Visual storytelling lessons from New Yorker cartoons

Whenever I pick up a copy of the New Yorker, the first thing I do is flip through the magazine from beginning to end to read the cartoons.

All of them.

Then I go back and reread the most memorable ones again.

Why? Because New Yorker cartoons are as close to storytelling perfection as anything I’ve found. 

The artwork is crisp and minimal and blends effortlessly with the words. There isn’t an extraneous letter or line. And in the briefest of moments, the tale is told.

In a world of abundant content, we can learn a lot about how to create stories from New Yorker cartoons.

Emotion: Each frame is an exquisitely crafted joke designed to make us smile or laugh. And it’s based on a shared moment many of us can relate to. I’m not saying that we should only rely on humour or satire in communications and social media – though we could probably use it more. But we need to make sure our story contains an emotional connection to the people we’re trying to reach.

Style: The New Yorker has been graced by many talented artists over the years from James Thurber to Roz Chast (my personal favourite). And each stands out because of their unmistakable personalities and original styles. We’re drawn to them in a glance.

Simplicity: The cartoonists take an often complex idea, boil it down to its essence and present it in a simple yet resonant way that conveys so much.

Juxtaposition: The text and visuals don’t repeat each other. That is, each element complements the other and the sum total offers a richer experience than if we’d only had words or pictures alone.

Brevity: The soul of wit, not to mention Twitter. With so much junk out there and our attention spans on the verge of timing out, it’s essential to pare a story down to its essence. It’s easy to blab on for 1000 words or more; 350 not so much. Less text. Evocative images. Our imaginations can fill in the rest.

And in the spirit of brevity, I’ll stop here.

What do you think? Anything to add?

About Martin Waxman

Martin Waxman is a digital, social media and communications strategist, content marketer, social media trainer and instructor and co-founder of three PR agencies. He blogs at myPALETTE and hosts the Inside PR podcast.


Hi Martin,

I love cartoons, but I have never checked out The New Yorker cartoons. From your post, I see I've been clearly missing out!


An interesting and novel look into visual storytelling!

martinwaxman moderator

@e_sahadeo  Let me know what you think. The magazine has lots of other things to offer too - a tradition of amazing writing...