The New Yorker’s First July 4th Cover

Posted on 4th July 2015 in News

IKThe New Yorker‘s first issue was dated February 21, 1925. When the magazine’s first opportunity for a July 4th cover arrived it was handled by  Ilonka Karasz, already a veteran New Yorker cover artist. She had also provided the April 4th, April 25th, and May 30th covers, just one cover short of tying Rea Irvin, who had provided 5 covers by July (including, of course, the magazine’s very first cover).

Ms. Karasz went on to contribute 183 more covers  following this incredible 4th of July 3D-like beauty   (her last cover appeared October 22, 1977).  There’s a good sized Wikipedia entry on her life & career.

To see more of her covers, visit The New Yorker‘s Cartoon Bank here.

Gag Writers and Cartoonists at The New Yorker: A Potted History

Posted on 30th June 2015 in News

envelopeWord of a new blog by an 18 year veteran of the gag writing profession has caused me to ruminate on the long and winding road traveled by cartoonists and gag writers  at The New Yorker. 

When I began contributing drawings (cartoons) to the magazine back in the late 1970s  one of the unexpected and unsolicited consequences was the regular arrival in the mail of stuffed envelopes of ideas from gag writers.    I remember opening the very first one and finding a thick stack of index cards containing descriptions or set-ups for  drawings as well as captions. That was the first and last time I ever looked at a gag writer’s idea. The reason being I wanted to know that whatever ideas came my way, came out of the blue — from the Cartoon Gods. In other words, I wanted to do my own distilling. For me, it’s  the best part of this work:  the moment an idea presents itself. If ideas were handed to me (or more specifically, mailed to me), that moment would disappear. This attitude of rejecting ideas provided by others  came out of a then relatively new tradition at The New Yorker.

In the magazine’s earliest days, there was much collaborative thinking when it came to the cartoons. Ideas were sometimes suggested during the Art Meeting — editors working with other editors, tinkering with an idea provided by the artist, or coming up with a wholly new idea; some artists’ ideas were handed over to the magazine’s “cartoon doctors” ( Peter Devries was one, as was E.B. White, whose name usually pops up in this context for his retooling of Carl Rose’s broccoli caption); some artists worked steadily with a writer (Helen Hokinson and James Reid Parker, most notably); some ideas came (unsolicited) from outside the magazine; some artists did their own ideas ( Gardner Rea, and James Thurber to name two. I’ll add an asterisk next to Thurber only because of the unusual case of Thurber drawing a Carl Rose idea. Harold Ross thought Thurber’s style might be a better fit for Rose’s “Touche!”  as Thurber’s people seemed “bloodless”).  Some artists used their own ideas and supplemented with bought ideas (Peter Arno is an example); some relied completely on outside ideas, such as George Price.

Somewhere along the way though, collaboration began to be perceived by some of the cartoonists as a negative thing, and not business as usual.  It’s possible the seeds were planted in August of 1934 with the arrival of that month’s issue of Fortune magazine, with its  wide-ranging article on The New Yorker by one of its former editors, Ralph Ingersoll.  Ingersoll, pausing to throw a few darts at several of the magazine’s contributors, including Peter Arno, mentioned  that many of its artists relied on outside ideas. At least one of the magazine’s artists, Gluyas Williams, was displeased to be mentioned as someone whose ideas were, according to the Fortune piece, entirely supplied by The New Yorker. If you can get hold of Thomas Kunkel’s  Letters From The Editor, you’ll find on pages 85 – 87 a wonderful letter Harold Ross, The New Yorker‘s founder and first editor, wrote to Williams regarding collaboration. Here’s a snippet of what Ross wrote: “So help me, there’s no sin, no harm, and nothing unethical in drawing up an idea suggested by a man who can’t possibly draw it himself.”

Arno had no problem telling the world he used outside ideas along with his own, as he did in the foreward to his 1951 collection, Ladies and Gentlemen:

“For the first few years I did think up most of my own situations.  I had to. I was developing a style and a new kind of format, and there was no way anyone else could do it for me. But as time went on, and a distinct pattern for my work was set, it became easier for others to make contributions.”

With Ross’s death in December of 1951, and William Shawn’s appointment as the magazine’s editor in January of 1952, the Art Department’s collaborative ethos took a different path.  The practice of giving ideas to various established cartoonists remained in place (see “James Stevenson’s Secret Job”), but gone was the Art Meeting by committee; the new Art Meeting consisted of  just Shawn and James Geraghty, the Art Editor. According to Geraghty’s successor, Lee Lorenz, Shawn was a believer in the notion that the artists should write their own ideas. With that, the idea of providing cartoonists with ideas slowly began to taper off and came close, in the 1970s, to the point of extinction…but not quite. Some cartoonists, such as veterans Mischa Richter,  George Price, Whitney Darrow, and Charles Addams still relied on bought ideas (I provided an idea for Addams in the early 1980s and to Darrow in the late 1970s).

With many, but not all, of the cartoonists arriving at the magazine in 1950s and  1960s, it had become standard practice to provide The New Yorker with a complete cartoon: idea and drawing.  By the time a wave of new cartoonists arrived in the 1970s, it was a badge of honor to do all your own work. Roz Chast wrote that using bought ideas seemed kind of “like cheating.”

In the Fall of 2000, when I interviewed David Remnick, The New Yorker‘s current editor,  I asked him about gag writers at the magazine. He told me he knew of just one cartoonist occasionally using outside work.  It’s likely there were a few others — some cartoonists don’t broadcast their use of gagwriters —  but the majority of New Yorker cartoonists were, and are today, still thinking up their own ideas. Some collaborations have cropped up in recent years, acknowledged on The New Yorkers Table of Contents as well as on the cartoons themselves — but these have been one-offs (or two-offs) and not long term collaborations like Ms. Hokinson’s and Mr. Parker’s.

While I remain in the camp that never uses outside ideas, my thinking on cartoonists using gag writers has evolved, most likely as a result of working on my biography of Peter Arno.  Without gag writers, we never would’ve experienced Helen Hokinson’s world, or George Price’s. We would’ve missed out on many gems by Addams, and Syd Hoff, Mischa Richter, and of course, Gluyas Williams. I’ve come to realize that these artists, and many more, were great interpreters, like great singers handed a song.



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Liza Donnelly on Live Tweet-Drawing in Iceland

Posted on 29th June 2015 in News

Donnelly-New-Yorker-Guest-Blog-05-690From, June 28, 2015,  “A Cartoonist In Iceland” — this post by Liza Donnelly about her recent visit to the land of light and darkness where she was live tweet-drawing at the We2015  Conference.

Book of Interest: Monster Mash

Posted on 26th June 2015 in News

Monster MashWho doesn’t like monsters? I’d bet almost every cartoonist has had a monster phase, or even more than a phase. Charles Addams, for one.  Monster Mash looks like a great deal of fun — the inclusion of Mr. Addams’ “Addams Family” in this heavily illustrated volume makes it an Ink Spill Book of Interest.


[Monster Mash: The Creepy , Kooky Monster Craze in America 1957 – 1972 by Mark Voger is due July 7, 2015 from TwoMorrows Publishing]

Liza Donnelly interviews Kathy Griffin

Posted on 24th June 2015 in News


Continuing her “Funny Women” series of interviews, Liza Donnelly recently spoke with Kathy Griffin (left).  The piece can be found here on Donnelly’s Forbes column.


Link to Kathy Griffin’s website here.

Link to Ms. Donnelly’s New Yorker work.

Book of Interest: The Realist Cartoons; Feiffer at 86; Mick Stevens Talks Batch

Posted on 22nd June 2015 in News

RealistIt’s going to be awhile before this appears in bookstores (April of 2016) but the wait will be worth it.  Here’s a description  from the publisher (Fantagraphics):

The Realist was a legendary satirical periodical that ran from 1958 to 2001 and published some of the most incendiary cartoons that ever appeared in an American magazine. The Realist Cartoons collects, for the first time, the best, the wittiest, and the most provocative drawings that appeared in its pages, including work by R. Crumb, Art Spiegelman, S. Clay Wilson, Jay Lynch, Trina Robbins, Mort Gerberg, Jay Kinney, Richard Guindon, Nicole Hollander, Skip Williamson, and many others.


MN-AJ408_FEIFFE_J_20150615154339 Here’s a really nice interview with Jules Feiffer from The Wall Street Journal (by way of Bado’s blog).





The BatchIf you happen to be in the vicinity of St. Augustine, Florida on June 30th, you’re in luck, because Mick Stevens,  one of the funniest New Yorker cartoonists on the planet will be showing his work and speaking about “The Batch” [a collective term for the drawings a cartoonist submits weekly to the magazine. Link here to see my complete New Yorker cartoonists glossary]

Mick posted the following on Face Book this morning:

I’ll be speaking briefly (20 Slides, 20 seconds per slide) at Pecha Kucha nite here in St. Aug. on June 30. Details.

Tom Toro Returns as The New Yorker’s Daily Cartoonist; Looking at a 90 Year Old Issue of The New Yorker

Posted on 20th June 2015 in News

tom-final-1657-1e23aac5773a5b446c00fc32d090c99e4a131217-s300-c85Tom Toro (left) has taken The New Yorker Daily Cartoonist baton from Christopher Weyant.  Mr.Toro previously did the Daily in early 2014.


hoh1A couple of days ago, A Case For Pencils was mentioned in this space as a new favorite site…today, another favorite,  Attempted Bloggery brings to our attention the  June 20th 1925 New Yorker (a copy recently sold at auction for  $1,330.00).

A New “Case For Pencils”

Posted on 18th June 2015 in News

A Case



Here’s another post from my favorite new New Yorker cartoonists related website.  This entry features Mr. Pencil himself, Matt Diffee, whose new book, Hand Drawn Jokes For Smart Attractive People is now available in your local book store as well as electronically.

Matt Diffee’s website.

And here’s a link to The New Yorker‘s Cartoon Bank where you can see more of his work.


My Telly Savalas

Posted on 14th June 2015 in News















By July of 1977, when I cracked open a brand new sketchbook,  I’d already filled 38 others with drawings that had yet to connect with The New Yorker‘s Art Editor, Lee Lorenz; in other words: I was still an unpublished cartoonist. Of course I didn’t have a clue that the brand new sketchbook, #39 (pictured above), would contain the drawing that changed my unpublished status, sort of.  Twelve drawings into the book  I drew a fortune teller telling a man, “Nothing will ever happen to you.”

Nothing will

I copied it, and sent in the copy with my weekly batch to The New Yorker.  They bought it for its idea, and gave it to the incomparable Whitney Darrow, Jr. to work up in his great style.  I was left with the mixed blessing of having sold something to The New Yorker, but having to explain to family and friends why the work published wasn’t mine.











Left: Whitney Darrow’s published version






This post, however, is about the drawing in sketchbook #39 that came a page before the fortune teller drawing.  In those early days I’d draw words and picture directly onto the sketchbook, without working them out somewhere.  They all looked somewhat finished.  Thus the sketchbook was a day-by-day unedited chronicle of work.   Recently, I opened the sketchbook and looked at the drawing before the fortune teller drawing. It’s undoubtedly a personal tipping point, in just a turn of the page — it separates my years as an unpublished cartoonist from the years to come as a published cartoonist.  It gave me a bit of a shudder looking at the drawing,  a two-parter, captioned, “Isn’t that Telly Savalas?” What if (I let myself think)  the next drawing after Telly Savalas hadn’t been the one;  there’s not  a hint of a possibility it would lead to a publishable idea.  In a funny way, this little dance continues on to this day.  There’s always going to be a Telly Savalas just before the drawing that works.

Telly Savalas





Aaron Bacall: 1939 – 2015

Posted on 12th June 2015 in News

bacallWord has reached Ink Spill that the cartoonist Aaron Bacall has died at the age of 76.  His obit here. According to The New Yorker‘s database, Mr Bacall’s work made one appearance in The New Yorker (the issue of October 20, 1997) The drawing appears to the left.


Below is Mr. Bacall’s self portrait he provided to Ink Spill a few years back.