“The Essential Danby”

By George Danby

Islandport Press, Yarmouth, 2014

208 pages, hardcover, $22.95.

Pretty much the only thing George Danby and I disagreed about while we worked together in the newsroom at the Bangor Daily News was which of his cartoons were funny and which weren’t. We never came to blows over it. But some things are just obvious.

In his new collection, “The Essential Danby,” drawn from nearly 40 years of editorial cartooning, my point is proven. They’re all funny. With maybe one or two exceptions that make the rule.

The book takes us all the way back to Danby’s first high school cartoon in the 1970s of James Longley. The feisty independent governor is shown with a “UM Trustees” cook’s apron and a “Resignations” meat cleaver. Danby’s eye for irony took off from there. He drew for the New Haven Register and the Providence Journal-Bulletin in the 1980s and afterward returned to Bangor. His syndicated work has appeared in the New York Times, New York Daily News, Washington Post, National Review and hundreds of weeklies.

There are things in life which, if you didn’t laugh about them, they’d make you cry, and Danby luckily has all the punch lines. The book, chronologically arranged, closes out with examples from the last four years of the gold mine of contradictions, gaffes and ironies lavishly provided by the 2010s’ answer to Longley. In one, Gov. LePage is seen holding a cigarette and drink glass like a standup comic with the words: “Gov. Shecky Greene’s nightclub act: Adults only Rated X,” with the sardonic face saying: “Did you hear the one about the Democratic state senator and the jar of Vaseline? … This would be funny if I wasn’t the governor.” So embarrassing it might make you cry if Danby didn’t get you to laugh.

Or the kidnapper’s note made from letters cut out of magazines (on “Paul R. LePage, Governor” letterhead): “Put the hospital money in a paper bag by the maple tree – if you want to see your little bonds again.”

This collection will jog your memories of the best and worst moments of Maine and national political history: Brezhnev the wind-up toy; Olympia Snowe playing Battleship with BRAC for military bases; Obama playing golf with a huge iron ball shackled to his ankle – “Economy.”

There is one cartoon in this collection that really isn’t funny. In 1995, Robert McNamara came clean, sort of, about the administration of the Vietnam War: the Vietnam Memorial is pictured with a balloon pointing to one of the names on the wall, saying, “In retrospect, I wish McNamara had spoken earlier.” It’s not funny. But its irony bites you with classic Danby effect. Everything else, as far as I know, is funny, even the famous CBS eye shedding a tear on Walter Cronkite’s death.

In the end we agreed, as I recall, that all his cartoons are equal, but some are more equal than others. This collection, introduced by Sen. Angus King (who also has not escaped Danby’s telescope), provides a beautiful perusal of how consistently incisive and important George Danby has been to Maine journalism over the turn of the millennium.

Danby will be signing copies of “The Essential Danby” at the Maine Mall in South Portland on Sunday, Nov. 16, and at the Bangor Mall on Dec. 13. The book is available from local bookstores, online book sellers and the publisher.

Off Radar appears about twice a month in the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel’s What’s Happening? Contact Dana Wilde at [email protected].