Part 2: Words & Pictures

Exercise: Turning Words into Pictures


Examine the three provided single ‘gag’ cartoons from the 1950s to the 1970s and consider the amount of visual information, the style and subject.

Choose one of the cartoons and write a 100-word description of it. Describe it as if you are writing it for the cartoonist to draw, so describe the scene, the characters, the objects, body language and the style of the cartoon.

All three of the cartoons require the viewer to take in the whole image to fully understand the ‘gag’. They also require the viewers gaze to move from left to right.

I decided that the Chas Addams’ cartoon was created using ink. It depicts a huge, industrial-looking computer from the 1950s with lots of dials and gauges and an empty chair for the operator. It is obviously the end of the day as the cleaner is mopping the floor. On the far right of the panel there is a small opening out of the computer and a tiny man is leaving, having finished his work for the day operating the computer from the inside. I could not decipher if there was meant to be any deeper meaning to this cartoon.

The second cartoon, by an unknown German artist, is a line drawing using black ink. It depicts a man looking intently at a painting of modern art (possibly based on Kandinsky) in a suggested gallery setting. Alongside the painting is an encyclopaedia to decipher the artwork. I thought it was poking fun at ‘high-brow’ art, which often requires explanation for the layperson in order to understand its meaning. I would be interested to know why there appears to be a safety pin holding the man’s trousers up. I also thought that the drawing style of the lines was quite similar to that used in some of the modern art being referred to.

The final cartoon by Gahan Wilson has quite a restricted colour palette and the shadows are created using short line strokes, which both effectively add to the macabre atmosphere of the cartoon. It depicts a seated man peering at a Snellen Eye Chart on which the letters have been changed by the ‘insane eye doctor’ outlining his plan to murder him. The evil-looking optician is looming behind the man with a knife raised high, ready to plunge into his back. The knife really stands out in the shaded area, which adds emphasis. I thought this cartoon was particularly clever as at first it is not obvious the eye chart had been changed so to fully understand the meaning the viewer is required to try and read the chart just like the poor customer.

I decided to carry out the second part of this exercise using the cartoon by Gahan WilsonAt the Opticians.

Gahan Wilson, At the Opticians (1970s) © The Advertising Archives.

A man is seated on a low stool, peering intently at a Snellen Eye Chart presuming his sight is being tested. Upon closer inspection, the letters of the chart have been replaced with the optician’s confession of his intention to murder the patient. Clearly a psychopath, the optician is creeping up behind the man, his body full of barely-contained ecstasy in anticipation, with his arm raised right up holding a the knife. Although macabre in its content, the cartoon is humorous and draws the viewer in by making them also peer at the chart as they decipher it and then comprehend the cartoon as a whole.


Knudde, K. and Schuddeboom, B. (2021). Charles Addams. [online] Lambiek Comiclopedia. Available at: [Accessed 22 July 2021].

Lambiek, (2021). Gahan Wilson. [online] Lambiek Comiclopedia. Available at: [Accessed 22 July 2021].

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