Cartoons in The New Yorker have fascinated me since I was a child. I always wondered what kind of fancy, literary/artistic background must they have to come up with such brilliant, perfectly-paired words and images. Today’s artist is shedding a little (confusing) light on that question. Will McPhail’s cartoons appear weekly in That August Publication, and I just learned that he has a degree in zoology.
“I don’t really have any artistic qualifications. I… studied zoology at university. Because when you ask a seventeen-year-old what they want to do with their life, they always make the correct decision. Thirty grand and four years of my life is a small price to pay for the three armadillo facts that I now know. I’ve drawn all my life, though. Or at least as long as I’ve known about pencils.”– Will McPhail
Whatever his training, McPhail has a magical way of getting inside his subjects, especially the animal ones, to find the deep, unexpected funny. He says he spends loads of time in public places, observing people and getting ideas. However he does it, it’s certainly working for him.
My second assumption about New Yorker cartoonists is that they all live in fantastic, slightly tatty rent controlled apartments in pre-war buildings somewhere in Manhattan. Nope. Wrong again. McPhail lives in… wait for it… Scotland. It’s like I don’t know anything. Next, I’ll find out that the members of the Algonquin Round Table used to go to their fabled gatherings wearing pajama bottoms and stained t-shirts. (If that is true, please do not tell me.)