From our friend at Attempted Bloggery, a Thurber puzzle solved.
From our friend at Attempted Bloggery, a Thurber puzzle solved.
The New Yorker‘s Cartoons of the Year 2013 is out today. It features more features than the previous three installments — it says as much right there along the top of the cover. There are indeed more “features” with a number of single page contributions (Bob Eckstein, Drew Dernavich) as well double page graphic spreads as in past years (one by Zachary Kanin, one by Ben Schwartz, and another by Shannon Wheeler). The magazine’s “Daily Cartoonists” have their say as well, commenting on the months they toiled to provide fresh material each day. And finally, Bob Mankoff tells us how to win the magazine’s caption contest (oh, and Ink Spill makes an appearance with a look at its One Club).
Only the first Cartoons of the Year, in 2010, provided an Index. Ink Spill has provided an Index for each year since. Below is the Index for the 2013 collection:
Index of Cartoonists
Charles Barsotti 7, 10, 12, 51, 125
Harry Bliss 11, 14, 17, 31, 135
David Borchart 94, 101
Roz Chast 28, 36, 39, 88, 94, 131, 144
Tom Cheney 17, 52, 55, 78, 85
Mr. Colby as part of The One and Done Club feature (p.111)
Frank Cotham 9, 10, 18, 87, 99, 131, 136
Joe Dator 33, 66, 84, 97, 101, 114
Sal Davenport as part of The One and Done Club feature (p.111)
Drew Dernavich 74, 105, 106, 115, feature: The Engraver (p. 142).
Matthew Diffee (cover, repeated on p. 62), 37, 68
Liza Donnelly 41, 83
J. C. Duffy 59
Bob Eckstein / feature: Family Holiday Pain Chart (p.27), 35, 87 (w/Adam Corolla), 130
Emily Flake / as part of the Daily Cartoon feature (p.46), 72, 100,
Milt Gross as part of The One and Done Club feature (p.110)
Sam Gross 69
William Haefeli 16, 25, 30, 34, 96, 116
Kaamran Hafeez 33, 34, 37, 50, 65, 95, 120
Sidney Harris 137
Trevor Hoey 81
Amy Hwang 89
Carolita Johnson 38, 76, 116
Zachary Kanin 48, feature: Robots: The Future of Cartooning? (pages 56-57), 75, 89, 103, 107, 108
Bruce Eric Kaplan 15, 21, 76, 113, 117
Paul Karasik 32
Farley Katz 50, 52, 63, 104, 109
Ted (Hazel) Key as part of The One and Done Club feature (p. 111)
B. Kliban as part of The One and Done Club feature (p.110)
John Klossner 97
Edward Koren 98, 112
Ken Krimstein 80
Robert Leighton 23, 53, 93, 123
Eric Lewis 88, 92, 109
Lee Lorenz 25, 133
Robert Mankoff 54, 61, 119, 122, feature: How to “Win” the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest (pages 138 – 141)
Michael Maslin / feature: The One and Done Club (pages 110 – 111), 121
Bill Mauldin as part of The One and Done Club feature (p.111)
Paul Noth 9, 15, 32, 40, 60, 93, 118, 121, 127, 129, 134
John O’Brien 47
Jason Patterson 84
Victoria Roberts 24, 104
Benjamin Schwartz 30, 64, 79, feature: Dr. Strangetoon (pages 90 – 91), 102
Danny Shanahan 7, 21, 24, 41, as part of the Daily Cartoon feature (p. 43), 65, 66, 74, 125
Michael Shaw 98
Dink Siegel as part of The One and Done Club feature (p.111)
David Sipress 8, 18, 41, as part of the Daily Cartoon feature (p.42), 59, 75, 80, 86, 88, 103, 116, 128, 132, 136, 137
Barbara Smaller 17, 26, 31, 36, 38, 53
Edward Steed 5, 73, 78, 81 (a repeat of drawing on p.5), 120
Mick Stevens 53, 61, 67
Ward Sutton 58
Tom Toro 12, 20, 51, 64, 69, 74, 99, 119, 122
Mike Twohy 20, 22, 39, as part of the Daily Cartoon feature (p.45), 48, 124, 126, 130, 134
P.C. Vey 29, 38, 49, 54, 108, 114, 126
Liam Walsh 23, 29, 77, 106
Christopher Weyant 14, 16, 19, 21, 22, 24, 26, as part of the Daily Cartoon feature (p. 44), 124, 129, 133
Shannon Wheeler 6, 60, feature: Wheelering and Dealering at Comic Con (pages 70 –71),
Gahan Wilson 8
Jack Ziegler 11, 13, 73, 79, 83, 86, 105
By the late 1940s, Harold Ross, The New Yorker’s legendary founder and first editor, had assembled either by happy accident or design (depending on which version of the magazine’s history you want to believe) a stable of magazine cartoonists unrivaled in American publishing. Some have called that era of the magazine’s cartoons its Golden Age. The guiding forces of the New Yorker‘s art (besides Harold Ross, of course) were Rea Irvin (who is most known for creating The New Yorker’s signature mascot, the top-hatted Eustace Tilley) and the magazine’s first Art Editor, James Geraghty, a former gagman who began working at the magazine in 1939 and retired in 1973.
As mentioned on this site this past summer in a profile of Anatol Kovarsky, there are just four surviving New Yorker cartoonists from the Ross era: Frank Modell, James Stevenson, Anatol Kovarsky and Dana Fradon. Mr. Fradon was the last cartoonist contracted by Mr. Ross, who died in December of 1951.
Fradon’s first New Yorker cartoon (below), published May 1, 1948, launched a career that spanned half a century; he went on to contribute nearly fourteen hundred more cartoons, placing him in the stratosphere of such other New Yorker artists as William Steig, Alan Dunn, Robert Weber, Warren Miller, Helen Hokinson, Lee Lorenz, Mischa Richter, Robert Day, and the aforementioned, James Stevenson and Frank Modell.
A native of Chicago, Fradon studied at the Art Institute there, and later, following service in the army during WWII, he studied at The Art Students League in New York. Fellow classmates included future New Yorker colleagues, Joseph Mirachi, Herbert Goldberg, and James Mulligan.
In a recent phone and email conversation with Mr. Fradon, who is now 91, we covered a lot of territory, from his beginnings at the New Yorker all the way up to today and whether he’s still thinking up ideas for cartoons.
Beginning our conversation, I asked Mr. Fradon if he had any thoughts as to why the Art Students League turned out so many New Yorker cartoonists.
“It’s a great school, it’s in New York, it’s cheap, and there were no marks given or attendance taken; a future cartoonists paradise.”
Michael Maslin: What brought you to The New Yorker—was it that that was the place to go?
Dana Fradon: No, I didn’t know anything about The New Yorker. My sister married Albert Hubbell and then I heard about The New Yorker [Mr. Hubbell was a jack-of-almost-all trades at The New Yorker, contributing fiction as well as pieces for the Talk of The Town. He was, briefly, The New Yorker’s Art Editor during WWII when James Geraghty left for service. He was also a cover artist and contributor of “spot” drawings as well as an in-house idea man, creating captions for cartoonists, including, among others, Mary Petty] I admired Albert and I admired some of the things he pointed out [in the magazine]. I decided that’s where I would channel my work.
I did the first cartoon that Geraghty took notice of when I was still in the service. Apparently, when Geraghty showed my work to Ross, he threw Geraghty out of the office. Geraghty said to me later, with that nice little grin he had that he [Geraghty] didn’t think what I sent in was that bad. It was a panel gag—I still remember it—it was rejected, but nevertheless Geraghty said, “Keep coming.”
MM: I noticed that your first five cartoons in the magazine were captionless—was that happenstance, or was that something you were doing a lot of?
DF: I guess that’s what I thought Geraghty thought was funny. In the beginning I had the idea that he was buying only stuff of mine that was rather topical. And I thought that was a restriction—that I could not do the ordinary funny gag—that they were just going to want politically topical stuff. And I thought that would limit me. I didn’t know that it would become, in a sense, my hallmark. I thought at first it was a sign of failure—that I couldn’t do the straight old cartoon. But of course I did end up doing those kinds of cartoons as well.
MM: In the beginning you had almost two different styles. You had a heavier style and a looser style.
DF: I think the thicker lines came after about five years, ten years—that was still early in a career that spanned 50 years. I went to a felt tip marker that was heavier; I look back at those drawings and I really like them better than some of the thinner line drawings I did later in life. It was not a conscious change—it was a change in paper, and what kind of pen I used.
MM: You were trying to find your way?
DF: Absolutely. I was trying to find my way for about thirty years.
MM: Let’s talk about Geraghty. Obviously he was a huge part of your career.
DF: He was a huge part of The New Yorker magazine. His taste was what guided the magazine—in cartooning and in those days, all the artwork. He bought the spots and the covers. He’s best described by something which has become reasonably common knowledge. He said it to me originally about making a drawing beautiful. He said, “Make it beautiful, Dana. Make it beautiful.” And very often he would OK a drawing—the final OK would either be Ross’s or Shawn’s—or he would bring to their attention cartoons which were borderline funny but would make magnificent drawings.
It was Geraghty’s belief that New Yorker cartoons provoked a chuckle (not laughter) and, of course, much thought. He once went through an act with me imitating a commuter on the New Haven R.R., city bound, opening and skimming through his recently arrived New Yorker. I can imitate every one of Jim’s marvelous gestures and soft grunts (chuckles) to a tee.
MM: And the “magnificent drawings” bought—would they be tinkered with?
DF: Towards the end under Lee [Lee Lorenz, James Geraghty's successor as Art Editor], maybe because I was more experienced, there was not much tinkering. But yes, in the beginning there was tinkering down to the last finger. You couldn’t even distinguish where the fingers were [on] my early rough drawings.
MM: Did you ever meet Harold Ross?
DF: Never met Ross, but nodded to him dozens of times. My only close experience with Ross was at one of the first huge parties the New Yorker threw at the old Ritz-Carleton. Geraghty gave my then wife [the cartoonist, Ramona Fradon] and I an invitation. My wife said, “Fasten your eyes at the guy at the next table.” It was Ross. So I fastened my eyes on him, and he looked at me like I was a freeloader or something. Everything I know about Ross I heard from Albert [Hubbell]. Albert was the be-all and end-all if you wanted a connection with Ross—he had it and he had total recall.
I can’t tell you much about Ross except that I accepted from the beginning that he had impeccable taste. That was the greatest period of drawing, if not ideas: Arno, and those other guys—Whitney Darrow, Robert Day—all brilliant.
MM: I have a list of names I want to run by you, but first, before I forget, I want to ask you if you ever provided ideas for Peter Arno, or anyone else?
DF: Yes, Arno, one or two, and for Charlie Addams, half a dozen to a dozen—he was another wonderful artist. You might say Geraghty would look at me and say, “This needs a better artist.” But then it got to where he would give me a trade. He’d say “This would be better if George Price did it.” And he’d give me a simple idea. [Mr. Fradon recalled one idea given to Addams, of Martians coming to the door on Halloween. It ran in The New Yorker November 1, 1952]
MM: When I was researching the Arno biography at the New York Public Library, and looking through The New Yorker’s archives there, I found a lot of interaction, a lot of back and forth—idea-wise—between artists.
DF: When I first started working there—it might’ve been about the tenth cartoon I did—it was a couple of kids watching television, a close-up on the kids. Geraghty didn’t like the faces on the kids. I couldn’t do kids; now I can, but then I couldn’t at least not on the New Yorker level. Frank did one of the faces on one of my drawings on one of my kids. He [Frank] was sitting out there in the office and Geraghty said, “Just a second” and took the drawing out and Frank did the face and they bought it [the cartoon appears above].
MM: We do that around here sometimes. Liza [Donnelly] will ask me for some help on perspective and I’ll ask her to help me with cats. We have cats here, but that doesn’t help me—I still can’t draw them.
DF: Well, certain poses, they’re [cats] hard to draw. You know, Ramona used to do all my horses. It wasn’t until I started doing kids books, and I was divorced, that I learned to do my version of the horse, which is more like a merry-go-round horse. I learned to draw them out of necessity because Ramona wasn’t there to draw them for me. There are a couple of my New Yorker cartoons with horses in them, and she drew the horses.
MM: There’s one I have here on my desk…you have an invading army…
DF: Is it “Beware of dogs?”
MM: Yes, yes.
DF: She didn’t do the finish, I inked them—but she drew the horses.
MM: As long as we’re talking about specific drawings, there’s one I thought would make a good title and cover drawing for a collection: “The gods are antic tonight.”
DF: That drawing has a story behind it. Lee put the word “antic” in there. I had the “gods are something-or-other” and I believe he changed it to antic. He asked me, of course, if it was ok. I didn’t get the fine difference between what I had and he had, but apparently the antic thing was pretty cute, and he knew what he was doing. “Antic” was not in my vocabulary.
MM: Can you list for me some of the cartoonists you knew back in those early days. Let’s begin with Arno.
DF: Never met Arno, never saw Arno but always felt his presence. Knew fairly well: Sam Cobean, the magazine’s other genius; Charlie Addams, Richard Decker, Frank Modell, Whitney Darrow, Mischa Richter, Bill Steig, Dick Taylor, Barney Tobey and many more. I met, casually, Saul Steinberg (I suppose he’s another genius), Robert Day, Chon Day, Alan Dunn and Mary Petty.
MM: Did you know Stan Hunt?
DF: A nice gentle soul.
MM: James Mulligan?
DF: He was left-handed, but because of several car accidents, had to learn to draw with his right hand. His last few hundred cartoons were drawn with his right hand.
MM: Rea Irvin?
DF: Rea Irvin lived in Newtown [Connecticut] for several years. A really sweet guy. Worked with drawing board held in his lap in a, literally, closet-size studio in a large, beautiful colonial. Actually, HE is the genius of The New Yorker. Did the first cover, designed its typeface, and designed the headings, I think, of the various regular columns. Based on his drawing and the variety and depth of his drawing…he’s the number one guy that everyone always forgets about. Rea just seemed like Major Hoople…“woof woof woof” while he talked, to clear his throat.
MM: Speaking of covers…I couldn’t help but notice there was never a Fradon New Yorker cover.
DF: I submitted one cover and after about the tenth time of correcting it and fixing it, I gave it up and went back to doing something I knew better: doing cartoons and ideas. I was doing well on the cartoons and beginning to move into kid’s books, where I got all that color out of my system. I never pursued it. The one I did try lent itself mostly to design—there was nothing funny about it.
MM: What about Richard Taylor—you mentioned you knew him.
DF: Dick Taylor was a lovely man, and sort of a comic on his own. He had a unique way of drawing. There’ve been Whitney Darrow look-alikes and Bob Weber look-alikes, and dozens of Cobean look-alikes, and Arno look-alikes; when I say look-alikes, they’re not as good—there was a guy who did a lot of ads—nothing but ads—he was a pale version of Arno. I’ve never even seen a pale version of Dick Taylor.
MM: His work—his people were too different weren’t they? With those giant eyes…
DF: And the way he did his washes too. Layers and layers before he got the tone, without it going dead. Whereas most of us…I strive to splash it on as best I can.
MM: I loved watching the progression of your drawings from the very first ones to where they became very loose. The energy there—your heads would almost be disconnected from the bodies. I could see you were having a really great time doing these.
DF: That, and a little bit of writing is the only thing that absorbed me. And playing baseball.
MM: How did you work? Did you go to your desk in the morning, five days a week?
DF: Yeah, five or six days a week, I made it a point. The first thing I’d do—the first three hours in the morning, when you’re freshest—is think of ideas. I’d just think of ideas five days a week and come up with twenty or twenty-five of them and then let Geraghty comb through and pick out what he thought was funny.
The routine for thinking of ideas—you may feel the same way—I have no formula for thinking of an idea. It’s more of free association. You start out with a subject, and you may not end up with that subject.
MM: And you write everything down, right, because these things can float away.
DF: I had a big pad of paper, 14” x 17” bond paper; I’d make little notes and sketches and see where they’d lead me. Once, when I was giving a talk I said the important thing of thinking of ideas is knowing when to pounce. You kick ideas around in your subconscious and then this one is a straggler and you pounce on it because it seems funny. And that’s the one you draw up. I drew up a lot of rejections too of course [laughing].
Geraghty used to tell new cartoonists—and some of the established ones as well—about how he’d be at a party and someone would tell him a funny story and then say, “Why don’t you make a cartoon out of it?” He’d turn to them and say, “That’s not a cartoon, that’s a short story.” There’s a hell of a big difference. You know, they’ll start by saying, “There’re ten thousand people in a living room…” Well, who the hell is going to draw ten thousand people in a living room!?
MM: One of the things that fascinated me about Arno’s life was that his career spanned enough time at the magazine, 1925 through 1968 to see a change in the use of ideamen. He began using his own ideas but then shifted into using ideamen in the 1930s and beyond. Many of his contemporaries used ideamen as well (not all of them did, but a majority). By the time your era came along, late 1940s, early 1950s, your crowd, or most of you, were doing your own ideas. That just sort of happened? Or did someone encourage you?
DF: Yeah, it just sort of happened, but it’s also something I think subconsciously that Geraghty was striving for. He probably thought it was taking too much time or thought or energy putting cartoonists together with ideas. If you could do it in one step, that was helpful…it became a real badge of courage to do your own ideas, your own drawings.
DF: One person who did his own ideas—I don’t know if you remember him, was Herbert Goldberg.
MM: I know his work from the albums, The New Yorker anniversary albums. I’m a sucker for those collections.
DF: You live in the world of cartoons.
DF: Well that’s one thing I’ve never have done and I’ve always been sorry for it. I’m not really a cartoonist. I’m a misplaced baseball player or something like that. But I look at [cartoonist] Orlando Busino and I’m just so envious of people who can get into that. When I drew I was in the world, but I wasn’t really there. I wish I could’ve appreciated who I was.
MM: Do you still take a crack at cartoons every once in awhile?
DF: For a time, when I thought of a good idea that I thought would go in today’s New Yorker, I stifled it. And then I said to myself: well don’t do that anymore, write ‘em down—so I write them down on a scrap of paper and throw them into a pile.
Dana Fradon’s books include:
Breaking the Laugh Barrier (Dell, 1961)
My Son the Medicine Man (Avon, 1964)
Insincerely Yours (Dutton, 1978)
Sir Dana: A Knight, As Told by His Trusty Armor (Dutton, 1988)
Harold the Herald (Dutton, 1990)
The King’s Fool: A Book About Medieval and Renaissance Fools (Dutton, 1993)
To see some of Dana Fradon’s New Yorker work, link here to the New Yorker’s Cartoon Bank.
Well this looks like fun. Go see if you’re out/up that way.
Visit Shannon Wheeler’s website for more info.
And even more info here
As mentioned not too long ago on Ink Spill, Paul Karasik will be speaking at Comic Arts Brooklyn this coming Saturday. Info here.
Here’s information on Art Spiegelman’s Retrospective at The Jewish Museum, opening tomorrow.
From David Sipress via newyorker.com “My November 22, 1963: Hearing About J.F.K. on the Subway”
Someone once said that the greatest difference between Fred Astaire’s dancing and Gene Kelly’s dancing is that you could see Gene Kelly’s sweat. Pauline Kael, writing in The New Yorker in 1972 said, “Kelly isn’t a winged dancer; he’s a hoofer and more earthbound” which she compared to “Astaire’s grasshopper lightness.” Here are some other words you’ll run into when reading about Astaire’s dancing: effortless, graceful, floating on air. And for Kelly: muscular, dynamic, down-to-earth.
I pose this simple question: is it possible to divide New Yorker cartoonists into two distinct camps: Astaire Cartoonists and Kelly Cartoonists? Are there some cartoonists whose work seems effortless, like Astaire’s? Do others show the sweat, and muscularity of Kelly’s performances? Well of course I think the answer is yes. I’m not saying Astaire’s dancing was better than Kelly’s or vice-versa – I’m just saying they were different.
This has everything to do with what cartoons look like on the printed page or glowing screen and how a cartoonist’s work appears to the reader’s eye. Is the reader aware of the mechanics of the drawing (do you see the sweat?) or does the cartoon seem effortless?
I’m reminded of the story James Thurber told of the day he was sitting in his driveway in Connecticut drawing his car head on. Al Freuh, the great New Yorker artist happened by, and seeing Thurber struggling with crosshatching and perspective, said, “Don’t bother drawing like that – if you ever got good at it, you’d be mediocre.” (I’d put Frueh in the Astaire camp).
As an example of what I’m talking about, here’s my short-list of Astaire cartoonists and Kelly cartoonists:
Robert Weber definitely in Astaire camp. Mischa Richter in the Kelly school. Thurber, Astaire; Gluyas Williams, Astaire. Mary Petty, Kelly; and her husband, Alan Dunn: Kelly. George Price, Kelly. William Steig, Astaire. Richard Taylor, Kelly. Charles Barsotti, Astaire; Whitney Darrow, Jr., Kelly. Helen Hokinson, Astaire. Steinberg, Kelly & Astaire (yes, there are hybrids!).
I invite Ink Spill visitors to offer their lists; I fully expect some will completely disagree with mine – so let me have it.
My favorite used bookstore came through once again this past weekend. I’ve been going to this place for about 25 years and have found numerous New Yorker gems, but never once found a bound volume of The New Yorker. Saturday was different. I’d just finished browsing the humor section, happy to have found a copy of Ed Fisher’s 2000 collection, Maestro, Please! when I spotted a familiar typeface in a nearby pile of books. Eight bound volumes of the magazine (all for less than the price of two movie tickets in Manhattan); the earliest from 1945, and the most recent, from 1991. While it’s convenient to visit the New Yorker‘s website and, if you’re a subscriber, peruse the magazine’s entire archive, or use The Complete New Yorker discs to do the same, there really is nothing like sitting with the real thing.
Michael Shaw has been contributing cartoons to The New Yorker since 1999. He is, other than Charles Barsotti, Danny Shanahan and Liza Donnelly, the most James Thurberiest person I’ve come to know in the ranks of New Yorker cartoonists. Just have a look at his website.
Realizing there were two Thurber anniversaries heading our way (November 2, the anniversary of Thurber’s death in 1961, and December 8th, his birth in 1894), I asked Michael if he’d care to do something for Ink Spill to mark one of the occasions. He chose November 2nd, and sent the following piece for us to settle into and enjoy.
Is Thurber Necessary?
Or, Why I Draw the Way I Do.
My name is Michael Shaw and I am living with Thurberitis.
Michael Maslin has asked me to gather a few thoughts on coping as a cartoonist with this affliction on the occasion of Mr. Thurber’s death. In full disclosure, I asked him. But only seven times.
For nearly a century, two distinct tensions continue to impact society. For obvious reasons I’m excluding the relentless desire to improve the French fry. The first tension is twerking. The second far more subtle and insidious tension is the continuing impact of a virus known only as “The Thurb.”
It’s an affliction rarely spoken of, even in gaglines. And on this day, nearly a half-century after James Thurber sprang off that mortal coil with the immortal final words “God bless…God damn,” cartoonists continue twerking and Thurbing with no cure in sight.
Now don’t act so surprised. A quick dive into Wiki-WTF? reveals that twerking and Thurbering, in fact, do have quite a bit in common. OK, try this at home. Just give yourself plenty of room.
Twerking: Assume a squat position. Pop your booty outward. Shake your booty back and forth. Music is optional.
Thurbering: Acquire yellow legal pad, preferably some one else’s. Dash off mindless doodle—dogs, cats, hats, men, women. Repeat ad-infinitely on note pads, menus, walls, wherever. Talent is definitely optional.
If you have hands, as most of us do, pirates may dip their hooks in ink if needed; and a booty, even the flat cowpoke variety, can both twerk and Thurb. Probably not at the same time, but if you can, that would make a pretty sweet Vine.
You may rightfully ask why, decades after the final fresh Thurber cartoon appeared in The New Yorker—The famous April 5, 1948 issue that also featured the third and final installment of A.J. Liebling’s epic essays on the world’s great fritters*—would the Thurb still torment cartoonists. Why not contract Barsotti’s Syndrome? Fewer lines and cuter puppies. If only that easy.
Curing the Thurb leaves few treatment options other than a weekly regime of submission—ten dubiously drawn cartoons inscrutably gag lined, predestined for failure. Thurberitis also spawns other similar opportunistic symptoms, perhaps the most insidious being Thurberesqueness. The symptoms? Asymptomatic. But, like obscenity, you’ll know a Thurberesque cartoon when you see it. And the best advice is just to look away.
The first cartoonist I truly admired was Stan Drake. Or more accurately, his rendering of Eve Jones, in his comic strip, The Heart of Juliet Jones.
She stole my heart. Ay, caramba! How could anyone make ink do that? Part of me wanted to be in that comic strip, stealing Eve’s heart, unleashing a cascade of consequences taking weeks to resolve.
Then came Jack “King” Kirby’s sensually charged renditions of Sue “The Invisible Girl” Storm’s massively alluring forehead. I even grew to grudgingly respect Reed Richards for this calm leadership and professorial manner. Were we really that different?
These reactions had nothing to do with my own nascent cartooning urges, but chemical reactions of my eight-year-old stormy brain fed a regular diet of Marvel Comics and the comics section of The St. Louis Post Dispatch.
Which leads me to revisit my first exposure to that most inscrutable of scribblers and a life-long struggle with the Thurb: a copy of Thurber & Company mysteriously appeared one Christmas morning. It certainly wasn’t the Daisy B.B. gun I had lusted and prayed for…I had no idea who Thurber was. I was just appalled and/or amazed these inscrutable scrawls were considered not only “real” drawings but warranted the printed page.
And the women! If you could call them that. Huge neckless, fingerless changelings—no wrists, only meat paws, chasing tiny mannish figures devoid of detail: a bow tie or fedora signaled clothing, a butt-crack nakedness. I was flummoxed!
Was I missing something? These flailing-armed harpies with Shemp Howard haircuts were women you ran from. I should have closed the book then and returned to Fantastic Four or The Heart of Juliet Jones. But too late. Some images refuse to be unseen or forgotten. The Thurb virus settled somewhere in my ganglia, lying dormant until that opportunistic moment of suppressed aesthetic awareness presented itself.
But if I am to be completely honest, trouble with women didn’t throw me into Thurber’s arms. Trouble drawing women did. As much as I wanted to be a Stan Drake or a Jack Kirby, what I managed to put on paper evidenced otherwise. But, by whatever burning force, which now I recognize as the Thurb virus, I willed my way into art school where eventually an actually naked female confronted me. My task? To draw her. A more productive use of my time would have been to attempt to remove her appendix with the vine charcoal I clutched in my trembling hand.
What I drew could not be characterized as being all that feminine—or human. But luckily, this was college, and I was a fine arts major and could seek shelter from my lack of real drawing talent by adopting new influences.
When what I next created was my homage to Rauschenberg’s erased de Kooning drawing redrawn in the de Thurber manner; I knew it was time to face the truth. “Hello, my name is Michael and I’m a Thurberphile.”
Today, with a hundred and so New Yorker cartoons in the can, where does Thurber actually fit in my own personal cartoon schema? It’s hard to say, but easy to perceive. By the time I made my first New Yorker sale, Thurberitis had reflared to the point that my roughs were returned with the simple instructions to “draw better.” Or comments like “that desk looks like it’s made out of cheese.” “We like the humor, but your drawing is too catty-wampus.” Now that I think about it, I do believe that a catty-wampus may reside in Thurber’s bestiary.
So there was only one solution—have no style. In other words, to try to not draw a cartoon when I am drawing a cartoon. It’s not easy. The Thurb still courses through my aesthetic and splenic system, but the drawing stays as neutral as possible. Deadpan, functional, Newhart-like. No visual winking allowed.
These days viewing the world from C-level, as a C-level cartoonist, and having long steeped in Mr. Thurber’s life and works, my mere cartoonist’s infatuation with Thurber pales to the mania of academic biographers and Keith Olbermann. I can absorb Thurber’s influences without being sloppy about it, except in drawing.
There have been sloppy moments. A circa 1998 weekend at The Algonquin Hotel spent searching for the room where Thurber tossed his dirty shirts into Christo-like piles didn’t summon the spirit of the Thurb, just the hotel dick. Then, a decade later, one night locked-up in the infamous attic of the Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio, induced the thrilling dream of being bit in the ass by Rex, the ghost terrier, but little other paranormal activity. In the morning, they gave me a nice cap.
* The issue referred to is a near complete fabrication by the author solely for amusement. Use this information at your own risk.
[Thurber's last captioned cartoon appeared in The New Yorker, March 23, 1946. His last drawing (the last that was not a reprint or re-captioned or graphically rearranged) appeared as part of his series, Olden Times, in the issue of January 18, 1947] — MM
From Stephen Nadler, who runs the fun & informative Attempted Bloggery the above group photograph taken at last night’s opening of The Collection of Michael Maslin & Liza Donnelly at The Society of Illustrators.
Back row, left to right: Ben Schwartz, Liam Walsh, P.C.Vey, Robert Leighton, Christopher Weyant, Roxi Munro, Bob Eckstein, Sam Gross, Tom Bloom, Liza Donnelly, Michael Maslin.
Front row, left to right: Evan Forsch (wearing the cap), David Borchart, Farley Katz, Felipe Galindo (feggo), Barbara Smaller, Joe Dator