Q&A with Ali Solomon, New Yorker Cartoonist and Author of I Love(ish) New York City
Can you tell us a bit about your book and how you got the idea for it?
During the pandemic, I saw people fleeing NYC in droves, and article after article declaring the city "dead" or "over." As my husband and I mulled over our own place in the city, it got me thinking of all the things I loved and cherished about my neighborhood (even things that others would think "Is that really a good thing?"). My book basically emerged as a love letter to all the things we love, and love to hate, about New York.
You frequently contribute cartoons to the New Yorker and several other outlets -- what is your cartoon writing process? How do you decide if something should be a cartoon vs. a longer piece?
Haha, sometimes the decision is made for me!
Like a lot of writers, I use the Notes app on my phone to jot down tidbits of humor or stray observations as they come. A few times I week, I review my list to see if there are any gems (it's often like panning for gold in a swamp, but you never know). I sometimes find a cartoon needs more beats in order to tell the story I need it to, and sometimes find only one or two images work (which I can later turn into single-panel gags).
Any advice for aspiring humor writers/cartoonists?
I know teachers always tell you to write what you know—sometimes it's more fun to write what you don't know since humor can arise from the sweet spot between familiarity and assumptions. As a teacher and parent, I find that most of my cartoons are NOT about those two subjects. I'd rather draw aliens, or rabid sheep (sometimes the aliens and sheep are teachers or parents, but that's purely coincidental).
I also recommend becoming a good listener (a skill I'm constantly trying to work on). A lot of humor arises from conversations with others, people sharing stories that can be heightened or turned absurd, or overhearing snippets of very funny exchanges around you. And definitely write everything down! So many times I've gone to sleep with a great idea (probably?) and wake up with nothing but a distant memory of a life-changing joke.
What is something you can recommend to readers that makes you laugh?
I love What We Do in the Shadows, it consistently cracks me up while presenting a deeper story and mythology than it ever needs to be. I'm also into Derry Girls and Los Espookys since I've been gravitating toward absurdist humor since the Tina Fey/ 30 Rock heyday. And I've been digging the stand-up of Ginny Hogan and the cartoons of Ellis Rosen on my morning commute.