New Package! Same Great Taste!

So it’s 14 months into the new decade, so I thought it was high time to do a little sprucing up with the website. I can’t speak for everyone, but I was getting tired of seeing the three-year-old book Recut Madness trumpeted as the “New Book” at various parts of the site. There isn’t much new copy, but the container is New And Improved! and it should let me update stuff a little more quickly than the old battleship.

I kept the color scheme more out of habit than anything else. I have nothing against caramel color, but I don’t know why the designer 8 years ago decided to use it. But thankfully, my new designer — Airan Wright over at From Concept to Completion — made it a little more exciting. The reversing of the colors in my portrait makes me feel like I’m at the Fillmore around 1969, waiting for Blue Cheer and the Moby Grape to come on. Right on!

Now the website should look a little better on people’s iPhones and all that jazz. I hope so. We’ll also be launching a Rex Koko website VERY soon. Airan’s got his designs in place, and all the special features are being created. We’re just waiting for the cover art of the e-book to be finished. When did that start? Don’t ask. I’m an impatient yet unforceful person, so I’ve just had to bite my tongue for a while as things limped along. That should be coming to an end pretty soon.


That’s the best name that anyone came up with for Chicago’s recent run-in with Mother Nature, SNOMG. I wanted to call it Snowbamapalooza, but it never really caught on.

So we finally got the alley shoveled out this morning, with seven adults and teens working on it. Has the city plowed our street yet? Ha. We’ve been getting nice little emails from the alderman about the standard rank of priority plowing, but no sign of it happening. The sidewalks are all passable, because basically no one went to work yesterday, and we all got out and pitched in. You can tell which neighbors were drinking when they snow-blowed, because their paths are a little more twisty.

But what the hell? Third biggest snowfall on record, and they can’t plow the sidestreets yet? What a bunch of clucks.

On Tuesday night, when the storm was just beginning, a neighbor, my wife and I strapped on the XC skis and headed up the block to a park. It was so totally awesome!! The wind was probably between 40-60 mph, but it helped immensely to have ski goggles. The wind blew the snow over the baseball diamonds ferociously, and you could easily imagine documentaries about the Antarctica with the sinister way the snow traveled. The wind chill might’ve been pretty low, but with windproof clothes, it wasn’t bad at all. Sorry to have forgotten my camera, but the pictures wouldn’t have told much. The park is small, with only a couple small hills or berms, but the thrill was being out in a tropical snow storm, with THUNDERSNOW lighting up the night.

We saw a couple other people out for a gambol, and a few brought their dogs out VERY briefly. After about 90 mins, we three came back and found a guy who’s SUV was stuck in the alley. He had to go all of 75 yards, and he still managed to get himself stuck three times. And this was BEFORE the snow got heavy.

The kids and wife have had two days off of school. Tomorrow, the regular schedule kicks in again, and this will just be an inconvenience to deal with, but for 36 hours, it was one of the wildest events ever in Chicago. (As long as you weren’t marooned in your car on Lake Shore Drive. For some great pictures of that, check out the Facebook album by my friend Will Byington here.)

My New Yorker Captions are Unprintable

Am I the only one who hates The New Yorker caption contest?

Every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday (with luck), the week’s issue of The New Yorker gets shoved into our mailbox. And when my kids come home, the first thing they’ll turn to when they see the mag is the back page.

There, for the uninitiated, is the Cartoon Caption Contest page. Which I loathe like little else.

I don’t know why it is. Maybe it’s the faux populism that the contest seems to exude. Here’s The New Yorker, letting all of its readers decide what the high-larious caption to the high-concept panel ought to be. It’s almost like being at the Algonquin Round Table — but more akin to yelling punchlines at George Kauffman from the next table.

In a more desperate way, the nightly TV newscast lets viewers send in pictures of cloud formations, and twitter/text their votes about whether taxes are bad or the home team is unbeatable. It’s the dialog that all established media now think will make them indispensable to people’s lives. The only problem is, most viewers can’t take a memorable picture, and most readers can’t write a caption.

Each week, a couple thousand captions are mailed in. Almost without fail, of the three finalists, one caption will be an execrable pun, one will be a play on words that takes three extra miles to get to its point (which wasn’t funny to start with), and one caption has close to the right tone — dry, multiple-layered, au courant but not cliché, and somewhat Gotham-y. By Gotham-y, I mean that it has to do with a stiff upper lip in the face of decay or danger or failure, or a smart-alecky retort that tries to wrangle the absurd to a mundane level. Anything that might refer to a shopping mall, fast food, an open space, a highway without gridlock, or Bass Pro Shops is never going to make it to the winner’s circle.

I’ve read that each of the cartoons used for the contest had already been submitted to the magazine by the cartoonist with a real caption. A caption they actually worked on and shaped with the writer’s innate skill of timing and economy. I’d really would like to know what that caption was. Whatever entries from readers are published might be close, or might be completely off-target, but I’ll never know exactly what the original caption was, and that makes me feel like I missed something. Maybe that makes me a snob, as if reading the magazine didn’t already accomplish that.

But as a professional writer and humorist, I’ve had too many instances of people in person and in print who work really really hard to prove that they are just as funny as me, even though I’ve never challenged them about it. Do people feel the need to show engineers that they know about torque and materials stress? Show dentists that they know how to administer Novocain?

It’s the whole “I crack everyone up at the board meetings — do you think I should try out as a stand-up comedian?” syndrome. If you have to ASK whether you should be a stand-up comedian, then you are sane, and ergo don’t have what it takes to be one. It’s the same with being a cartoonist. Someone is trying to make a living at it, while others are turning it into a parlor game. I feel bad for both sides.

Mostly, I fell bad reading those awful, awful puns.