This particular panel came about in the middle of a recent residency as a spontaneously generated doodle done during a demo. It had a relatively simple enough composition that made for an easy example to illustrate how I draw a cartoon.
If I recall correctly I wound up signing the original and giving it a student who was the most talented participant in the residency, and brought outstanding samples of her own work to the open studio sessions. I know it sounds like one of the Hallmark platitudes, but it honestly does really make it all worthwhile when you make a sincere connection with a student, and you just know that they will only do better than you ever did, go farther and create incredible things and tell wondrous stories.
Afterwards I wondered at the wisdom of illustrating such heavy topics (even with a really dumb gag): one of my reflexive approaches with students is to never ever talk down to them, and assume they can handle far more than you think. Oftentimes they're smarter than adults, so always treat them with respect, and trust that you never need to "dumb things down." Don't worry - they get it.
The psychological aspect of humor as a defense mechanism oftentimes occupies my thoughts, especially whenever contemplating my choices in life, and how I ever managed to make it this far. I laugh at the worst things, and that inappropriate perspective as an outsider is very often the exact same one that enables a great many different ideas. On the one hand there's the stereotype of so-called "artistic suffering," but this is less and less likely to be the creative catalyst with the benefit of experience. Somewhat sorry to say that the reality is much more pedestrian and boring than any romanticized notions of wallowing around the depressing trappings of some artist. And that probably goes double for cartoonists, who, ironically enough, tend to be rather serious if they are at all successful. Not to mention learning how to laugh instead of crying can really help in dealing with reality these days.