(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:
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.)