Mashable: “The New Yorker’s Snapchat is Mesmerizing”; Eisner Award Winners

Posted on 23rd July 2016 in News

NYer SnapHere’s a fun read for a hot Saturday: a look at how The New Yorker uses Snapchat.  The magazine’s Art Editor, Francoise Mouly is featured along with the Cartoon editor’s assistant, Colin Stokes.

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Here’s a list of the Eisner Award winners announced at Comic-Con.  Of note are several New Yorker contributors, including Adrian Tomine (for Best Short Story — “Killing and Dying”)  and Peter Kuper, whose Ruins won in the category of Best Graphic Album — New.  Congrats to all!

Ruins

Liza Donnelly to Live Tweet Draw Dems Convention on CBS This Morning

Posted on 22nd July 2016 in News

CBS

LD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liza Donnelly will be at the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia appearing on CBS This Morning live Tweet-drawing from Monday through the convention’s finale on Thursday.  You can find her on camera on CBS,  and on Twitter @lizadonnelly

Ms. Donnelly will also be Tweet-drawing for her home away from home,  The New Yorker.

Link to Ms. Donnelly’s website  here.

Website of Interest: A Cartoon & Comics Podcast Archive; Alex Gregory Nominated for an Emmy

Posted on 21st July 2016 in News

VMThe New Yorker cartoonist (and snowman expert), Bob Eckstein recently told me about a blog, Virtual Memories loaded with interviews of cartoonists (as well as non-cartoonists). The section, “Comics & Cartooning” lists  such interviewees as New Yorker contributors  Sam Gross, Ben Katchor, Ivan Brunetti, M.K. Brown, Roz Chast, Peter Kuper and Jules Feiffer.  Here’s a link.  Enjoy!

 

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Of Note: New Yorker cartoonist Alex Gregory has been nominated (along with Peter Huyck) for an Emmy in the category of Best Writing For a Comedy Series.  Mr. Gregory writes for “Veep” …Congrats Alex!

 

 

 

 

Haefeli Pencilled

Posted on 20th July 2016 in News

tumblr_inline_oakp7xDuNT1sj0qh6_500William Haefeli is the latest New Yorker cartoonist to share his tools of the trade on Jane Mattimoe’s wonderful blog, A Case For Pencils. See the post here.

Further reading: from Duke University’s Duke Magazine, July-August 2002, “The Art of the Cartoon” featuring a Haefeli cover and profile.

Fave Photo of the Day: Kuper, Feiffer, and Spiegelman

Posted on 18th July 2016 in News

Kuper Feiffer and Spiegelman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a great photo of three New Yorker contributors known widely for their work outside of the New Yorker.  From left to right: Peter Kuper, Jules Feiffer, and Art Spiegelman. All three were at the Queens Museum taking a look at “Bearing Witness”, an exhibit of William Gropper‘s work Mr. Gropper was a New Yorker cartoonist also known for his work outside of the magazine. (photo courtesy of Mr. Kuper)

Link here to Peter Kuper’s website (if you go to the “What’s New” pencil on his site you’ll see his New Yorker work)

Jules Feiffer’s Wiki page

Art Spiegelman’s Wiki page

 

Ink Spill’s entry on its A-Z for Mr. Gropper:

William Gropper   (Self portrait, above from The Business of Cartooning, 1939)  Born, December 3, 1897, NYC. Died, January 6, 1977, Manhasset, NY. 1 drawing, April 11, 1942. Quote:”I owe a great deal to the east side of New York. I was hit on the head with a rock in a gangfight…that’s how I became an artist.” [Quote from catalogue, Meet the Artist, 1943]. For a brief bio of Gropper “the workingman’s protector” visit: http://specialcollections.wichita.edu/

New Yorker Cartoonists Remember Michael Crawford

Posted on 15th July 2016 in News

This has been an unusually tough year within this peculiar family — this family of New Yorker cartoonists. Within seven months our ranks have been thinned by four:  Frank Modell, William Hamilton, Anatol Kovarsky and now, this past week, Michael Crawford. Michael is remembered below by some of his  cartoonist colleagues. My thanks to all for their contributions.

Note: Link here to Mr. Crawford’s New York Times obit...and here for The New Yorker‘s

 

Drew Dernavich:

crawford card

I made this for Crawford hoping to give it to him this week, but it was not meant to be. It was the only thing I could think of to do. I tried to capture his somewhat bonkers art aesthetic, which I liked a lot, and I thought it might bring a smile to his face.

Take some pitches” is a piece of baseball chatter (which is somewhat amusing in the context of recreational softball, which made it funny, and of course he knew that) which Michael frequently repeated during the New Yorker softball games, which was one place where he really enjoyed himself.

 

Joe Dator:

Mr. Crawford had an absurd space-cadet sense of humor that I always admired. One of his cartoons I’ll never forget was a man walking down the street wearing a  t-shirt that said “Not A Fan Of My Ex Wife’s New Boyfriend”. It’s a simple enough joke but when you look under the hood there’s a lot going on. His logic trail must have been “t-shirts … people wear t-shirts to show what they are a fan of … other people use the passive aggressive term ‘not a fan’ … a person could wear a ‘not a fan’ t-shirt”.

It takes a very supple mind to make those kinds of mental leaps, but that’s pretty much the meaning of creativity. I always think about that cartoon and Michael’s inspiring mental acrobatics.
On a more personal note, it meant a great deal to me that I once surprised him with an off-the-cuff joke. He asked me if a marker I was using was indelible, and I said “I’ve never known it to del” and he looked at me the way you’d look at a cat that suddenly opened a can of food by itself. It has always made me feel good to remember the moment when I must have gotten within hailing distance of his unique wavelength.
Jack Ziegler:
 When visiting at Casa Crawford in Newtown, MA, sometime in the early eighties, my kids would disappear downstairs with his kids into the basement where Michael kept all sorts of found objects in boxes: old castoff bits of wood, metal, office supplies, packaging, nuts and bolts, etc.  It was a workshop dedicated to fun creativity.  I still have the piece that my daughter Jessica created down there, a combined facial portrait of my then wife & me glued down on a slab of wood, she sporting hair curlers made of wine corks and me with a beard of paper clips, both of us with a cigarette butt drooping from our single mouth.  It hangs in my living room and you can’t miss it as you come through the front door.  I always remember that visit each time I walk past it.  Now it’s a treasured Michael Memento.
Ziegler Maslin Crawford Anne[photo: In Boston, 1993 for the opening of Lines of the Times: 50 Years of Great American Cartoons at the Art Institute of Boston. Left to right: Jack Ziegler, Michael Maslin, Michael Crawford, and Anne Hall (now Anne Hall Elser), Lee Lorenz’s long-time Art Assistant  at The New Yorker. Ms. Elser’s wonderful photographs of New Yorker cartoonists, including one of Mr. Crawford in a rowboat,  can be found here].
Liza Donnelly:
I’ve  always thought that The New Yorker is a place for cartoonists who are artists.  That sounds snooty, but it’s not meant to be. People for whom drawing is their medium, but who also love to make people laugh. People who sometimes have ideas that are not just about the laugh and want to express them in a drawing.   This was the work of Michael Crawford. He made us laugh in his cartoons, but they were also little paintings that we just enjoyed looking at. He also created paintings and they were the flip of his drawings. Sometimes his paintings made us laugh.   I loved Crawford’s work, and his embodiment of all this as a person. He was a unique mixture of funny and serious, here and there, present and not present.  He was always kind and generous to me when I saw him, smiling and laughing as if to say, “isn’t this life just nuts?”  He will be sorely missed in the world, but his work remains and it will continue to make us very happy.
Robert Leighton:
The thing that stood out to me about Crawford’s cartoons was the way he depicted married life. There were no thrown toasters in his cartoons. The couples always seemed to be pre- or post-coital. (Often with equipment.) They seemed playful, happy and fulfilled. I’d like to think that this reflected the satisfaction he found in his own life.
Corey Pandolph:

I’ll never forget Michael’s advice and support when I sold my first cartoon to the New Yorker. We were walking to our regular bar after softball and he explained his view of the never-ending grind that is New Yorker cartooning, and how he had batches of cartoons all ready to go in PDF form, in case he needed to send something in last minute. I remember thinking that’s a smart idea and then I remember thinking how surreal it was that I just played softball with Michael Crawford and now he’s giving me cartoon advice at Broadway and 103rd Street.

I’ll never forget the button down shirt and red jeans he wore while diving head first into home plate.

I’ll never forget his birthday party at Fanelli’s and getting tipsy with Drew Dernavich.

I’ll never forget his little red digital camera and how quickly he could get a hipshot of a play, the bench or the team on the sly.

I’ll never forget his paintings he would post on social media. The US maps were my favorite.

I’ll never forget the white shirt he wore one of the last games of the season – It was clearly homemade with a sharpie and read simply “take some pitches”. No one really noticed it, but I did and I can still hear him yelling it to me nearly every time I was at the plate.

I’ll never forget to take some pitches.

Peter Steiner:
When Michael Crawford died, we lost an interesting and gifted artist. He did paintings and cartoons, and his works in both genres were substantial and of a piece. You could recognize his distinctive style in both kinds of work.
 On the occasion of the deaths of Frank Modell and Anatol Kovarsky, Bob Mankoff, the New Yorker cartoon editor wrote Ars longa, vita brevis. For cartoonists, especially long-lived ones like Frank Modell, who died two weeks ago, at the age of ninety-eight, or Anatol Kovarsky, who passed away last week, at ninety-seven, it’s often the other way around. That just comes with the territory. The job of the cartoonist is to connect with your time, for a time, not for all time.”
I think Mankoff is wrong about this.  Cartoons are more than current jokes with a picture attached, or at least they should be.  And while it is true that many, even most, gags grow stale with the times, the best ones don’t.  And when the drawing is interesting and masterful, it lives on and on even as the joke grows stale, just as any interesting painting or drawing or etching does, even though its topic may no longer be “relevant.”  It’s true that very few cartoons rise to that level, but I think good cartoonists aspire to that with each cartoon they make.  That aspiration was true of Crawford’s work whether he was painting or writing/drawing a cartoon.  And sometimes he hit the mark.
Mick Stevens:
I love Michael’s work. He was among the first NYer cartoonists I met when I moved to New York City. I remember him taking a photo of a few of us, all but one relative newcomers to the NYer then, in the anteroom just outside Lee Lorenz’s office. If I recall correctly after all this time, he set up the camera to shoot on a delay, giving him time to join us in the picture. The result is a photo of Jack Ziegler, Sam Gross, myself, Bob Mankoff, (long before Bob became the cartoon editor of the magazine), and Roz Chast. Michael is seen behind us, his smiling face just visible and slightly ghost-like. It seems to me he was always a little shy, always a bit on the periphery, and I only got a few chances to hang out with him over the years, but it was always a quality experience when I did. Michael lived in his own world more than some of us do, I think, and would drop into our worlds only for brief visits. In my experience, he never stuck around long enough.
Mick Steven's Crawford group photo
Tom Toro:
I have a pet theory that if all of the captions from Michael Crawford’s cartoons were put together it would create the great post-modern American novel.  He was certainly one of the cleverest humor writers to ever grace The New Yorker’s pages – sharp, off-beat, always surprising – and yet what was it that he wrote, exactly?  Not gags per se.  Not zingers.  His wit didn’t lean on outlandishness, his jokes weren’t quirky just because.  What he produced were pure Crawfordisms.  They come across as wiser than typical cartoon punchlines, somehow hinting at deeper experiences best left unspoken, like comments that tipsy adults let slip when they think the kids are asleep.  A Crawford one-liner leaves us giddy and curious.  My reaction to his work typically swings during the span of a moment from “I don’t get it” to “It gets me better than I get myself.”  As with the passing of any true original, Crawford cannot be replaced.  Let’s not even try.
Mort Gerberg:

While Michael Crawford was well-known as a wonderful cartoonist by a vast number of people, I’d guess that relatively few thought of him as a “sports guy” who was a terrific softball player.

But that’s the first association I have when I think about Michael, since he and I, beyond being cartooning colleagues, were, more importantly, teammates for over 20 years on the usually- hapless New Yorker softball team. So, in a season of about 10 games, we might have played ball together 200 times.

It’s said that shared adversity often brings people close together, and so, because the New Yorker softball team lost far more often than it won, Michael and I bonded and fretted more about our softball game than striving for OKs [an “OK” is the New Yorker‘s terminology for a bought cartoon] .

The team has been an odd assemblage that shows up in Central Park every Tuesday at 7pm in the summer months.  It’s been made up of two distinct groups: the first, very large, composed of maybe two-dozen Twenty-Something writers, fact-checkers, etc., full of enthusiasm and team spirit, many of whom, however, possessing little knowledge of the rules of the game or an ability to run, throw or hit a ball with a bat; and the second group, much smaller, comprising “the old guys,” meaning anybody over 30, who knew the game and could play it pretty well.

Michael was in the second group, along with myself, occasionally other “oldies” like Mark Singer and Rick Hertzberg and some other editors, and I guess I could safely say that until the last four or so years, Michael was an anchor of the team.

For one thing, he was a regular.  He hated missing a game and he was  missed when he did.  A passionate, baseball fan, he knew everything about the game, so he was a valuable tactician, as well as a sure-handed fielder and a dependable, long-ball hitter who would deliver a big hit to drive in a run in clutch situations.

On and off the field, he served as a coach and leader to those (and there were many) who were coming out to play for the first time.  As soon as he arrived at the field, he’d start warmups, play catch, or start batting practice.  And when the game started, he’d  stay involved in it, even when we’d find ourselves on the short end of a 19-2 score after only two innings.

But Michael made it fun.  When our less-proficient teammates would make errors in the field or strike out at the plate, Michael would still shout encouragement, cheering us all on.  Sure, he wanted to win the game, but, he would remind me, when I got upset over all the messing up, it still was just a game.

Because often 25 people came out to play 10 positions, the coach would rotate players from inning to inning so everyone got a chance to play, but Michael was always the reliable, sure-handed first baseman. Until recently, when I’ve been pitching,  I usually played second base, which meant that sometimes, after I fielded a ground ball, my throw to first might have been off line, but Michael would  grab it for the out.  If a batter hit a spinning pop fly between first and second base, I’d usually defer to Michael’s shout, “I got it!” because I felt that he would be less likely to muff the catch. And if Michael remembered an opposing batter’s previous hit, he might position our players to afford us a better defense.

Michael’s softball presence even extended outside himself.  I remember that after he’d been playing for a few years, Michael’s grown son and daughter showed up at the games — not just to watch Dad but to play themselves.  Not surprisingly, both were solid, in the field and at bat.  It was also not a surprise, after some more years, that Carolita [Johnson] also came to play.  Of course, being the free spirit she is, she participated in her own way, showing up on occasions after a photo shoot, wearing heels, and going out to play right field barefoot …very well.

It occurs to me now, that when Michael was at the softball game, he was totally in the moment, which, when I think about it, did not always seem the case.  Off the field he seemed different.  When I’d see him at normal social situations, like cartoonist gatherings, or on look days at the magazine, Michael might be operating on his own private wave length, there but, you know, not there.  But on the ball field, Michael was always present with everyone else around him.  Talking it up at first base, digging in at the plate, shouting encouragement to runners or batters if he was coaching at first or third.  And, if he wasn’t “playing” in those roles, he would be roaming around the field taking photographs.  Photos of the action.  Photos of us playing.  Photos of us  just hanging out.  Baseball photos, probably thousands of them, many of which probably wound up in his paintings and cartoons.  A seamless blending of two of Michael’s greatest passions — baseball and art.

So, a salute to a teammate, and a remembrance of a Most Valuable Player.

opening day 2014[Mr. Crawford, far left, with members of The New Yorker‘s softball team, celebrating an opening day victory]

New Yorker Cartoonist Michael Crawford: An Ink Spill Appreciation

Posted on 13th July 2016 in News

MC

 

Michael Crawford,  who began publishing his drawings in The New Yorker in 1984, passed away this past Tuesday afternoon.

The first time I laid eyes on him, thirty-two years ago, I was sitting in a street level apartment next to Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios in Greenwich Village. The apartment belonged to another New Yorker cartoonist, Richard Cline. I was waiting for Cline to finish up a phone call so we could cab uptown to the Pierre Hotel on 5th Avenue for the magazine’s annual anniversary party. Crawford suddenly came in through Klein’s Seinfeldian unlocked apartment door. More specifically, Crawford sidled in like a sand crab – looking as if he wasn’t sure he really wanted to be there or was supposed to be there. This kind of entrance became, for me, his trademark over the years: looking like he was ready to leave as soon as he entered a room.

 

In those early days of his run at The New Yorker he was struggling to catch William Shawn’s discerning eye. Crawford got his work into the magazine, but rather than getting in and advancing, he plateaued. As he told me in an interview in 2013:

 

“Shawn ran a total of 6 between ’83 and the year he departed [1987]. Once Bob Gottlieb [Robert Gottlieb was William Shawn’s successor as editor] took over, the buy rate increased.” [Shawn actually only ran a total of four in those years].

 

Crawford's 1st June 25 1984

Early Crawford seemed to owe a bit to Jack Ziegler’s work. His very first drawing in The New Yorker, in the issue of June 25, 1984, [above] reserves a Ziegleresque word for the “pow” at the end. By his third drawing he was showing us, appropriately enough, a baseball. Baseball was one of Crawford’s greatest passions. Again, from my interview with him: “Baseball was life for me, from the beginning.” He soon became a fixture on The New Yorker’s baseball team.

As Gottlieb’s editorship gave way to Tina Brown’s, Crawford thrived. He told me: “Tina was relentlessly cordial, encouraging and welcoming of spread ideas.” He contributed color work (color was no stranger to him. Like many New Yorker artists he wore two hats: cartoonist and fine artist). His good friend Danny Shanahan said of him not long ago: “Michael’s not really a cartoonist – he’s an artist.”

 

Somewhere during his middle years at the magazine his family moved from the Boston area to a house at the end of a dirt road in a burg along the Hudson — a scenic town already lousy with New Yorker cartoonists (the aforementioned Danny Shanahan, Liza Donnelly & myself). In all the years he lived here this is how many times I spotted him walking around town: 0.

 

Some short scenes from my interactions with him over the years:

 

* I met him at a local bar & grill shortly after he moved here. He came up to where I was sitting, his eyes fixed on the television screen over the bar. “Are those the Bulls?” he said. “Oh,” I thought to myself, “he likes basketball – he’s a sports guy.” Another small window to the man.

 

*I was sitting in his house once staring at a painting he’d done of a rowboat. “What’re those,” I asked, pointing to the dark areas below the boat’s seats, “cast shadows?” “Yeah,” he replied, and laughed a quick laugh – as if it accidentally escaped.

 

Some years later his life changed again and, now single, he moved into Manhattan where he eventually met a model who soon became a fellow New Yorker cartoonist, and eventually, near the very last weeks of his life, his wife. They became the fourth New Yorker married cartoonist couple (in chronological order the four couples are: Mary Petty & Alan Dunn, Liza Donnelly & myself, Emily Richards & Marshall Hopkins, Carolita Johnson & Crawford).

 

I think of Crawford’s hundreds of contributions to the New Yorker: his odd energetically layered wash or marker drawings with au courant captions; his other art: the paintings of mobsters and the Kennedy assassination. I think of his sidling in and out of parties, chin up, checking out the scene (he rode a motor scooter for a while and would show up at events holding onto his helmet, ready to bolt, and jump back on his two-wheeler and vroom into the night). In any conversation his eyes never fixed on me for more than a half-second. They were wandering around, looking here there and everywhere; he wasn’t really here with me, he was somewhere way way over there. A social attention span like mercury, unless — so I’ve heard — he was painting.

 

All these quirky observations of Crawford — they’re like slides quickly fast forwarding on an old slide projector. Here’s one final slide: many years ago, not long after Crawford moved to this town, he wrote me and said he was gathering together, on tape, versions of the song “On Broadway” … could I think of any unusual recordings?… Well, yes, I told him, I could. So I sent him a copy of The Dave Clark Five’s rendition, which caused him to smile ever so slightly.

 

…They say that I won’t last too long
On Broadway
I’ll catch a Greyhound bus for home they all say

 

Aug 6 2012 MC

 

 

Link here for Ink Spill‘s 2013 interview with Michael Crawford

Link here to a New York Times article from 2009: “Where Punchlines Pay the Rent”

Link here to Mr. Crawford’s New Yorker Contributors Page from a few years back

NOTE: There are no collections of Michael Crawford’s New Yorker cartoons.  In 2003 he edited and wrote the Introduction to The New Yorker Book of Baseball Cartoons (originally published in 2003, it was reissued in 2012).  And of course his work can be found in all the New Yorker cartoon anthologies beginning with the The New Yorker Cartoon Album 1975 – 1985.

[The cartoon above appeared in The New Yorker August 6, 2012]

Correction: In the initial post, I misstated Mr. Crawford’s age at the time of his death. According to Mr.Crawford’s wife, he was 70 years old, not 75.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New York Times on The American Bystander & The Neu Jorker

Posted on 12th July 2016 in News

18fdac44003742b2d8945d6027284ce9_originalHere’s the New York Times weighing in on the second issue of The American Bystander as well as another publication orbiting around The New Yorker, The Neu Jorker.

The late Charles Barsotti’s work can be found sprinkled throughout the Bystander as well as on its cover (and what a cover!). Also in the issue are a number of New Yorker cartoonists including Jack Ziegler, Liza Donnelly, Roz Chast, Ken Krimstein, Farley Katz, Peter Kuper, Mick Stevens, Shannon Wheeler, P.S. Mueller and Tom Toro.

Book of Interest: Best American Comics 2016

Posted on 10th July 2016 in News

Best 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming in October from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt  is this latest entry in a series that includes Travel, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Sports Writing, etc.. This year’s edition merits special mention because Roz Chast is the guest editor.  Jules Feiffer and Robert Sikoryak are among the New Yorker contributors making an appearance.  Note: an excerpt from Ms. Chast’s  recent memoir appears in the anthology.

Full list of contributors here.

“Ideas For the Pictures”: Gag Writer Helene Parsons Speaks

Posted on 7th July 2016 in News

 

Helene Parson : gag slip

 

 

 

Sitting around a dinner table last night with three other New Yorker cartoonists, I mentioned I was working on an interview with a gag writer. Although none of us were gag writers or had ever used the services of gag writers, I was aware of the novelty of the situation: three out of four of us had contributed ideas to Charles Addams. We had, if only briefly, stood in gag writers’ shoes.  

 

It comes as a surprise to many, if not most, New Yorker cartoon aficionados that some of the magazine’s storied contributors did not write some, if not all of their own work. But as long as the New Yorker has been around –- we’re now talking ninety-one years –- there have been non-cartoonists contributing ideas to cartoonists (there have also been cartoonists contributing ideas to other cartoonists). Here are just a few of the magazine’s marquee names who used gag writers: George Price, Charles Addams, and Peter Arno. Arno and Addams wrote their own ideas but as their careers skyrocketed, they found they needed some assistance to bolster their homegrown work. George Price was the rare bird who totally relied on gag writers.

 

This arrangement between artist and writer existed at The New Yorker from its inception. It was not unique to the magazine – it was in fact a common practice throughout the publishing world. But somewhere along the way at The New Yorker, the practice came to be regarded as the loony uncle no one wanted to mention.

 

Two gag writers, Herbert Valen and Richard McCallister became important New Yorker contributors — their ideas used thousands of times in the magazine. However visible their work, gag writers themselves are mostly unsung. An article by Sarah Wernick in the Smithsonian back in 1995 shed light on their world.

For me, I had no contact with gag writers other than a brief period when I first began contributing to The New Yorker.  Unsolicited envelopes crammed with index cards full of ideas began arriving in the mail (after opening the first one and discovering what it was, I left the rest unopened and returned them to sender). In more recent times I communicated with Herb Valen when I was researching my biography of Peter Arno, but I’d never met a professional gag writer until last week, when Helene Parsons walked over to me at a cartoonist event in Manhattan and introduced herself. Intrigued by her enthusiasm for discussing her work, I asked her if she’d like to be interviewed

 

Michael Maslin: When we met the other day I remember you telling me that there were now perhaps only three working gag writers in the business (including yourself, of course). Can you describe the landscape for gag writers when you began in this profession in 1997 — i.e., how many were working at it?

 

Helene Parsons: When I began writing cartoon gags back around 1995 or so I had no idea if other people wrote gags for cartoonists. I had been writing news and feature articles in high school and college and my career plan was to become a journalist.  Somehow I wound up selling print advertising for newspapers, primarily because I loved working in the newspaper environment. And, I found out I really enjoyed selling print advertising. My career plans to be a journalist went by the wayside. However, I was always interested in humor and at some point I started writing one-liners for public speakers, comedians and broadcast personalities. One day I realized that my one-liners could be illustrated and made into a cartoon. I don’t draw at all, but this realization opened up a whole new world for me. I taught myself how to write cartoon captions by studying cartoons – buying or taking out from the library every book I could find about joke writing and cartoon creation. Cartoon collections became my textbooks. Then an aunt of mine started giving me her old copies of The New Yorker, and I was on my way.

 

I didn’t know any gag writers. I didn’t know any cartoonists. We had lived in Rochester, New York, for many years. It wasn’t until we moved back home to Long Island that I began to meet people. I started by writing for several comedy services and “The Lockhorns.” I found out about the Long Island chapter of the National Cartoonists Society. That’s when I started to meet people. I still didn’t know any cartoon gag writers. Right now I’m aware of about five other gag writers who do this full time. I’m sure there are more.

 

MM: You say you don’t draw, but do you think visually when you’re writing? Do you see, in your mind’s eye, what the drawing should look like?

 

HP: I absolutely think visually when I’m writing. I’ve studied thousands of cartoons and know all the stock situations. When I send a gag to a cartoonist I include a brief description of the situation. But, I always start with the words.

 

MM: The late Herb Valen, once a contract gag writer for The New Yorker, told me he’d sit down and think, “’Well, I’m going to think for Arno.’ And then I’d say, ‘I’m going to think for Addams, and do five ideas.’” How do you work – is it at all like that? Are you thinking of a particular cartoonist’s world?

 

HP: Yes, I focus my attention on specific cartoonists and try to send them what they want. Certain cartoonists specialize in business gags. I find them very easy to write. Other cartoonists like husband/wife gags. I also find them very easy to write. However, sometimes, for inspiration, I look at old cartoons in The New Yorker and these generate new ideas, which could be sent to several people I write for.

 

MM: As you know, the idea that there are folks writing captions for established cartoonists has long been considered, by some, as the dark side of cartooning (Roz Chast famously said that using gag writers was “like cheating”). James Stevenson, the veteran New Yorker cartoonist told me that when James Geraghty, the magazine’s art editor at the time, hired him in 1956 to write ideas, Geraghty told him, “You must not tell anybody at the office or anywhere else what you do.” Yet Peter Arno openly wrote of using writers in the foreward to a 1951 collection of his work, saying, “For ideas for the pictures, new minds and fresh slants become a necessity.” Do you have thoughts as to why there’s a discrepancy: why some cartoonists are entirely open about collaborating, and others want to keep it a secret?

 

HP: Some cartoonists may think it’s cheating if they use gag writers or feel funny about the fact that they ask for help. Others don’t care and are happy to recognize their writers and praise them for their contribution.

 

MM: The New Yorker art department (such as it was) in 1925 began as a very cooperative place, with editors suggesting ideas, and moving ideas from one artist’s work to another’s, as well as buying ideas sans drawings (James Geraghty began his association with the New Yorker by sending ideas to its artists). It’s odd, isn’t it that somewhere along the way the idea of using gag writers became somewhat of a lightning rod. Cartoonists, like myself, who began in the 1970s were opposed to using gag writers, yet we’ve seen collaboration come back in the magazine’s pages, including –a first for The New Yorker — identifying both individuals who collaborated: writer as well as artist. Is this the light at the end of tunnel, recognition-wise for gag writers?

 

HP: I think we have a ways to go before gag writing for cartoonists is openly accepted. I’m proud when I say I’m a cartoon gag writer and I’d like to see gag writers get more recognition, for example, by the cartoonist openly acknowledging that he or she uses writers, or by cartoonists who use writers being more willing to put the writer’s name on the cartoon. I started a blog, “Cartoon Gag Writing – My Experience,” over a year ago, which can be found at: www.cartoongags.blogspot.com. I write about what I do and how I get my ideas. I’d also like to speak to an audience about what I do, letting people know that there are opportunities to collaborate with a cartoonist.

 

MM: You currently write ideas for, among other comic strips, “The Lockhorns,” as well as supply ideas for single panel cartoons, like “Bliss” – two very different cartoon forms: sequential and single panel. Is there one you find more difficult than the other?

 

HP: I’ve been writing ideas for single-panel cartoons exclusively up until a little over a year ago, so I’d say I’m more comfortable writing single-panel. However, the opportunity to write multiple-panel was presented to me and I had to figure out how to do it, so I did. Now I can say I write multiple-panel as well. It’s not that difficult. It’s like a little story.

 

MM: Cartoonists are always asked: which comes first, the words or the drawing.  Now in your case, as a text-driven person (to use lingo I picked up during the Tina Brown era at The New Yorker) is there a comparable question? Which comes first: a word or a phrase, a topic; do you sometimes play off of visuals, i.e., something you’ve seen out on the street? All of the above?

 

HP: For me, the idea/words come first. Absolutely. I spend a lot of time reading articles, books, magazines and jotting down phrases. Let’s say I want to write gags about cooking. I’ll go through cookbooks and write down words like, coffee cake, assemble my ingredients, light the oven, stir frequently, throw something together. I’m very accident-prone in the kitchen so I can easily write about culinary disasters. I can see the humor in trying to put a meal together. The idea always comes first. The drawing is secondary.

When I’m walking around town I’m always looking at signs (again, words) to be used in my captions. I also study published cartoons and use the setting or situation to come up with a completely new idea for a gag.

 

MM: Can you explain exactly how you work?  You have clients who need topical work, so for them you’re obviously beginning with a framework.  But do you think non-client as well?   Do you just think of ideas and suggest them to your clients? How does this all work?

 

HP: I currently write for about ten cartoonists and I have my week planned out. Most people receive gags from me on a weekly basis, some twice a month. So, I have it down to a schedule of what days I write for whom. For example, I have a couple of cartoonists I send a set number of gags to every Monday morning, via email. Then I spend the rest of the day reading Sunday’s New York Times, Barron’s, maybe the Wall Street Journal. When I read I’m always taking notes, writing down phrases and words that will be used in creating gags and cartoons. Then Tuesday is a writing day for the cartoonists I send gags to on Wednesday. Thursday and Friday I’m already writing for the people I send gags to on Friday and Monday. Besides reading the aforementioned newspapers, I also read stories on www.newyorker.com where I get new ideas, especially about the upcoming election. I also subscribe to many job boards and am constantly reading job descriptions that help me write business gags. Of course I read The New Yorker each week and Newsday everyday. I’m also a news junkie, and listen to 1010 WINS and watch local and national news on TV. I have to keep up with what’s going on in the world. And, because I’m behind the times technologically, I can write about being behind the times technologically. As far as the method, I send out gags to specific cartoonists either via email or by regular mail. The cartoonist then “holds” the gags they want to draw up and send out. The rest they return to me and I’m able to send to other people. When a cartoon is sold with my gag I’m paid. When a cartoonist is no longer circulating my gag they will return it to me to be sent elsewhere.

Hafeez

[Above: Kaamran Haafez’s New Yorker drawing based on Ms. Parson’s “gag slip” she submitted to him (shown at the top of this post)]

 

MM: Throughout the New Yorker’s history there’ve been just two acknowledged collaborations: Helen Hokinson & James Reid Parker, and Mischa Richter & Harald Bakken. Is there one cartoonist you work more closely with than all the others? In other words, are you responsible for a good percentage of any one cartoonist’s voice?

 

HP: Well, I’ve been writing for “The Lockhorns” now for almost 20 years so they’ve bought hundreds (thousands?) of my ideas. I’ve also sold a lot of gags to “Dennis the Menace,” both for the dailies and Sunday, and “Bliss.” Regarding non-syndicated cartoons, my work seems to find a home more easily in Barron’s, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker and Harvard Business Review.

 

MM: As you’ve been studying New Yorker albums of drawings, you’re aware that the king of gag writers, the late Richard McCallister also was a published cartoonist in the magazine (eighty-nine cartoons, from 1957 through 1993).  His drawing style is even more minimal than James Thurber’s, yet it works.  Even though you don’t draw, do you sometimes think, “Hmmm, maybe I’ll give it a shot?”

 

HP:I know that I have no talent for drawing cartoons and prefer to leave it to the experts!

Helene Parson's Tree

[left: A Helene Parson tree drawn for Ink Spill]