The Earth-Loving Cartoons of Joe Farris
You probably don't know the name Joseph Farris (above), but you likely know his work. The illustrator has published more than 10,000 cartoons, most notably on the cover of the The New Yorker, which he's been working for since 1957. A favorite—if infrequent—subject of his drawings is the environment. As a longtime conservationist, Farris has tried to champion environmental issues, including installing solar panels on his house. But, he says, his greatest weapon against things like climate change, pollution, and poor stewardship is his illstrator's tablet. "What I can do best of all is in my cartoons," he says. "So I try to center issues around humor to show how important the environment is." He provided us with a few of his favorites over the years, along with a little background on them.
"Gee, I never expected to find this problem here, too!"
Farris says much of his work toys with clichés, and this cartoon plays with the saying "heaven sings." What if we find ourselves arriving at the pearly gates, surrounded by someone else's discarded junk, the cartoonist wonders.
In Farris' home state of Connecticut, there is a well-known zero-tolerance policy when it comes to texting and driving. But what if these strict laws were attached to some of our other favorite activities? "It's sort of a silly situation," Farris said. "The whole thing is an exaggeration that you shouldn't text while driving."
"The Ice Caps Are Melting"
"In this cartoon, I'm just having some fun with the fact that the ice caps are melting, and even on this guy's globe," Farris said. "It's obviously an impossible situation—that his globe is melting—and I like impossible situations."
Sometimes the point in a cartoon isn't the characters but the setting. "There are some skiers for whom half the fun of skiing is sitting in front of a hot fire with a nice drink in their hand," Farris said.
"Paleface not environmentalists!"
"I'm very much aware of litter and degradation of the environment. I thought it would be kind of funny to put the original blame on the pilgrims that came over here," Farris said. "I suspect that Native Americans took much better care of the environment that we do."
"I just invented fire and solved the energy crisis"
Solutions often are additional problems in disguise, as this cartoon shows. The caveman here just invented fire, and in the same instance also invented air pollution. For example, Farris points out that, for years, DDT was considered an effective insecticide—until we realized the impact it had on animals and the environment.
Does an illustration of a polar bear ice fishing show the animal nature of humanity or the human side of animals? "I prefer people to look at them and form their own interpretations," Farris said. "Sometimes I'll do a painting and it won't mean anything, which is the way I love to paint."
"Now do you believe in climate change?"
Most of all, Farris likes to fuse the fantastical and the absurd, like a storm that rains bananas. Farris explains: "I love to do things that are absurd, it makes the work more fun to do. The wilder it is, the better it is."