The Nobel Prize–winning neuroscientist Gerald Edelman wrote “every act of perception is, to some degree, an act of creation, and every act of memory is, to some degree, an act of imagination.” While this holds true for all humans as we collect experiences and reconstruct memories, Edelman’s theory has hilarious implications for the mind of a New Yorker cartoonist. Veteran humorist Danny Shanahan shares some of his favorite creations in which his wacky worldview plays a starring role.
Brent: How do you work?
Danny: Every week, when I grab a cup of coffee and go into my studio, my goal is to sit down, sketchpad in front of me, and write as many ideas as I can, knowing that I'll want to submit at least eight, and preferably ten to twelve, cartoons to The New Yorker.
Brent: Do you usually come up first with the visual or the words?
Danny: I'm a word guy, primarily a comic writer, I suppose, so I nearly always work with the captions first, the drawings following. I write in a sketchpad because I like to immediately rough out the ideas I come up with. Sometimes these ideas are half-formed, but if I get them sketched out, they might eventually be more fully realized the following week, or the week after.
Brent: So creating a visual helps flesh out the final product. Please say more.
Danny: An example of this would be the couple on the beach. I can't quite remember what the guy was originally saying to his wife, but it just wasn't funny enough. Weeks later, looking back through my sketchbook, I noticed that in my haste, I had inadvertently drawn the sun inside the horizon line. I realized I had something there, and "That can't be good" was born.
Brent: A happy accident!
Danny: Since then, I've gotten many kudos from environmentalists for my "global warming" cartoon, but it really was born more from a botched drawing than any ecological consciousness on my part.
Brent: Ha! Just accept the praise. So The New Yorker expects all cartoonists to provide both cartoon and caption, correct?
Danny: As far as I know, all of the cartoonists at the magazine create the caption and drawing as a single unit. The New Yorker used to buy captions for their contract cartoonists to illustrate, but that hasn't been the case for more than forty years.
Brent: Are you allowed to submit multiple captions with the same cartoon?
Danny: I never submit more than one caption per drawing at a time, although weeks, months, sometimes years down the road I might rework and resubmit a previously rejected drawing that I have a particular fondness for.
Brent: How about examples of everyday things that your way of seeing the world has twisted into a funny idea?
Danny: A cartoon I've always liked is “Damn! The feeder's empty.” In this neck of the woods [the Hudson Valley], a black bear destroying a bird feeder is a fairly common occurrence, but I felt that our ursine neighbors would be much more disappointed if they lost out on a far more satisfying meal.
Brent: Any other favorite cartoon you’d like to share in which you’ve upended expectations?
Danny: In other parts of the world, primates grooming each other might be more of an everyday sort of thing. But, at least in my somewhat damaged mind, a baboon knows the difference between Prell and Pantene.
Brent: Thanks, Danny. Your creative thinking makes for very memorable artwork.
Danny. Thank you!
You can see more of Danny’s artwork on his website: dannyshanahan.com.