Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Bork! The Onomatopoetic George Booth

Two sequential gags—one in five panels and another in six—share a frame in the show "George Booth—A Cartoonist's Life" now on view at the Society of Illustrators. The exhibition is curated by animator J. J. Sedelmaier who knows a thing or two about how images work in sequence. On the right, one of George Booth's signature English Bull Terriers lets us know what it thinks of the cat's bowl in six panels. On the left, a caveman grabs a quick bite in five panels, including one gurgly sound effect and one very short punch line. That sound effect—BORK!—is fairly unusual in the cartoon repertory. Bork seems like a newly-coined example of onomatopoeia, one of those words, like beep or boom, whose sound imitates the thing it describes.

George Booth
"Fast Food!" and Dog Eating Cat's Bowl

But, not so fast. What if Bork isn't merely a random sound effect? What if it's also... a name? Could the caveman's satisfied eructation be something more insidious, a politically-charged hand grenade masquerading as a silly cartoon sound effect? What if Mr. Booth had submitted this cartoon to The New Yorker back in 1987 when President Reagan made Robert Bork his very controversial Supreme Court nominee? What then?

No way, you say. We're talking about The New Yorker, the apogee of urbane wit and sophistication. That magazine would never permit a Supreme Court nominee's name to appear in a cartoon as a base sound effect.

Ah, innocent reader! If only that were so...

Robert Weber
The New Yorker, October 5, 1987, page 33

Note:  After the United States Senate rejected conservative Robert Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court, liberal Justice Lewis Powell's seat went to Judge Anthony Kennedy. Robert Bork died in 2012.

Tonight the Society of Illustrators in New York will host "An Evening with George Booth." Tickets are available online. Come see the exhibition and hear what Mr. Booth has to say. Maybe he'll discourse on Constitutional originalism and caveman cartoons, but I doubt it. "George Booth—A Cartoonist's Life" will remain on view at the Society of Illustrators through December 30, 2017.

The original art shown in this post is part of the George Booth Collection via the Society of Illustrators. I'm always looking for scans or photos of original art by this one-of-a-kind cartoonist. Rare published cartoons are welcome too. Bork!

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George Booth

Robert Weber

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