Exercise: for many people it’s torture, while other folks enjoy it, if only because it makes them feel superior to the rest of us. With gyms now closed and workout routines disrupted, even greater discipline is required of those seeking muscle-building, calorie-burning activities.
What used to be called the “fitness craze” is now part of everyday life. Personal trainers, specialty workout studios, and equipment to tone every muscle fiber are all part of the exercise industrial complex. Cartoonists explore our ambivalent feelings about and mixed motivations for getting and keeping in shape.
Having arrived at the gym, one must concentrate on the goal of not looking ridiculous. Evil exercise equipment designers make this impossible. Dignity cannot be maintained. Carolita Johnson finds humor in self-humiliation in this wonderfully composed drawing.
The variety of exercise options leaves one with no excuse for not working out. Yoga cartoons began popping up when this once cultish form of exercise went mainstream. The unusual positions required and mystical overlay made yoga ripe for lampooning. Harry Bliss mockingly addresses a question that many working stiffs have wondered about yoga practitioners.
Yoga is just another chore on a lengthy to-do list that doubles as a yoga mat in Lila Ash’s cartoon. The contorted figure and anguished facial expression make it abundantly clear that exercise is often a joyless experience. This cartoon is a fine example of how a striking image and a clever gag work together to put the humor across.
Pilates, the modern offshoot of yoga, does not escape the cartoonist’s notice. Wordplay is often not the highest form of humor, but when combined with a great drawing that juxtaposes wildly different elements, the resulting cartoon can be a triumph. In this wonderful cartoon by Chris Weyant, a bespectacled woman faces down a band of brigands.
Some fitness enthusiasts are constantly searching for the next big thing in exercise, perhaps hoping to recapture the enthusiasm for working out that they once felt. David Sipress skewers this phenomenon in a nostalgic cartoon.
John O’Brien, a master of the captionless cartoon, looks back still further in time, imagining stationary bikes as penny farthings in a fitness center of ancient origin. The woodcut quality of his art contributes to the sense that the scene is removed from the present.
Another cartoonist supremely skilled in the art of the captionless cartoon, Seth Fleishman, has created an image so unexpected that it may take the viewer a moment to connect the dots. The cartoonist imagines an object that does not exist—a rowing machine for gondoliers.
The high-intensity workout promises miraculous results in short order. Roz Chast uses exaggeration as a tool to mine humor in her color cartoon. The enormity of the weights and the steepness of the tread-mill contrast with the slightness of the little bald guy. Whether the workout is supposed to last only seven seconds or can only last that long is a question for the viewer to decide.
In still another captionless cartoon, but explained with a title, Jack Ziegler relies on wordplay in a cartoon whose humor is both bizarre and understated. He leaves plenty of floor space for the would-be martial artist to comically practice her defense moves. The choice of the word “vs.” in the title economically highlights the contrast between two completely different things and may also suggest that the woman and her hot beverage are improbable combat opponents.
The anachronism, another method to generate humor from the unexpected, is the basis for another Chris Weyant cartoon. This one is set in pre-Columbian Central or South America, but the phrase “tight buns” is of our time. Some nice details in the drawing include the smoking volcano and the circling birds.
Walking the dog is good exercise for both dog and dog walker. Unlike canines, however, humans can willingly blind themselves to what is staring them in the face—in the case of Tom Chitty’s cartoon, a dog begging for exercise. Interestingly, the cartoonist has abstracted the human’s face and figure more than the dog’s.
An exercise routine requires a weighing of trade-offs: strenuous effort now for a longer, healthier life—at least that’s the concept. But staying physically fit may have hidden perils, as revealed in this final cartoon, by veteran cartoonist Frank Cotham. The heavy shading pairs well with the dark humor. It’s enough to make one reconsider and take a nice nap instead.