existence of sexism in the workplace (I mean, how could I, I have to deal with it myself) but the cartoon is also (unintentionally?) referring to another reality… one that also involves ID cards.

  8. 8
    Dave says:

    Thanks Anna, Jeeze,I still don’t think that card would help.

  9. 9
    Myca says:

    Dave . . . it’s a comic.

    Way to overthink a plate of beans, man.

  10. 10
    Raznor says:

    My thoughts on the two versions:

    I like the new one better primarily for the third panel – the boss kind of reminds me of a human version of Scrooge McDuck in that panel. But I do like the 4th panel better in the old version, even if the heads are off – it’s just that the boss just seems so much friendlier in the old version, which is imho funnier and sort of conveys the employees change in stature to “one of the guys”.

  11. 11
    StealthBadger says:

    9. Myca Writes: August 3rd, 2007 at 4:20 pm Dave . . . it’s a comic. Way to overthink a plate of beans, man

    Wow. I was going to talk about suspension of disbelief as a necessary part of interacting with a comic, the usual need in a comic to focus on a narrow subject because of the medium, and on the other hand the way this simplicity encourages us to go beyond it afterwards and find both parallels and flaws on the image and how this makes it great for social criticism, yadda yadda…

    But for early Saturday morning blackberry reading, that reply hit the spot. ^.^

  12. 12
    StealthBadger says:

    Truthfully, the tone of panels one and two in the first version combined with three and for in the second would almost make a cheesy Lois Lane/Superman kind of transformation that almost brings its own cheesy fanfare.

    But I grinned (and grimaced with the underlying point) in response to both. Good stuff!

  13. 13
    Daisy says:

    what’s a raise?

    They have them on “TV Land”. Mr Spacely gave George Jetson a raise once.

    Otherwise, I have no idea.

  14. 14
    nexyjo says:

    what’s a raise?

    it’s always about the penis with you people!

  15. 15
    Adrian says:

    I’m really sorry if I offend you by “overthinking,” or by thinking about a political cartoon at all, Myca and StealthBadger. But seriously, Amptoons, your best work (the “Concise History of Black-White Relations,” frinstance) really rewards thought, after an initial vivid image. This one doesn’t do anything at all for me at first glance (Huh? Is it meant to be a pun about penises and coming?), then it falls apart completely when I try to think about it. People stigmatize based on what they see, and ID cards or official records don’t do anything to counter that. As Holly says, transgender bigotry is even more intense than sexism. (Furthermore, some heterosexuals get hit with anti-gay bigotry, just because they look like targets of stigma. There is no evidence a person can offer to get out of stigma free, because stigma doesn’t work that way.) I’m sorry to be so critical, because I think you’re a good cartoonist.

  16. 16
    karpad says:

    Well Adrian/Dave, no one was offended by you overthinking and therefore missing the joke.

    but the condescension, that’s pretty offensive.

  17. 17
    StealthBadger says:

    I wasn’t meaning to be condescending (and was even commenting about how cartoons spark discussion that is larger than is immediately conveyed). Sorry about that. Cartoons draw the viewer into those next steps just through the necessary process of filtering them through your own experiences. I just laughed out loud reading Myca’s comment, because I’d been about to talk way too much. Appeals to “it is what it is” resonate with me, call it a character flaw.

  18. 18
    mousehounde says:

    Ampersand, I have really been enjoying the recent cartoon postings. I was wondering, any chance you might set up a shop and sell items with your work on them? I would dearly love to get t-shirts and long sleeve fleeces with a number of these. And I would love a ball cap with the character in the blog banner :D . Just hoping…

  19. 19
    Robert says:

    My problem with the cartoon is that it is inaccurate regarding the locus of male-female discrimination in workplace performance perception. In my 20+ years as employer and employee, I have universally and strongly found that there is indeed a performance perception gap – but that gap occurs at the high end of the scale, not the low end of the scale. Women in many workplaces must turn in an absurdly spectacularly tremendous performance to receive credit as one of the organization’s stars; I’ve seen that happen a dozen times (either the incredible performance which does compel recognition, or more often, the “merely” great performance that gets rated as being quite good.) Spectacular male performance is generally noted and acknowledged as such.

    What I have never seen, however, is a performance being rated as really good if it’s a man, but barely adequate if it’s a woman. A woman’s spectacular performance gets rated as good; a woman’s adequate performance gets rated as adequate. There is simply no motivation for a manager to underrate average performances, other than the scenario where an organization is trying to downsize and is aggressively looking for people it can shed without operational consequences; bad performance reviews create work for managers, because they have to do improvement plans and monitor the employee and a dozen other bureaucratic hoops. If anything, the pressure on managers works the other way; to let Marginal Melanie or Barely Competent Bill slide for another year in the hopes that they’ll get better on their own, without the manager having to do anything.

    The cartoon would be far more powerful if it recognized this dynamic and had the woman’s performance rating go from “you’re doing OK, keep up the good work” to “Wow, you’re like JESUS!” when she flashes the penis card.

    ‘Flash the Penis Card’ would be a good name for a punk band.

  20. 20
    karpad says:

    Clarification: that wasn’t directed at you, SB. that was at Adrian/David whoever the hell that is, as Adrian responded to your comment to david as if they were the original poster.

    You were fine. but Adrian’s “I’m really sorry if I offend you by “overthinking,” or by thinking about a political cartoon at all,” was exceptionally condescending.

  21. 21
    Dave says:

    For the record I did not change handles. I am don’t mind witty replies.

  22. 22
    Myca says:

    Yeah, I checked the IP addresses. Dave & Adrian = two different people.


  23. 23
    nobody.really says:

    In related news, a demographer reports that young women out-earn men in New York City and perhaps other urban areas. Read about it here; hear an interview here.

  24. 24
    karpad says:

    ok. So just Adrian then. I apologize, Dave.

    Adrian, however, is still a git. perhaps moreso for getting defensive and condescending toward witty replies that were not directed at them as it was their first post in the thread.

  25. 25
    Decnavda says:

    The faces on the newer drawing are a lot better, but overall I like the first version better for the reasons stated by the Zmag editor and sorta the comments expressed by Robert. A political comic – and political satire in general – is funny only only if you either already agree with the conclusion or are prepared to agree with the conclusion. The exgagerated differences in the newer version will be funny to those who already agree, but may turn off those who are prepared to agree, but think you are overstating the point. The boss in the new version has flipped so completely that any sexism on his part would have to be knowing and intentional. The boss in the original version could be in denial about his own sexism, and you put it in “White Lies”, “If I’m also lying to myself, than it’s not a real lie, is it?”

  26. 26
    Bjartmarr says:

    I like the heads on the new version, including the new and improved facial expressions. Not so much, though, the boss’ angry body language in panel 1.

    I also like the magic jacket that the boss is wearing, that unfailingly aligns the stripes with the horizontal and vertical.

  27. 27
    A.J. Luxton says:

    Yeah, I do want to second Holly’s comment (it would have been rather more sense-making if she’d pasted on a beard, but then you can’t have the final reveal!) but on the other hand it’s quite a nice strip anyway.

  28. 28
    Ampersand says:

    Holly, that interpretation of the strip honestly never even occurred to me until I read your comment. If I had thought about that in the first place, I might not have done the strip at all. :-(

    Anyhow, point well taken.

    A lot of the other criticisms here are well-taken as well.

  29. 29
    Steven says:

    (scene: a courtroom)

    Judge: sir, do you have anything to say before sentence is passed?

    Man:(offers a card) just look at this your honor!

    (Judge looks it over)

    Judge: Well, this is different! you’re free to go!

    If vaginas were on ID cards…

  30. 30
    All the cool kids are necroposting says:

    Oh, okay, Steven! That’s why men who murder their spouses (most commonly motivated by jealousy or finding out that their wife is trying to get away from them) get an average sentence of 2-6 years, while women who murder their spouses (most commonly motivated by SELF-DEFENSE) get an average sentence of 15-20 years! Oh, those poor, poor, men!
    Take your fedora and gtfo.

    And yeah, seconding Holly. I’m a trans woman. When people find that out, I do not get a positive reaction, more along the lines of ‘what is that pervert tranny freak.’

  31. 31
    Robert says:

    @30: Sorry, nope. Not in the US at least.