Fifty Years Earlier

As a cartoonist it’s (mostly) all about what’s next; this may explain why I sometimes like to take a breather and think about what was.  Still in a celebratory mode because of The New Yorker’s 86th anniversary, I went to my collection of anniversary issues and pulled out the issue from fifty years ago, dated February 18, 1961.   Thought I’d sit with it for a few moments and take a look at the cartoons.

There’s no “Table of Contents” for the issue ( the magazine didn’t add that helpful feature until the issue of March 22, 1969),  so knowing whose work appears inside will be a surprise.

William Steig’s work appears on page 14, but it’s not a cartoon, it’s an ad — an illustration for  First National City Bank.  Moving through the movie listings ( “Ben Hur,” “the Misfits,” “Exodus,” etc., etc.) and pausing to take in Otto (“The Little King”) Soglow’s wonderful “Talk of the Town” drawings, we encounter the first cartoon of the issue, and it’s by the magazine’s most prolific cartoonist, Alan Dunn (Dunn also holds the honor of being one half of the first married New Yorker cartoonist couple.  His wife was Mary Petty).   Dunn was an expert at making something out of the day’s headlines, and in this case the drawing reflects our country’s endless fascination with the Russians.

Next is a George Price drawing of a waiter holding a giant shish-kebob setting off the  restaurant’s sprinkler system.  A good solid effort by one of the masters of the Golden Age.  Richard Decker’s drawing of a doctor’s waiting room filled with self-promoting ads, including a “Specials” sign, wouldn’t be so out of place – with some tweaking — in today’s New Yorker.

A Robert Kraus is next, done in his inviting moody Dedini-esque style, and then an Ed Fisher drawing (by my calculations, the eighty-fifth of his career at The New Yorker – he eventually published just over 700).  Another Alan Dunn follows ( tied into current events, of course) and then a classic Steig husband-and-wife  domestic scene ( I can’t help but be reminded that The New Yorker is fortunate to have a contemporaneous expert at  capturing domestic scenes: Victoria Roberts). Opposite Steig’s drawing is a Steinberg,  captionless of course ( he’d given up captions long ago).  A man wearing  a helmet and shield sits on a rearing horse—they’ve just encountered a projection screen, such as the kind a family would set up to watch home movies.

A page later is a  half-page captionless Charles Addams drawing ( Addams told Dick Cavett that the captionless drawings were his favorite kind).  Turn the page and there’s a Charles Saxon ( man, did he have a smooth style) and then a Lee Lorenz ( his eighty-eighth drawing for the magazine in a career still going like gang-busters). Another page finds a Chon Day, the master of economical styling ( not counting Thurber).  Two pages later, a three-quarter beauty by Whitney Darrow, Jr.,  specifically referencing the new family at The White House; Caroline Kennedy utters the caption.

After the Darrow drawing it’s a fifty-four page wait til the next cartoon, wherein James Stevenson takes us back to a couple in ancient Rome and, shockingly(!) uses the word “orgy” in his caption.  Another twenty-nine pages zoom by before we reach the last cartoon in the issue.  By Frank Modell, it’s a bar scene, and the subject is nearly everyone’s favorite subject — a subject at which Modell excels: men and women.

Welcome back Tilley; Paul Karasik on the 2011 Angouleme Comics Festival; Al Hirschfeld’s Pink Townhouse for sale

It’s great to see Eustace Tilley has returned to The New Yorker’s cover in  celebration of the magazine’s 86th birthday ( he made cameo appearances last year by way of Chris Ware, Adrian Tomine, Dan Clowes, and Ivan Brunetti ).  Click here to see “Tilley Over Time,” a piece contributed to The New Yorker’s blog in February of 2008 (above is the photo of my Tilley collection  that originally accompanied the New Yorker blog post — it no longer appears there).

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Paul Karasik blogs about this year’s Angouleme comics festival Read here

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Ink Spill sometimes wanders outside of The New Yorker cartoonist orbit…in this case for a story about the home of iconic illustrator, Al Hirschfeld:

Al Hirschfeld’s pink NYC townhouse is up for sale.  Read about it here. ( from Cartoon Brew, February 3, 2011, “Buy Al Hirschfeld’s Pink Manhattan Townhouse”)

Time Capsule

Staring me in the face as I sit at my desk is a wooden Cuban cigar box, stamped “Ramone Allones Trumps.” I began using it as a filing system back in the late 1970s when  I moved to Manhattan and began taking this whole business of becoming a New Yorker cartoonist very seriously.  Each week, on a 5×7” index card, I listed and numbered the cartoons I would bring up to the magazine’s offices on West 43rd Street.  The card system  began before I was accepted by The New Yorker and ended in the early 1980s  when it suddenly dawned on me that writing down the captions each week was pointless. The cigar box, jammed with these cards, has remained untouched all these years—it’s a time capsule documenting my early attempts to grab the golden ring.

For me, the card dated August 22nd, 1977  marked a major turning point.  Up til then I’d managed to sell zip, nada, nothing to The New Yorker.  But with the August 22nd card everything changed.  Among the fifteen drawings sent in that week were such curious captions (curious to me now) as caption #13, “I’ve been able to find mittens, but no Mickey” and caption #2, “Are you really buying the old Tony Curtis place?” But it was caption #10, “Nothing will ever happen to you” that The New Yorker bought and then  handed over to Whitney Darrow, Jr.  to draw up.  It was an odd moment, being accepted and rejected ( the editor rejected my drawing, but accepted the caption). It would take a number of months for the The New Yorker to finally “OK” one of my drawings and run it under my own name.

In Search of…Al Kaufman, Pt.2

Back in December of 2009 I posted “In Search of…Al Kaufman” in an effort to find out more about the cartoonist.  Other than a few facts sprinkled in a short piece published by The Saturday Evening Post in 1961, and his magazine work in a number of publications I was hard pressed to find any information about Mr. Kaufman.  I didn’t even know what “Al” was short for.

One of the pleasures of Ink Spill is the challenge of filling in the gaps. After taking a number of runs at finding out what happened to Mr. Kaufman I finally located an obituary for him (as well as a self-portrait he’d contributed to an newspaper story back in 1961) through the online archives of a New Jersey newspaper. Here, finally, is Mr. Kaufman’s Ink Spill thumbnail bio:

Al Kaufman Born Alfred Kaufman, New York City, 1918. Died, age 59, May 1, 1977, Long Branch, New Jersey.  Kaufman studied at the City College of New York before moving to the Jersey shore in 1954. During WWII, he served in the Navy, stationed in the Philippines. He became a full-time professional cartoonist in 1946 ( while working as the manager of a grocery store, he practiced cartooning in his off-hours). A member of The National Cartoonists Guild and The International Cartoonists Society, he contributed to such magazines as The Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, The Ladies Home Journal, This Week, King Features Syndicate, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, Esquire, Look, and American Legion Magazine [ this information culled from two NJ newspapers:  The Daily Register, and The Red Bank Register as well as an article “They Make You Laugh: Al Kaufman,” The Saturday Evening Post, July 29, 1961]

New Yorker work:  ten drawings, December 13, 1947 through July 10, 1978

Pat Crow: “You Make It Good”

Pat Crow, a colleague at The New Yorker and a neighbor—he lived down the street —died last week at the age of seventy-one. Pat was the elder statesman among us local upstate New Yorkers, having made his way to The New Yorker in 1967.  In an 2001 interview with the Arkansas Gazette, Pat recalled that William Shawn hired him even though  “I think he didn’t know what to do with me.”  Pat went on to edit New Yorker contributors Andy Logan, Elizabeth Drew, Calvin Trillin, John McPhee, among many many others.

My wife and I came to know Pat a little more than twenty years ago through a serendipitous conversation in the parking lot of a local Quaker Meeting house. Pat’s then wife Elizabeth struck up a conversation with us, saying she’d heard we worked for The New Yorker, adding she’d worked there once, and that her husband, Pat, still did.  After a little more chit-chat we  realized we lived right down the street from each other, barely a five minute walk.

When those blurry days arrived at the time Tina Brown was transitioning from editing Vanity Fair to editing The New Yorker, Pat was fond of  informing us outliers of what he was hearing and seeing at the office.  I was once able to return the favor when a number of other of cartoonists were invited to the office to hear Tina share her thoughts about the cartoons. Tina told the assembled cartoonists she’d like to see, “Cutting edge cartoons — not fuzzy.”

Afterwards as I wandered The New Yorker’s hallways trying to find an exit, Pat pulled me into his office by the elbow, closing his door behind us.  John Bennett, another senior editor was also there. Pat wanted to know,  “What happened? What did she say?” It was as cloak-and-dagger as The New Yorker ever got for me, and, it was a whole lot of fun.

Pat  became our Deep Throat, passing along news he’d heard as part of Tina’s circle of senior editors. Before most of the world knew that Tina Brown had chosen an Ed Sorel drawing for the first cover of her refurbished New Yorker, my wife and I learned the news from Pat. Running into Ed around that time I mentioned the cover and Ed looked startled: “How’d you know that?!” But, of course, I couldn’t reveal my source (until now).

My few lengthy chats with Pat revealed a genteel man, full of mischief.  Whatever he had to say he said with a small smile.  He seemed amused by conversation, especially concerning anything having to do with the magazine.  He was a no-nonsense guy, usually but not always willing to cut to the chase.  Reading his lengthy 2001 interview with the Arkansas Gazette I was struck by the way he summed up  his approach to the work that came across his desk for thirty years at The New Yorker, saying simply, “You make it good.”

New Yorker lure is filled with tales of staff members passing each other in the magazine’s hallways for years with perhaps just a nod – sometimes a “hello.”  Over the years as my wife and I walked our dogs down the road past the hay fields that separate Pat’s home from ours, we’d see his olive green Suburu wagon coming our way.  Sometimes he’d pause and we’d chat for a moment; sometimes he’d cruise by and offer a wave. It seemed we were all holding up our end of an Upstate New Yorker tradition.

Read:  John McPhee on Pat Crow in the current issue of The New Yorker.