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Cartoon series takes a neurotic look at TTC etiquette

Posted by Chris Bateman / March 18, 2014

toronto subway thoughtsKurtis Scott is watching you on the subway, and he mostly doesn't like what he sees. Since 2012, the cartoonist has been turning his internal monologue into short animations that skewer messy eaters, people who wear backpacks at rush hour, and inappropriate material on tablet computer screens.

"I'm on the TTC every day and it drives me nuts," he says. "I have no choice but to have these thoughts and it just occurred to me one day that I should be doing this."

When he's not fretting about bad etiquette, Scott works at Smiley Guy Studios, an animation house that produces cartoons for web and television such as Odd Job Jack and Cloud 8. His daily commute is usually from Eglinton to Bathurst stations during rush hour though sometimes if the subway is bad he takes the College streetcar instead.

There are currently 35 videos in the Subway Thoughts series, but not all of them dwell on the little horrors of the TTC. Scott applies his neuroses to mundane activities such as buying pants and people with really shiny heads.

I asked Scott whether he would prefer a perfect subway or more material for his series. "Oh, I think I wish people would smarten up and act better and be aware of things. The backpack needs to come off, that's a big thing all the time - just be aware of the people around you."

"It's like Tetris in a way. You should be playing the game, all the time."

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.



Relax and have a flakey / March 18, 2014 at 12:44 pm
Or, Scott could switch to decaf and not expect a large diverse city to consult his book of etiquette before getting on the subway. Lighten up a bit.
KurtToons replying to a comment from Relax and have a flakey / March 18, 2014 at 12:58 pm
Hey, Scott here. I know I sound a bit uptight, but I don't think it's too much to ask that people be aware of their surroundings and try to make the subway as tolerable for everyone as possible. And I don't drink coffee, just jumbo sized slurpees.
bm / March 18, 2014 at 12:59 pm
user-pic about this...learn to be courteous. What does diversity have to do with it? Are you suggesting in some cultures that having zero respect for personal space is ok? Take your back pack off, don't eat stinky food, and don't clip your toenails. Oh, and don't put your head down and pretend you don't know what's going on (you know who you are).
If that's too much for you, walk.
Relax and have a flakey replying to a comment from bm / March 18, 2014 at 01:11 pm
But Torontonians, and Canadians in general ARE courteous!!! Astoundingly so. If you don't believe me travel anywhere in the world. Really, how often have you seen someone "clip their nails" on public transit, bm? I don't like blatantly rude behaviour in public any more than anyone else, but it is hardly an epidemic here; more like an isolated occurrence. Well, our Mayor's behaviour aside, that is.
2002? / March 18, 2014 at 01:14 pm
So basically this is a cartoon version of Train 48.

Original, guy.
Nisi replying to a comment from KurtToons / March 18, 2014 at 01:19 pm
The backpack thing is extremely annoying *all* of the time, not just rush hour. It turns a scrawny 14-year-old into 2 large people in terms of obstructing passage (and taking up passenger space).

I don't think that there's a culture where a person must wear a backpack at all times... also, most cultures promote living together in a social group, so there's always consideration of others - no problem with ethnic diversity there as far as I can see.

I think Toronto needs a "be nice" campaign where people are reminded of how to behave so that we can all enjoy our city... we could start by reviving "be nice, clear your ice" and go from there.
awesome / March 18, 2014 at 01:20 pm
These are bloody hilarious. Love them. And the commenters seem like the ones that need to lighten up - the videos are little vignettes about this guy's internal monologue and all his angst and anger; they aren't all about subway etiquette. They're funny. Enjoy them.
Nisi replying to a comment from Relax and have a flakey / March 18, 2014 at 01:24 pm
perhaps we are more courteous than most places, but that doesn't mean we couldn't improve in a few places... like driving for another. I let people in a lot, but I've noticed that many times they don't seem to understand that's what I'm doing. All these people can't be dum-dums... I finally realized that drivers are conditioned not to expect courtesy.

Backpacks make it really hard to get by - I've tried asking people to take them off and I get varied reactions, but mostly I get the stink eye for basically asking them to be considerate.

Waiting for a streetcar on st. clair - no one seems to understand the concept of a line and waiting in it. Sometimes people leave super wide gaps so that the line ends up trailing into the intersection or people just walk past a lineup of people to the front of the line. Since when is this OK? We're trying to have a civilization here! ;o)
CW replying to a comment from KurtToons / March 18, 2014 at 02:52 pm
TTC Etiquette aside, great work and funny! Will have to check out your other work.
Mikey B replying to a comment from Relax and have a flakey / March 18, 2014 at 03:09 pm
Backpacks and oblivious people at rush hour leave space unused and people on cold streets or crowded platforms, late for work or whatever. It's obviously a crappy thing to do to another person.
jennsanerd / March 18, 2014 at 04:17 pm
Kurtis, these are hilarious! I also wish people would be more considerate of others during the stressful commute on the TTC. I've seen some crazy stuff as well.

On another note, I see you work at Smiley Guy Studios. I applied to work on Odd Job Jack in 2005. It didn't work out, but the application process alone was good experience.

I will be following your awesome TTC animations. Please keep making them!

oph / March 18, 2014 at 04:44 pm
Kony2012 replying to a comment from oph / March 18, 2014 at 05:31 pm
Mikey B replying to a comment from oph / March 18, 2014 at 05:31 pm
@oph So, be rude to your neighbours because, hey, people are starving somewhere?
Lulu / March 18, 2014 at 06:18 pm
Re: the person who asks how often you've seen someone clip their toenails on the subway

i've seen someone clip their fingernails three times, three different occasions, three different people. and once a woman was painting her nails next to me. and once someone took out three boiled eggs and proceeded to eat them. everyone has horror stories because people are gross
Alex replying to a comment from Relax and have a flakey / March 18, 2014 at 06:21 pm
Awww, Kurtis Scott is a great animator! I see nail clipping on a weekly basis. Rudeness is a huge epidemic on the TTC. People are incredibly disgusting and disrespectful. I spend 15 hours a week on the train/a bus. I know, it's all relative...
TJ / March 18, 2014 at 06:34 pm
Oh dear. Well, when I was 19, a greenie, and had first moved to TO, I was appalled at peoples' tube behaviour...."How rude! How inconsiderate!", judged the all-knowing greenie from a small town. Now, 30 years later, after living in New York, Paris and currently London, I just think...... well, yawwwwn...... Get out, much, Kurtis? I mean, beyond Toronto, and beyond Canada? Doesn't sound like it. Ever been on a NYC subway? Good Lord, etiquette? Bitch, please. And you haven't lived until you've endured the horrors known as the London Underground. So, suck it up junior, deal with it, get over it. Canada's pretty good. And hey, greenie: welcome to the wonderful world of subways - and cities.
Demetri / March 18, 2014 at 06:40 pm
Love the Wire reference in the typo ep

K-Borg replying to a comment from AV / March 18, 2014 at 06:46 pm
I have found a kindred spirit in you, sir.

(Or madame)
Alex / March 18, 2014 at 07:03 pm
As someone who always wears a backpack, because well, where the hell else am I going to put everything I need to carry? I must ask, where do you suggest I put the backpack during rush hour? I do take it off to be courteous to others, but I realize its a hollow gesture. I've just moved the backpack to the front of me. It's still the same size and still in people's way. It only makes sense for 50% of backpackers to keep the backpacks by their legs in front, while the other 50% keep them on their backs. Thereby fitting together like a game of human Tetris and optimizing space.

As for not taking my backpack, at all during rush hour; Go fuck yourself. I don't CHOOSE to take a laptop, and books and pads of paper and groceries and whatever else I take home from work. I can't afford a car. So it all goes on my back, asshole.
Lucie / March 18, 2014 at 07:05 pm
ALL of these are me. Watching this is like therapy.
KurtToons replying to a comment from Alex / March 18, 2014 at 07:34 pm
I like your point about fitting together. If we could coordinate it to perfection, that would be something to see. I think the thing that seems so upsetting about wearing a large backpack on a crowded train is that, if your bag is bumping people, you can't feel it. It kinda gives the appearance that you don't give a crap, but if you hold your bag, you can move it out of the way so it looks like you care.

I also like to point out that subway thoughts are angry thoughts, at least for me. I'm never happy about losing hours from my day just getting from A-B, so my brain lashes out. It is often completely irrational anger but, hey, just being honest. Thanks for watching!
david / March 18, 2014 at 07:38 pm
@Alex . You put your backpack onthe floor either bbetween your legs or if near a seated section, under part of the seat and stand there, no need to get grumpy, just use the space provided.
Joe / March 18, 2014 at 07:38 pm
Funny stuff but please remove the "retarded" comment from your spelling video. Thanks
Jen / March 18, 2014 at 07:48 pm
I 100% relate. It's like I turn into a female Larry David every morning on the way to work.
Kat / March 18, 2014 at 08:17 pm
It's like you're in my head. The Middle Seat = brilliant!
cj / March 18, 2014 at 08:18 pm
or how about this, living and traveling in the city, ANY major urban center will have a shitload of jerks, so that's when you learn to stop being passive aggressive, and call people out on their shit, they won't change so you need to learn to accept this asap, also people attempting to enforce some sort of TTC decorum really need to check their 1st world problems, and get a life, fuck.
charalique / March 18, 2014 at 08:22 pm
being 4'10" i would rather be banged in the leg with someone's backpack than banged in the face! this also goes for women's totes --- take them off your shoulders and hold them by your side! UGH

as for the sitting on the outside seat of a 2-seater .... i personally sit on the outside seat because i get off relatively early compared to others going all the way to the end of the line. i DO get up and/or move to allow someone who wants to sit on the inside in.
Crystal / March 18, 2014 at 08:44 pm
HA! These are great. I don't even know you, Kurtis, but I kind of have a crush on you now...
G replying to a comment from KurtToons / March 18, 2014 at 08:48 pm
Kurtis, these are hilarious! I can 100% relate (especially with the backpack/terrible subway poster ones). Subscribed!
YouCyborgs / March 18, 2014 at 08:51 pm
It's totally hilarious how this comment thread is all serious on the subject. Lots of people giving life and career advice to the artist. LOL. It's good work, it's funny. How are people not getting this? It's a fucking cartoon.
Sarah / March 18, 2014 at 08:54 pm
I agree with Joe, I'm surprised more people aren't losing their minds over the "retarded" inclusion. I would have posted that video otherwise because it's totally me (but I don't want other people to know I am a dick and still sometimes say "retarded").
Drangus / March 18, 2014 at 09:30 pm
"I've lived in Paris, New York, and London, and let me tell you, Toronto is a joke."

"Stop whining about the TTC and get a life."

Holy crap, some of these commenters are so dense. The cartoon is really about the artist, not the TTC. It's mean to be funny, not a serious statement about etiquette. Grow a sense of humor, folks.
FritzysGiving / March 18, 2014 at 10:36 pm
I think you guys are taking this a little too seriously. I don't think Kurtis is lecturing anybody on what to do on the subway, he's just making some funny cartoons. The commenters on blogTO have to calm down sometimes, don't you remember what Bambi was taught: "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't open your mouth."
Arnold S. / March 18, 2014 at 11:03 pm
You sound like a whiney birch. No one should have to take off their back pack for you. How about you make an episode about the creepy white guy with white ear buds and a backpack in his hand that's eyeing the fuck out of everyone on the train. Creep.
Kris G / March 19, 2014 at 12:16 am
Gold dude. The backpack thing and the middle of the three seats thing especially.

Doubly hilarious are the people who think some of this shit is acceptable, I've lived in London, Seoul and Tokyo and we are fucking BAD at trains in Toronto.

PS: I agree that we should get rid of the seats. It also makes pretty much everywhere on the train wheelchair accessible.
Taylor / March 19, 2014 at 08:00 am
This is amazing. I lived in Toronto for years and I have had these thoughts at one time or another.

To all the people lashing out against this cartoon, you are just mad that you are consistantly one of these irritating people and someone has called you out on it - passive agressively or not.

My favourite moment is when the Subway is packed and that one person tries to get on but gets caught between the closing door. Don't step out or anything - just let the door crush you 2 or 3 more times before people start yelling at you to get out.

Well done Kurt!
Adrock / March 19, 2014 at 08:56 am
Keep up the good work, these are awesome. BlogTO is full of trolls, ignore them.
ttc rider who loves cookies / March 19, 2014 at 09:07 am
Ttc is full of rude and disgusting people, oh wait , rather, Toronto is full of them 90%! Hate ttc!
appreciatedonthate / March 19, 2014 at 09:08 am
Agreed! Thanks for making these cartoons Kurtis!
Todd / March 19, 2014 at 09:21 am
Make sure you do a summer series involving the hordes of older South Asian males who pick their crusty feet over an empty seat.
Emma replying to a comment from Arnold S. / March 19, 2014 at 09:51 am
I'm sorry - I just have to comment on this. You're saying that it's downright outrageous that anyone has thoughts about their surroundings while standing in complete silence on a subway? That's what quantifies a creep nowadays? Wowwie. Also, take your damn backpack off. You're taking up enough space without it pressing up against me. Put it down by your feet as you thinking about your non-creepy world of nothingness during your commute.
motbot / March 19, 2014 at 10:41 am
Funny videos, really great way to express yourself. Please remove all comments, views, words, images, and observations I don't agree with.
Scatman replying to a comment from Alex / March 19, 2014 at 12:12 pm
Wow! So someone points out that wearing your backpack is inconsiderate and you backlash saying you have no options. Yea, continue to wear your backpack. Continue hitting people behind you with your bag. Make it so no one can walk through the centre of the train. It all makes perfect sense. Put it in between your legs, in front of you, at your side...when it's in your hands you can move it out of people's way and you are aware of your extremities. Many people forget that. Your backpack is apart of you when on your back. How would you feel if I (or someone) kept backing into you the entire ride? You'd likely not enjoy it. Take your damn backpack off. They ask you to do it for a reason and by saying you're not going to comply because there is no better option, just shows how ignorant you really are.

Scatman / March 19, 2014 at 12:17 pm
Why is it always some 4'11"/90lbs old asian lady pushing on the subway? I see it happen a few times per week. Imagine someone of average proportions doing the same to her. She'd be on the ground. Obviously, pushing is ignorant/uncalled for and extremely rude.

But yes, culture and where you were raised, are huge factors in how you conduct yourself in public/public transit. This is quite evident once any sort of "line-up" situation comes into play. Also, chivalry isn't dead, it's just the women that think they come first for everything and expect you to let them on first, open doors etc. that has stopped the average person from being courteous. Once you get a door slammed in your face, or someone budding into your open door, you start to care less about being "chivalrous."
Lastly, how about the open door vs. closed door during high volume traffic? We walk on the right side in Canada. Your door is closed. What does that mean? It means, continue to flow with traffic on your side and not got through the open door that has people traveling the opposite direction. This one baffles me every time.
Rusty Shackleford / March 19, 2014 at 12:30 pm
Is it wrong to find a subway cartoon character super hot? I can almost feel that stubble against my nether regions as I type this...
Anna / March 19, 2014 at 09:36 pm
Apparently there's a lot I don't know about subway etiquette. I don't see what's wrong with people clipping their nails (maybe not their toenails though), painting their nails, brushing their hair, putting on makeup, eating, or anything like that. I have a really long commute every day, as do a lot of people, so I eat at least half of my meals on the ttc and if other people want to do the same, that's fine by me. Most of us waste so much time on the ttc so if we can get something done, I think it's better. I almost always file my nails on the bus because I could do it at home or I could do it when I'm on my way somewhere but doing nothing. I see people doing their makeup for the entirety of a half hour bus ride. That's half an hour that they got to sleep in because they can do that on the go and that's awesome. If it can be done on the go, then take advantage of it.

I also don't really understand the back pack thing. I never take my backpack off, there's no where to put it. It's a back pack, it goes on my back. It transports all of the shit i need for the 14 hours I'm gone until I make the 2 hour trip back home. I don't care when people push through me to get by, that's necessary on a crowded bus with or without backpacks. I just accept the pushing.
Anna replying to a comment from Alex / March 19, 2014 at 09:46 pm
Love this. I totally agree.
Bg / March 20, 2014 at 10:18 am
It us quite funny. I only get upset about big deals or faux pas not the little stuff. I barely notice other people save for "collision avoidance" and only excessive noise or backpack wearers who spin like washing machines.

I don't expect strangers to accommodate my irritants and soothe me. You want a frustration free commute...hire a taxi. ;)
Todd replying to a comment from Anna / March 20, 2014 at 10:41 am
Just buy a car. You're too selfish to use public space.
Kate replying to a comment from Alex / March 20, 2014 at 11:01 am
As someone who takes a backpack on the subway almost every single time I ride the TTC I can't say I've ever felt debilitated when it comes to taking it off my back simply because I can't afford a car. What is it like? Because with my laptop, and books, and pads of paper, and groceries, and whatever else I take home from work, I still manage to reach my arms back, take off my backpack, and put it down between my feet, or hold it against my chest so at least I can see it, and know I'm not giving someone a backpack-backhand-kapow in the face. I AM UNSTOPPABLE! UNSTOPPABLE I TELL YOU! Apparently...
TS replying to a comment from Alex / March 25, 2014 at 03:49 pm
Your backpack can go on the damn ground. In all of your wasted hours wasted on the TTC, have you never contemplated the fact that humans are larger in their torso area than they are at their feet/legs area? On top of this, having a backpack slam against your legs is a hell of a lot more enjoyable than your face. Have you honestly never put this together?
Alex replying to a comment from TS / March 26, 2014 at 11:46 am
I'd rather not put my backpack down on the filthy floor. Also, I'm really skinny, as are most TTC riders. In the West end that is. You know, the whole starving artist thing. I actually can't afford to eat a lot of food. I don't really ride with the fat ass bankers and politicians and other assorted Bay St. scum bags. I guess you're a big fat fatty. In your case, yes, you should put your backpack and 20 piece KFC bucket on the dirty ground. Honestly, I've never had a problem with someone leaving their backpack on. I'd rather me smushed into someones backpack than smushed into their head with my nose in their fucking ear. It creates a personal boundary. As for having a backpack "slam against my face", I don't get how that would happen. Do some people wear it on the back of their heads? Or are you really short? Are you Danny Devito? If so, I'm sorry man! I love your work! I saw War of the Roses like, 15 times!
Alex replying to a comment from TS / March 26, 2014 at 12:11 pm
Actually, in all seriousness, I'm very considerate on the subway. I ride the Bloor line and it's rarely very packed so it's not an issue. I take my backpack off when I need to, but often times I don't, and I CAN feel when it bumps someone else. Basically I just use common sense and common courtesy on a daily basis. I'm also tolerant of others. More than most. TTC rush our is a cluster fuck. Just accept it. My biggest pet peeve is someone eating like, a meal on the subway. A chocolate bar is one thing, but dinner in tupperware, or a yogurt? Come on. You can't go 15 minutes without eating? Seriously? But even then, I just shrug it off, ignore it. It's not that bad. Occasionally someone will play music (usually hip hop, which is annoying as fuck) through speakers! Purposely making everyone listen to that awful shit. That's when I kind of want to punch them in the face. But again, you're on the train for like 5 - 15 minutes most times. Just suck it up.

I was dead serious about the backpack creating a boundary. I really don't like my nose being in someone ear. Oh, would you like me to clean out your ear wax while I'm in there? It's no problem, really! Let's make candles!
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