Elaine’s ‘Seinfeld’ Cartoon Was Actually Published by ‘The New Yorker’

Thankfully, Ziggy didn’t sue
Elaine’s ‘Seinfeld’ Cartoon Was Actually Published by ‘The New Yorker’

Elaine Benes held a number of different jobs over the course of Seinfeld’s nine seasons: copy editor for Pendant Publishing, executive assistant to Mr. Pitt, professional sombrero enthusiast for The J. Peterman Company. In addition to her various day jobs, the episode “The Cartoon” found Elaine briefly entering the field of professional doodling after she complains to The New Yorker about one of their cartoons that “made no sense.”

Elaine’s contribution to the visual arts was a sketch of a pig at a complaint desk stating, “I wish I were taller.” While the joke turns out to be an inadvertent rip-off of a Ziggy comic (thanks to Puddy’s subliminally influential bedsheets), Jerry and Kramer aren’t thrilled with the results, and offer their own suggestions for the caption, including, “I can’t find my receipt, my place is a sty,” and “My wife is a slut.”

The episode was written by Bruce Eric Kaplan, who actually was a cartoonist for The New Yorker, although he later stressed in an interview that the storyline wasn’t “as personal as it may appear.” This statement is backed up by the fact that Kaplan’s cartoons are genuinely very funny and in no way stolen from the misadventures of a bald sad sack who never wears pants for some unknown reason.

Oddly, despite the fact that the Seinfeld episode was clearly lampooning the magazine’s occasionally impenetrably pretentious cartoons, in 2012, 14 whole years after the episode aired, The New Yorker actually published Elaine’s cartoon — well, part of it. 

The image of the pig at the complaint desk was published with no accompanying text for The New Yorker’s caption contest, challenging readers to come up with a “funnier” joke. As their cartoon editor (somewhat bitterly) stated at the time, the Seinfeld storyline didn’t make much sense because “for the most part, The New Yorker cartoons are completely transparent — there is something to get."

But while several news outlets suggested that The New Yorker simply “republished” the cartoon that appeared on the show, it was actually a recreation by illustrator Mick Stevens. The original sketch was made by the Seinfeld art department (Kaplan turned down requests to draw it himself) and is noticeably different. For one thing, in The New Yorker version, the complaint desk worker is a human, while in Elaine’s original, it’s another pig, presumably set in a world in which pigs have taken over and enslaved humanity. 

The New Yorker/NBC

In the end, the winning caption had nothing to do with the pig’s height or his wife’s sex life, it was: “Stop sending me spam.” The other finalists included “Whenever I eat an apple, everyone assumes that I’m dead,” and “The hairs on my chinny chin chin got caught in your damn escalator.”

At least The New Yorker credited Elaine as the inspiration behind this idea, unlike the time McDonald’s totally stole her muffin top idea. 

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