As many of my friends and associates know, I create a holiday cartoon every year with my good friend and former business partner, George Hughes. This is the twelfth year that we’ve created a cartoon as the centerpiece of our holiday card. George and I used to own an advertising agency together and we began to create cartoons there as one of the agency’s creative teams. Now, as owner of my strategy consultancy, Futureshift, and George, who has gone onto wherever old artists go, continue to take on this annual project.
George illustrates and I write, although our best work has always come from equal collaborations. When I moved to New York in 2000, through a series of coincidences, the famous cartoonist, Jules Feiffer, saw a few of our cartoons, liked them and sent me to The New Yorker to meet with their cartoon editor, Bob Mankoff. When I called Mankoff, I used Feiffer’s name, which I’m sure is the only reason he took my call. He told me to come in the following Tuesday and bring a lot of work.
I showed up at the appointed time with around a hundred cartoons. Mankoff went through about 30 of them, never cracked a smile, told me most of them were terrible and before I could run to the door, said, “Show up every Tuesday with new work.” That’s the way of the The New Yorker, I suppose.
For the next six months, I showed up every Tuesday with 7 to 10 new cartoons. However, being a cartoonist wasn’t my day job nor was it George’s. Mankoff always would tell me how we weren’t funny or our jokes didn’t work and then he’d hold onto a couple to take into their final grouping of 50 to choose from for that week’s issue. Our problem, he lectured me one week, is that we were a team and he didn’t like the idea of teams. After a few months, he began to support our work more but eventually, we ran out of steam in the face of having other priorities. Maybe he was right about teams.
We didn’t view it as failure but as a call to take a different, more relaxed approach to cartooning and so we formed Gigundo Industries, the world’s largest, non-existent, virtual company, which is a subsidiary of an even larger, non-existent, virtual company called Enormco. You can visit the websites for either company at gigundoindustries.com or enormco.com and there you’ll find dozens of cartoons to look at and even buy for your presentations, brochures, etc. (A little crass commercialism doesn’t hurt now and then.)
The process of coming up with a good cartoon is not all that different from developing a marketing strategy. Strategy formation requires taking a complex set of both internal and external inputs and distilling them down to a single direction that fulfills unmet needs. Cartooning does the same but it ends with turning the situation upside down or placing it in a prison, doctor’s office, caveman times or some other real or unreal situation we can all envision.
Today, George and I come up with fewer cartoons but we always work on one for the holidays. Typically, we talk about the year’s news and try to work up ideas based on what people have been talking about that is still current or top-of-mind. Some years have been a lot tougher than others. I think the most difficult year for us was 2001 following 9/11. It was impossible to come up with an idea that would be funny or ironic. I don’t recall now what triggered the idea of the cartoon below that was the result, but it seemed right for the times. There was no caption. There was nothing that needed to be said.
2002 was an extraordinarily tense year and you’ll recall the heightened security everywhere in New York and in other major cities around the world. But at the same time, we began to laugh again and take ourselves a little less seriously. That was the year we sent this cartoon out:
By 2004, the country was beginning to relax a bit more but still always conscious of our enemies around the world. Santa, too, we thought, would have similar concerns and we came up with this.
By 2009, we felt we could move on to other topics and that was a year filled with the lunacy of the tabloids, or is that every year? We decided that even Santa couldn’t be immune from tabloid scandal and this cartoon resulted:
We’ve moved around to a lot of different topics including the economy, labor, health and nutrition and last year, focused on the 1% who have become so wealthy during the last decade, even Santa. All of our Christmas cartoons can be seen at the Gigundo Industries website and that brings me to 2012.
This has been a year in which we had a nasty and competitive Republican nomination race, a tough presidential campaign, the debt ceiling negotiations, President Obama’s re-election, the fiscal cliff and this past week, the horrific mass shooting in Newtown, CT of 20 young school children. There simply is nothing but shock, dismay and sadness that can be expressed about losing these beautiful children and six of their teachers in such an awful incident. The murders have been followed by outrage and arguing between defenders of gun rights and advocates of gun control. While the majority of voices seem to be on the side of doing something about the seemingly endless stockade of automatic weapons in this country, we again seem so polarized in every societal issue that comes before us. Where is there humor in that? It’s hard to find but when you think about Santa’s world, you have to wonder how our times are affecting him. Is his world as polarized as ours? Of course, we’d like to think not, but then Santa has to decide whether we’ve been naughty or nice and you have to admit this has not been an easy year for him to make that decision. That idea set our minds to wondering…and we came up with this for our 2012 holiday cartoon:
What else is there to say? We’ll all find out on Christmas how Santa decided. I hope that you and your families have a day filled with love, peace and joy.
Tags: 2001, 2002, 9/11, Americans, Bob Mankoff, cartoons, Christmas, Corporate Myopia, Crazy people, Creativity, Democrats, Dreams, Enormco, Events, Gigundo Industries, Holidays, Individualists, Jules Feiffer, Marketing, Mistakes, New York, Newtown, Outcomes, Politicians, President Obama, Republicans, Santa, Situation Analysis, Strategy, Tabloids, Terrorism, The New Yorker, U.S. Marketplace