Now and then, I tinker with ideas for cartoons and captions. Long ago, having noticed that the typical fortune-cookie fortune is unspeakably boring, I thought of a captionless image that would show, in the foreground at left, a restaurant table with a fortune reading, “Call the kids! Something’s wrong—I just know it!” In the background at right, we’d see a woman rushing madly out the door, followed by a man who was perhaps flinging dollars at the cashier on his way.
Skipping ahead a few decades, I had another idea, this time in response to the increasing complications of TV shows, especially the floridly baroque, questionably intelligible series Lost, though it came to me some time after that series ended. Through a mutual friend, I got in touch with a cartoonist named Michael Crawford, who had sold many works to The New Yorker over the years. He saw something in my idea but thought my original notion, involving an oracle in a cave, wouldn’t work. Using instead the familiar trope of a sage on a mountaintop, he drew up a very rough sketch and sent it to me, with my original caption idea along with some other jottings. I liked the layout fine, we settled on a caption, and he pitched it to The New Yorker, which, however, failed to see the greatness in it and said no. There’s now an exhibition in New York of cartoons The New Yorker turned down (you can read about it here), so I thought I’d share our own rejected sketch. Because brevity is the soul of wit and all that, our final caption was shorter than what’s shown here: “That’s not explained until the final episode.”
Regrettably, Crawford passed away last year (one appreciation of him is here), so I can’t ask his permission to show this. Personally, I think his reputation is unlikely to be tarnished by it, but many people hate for their unfinished work to be seen, and perhaps he would too. If he’s looking down from one of those New Yorker–cartoon versions of heaven and he’s got a gripe, I hope he’ll get in touch. I want to run an idea past him.