The desert island cartoon is one of those clichés we'd never thought to analyze too deeply until we read a smart cartoonist doing so, and now we're fascinated. New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff discussed the genre with Vanity Fair's Bruce Handy, pointing out that "desert-island cartoons are like lightbulb jokes. It's not like you can use them up." Definitely not, to judge from the magazine's archive.
They conceit, of course, comes from books like Robinson Crusoe. "It’s the classic thing of tragedy plus time equals comedy," Mankoff said, echoing Alan Alda's character in Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors. But in addition to Mankoff's musing on whether and why desert island cartoons work, you'll want to check out the interview for the historical tidbits he shares from the New Yorker's illustrated history:
I once did a search [on our database] and I think the year of the greatest popularity of desert-island cartoons in The New Yorker is 1957, when 17 appeared.
Why a spike in 1957?
I wonder if it was some kind of Cold War statement, or fear of the bomb. Maybe something about social isolation—The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit—or wanting to flee society’s strictures.
If it bends, it's funny... Read the whole thing at Vanity Fair.