13 March 2023

Giving voice to cartoon passion.

I was once asked, “If you hadn’t been a writer, what would you rather be?” 

This is the wrong question.  It should be, if a genie popped out of a can of Dinty More Stew, and said, “Pick any job you want, you just can’t be a writer.”  I have the answer.  Two, actually.

Number one:  A New Yorker Cartoonist.  To me, there’s no higher form of art.  I subscribe to the digital New Yorker Magazine mostly to read the cartoons.  The articles, often quite informative and engaging, are an afterthought.  In a single frame, these artists contain vast stores of wisdom, insight and belly laughs, exquisitely composed and pitch perfect.  I know success in this arena is the result of gigantic effort and stress-filled anticipation as their cartoon editorial overlords judge their submissions, so that doesn’t feel much different from my past professional life, but oh the joy of making it to the inner circle.  I assume the genie can arrange this, so that’s my decision.

I once met the late Jack Zeigler, a renowned New Yorker cartoonist, a friend of a friend, and he seemed quite happy with his lot in life. I’ve been trying to keep the envy in check ever since. 

Job number two:  Having a long career in advertising, I worked with a lot of voice over professionals.  The successful ones, men and women, had the best lives imaginable.  They always showed up at the studio wearing tailored clothes and carrying expensive briefcases they never opened.  They often lived in Upstate New York or Connecticut, and had faces free of stress lines and voices bestowed by the gods.   

I’d settle behind the glass and they’d sit on a stool wearing earphones and read the copy I’d written, usually perfect the first time.  The engineers and I would sigh with pleasure over those silken, exquisitely delivered performances.  I’d make them do a few more takes, just because I could, and each one got better.  I’d say thank you, they’d come into the recording area, we’d shake hands, and they’d stroll away after signing the SAG forms, having made a huge chunk of money for about a half hour’s work, if you can call it that. 

I always thought to myself, I want to be one of those people. 

These days, they don’t even have to leave their homes in the Cotswold’s or Outer Mongolia, since we’re all wired through the Internet, and they can easily afford top drawer home recording studios. 

To be fair, most voice over artists struggle in the beginning like everyone else, trying to get gigs and building a promotable portfolio. And the really successful ones not only have a great set of pipes, but have learned how to speed up and slow down with no loss of timber or enunciation, hitting the time mark at the exact second.  This is a real talent, and like any virtuoso, deserving of reward. 

I’m glad I became a writer, no regrets.  I find the formation of sentences and paragraphs soothing and addictive.  It’s a complicated task, never fully mastered, like sailing, which I’ve also enjoyed.  But remember, there’s a genie involved here who’s demanding I swap my life’s work for something else, and I get to choose what. 

Maybe we could compromise.  Cartoon caption writer?


  1. Yeah, I'd like to be a cartoonist, too. I came up with a cartoon strip, years ago, and wrote out at least a month's worth of panels. The only trouble was, I can't draw. So it got shelved... I'd also like to read audiobooks for a living. That would be fun.

    1. Eve, reading (aloud) audiobooks would be a cool idea. I thought a South African radio announcer might record my AHMM story The Precatory Pea, but damn. She decided to get married and have a child without a thought to furthering the arts. Well now!

    2. Most of my books have been released by Blackstone, the unbridged audio books people. I admit, I cannot bear to listen. Not because the voice overs aren't wonderful, they are, I just have a hard time with the inflections. They almost never put the beat where I would. It doesn't sound like the words in my head. It's my problem. not theirs.

  2. Chris, your article reminded me of a guy who composes music for video games. Even in the 1980s, he was earning substantial six figures. The problem was his mother kept complaining and asking when he was going to get a real job.

    So now I imagine a mother telling her friends with pride, "My son writes for the New Yorker. What does he write? Er, important stuff. Uh, social commentary, you might say."

  3. I do occasionally enter the New Yorker cartoon caption contest, and so far have not won a singe thing. And I think many of the winners are undeserved. I'm a little bitter about it.


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