The New Yorker Book of_______Cartoons

There’s an alternate universe of New Yorker cartoon collections out there: custom hard cover books produced by the magazine’s Cartoon Bank. These books resemble in size and format the popular series that began in 1990 with The New Yorker Book of Cat Cartoons. The Cartoon Bank’s Production Manager, Trevor Hoey (who is also a New Yorker cartoonist)  tells Ink Spill that there are about two hundred different custom titles out in the world, with production runs of anywhere from fifty copies to ten thousand copies per title.

I really like these custom books, with their dust-jacketed hard covers and their helpful “Index of Artists”  at the back (a carry-over from the mainstream New Yorker cartoon collections). And even though I’ve never been a fan of themed collections, these are kind’ve fun in a cartoony universe sort of way as they feature insurance agencies, brokerage firms, law offices, television stations, etc., etc.. It may sound as if I’m shilling for the Cartoon Bank, but these titles are usually difficult to find. A recent search on Amazon turned up just a handful.  As we wait for the next big New Yorker Album—perhaps the 90th Anniversary Album in 2015, or the 100th Anniversary Album in 2025, these custom collections will do nicely, if you can find them.

A Pile of Newspapers and a Magazine: John Lennon and The New Yorker

I‘ve a habit of examining photos for the little things in the background.  While browsing through the recent issue of Rolling Stone (with the John Lennon cover story) I paused to take a closer look at an Annie Leibovitz photo – one I’d seen before, but in a ever-so-slightly edited form.  The photograph was taken at The Dakota, December 8, 1980, the afternoon of the day John died.  John sits on a white stuffed chair in the “Morning Room” of his and Yoko Ono’s apartment.   John’s arms are stretched out over the back of the chair; an end table to the left holds a pile of newspapers. A glass bowl (an ashtray?) sits atop the pile, and peeking out from under the bowl is a copy of the December 1st, 1980  issue of The New Yorker. There’s not a lot of James Stevenson’s cover visible, just the final “R” of “YORKER” and a fallen leaf on the ground.

The First New Yorker Cartoon

As the 86th anniversary of The New Yorker approaches,  I’ve played a bit of New Yorker Trivial Pursuit, thinking about the first issue, and wondering who had the very first cartoon in the first issue of The New Yorker.

Once you’ve made your way past the famous Rea Irvin Eustace Tilley cover, and have turned the first page (with its heading, “Of All Things”) you run right into an Al Frueh drawing of a gent on a subway car, heeding the advice of a nearby sign to keep the subway cars clean. The passenger is seen putting great effort into cleaning one of the car’s windows.  Frueh not only had the first cartoon in the first New Yorker, he also had the first full page cartoon in the first issue (Wallace Morgan goes him one better later in the issue with the magazine’s first double page spread).

Frueh worked a decade-and-a-half at The New York World before settling into The New Yorker for the next thirty-seven years.  It’s more than fair to say he became at least as well known for his theatrical caricatures as for the roughly two hundred cartoons he contributed (and one cover,  for the magazine’s second issue, February 28, 1925).

Long ago, before I habitually dove into elderly copies of The New Yorker and became familiar with Frueh’s work,  I ran into this passage from James Thurber’s The Years with Ross:

…Frueh…once came upon me in my garage in Connecticut, sitting ten feet in front of my Ford and trying to draw it head on. ‘You can’t do that, Thurber,’ said Frueh, out of his vast knowledge and experience as a draughtsman. ‘You’d better draw it from the side.’ I took his advice.

The passage made an impression on me.  I draw cars nearly every day, and with Frueh’s words of wisdom in the back of my mind, I avoid the head-on drawing like the plague.

For more on Al Frueh:

The Complete New Yorker: the best place to see his work for the magazine.  It’s all there on disc: the theatrical caricatures, the cartoons, and his cover.

The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker:  limited, of course, to his cartoons.

Obscure, but worth it if you can find it:  an excellent booklet “The Art of Al Frueh” (pictured at the head of this post) that accompanied an exhibit of his work at The University of Connecticut in the Fall of 1983.  It includes The New Yorker’s obituary (written by Brendan Gill) in its entirety, published September 28, 1968.

The New York Times obituary of September 18, 1968.  Along with The New Yorker’s obit you  get a decent idea of Frueh’s rural life on his 100 acre nut farm in Sharon, Connecticut.

The New Yorker’s Cartoon Bank has three examples of Frueh’s cartoons.

Here At The New Yorker:  Brendan Gill’s memoir contains a self portrait of Frueh as well as affectionate memories.