Less than a year before Harold Ross published the very first issue of his brainchild, The New Yorker, he briefly edited a well-established humor magazine, Judge. I recently bought a copy of the Ross period Judge to see what I could see (it’s the issue of July 19, 1924).
it was odd, but of course not unexpected, to see in tiny type across the bottom of the inside cover, “Harold W. Ross, Vice-Pres.” Unexpected was the cartoon caption contest that filled the rest of the page, “Judge’s Fifty-Fifty Contest No. 59.”
The “fifty-fifty” refers to the cartoon’s caption having two parts, with two individuals speaking. The first part of the caption is given — it’s up to the reader to provide the second part. New Yorker cartoon aficionados might recall that two part captions (sometimes referred to as “he-she”) were the go-to single panel cartoon format in the major humor publications of the day. That isn’t to say they were the only format. Captionless cartoons appeared as did New Yorker style single captions. As Judge’s caption contest reflects the format of its day, using the he-she caption, the current New Yorker caption contest reflects its time, asking of the readership to supply a single caption, with no lead in line.
Flipping further through this issue of Judge I came upon a good number of future New Yorker cartoonists: Milt Gross, Gardner Rea, Paul Reilly, Frank Hanley, Tousey, Walter J. Enright, Crawford Young, John Held, Jr., and Alfred Leete. Mr Leete and Mr. Rea would appear in the inaugural issue of the New Yorker in February of 1925. Paul Reilly would contribute twice to the New Yorker in 1925. Tousey just once in November of 1926. Mr. Enright just once in 1927. Mr. Gross just once in 1929. Mr. Hanley contributed six cartoons in the New Yorker’s first year, but none thereafter. Only Mr. Rea would go on to have a long career at The New Yorker (his last contribution appeared in 1965). Below is his “he-she” drawing from this issue of Judge (actually, it’s really she-he as the “Grim Lady” speaks first).
It’s entirely clear, after looking through Judge a time or three that Ross sponged-up the best of the publication (as he did with other humor magazines, including Punch and Life) imagining what kind of magazine he wanted, and what kind he didn’t want.