This cartoon from the New Yorker is certainly one of the most famous cartoons of all time, ripped off in several other cartoons, both in magazines and in animation. Although Charles Addams’ reputation rests mainly on the Addams Family, this is the one that really set him on the map as a major cartoonist. It’s hard to imagine one cartoon making that much of a statement, but this one did.
I showed this to a group of high school students and they didn’t really get it or find it all that funny. I’m not quite sure why. Perhaps it didn’t involve the F-word or someone getting kicked in the crotch, or perhaps it isn’t laugh out loud funny, just amusing in a clever way.
But every time I look at this strip I love the setup. I marvel at the impossibility of it – yet it did happen. In some ways the most important person in the strip is the other skier. I love the fact that Addams thought to include the other skier reacting to this situation to confirm that something weird just happened. If we think of this cartoon as one frame in a film, we would all like to see what this guy witnessed a few seconds earlier; his presence is crucial to establishing the impossibility of avoiding the tree by not going around it. But above all, I am amazed by the creative genius that would come up with such a simple idea, and that’s what always makes me chuckle.