As we all know, something extraordinarily bad happened last week in Boston. While there is no way that all the extraordinary good it inspired is a fair trade-off, that good was an inspiration to all of us.
It also was an inspiration to the cartoonist Chris Weyant, who has been drawing our Daily Cartoon for the Web site this month. Tragedy and comedy may be two sides of the same coin, but last week tragedy remained face up. When responding to an event like Boston, it’s a tough challenge to do something humorous without being either flip or mawkish—and even more challenging to offer something uplifting. Here’s how Chris met it.
When Bob asked me to do the Daily Cartoon, I was nervously excited. Drawing a New Yorker cartoon based on each day’s events is a thrilling challenge. You have no idea what the world’s going to throw at you, but you hope you’re ready to handle it. I was up for anything: resigning Popes, broken government, sequesters, North Korean dictators, the Cypriot banking collapse, Supreme Court hearings on same-sex marriage, even the N.R.A. I only hoped a national tragedy wouldn’t happen on my watch.
And then it did.
On the day of the attacks in Boston I, like all of us, was glued to my computer and television, trying to make some sense of the terrible events we were witnessing. Before I went to sleep that night, I was panicked as to how I would handle the next day’s cartoon. I’m a lifelong Red Sox fan, and my last thoughts were of a city that I love, the victims, and their families. How could I do this without screwing it up?
The next morning, I lay in bed staring at the ceiling and eventually wrote the cartoon at the top of this post.
Even after I drew the cartoon and sent it in to the New Yorker office, I wasn’t sure that it worked. Cartooning about this type of event is a difficult line to walk—it’s not a place for humor, but you don’t want to be maudlin, either.
When my wife, Anna, saw it, she immediately told me she liked it and posted it on her Facebook page. Later, my talented predecessor and friend David Sipress wrote to express his appreciation for the cartoon. At that point, I guessed that I would survive the day and that would be that.
But then friends began sharing the cartoon from their Facebook pages. A couple of hours later, unrelated groups of friends contacted us to tell us that friends of theirs were sharing it, tweeting it, and passing it on to their friends.
By the time The New Yorker loaded it onto its Facebook page, it was everywhere. Within a few hours, the cartoon had tens of thousands shares and likes, even more on the New Yorker Web site. By the end of the day, Diane Sawyer had shown it on “ABC World News,” and the other networks and news outlets followed.
I confess that I don’t know why it took off the way it did. It seemed to express something at a time when people needed it. What I found remarkable was how social media helped us to feel connected as we dealt with the tragedy in Boston. Somehow, I think sharing this cartoon was a small part of that process.
A cartoonist’s life can be a solitary one, and we often don’t have enough contact with, or feedback from, our readers. I was amazed and deeply touched by the heartfelt comments and gratitude people expressed when they shared my cartoon.
Tomorrow is another workday. In the morning, I will go back to my studio and attempt to make people laugh. But this time, when I sit down at my drawing table, I will feel a little more connected.
Editor's note: You can find a gallery of Christopher Weyant's cartoons on Cagle.