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: 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 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.


[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]


Favorite New Addition to Ink Spill’s New Yorker Cartoonists Library

Posted on 5th July 2016 in News

Laughing on the Inside



Danny  Shanahan has been exceptionally generous to Ink Spill’s archives over the years, donating cartoon books and objects d’cartoons. This afternoon, while he and I sat in a coffee shop talking shop, he handed over a pile of paperbacks (pictured at the bottom of this post).  There are several gems in that pile, but the one I’ve focused on is Laughing on the Inside, published by Dell in 1954, compiled by Bill Yates.   Mischa Richter’s work is on the cover; according to the credits within the book, the drawing first appeared in 1,000 Jokes. Whenever I see 1,000 Jokes mentioned I’m reminded of hearing Lee Lorenz (the former long-time Art/Cartoon Editor of The New Yorker) describe  “look day” way back when cartoonists  would make the rounds of magazines based in Manhattan.  They’d go to The New Yorker first, then on to other publications, eventually ending up at 1,000 Jokes to unload whatever was left of their batches (my memory is that Mr. Lorenz said that 1,000 Jokes paid cartoonists $10.00 for each cartoon).

There’s not a lot one can say about Mr. Richter’s un-pc drawing on the cover of Laughing On the Inside other than it’s typical fare for the 1950s. On the back cover is a drawing by John Ruge that  originally appeared in Collier’s, a publication higher up on the food chain than 1000 Jokes. Mr. Ruge may best be remembered for contributing the caption for Peter Arno’s iconic New Yorker drawing, “Well, back to the old drawing board.” 

Ruge back cover cartoon


This paperback is filled with cartoons that originally appeared in magazines other then The New Yorker. I’ve shown the page crediting those publications as well as listing all the cartoonists appearing in the book.

Besides Mr. Richter and Mr. Ruge, many of the contributors were also New Yorker cartoonists: Bob Barnes, Mike Berry, Chon Day, Rodney de Sarro, Walter Goldstein, Ned Hilton, Stan Hunt, Al Kaufman, Jeff Keate, Hank Ketchum, Jerry Marcus, Virgil Partch, Gardner Rea, and Burr Shafer.  Bob Barnes and Burr Shafer are members of Ink Spill‘s One Club (identified on the New Yorker Cartoonists A-Z listing with this icon:

One Club icon One Club members were cartoonists who published just one cartoon in The New Yorker.

You may note some familiar names on the Acknowledgements page below: Hank Ketchum, who went on to “Dennis the Menace” fame; Ted Key, who created “Hazel”; Alan Stamaty, whose son, Mark Alan Stamaty is a New Yorker contributor.  And one more New Yorker connection: Ben Roth and Salo Roth were part of a unique quartet of cartooning brothers.   The other two were Irving and Al. Al, who changed his surname to Ross, was the sole Roth brother to break into The New Yorker.




Acknowledgements Laughing on the Inside_0001







Danny's paperbacksAbove: a pile of paperbacks from Danny Shanahan

Thurber’s 4th of July New Yorker Cover

Posted on 3rd July 2016 in News

Thurber July 5 1941 NYer coverJames Thurber’s fourth New Yorker cover (out of the six he did for the magazine) is perhaps my favorite New Yorker 4th of July cover of all time. That’s saying a lot, I know, considering the wealth of covers that preceded it and followed it.

I’m not one for dissecting or deconstructing art, so I won’t go any further here than allowing that Thurber gathered many of his now classic characters on this particular cover: the little girl with the ribbon in her hair, the harried husband, the somewhat menacing wife, and of course, the Thurber dog. Only one other New Yorker cartoonist has drawn a dog that came to be identified by its association with the artist and that cartoonist is George Booth (yesterday’s subject on Ink Spill).  Everyone who has followed the New Yorker knows immediately what a “Booth dog” looks like. If you began reading the magazine well previous to Mr. Booth’s New Yorker association you’d  certainly  know a “Thurber dog” when you saw one.

Aside from the fact that this piece is Thurber art, the other reason I love this cover, published seventy-five Fourth of Julys ago,  is that we don’t need to do a Google search or run to Wikipedia to identify who these people are or what they’re doing.   On Independence Day 2016 we know exactly who these people are, and we know exactly what they were up to on their front yard on Independence Day 1941.



George Booth: An Ink Spill Appreciation

Posted on 1st July 2016 in News

Screen+Shot+2016-06-30+at+12.21.02+AMAttempted Bloggery has been focusing on George Booth this past week (including a close look at the drawing shown here), and why not? Mr. Booth turned 90 the other day; what better time to sing his praises and talk about what he brought to the New Yorker when his work first  appeared in the magazine in 1969. Mr. Booth’s style was a brand new creature, unlike anything the magazine had published before.

Booth arrived at the tail end of a decade that saw the introduction of a tidal wave of new artists appearing in The New Yorker: J.B. Handelsman in 1961, Charles Barsotti in 1962, Edward Koren in 1962, Robert Weber in 1962, Henry Martin in 1964, Donald Reilly in 1964, Edward Frascino in 1965, Mort Gerberg in 1965, Peter Porges in 1965, Ronald Searle in 1966, Dean Vietor in 1967, Rowland B. Wilson in 1961, Vahan Shirvanian in 1968,  Sam Gross in 1969 and George Booth in 1969.

Looking at the dates of entry, one can see how carefully James Geraghty (the magazine’s Art Editor at the time; he was hired by Harold Ross as Art Editor in 1939) had  infused the magazine with new blood. These fifteen arrivals  were scattered  over the course of a decade, fitting easily into (and not displacing) the existing pool of talent. In the best tradition of the magazine’s art department, they all brought something of lasting value to the magazine.  Indeed, every one of them had long careers.

Mr. Booth was and is no exception. His use of reappearing characters is somewhat akin to  Helen Hokinson’s so-called “lunch ladies” and Syd Hoff’s Bronx families of the the 1930s as well as George Price’s eclectic characters appearing in his drawings all through his long career. Booth, however, revisits specific characters in his work, people we’ve come to know and in situations we’ve grown to love:  the man in the claw-foot bath tub, for instance, or the garage mechanics in their oily splotched coveralls, or Mawmaw, a character based on his mother.  Henry Martin once said to me that certain cartoonists “draw funny” (trust me, it’s a highly complimentary remark).  Booth draws funny.  Before you reach the caption, the drawing itself has already begun working on you the way the very thought  of Charlie Chaplin works on you. No one draws like Booth.  As a beginning cartoonist I found his graphic mastery intimidating.  But it was also, of course, highly educational.  Look at the way he’s drawn the ceiling and the ceiling fan in the drawing accompanying this piece; the inclusion of the floor boards found behind cafe counters; the characters in wash in the background.  Each one of those customers has a story.  The two cooks in the foreground (Laurel & Hardy types) are perfect, most especially the smaller fellow. This is a scene out of life filtered through Booth’s comic genes.  These elements of style are what Booth does best. Lee Lorenz (who succeeded James Geraghty as Art Editor in 1974) once said that the best cartoonists are the ones who bring their own world into their work. In all of his work for the magazine in all these years Booth has stayed true to his world. He is, by definition, one of the best.


More Booth:

Here’s a George Booth interview  conducted by Richard Gehr in 2013

and David Owen’s  Profile of Mr. Booth in The New Yorker in 1998

All of Mr. Booth’s cartoon collections can easily be found on

A selection of both Booth’s drawings and covers (and even a few products adorned with his drawings) can be found on The New Yorker‘s Cartoon Bank site.


Fave Green Room Photo of the Day: Marchetto, Smaller, Finck & Donnelly

Posted on 30th June 2016 in News

From last night’s wonderfully entertaining “Funny Ladies” event at he Museum of The City of New York, this photo taken in the green room. From left to right: Marisa Acocella Marchetto, Barbara Smaller, Liana Finck, and Liza Donnelly.  Spotted in the audience were New Yorker cartoonists George Booth,  Bob Eckstein, Felipe Galindo, and Roz Chast.


Mick Stevens Pencilled

Posted on 29th June 2016 in News

Mick Stevenstumblr_inline_o9fzp3rl351sj0qh6_500










Mick Stevens is  next in a very long line of New Yorker cartoonists sharing their tools of the trade on Jane Mattimoe’s wonderful blog, A Case For Pencils.

See it here.

[above & below: Mr. Stevens, and his very first New Yorker cartoon, published December 17, 1979]

A Fave Photo From the Ink Spill Vault

Posted on 28th June 2016 in News

Cartoon panelists



Here’s a photo taken back in 2005 at the old Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA) headquarters on Broadway in Soho (MoCCA now resides within the walls of The Society of Illustrators).

Left to right: Gahan Wilson, Roz Chast, Barbara Smaller, P.C. Vey, Liza Donnelly, and Jack Ziegler


Note: Barbara Smaller, Liana Finck and Marisa Acocella Marchetto will join Liza Donnelly on stage tomorrow night at The Museum of the City of New York for a discussion about New Yorker cartoons. Information here.

Fave Photo of the Week: George Booth’s 90th Birthday Cake

Posted on 25th June 2016 in News

Booth cake


George Booth, who began contributing to The New Yorker in 1969, was honored a few days ago by the The Berndt Toast Gang at their annual shindig out at Bunny Hoest’s Long Island home. Pictured above is Mr. Booth’s cake, featuring his now iconic “Booth dog” (Mr. Booth officially turns 90 this coming week). Among the many cartoonists attending were a number of  New Yorker colleagues including Sam Gross, Arnie Levin and Mort Gerberg.

[photo courtesy of Sarah Booth].

Attempted Bloggery’s 5th Anniversary New Yorker Cartoonist Index

Posted on 23rd June 2016 in News

AB indexAttempted Bloggery, one of my favorite New Yorker cartoonist related places to go on the internet, is celebrating its 5th Anniversary with an impressive index of all subjects mentioned on the site.  To the left is a screen grab of just a tiny tiny portion of the Index.  Go to the site for the whole enchilada.

AB is the brainchild of Stephen Nadler, who single handedly runs the very entertaining not to mention exceedingly informative show.  Congratulations Stephen!