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Ring Out the Old, Ring In the New

Ring Out the Old, Ring in the New

As 2010 drew to a close I took a few minutes to look through an issue of The New Yorker from fifty years ago, dated January 7, 1961.  It seems the perfect snapshot of its time with a dark wintry cover by CEM ( Charles E. Martin) and cartoons by James Stevenson, Lee Lorenz, Alan Dunn, Perry Barlow, Charles Addams, Mischa Richter, Robert Kraus, Syd Hoff, Frank Modell, Whitney Darrow, Jr., Steinberg, Everett Opie, and Al Ross.  It should be said that of the thirteen cartoonists in the issue, four of them -- Stevenson, Modell, Lorenz and Ross -- are still with us, with Lorenz's work making regular appearances in today's New Yorker.

Thumbing through the issue I came upon an ad for Steinberg's latest collection, The Labyrinth, and a small ad featuring a Peter Arno illustration for the Broadway play, Under the Yum-Yum Tree. It's a bit strange seeing the Arno illustration so small --it's an inch-and-a-half high. Still, it catches the eye as Arno's work always did.

Six of the fourteen cartoons in the issue  (Modell is represented twice) have something to do with money and/or relationships (Opie takes on duck hunting and drinking in his drawing -- I suppose that could be considered a relationship cartoon too).  Of special interest is Charles Addams' cartoon, done in a style probably unfamiliar to most readers.  At this point in his career -- nearly thirty years in --  he briefly abandoned the dark wash he was known for and worked in a sketchy pen and ink line with light wash. When Addams appeared on "The Dick Cavett Show" in March of 1978 (along with George Booth, Frank Modell, and Lee Lorenz) he said of his pen & ink phase: "I did that for awhile in the mistaken idea that it was an improvement."

Also of interest: Lee Lorenz's drawing, done in his earlier pen & ink style. He later transitioned to the beefier style we've known and loved for decades.  The Syd Hoff buffalo drawing looks eerily like a graphic relative to Leo Cullum's very funny "...roaming charges" New Yorker drawing of October 19, 1998.  Steinberg's drawing is, as ever, wonderfully unclassifiable (I wish I could reproduce these drawings for you, but there are rights issues.  If you subscribe to The New Yorker you can visit their archives and see every issue online.  Or, check out the discs accompanying The Complete Cartoons of the New Yorker, the discs accompanying The Complete New Yorker, or the actual issue if you're lucky enough to have a library with bound copies of the magazine).

It's tempting to compare the cartoons from the fifty year old New Yorker with the issue that hit the newsstands (and the internet) this week.  Whenever I take these little expeditions to the magazine's past I'm happily reminded that its cartoonists, in search of humor,  have always pursued honesty. To paraphrase The Talking Heads:  it's the same as it ever was. 





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