Collections of previously published cartoons are usually greeted among “serious” readers by a dignified silence signifying anything from contempt to indifference. These may be the same cartoons which those same cognoscenti pore over and roar over in The New Yorker. “The Men Will Fear You, and the Women Will Adore You” by cartoonist William Hamilton is such a collection. Not a word of new text is added; even the title is drawn from the cartoon which concludes the collection. Yet to pass over this volume (much too portentous a word for its contents) would be an act of gross negligence. William Hamilton is part of that very small group of cartoonists who derive inspiration from the satirical world of James Thurber.
Like Thurber, Hamilton is the master of the one-liner, in which fiat cartoons illustrate sharp words: “We bought your cement company, Mr. Timkin, not your whimsy.” “Jane Fonda has made money out of every stage of my life.” . . . “I may be giving out, but I’m not giving in.” . . . It does not matter that Mr. Hamilton’s drawings do not stand up to comparison with those of Cruikshank or Daumier. The very sameness of the illustrations is part of the strength of Hamilton’s intelligence. For the people being described, the endangered species derisively called WASP’s, are as undistinguished by their appearance as they are just plain weird. So many of the mores of this group rest on presentation of self: A young man staring at his mirror responding to the anticipated question “What do you do?” with a series of imaginary answers: “I’m a lawyer” . . . “The Law” . . . “do law” . . . “I practice law” . . . “I’m a lawyer” . . . “Something legal.” And the same nonemotive fellow addressing his equal thusly: “Oh nonsense, Allen, my father went through far more money than your father.”
The world depicted by Mr. Hamilton is one of form without substances, of making it, when “it” is reduced to little more than a bottom line. But while the treatment of business ty coons and would-be tycoons is on target, Mr. Hamilton is surprisingly compassionate, perhaps even knowing. And that is because his WASP’s remain essentially vulnerable and al times badly alienated. Like many other fragile souls, this group is more overtaken by events than understand ing of them: The Wall Street business man sitting in his sealed limousine wistfully peering out the window and asking his secretary, “Miss Watson, what the hell is falafel?” In another panel, four middle-aged businessmen are sitting in conference, when one suddenly remembers the good old days of the 1960’s: “Sorry. For a minute there I was daydreaming of jug wine and flowers and the Quicksilver Messenger Service.”
Mr. Hamilton’s cartoons are not about ruling classes and class struggle; they are about a cloistered world in which there is only one class, and that class is in happy accord with itself because the rules of the game are so well understood by players (and readers of The New Yorker?). “Call me Tom,” says the senior executive to the junior executive. “Perhaps in time, I’ll let you call me Skippy.” When the real world is permitted to penetrate the fog of upper-class mores, it does so only through curiosity, a peek through a window of opportunity. At the perennial party Mr. Hamilton attends, where, I daresay, he picks up many of his one-liners, the hostess says to a guest: “Maine? What an authentic place to come from”; while two businessmen talking over drinks on Wall Street are overheard saying: “I couldn’t agree more—China is going to be a very big thing.” The other side of alienation is a confused, learned ignorance of the world. These cartoons make one wince—whatever one’s background—because the foibles they expose are shared to some degree by everyone—which of course is the hallmark of the great satirist. Everyone dresses for parties, has anxieties about careers and jobs, dating and marriages. Mr. Hamilton’s people do what we all do-only with a special form of parochial panache that evokes amusement even among the targets of his humor.
The trouble with reviewing a book of cartoons is the deadly conversion of laughter into sobriety. These cartoons are not miniature sociological treatises. And I confess to being unsure that my interpretations would even meet with Mr. Hamilton’s approval. Judging by his stem look on the back cover of this paperback, he probably would not, if only on the principle of ubiquity. Whatever, this is such a concentrated dose of entertainment because it converts the pain of a culture at loose ends into a reading pleasure.
[“The Men Will Fear You, and the Women Will Adore You”, by William Hamilton (New York: St. Martin’s Press) $5.95]