Sunday, April 5, 2009

So What DO You Collect?

According to a Harper’s Magazine article, 12% of American adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.  Last week, in the Mother Goose and Grimm cartoon strip, Mrs. Noah (Joan?) appears on deck in a bikini and carrying a bottle of suntan lotion.  Noah scowls and says, “No, you can’t lay out.”

And what does this have to do with the price of eggs?

In response to my comments about plastic flamingoes that have gathered in the edge of our woods without my active encouragement, a reader said, “Most people do collect something and I bet you do, too.  Confess.”

Okay.  Yes, I do have two collections.  The weirder of the two is probably my collection of Noah’s ark cartoons.   Flat paper cartoons, nothing three-dimensional.   I don’t care if it’s a dime store replica, a Franklin Mint “collectible,” or a handcarved ark with Noah, Mrs. Noah, and all the animals—if it can’t be stuck in a manila folder and filed under N, I don’t want it.

Many years ago, while smiling at a New Yorker cartoon, I was bemused that so many modern jokes could still be based on a 4000-year-old image.  Two days later, one of the comic strips in my local paper featured another one.  I clipped both of them and stuck them in a file folder.  By the end of the year, I had six or eight.  Since then, I usually come across at least four or five a year, despite the lean Tina Brown years.

(When William Shawn began editing the New Yorker after the death of Harold Ross in 1951, he reportedly announced that the magazine had run its last missionary-in-a-cannibal-pot joke.  I have not heard that Tina Brown made a similar announcement banning Noah’s ark jokes when she became editor in 1992, but if a single one ran during her 6-year tenure, I missed it.  Happily, she’s been succeeded by David Remnick, who seems to have no prejudices against the ark and its builder.)

Some cartoons are as simple as Frank Modell’s drawing of a pair of skunks being towed on a raft behind the ark. Others explain how unicorns, cyclopses or dinosaurs missed the boat—clever variations on the female tendency to show up late and the male refusal to ask for directions.  On the aspect of missing animals, my favorite Dan Piraro cartoon shows Noah standing in the rain as the paired-up animals wait to board.  Noah says, “Attention, please.  Due to overbooking, we are a few seats short.  At this time we’d like to offer free passage on our next available ship to anyone volunteering to step aside.”  Naturally, a pair of unicorns near the rear of the line look interested.

As for paired up animals, one cartoon depicts a modern man and woman standing in such a line.  The woman says, “Maybe you should go make sure we’re in the right line.”

In addition to the boarding gags, there are cartoons showing the animals as they disembark (in one version, each animal carries a shopping bag with an ark logo) with Noah begging them to stay and help with the clean-up.


Wiley Miller’s Non Sequitur  strip is another dependable source for five or six ark jokes a year and they are consistently clever, but my current all-time favorite comes from the New Yorker’s back-page cartoon contest.  There’s a Mick Stevens drawing of the ark.  Among the creatures lined up along the rail are a modern man and woman.  The winning caption?  “Don’t tell Noah about the vasectomy.”

Unlike flamingoes, thimbles, first editions, or china plates, this collection only takes up about a half-inch thick folder in my filing cabinet.   So what do you collect?

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