Business Book Of The Week: Cartoons fail to draw a laugh

The New Yorker Book Of Money Cartoons

(Nicholas Brealey, pounds 12.99)

I AM an occasional collector of original cartoons. I own a dozen or so of these eclectic drawings, picked up over the years where there was a connection with my work. My favourite is framed and sits on my desk to remind me of an unusual incident 15 years ago.

At that time, I was advising Bell's, the whisky blender, in its very hostile takeover of Gleneagles, the Scottish Mausoleum (or Hotel as the Bell's chairman had it). At the height of that battle the all-powerful Kuwait Investment Office, for reasons known only to itself, intervened with a distracting partial offer. It was all to no avail and Bell's duly collected their prize.

On the same day, a neat little cartoon appeared in a national newspaper with a drawing of two gentlemen in Arab dress staring at a picture of a lofty Gleneagles, one saying to the other: "No Effendi, it is a mirage."

This seemed to sum up the irony of the situation perfectly and illustrates the impact of a talented cartoonist to catch an ethereal moment of humour which usually understood only by a select few. I keep this original by me to remind me life is but a transient process for all of us.

With this in mind I approached The New Yorker Book of Money Cartoons. My understanding of this magazine was that it was an American attempt to replicate a type of Punch which has never quite succeeded. I put this down to a humour failure inherent in the American way of life. I illustrate this with the cartoon of a man with an arm on his son's shoulders, saying: "And remember, son, perception isn't reality - money is" (page 73).

The same effect is achieved in a drawing of a doctor, with his hand on a weeping wife's shoulder at an intensive care ward, saying: "His final wish was that all his medical bills be paid promptly" (page 68).

The Money aspect in this book is a peculiarly American vision of this commodity. Another sums up the American approach to humour with a fairy waving her wand at a young and clearly greedy young man: "Three wishes - less commission" (page 18).

I remember a famous and possibly apocryphal tale of a merchant bank which wrote to a client saying their management of his finances had reduced the value of his portfolio to below their minimum so would he please take his account elsewhere. This is almost picked up in these cartoons with a drawing of a banker telling clients: "Your money was working for you, but it suddenly quit and now it is working for me" (page 96).

I find this little book with its 110 examples fails entirely to leave any lasting impression on me. Maybe, as a Scotsman, that is not wholly surprising. My mother brought me up with the continual reprise that life is not fair, a very good grounding for the battles of the past 12 years with the authorities over their conduct of the Guinness trials.

During these events, I had an amateur cartoonist beside me who used to keep me laughing during the dark days and whose inspired drawings were strangely percipient. His talents were never recognised outside our team but one day I might include them in a similar little book. They would have much more impact than these so-called classic cartoons of the New Yorker.

Perhaps that is too cruel a verdict on these American cartoons, reflected perhaps in my favourite which is truly timeless. It is a simple quick sketch of our solar system with a 10th planet outside the orbit of Pluto. This planet is drawn as an addressed envelope: "The check (sic) in the mail" (page 24).

In the end, I find it difficult to build up any real enthusiasm for this book. I still wish for the return of Punch as it used to be. I guess this was the golden period for cartoons. I cannot see the New Yorker version having the same devastating impact - so much the pity.

Patrick Spens

Lord Spens is the former managing director of Henry Ansbacher

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Administration Team Leader

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company prides itself on its ability to p...

Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Advisor

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company prides itself on its ability to p...

Ashdown Group: Solvency II Project Manager - 10 month contract - £800 p/d

£800 per day: Ashdown Group: A highly successful, global financial services co...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250...

Day In a Page

A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

Are you a 50-center?

Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

Hollywood's new diet trends

Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
6 best recipe files

6 best recipe files

Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Atwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works