Is there a word for this particular type of visual/verbal humor?
January 15, 2010 9:21 PM   Subscribe

Is there a word or a term that describes the type of comic/cartoon in which a picture and caption are both necessary in order for the joke to work?

Terrible example from a Christmas card:

On the front it shows a cartoon drawing of a produce aisle in a supermarket. On the left of the frame is drawn an angry produce clerk with his hands on his hips. In the center of the frame is a snowman - coal eyes, mouth and buttons, stick/limbs for arms - leaning over the bulk section holding the carrots. There is a carrot in the snowman's "hand." This is written below: "Frosty The Snowman is caught picking his nose in the produce aisle of the supermarket."

So, the visual joke doesn't make sense without the verbal explanation -- and the caption isn't funny without the picture.
posted by obliquicity to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
A one-frame cartoon is known as a gag cartoon or a gag panel.
posted by hydrophonic at 9:35 PM on January 15, 2010

The closest I could find in my two seconds of looking was gag cartoon. But that appears to be any single-panel cartoon, not just ones like you describe. Still, the VAST majority of single panel cartoons require the caption to make sense, anecdotally.
posted by papayaninja at 9:38 PM on January 15, 2010

There was an article in The New Yorker a few years ago that addresses this. It said there are cartoons where the punch line is in the caption (but the drawing is innocuous), and cartoons where the punch line is in the drawing (but the caption is innocuous). I'm assuming they addressed the third kind, where neither is innocuous. I did a Google search but I'm having trouble finding the article, since any search involving "the new yorker" and "cartoon" gets just cartoons, not articles. Maybe someone else will have better luck.
posted by emilyd22222 at 10:31 PM on January 15, 2010

You'd think The New Yorker of all magazines would also be familiar with the fourth type of one-panel cartoon: the kind where caption and drawing are BOTH innocuous.
posted by Aquaman at 11:26 PM on January 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

A visual pun? That Wikipedia gives some examples that sound like yours, and cites The Far Side as a frequent user of the technique, which sounds about right.
posted by Rhaomi at 11:54 PM on January 15, 2010

Best answer: Scott McCloud discusses this in Understanding Comics; indeed, it's one of his main points that the distinctive thing about comics is the interconnectedness of word and image. He distinguishes several types of connection, including:
  • additive, where words and pictures amplify each other, but each could be understood on its own
  • parallel, where they seem to have nothing to do with each other
  • interdependent, where the two together convey something that neither does separately (closest to what you're after, I think).

posted by zompist at 1:59 AM on January 16, 2010

interdependent, my holy grail when making comics

(and on preview, beaten to it!)
posted by The Whelk at 2:06 AM on January 16, 2010

posted by Xany at 2:22 AM on January 16, 2010

I hereby propose this be henceforth known as a larson.
posted by namewithoutwords at 6:31 AM on January 16, 2010

Response by poster: Ah, thanks, zompist! -- I didn't even bother to check UC because I was so hung up on his definition of comics as multi-panel, I thought he wouldn't bother with details about single-panel stuff.

It looks like people beyond McCloud use "interdependent" pretty regularly, too, so this is perfect.
posted by obliquicity at 7:44 AM on January 16, 2010

I don't know if McCloud had any other methods of connection, but following his metaphor, I would call the interdependency that obliquicity seems to want multiplicative. The humor of each amplifies each other in an interactive way, so that if either is absent, the humor is absent (think multiplying by zero). Of course, I would argue, that in obliquicity's example, the caption could stand alone, although it might take a few moments for someone to get it and not everyone would get it.
posted by ErWenn at 7:48 AM on January 16, 2010

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