R.C. Harvey’s Trip Down Mankoff Lane

Posted on 27th March 2017 in News

From The Comics Journal, March 27, 2017, “A Look Back at 20 Years of Mankoff’s New Yorker” — R.C. Harvey takes a look at Bob Mankoff’s not-quite 20 year term (August of 1997 – April of 2017) as The New Yorker‘s cartoon editor in this longish piece that covers much ground found in Mankoff’s memoir, How About Never — Is Never Good For You: My Life in Cartoons (Henry Holt, 2014), as well as the very current events surrounding Mr. Mankoff’s imminent departure.

There are a few things in Mr. Harvey’s piece I’m going to quibble with. I’ve reproduced them here, bolded and italicized.

New Yorker cartoons are topical (and always have been) but not as front-page topical as newspaper editorial cartoons. For decades, thanks to the magazine’s founder’s Puritan bent, sex was taboo as a subject for cartoons.

New Yorker cartoons can be topical, but they are not always topical, and they have not always been topical, nor are they all topical now.  For instance,  these two drawings, perhaps two of the most famous in the magazine’s canon: James Thurber’s so-called Seal in the Bedroom, and Charles Addams famous skier who has somehow managed to ski through a pine tree.  If there’s something topical about them, I don’t see it.

As for sex as a taboo, well what are we talking about here exactly?  Barbara Shermund’s and Peter Arno’s work mined the subject of sex in the New Yorker for decades on end.  Mr. Arno, of course, made quite a nice career out of providing the New Yorker‘s readership with sex-based drawings.

By the time Lorenz was cartoon editor, cartoonists were expected to both write and draw their cartoons. (In fact, to reveal an undisguised bias of mine, true cartooning, blending words and picture, can most happily take place in a cartoonist’s mind, not a writer’s. Which may account for the typically inert comedy that prevailed at The New Yorker for so many of its first decades. And, even—inevitably—into current decades.)

Not really sure where  “by the time Lorenz was cartoon editor, cartoonists were expected to both write and draw their cartoons” comes from. It is simply not the case.  As one who was brought into The New Yorker by Mr. Lorenz, the subject of what was expected never came up. The word “expect” just isn’t part of the New Yorker cartoonist/editor language. Forty years later, I can say that the subject never came up with Mr. Lorenz, or his successor.

As for “…the typically inert comedy that prevailed at The New Yorker for so many of its first decades” Mr. Harvey has a right to his opinion, of course, but “inert” is not a word I’d apply to the earliest New Yorker cartoons. In fact, if you look through the magazine’s first three decades  what you will see is plenty of cartoon movement across the page and within the cartoons themselves. Take a look at the work of Reginald Marsh, or Thurber, or Barlow, or Hoff or Johan Bull (I could go on listing names, but you get the point).   Mr. Bull was a frequent contributor in the magazine’s earliest days –his lovely drawings  were barely kept within the borders of the page. And Mr. Marsh’s drawings were electric.  There was a graphic  playfulness to much of the work then; it subsided, appropriately enough, with the advent of the second world war.  If you want to go looking for inert drawings, you’ll find them easily enough and in every issue, but I would say they did not prevail — they were a bit of balance, some down-time Harold Ross so wisely provided his readers.

“The Place Was Especially A Mess After The Weekly Art Meetings”

Posted on 23rd March 2017 in News

 

 

… “The artists, who waited for the verdicts, scrambled for desk space where they could retouch their cartoons and spots according to what Wylie, or Katharine Angell, told them what Ross wanted.”*

 

— So said New Yorker editor and writer Rogers Whitaker to Thurber biographer, Harrison Kinney. He was describing a wonderfully fun and exciting time and place: The New Yorker in its infancy, ninety some years ago.

 

What’s changed since then?  Well, the cartoonists no longer wait in the office to hear the verdict for that week’s submissions (email now alerts them to a sale, and more often, rejection). However, many cartoonists still head to the New Yorker every week to sit across from the cartoon editor. It’s a chance to connect with the editor, to get feedback, to discuss that week’s submissions.  It’s also a chance to socialize with colleagues.  Cartoonists, as has been said many times, are mostly solitary creatures, whiling away at their drawing boards or tablets without the company of other humans.

 

Using the clues of the personalities Mr. Whitaker mentioned we know that the artists (cartoonists for the most part with some cover artists tossed in) began showing up at the New Yorker from the very first days of the magazine. What we don’t know is exactly when the cartoonists began showing up to see the Art Editor — a ritual that began sometime during James Geraghty’s tenure as the magazine’s first Art Editor.

 

Rea Irvin, the New Yorker‘s Art Supervisor did not meet the artists flooding into the office. So who actually saw the artists coming in? It was, in the very beginning, Ross’s secretary, Helen Mears, who was soon fired and replaced by a young man named Philip Wylie. He was the unofficially titled artists “hand-holder” — the link between the editorial staff and the cartoonists.   Most importantly to The New Yorker‘s history, and to its success, Wylie is the person who, while looking through twenty-one year old Peter Arno’s portfolio one day in 1925  happened to spot a drawing Arno hadn’t intended to show: a sketch  of “two old bats about to charge obliviously into a trap — made by the rise of a sidewalk elevator. It [the drawing] greatly amused me.”   The  “two old bats” came to be called The Whoops Sisters, and also came to be credited as very likely rescuing The New Yorker from an early demise.  This moment was one of the so-called “happy accidents” that saved the New Yorker and propelled it forward. And it could have only happened because Arno came into the office and sat down with Wylie.

 

We know that upon James Geraghty’s appointment as Art Editor in 1939 he began working closely with the magazine’s staff cartoonists on Look Day (Tuesdays back then, and for many years after. Wednesdays now).  What has always endeared me to the editor/artist dance at the magazine is that editorial prompts are not directives — they are suggestions.  This practice continued on during Lee Lorenz’s twenty-four years as art editor after he succeeded Geraghty, and it continues right up to today.

 

Mr. Lorenz ran a very tight ship in those twenty-four years; artists had to be invited in to the office on Look Day.  Even some long-time contributors did not receive the coveted invitation.  They had to drop off their work at the receptionist’s glassed-in cubicle at the end of the hallway near the elevators. To be invited back was well-earned. And what you found once you were buzzed through the hallway door and then walked down the dog-legged hallway to the Art Department was a small cream-colored waiting room filled with cartoonists whose names would most likely be as familiar as the names of your family members. Their work, of course, would be familiar as well. The days of artists messing up the office were in the rear view mirror.  Some of the cartoonists actually had “studios” in the building (Charles Addams, Frank Modell, James Stevenson, Edward Koren among them).  Mr. Lorenz had an editorial light touch when working with artists — a shade lighter than Geraghty’s, or so I’ve been told; like Geraghty, Lorenz’s advice was succinct, and spot-on.

 

When Bob Mankoff succeeded Mr. Lorenz, he instituted what he called an “open door” policy,  saying, “I’ll see anyone.”  And in they came. To be sure, it created a different climate in what is called the cartoonists lounge.  Lots of new faces, many unpublished in The New Yorker, or anywhere, mingled with veteran contributors such as Sam Gross, George Booth, and Mort Gerberg. The scene wasn’t messy, as in the old days, but it was lively (they’ve had to be “hushed” on more than one occasion.  Dana Fradon, recalling the pre-Mankoff days, told Ink Spill: “Once, when someone down the hall voiced an official complaint about ‘noise’ coming from the cartoonists waiting room, Ed Fisher and I went out into the hall and sang, in close harmony, ‘The Beer-Barrel Polka’. “Roll out the barrel…”).

 

It was recently announced that a New Yorker editor, Emma Allen would replace Mr. Mankoff in May. A Cartoon Department email soon followed announcing that Mr. Mankoff would not see cartoonists on Look Day in these last weeks of his editorship.  How eerily quiet it will be around the cartoon lounge on Wednesday mornings!  I imagine that come May, the non-existent doors to the cartoon department will swing open again (there are waist-high partitions everywhere now, and just a few doors) and the cartoonists will flood in, as lively and boisterous as they’ve been for over ninety years.

 

______________________________________________________________________

*A Who’s Who of those mentioned above

Emma Allen:  Ms. Allen has worked as an editor of Talk of The Town, a writer, and editor of Daily Shouts, and as of May this year, The New Yorker‘s Cartoon Editor.

Ed Fisher: Mr. Fisher’s first cartoon appeared in The New Yorker October 27, 1951; he went on to contribute over 700 cartoons. He died in 2013.

Dan Fradon:  Mr. Fradon, whose first cartoon appeared in The New Yorker, May 1, 1948,  is the doyen of the magazine’s artists. He has published well over a thousand cartoons in the magazine.

James Geraghty: a former gag-writer, hired in 1939, he became the magazine’s first Art Editor.  Before Geraghty, there was no one single person at the magazine dedicated to overseeing all the art (Harold Ross was the overseer of everything in his magazine).  Ross’s successor, William Shawn said of Geraghty: “Along with Harold Ross…he set set the magazine’s comic art on its course and he helped determine the direction in which the comic art would go and is still going.”  Mr. Geraghty was the art editor from 1939 through 1973. He died in 1983.

Rea Irvin: Mr. Irvin is a huge part of the New Yorker’s DNA as he’s responsible for the New Yorker‘s first cover (featuring the fellow referred to as Eustace Tilley); Mr. Irvin adapted the typeface that we now call the Irvin typeface; he contributed a record number of New Yorker covers, and last but not least, he helped “educate” Harold Ross, art-wise. He died in 1972.

Harrison Kinney: A reporter for The New Yorker from 1949-1954; his massive biography of James Thurber: His Life & Times was published in 1995.

Lee Lorenz: Geraghty’s successor as Art Editor (and later, under Tina Brown’s editorship, as Cartoon Editor).   He began as editor in 1973, handing over the reigns to Bob Mankoff in 1997. Mr. Lorenz is also one of, if not the most prolific New Yorker cartoonists. He is also the author of numerous books about New Yorker cartoonists, including the must-read history, The Art of The New Yorker:1925- 1995.

Bob Mankoff: Mr. Mankoff, also a cartoonist for the magazine, has been its cartoon editor for over nineteen years.  His memoir, How About Never — Is Never Good For You?: My Life In Cartoons was published in 2014.

Helen Mears: Harold Ross’s first secretary and the first person delegated to be a go-between the editorial department and the artists. She was fired by Philip Wylie on orders from Harold Ross. Mr. Wylie then assumed Ms. Mears duties.

Harold Ross: The founder and first editor of The New Yorker. There are three biographies of Mr. Ross. Thomas Kunkel’s biography Genius in Disguise is essential reading. Mr. Ross died in 1951.

William Shawn: Appointed in January of 1952 as Harold Ross’s successor. He remained editor until 1987. He died in 1992.

Rogers E. M. Whitaker: hired in 1926 he headed the checking department and later the make-up department.  Mr. Whitaker went on to become an editor and contributor to the New Yorker, working under various names:  “E.M. Frimbo”  (“The World’s Greatest Railroad Buff”) for pieces chronicling his journeys on the nations railways; “J.W.L.” for his pieces about Ivy League football; “The Old Curmudgeon” when he wrote for The Talk of The Town.   Mr. Whitaker died in 1981.

Katharine White: Hired in August of 1925, Ms. White (then Angell) was the magazine’s first Fiction Editor.  According to the New York Times: she…”exerted a profoundly creative influence on contemporary American literature…having transformed The New Yorker from a humor magazine into the purveyor of much of the best writing in the country.” Before James Geraghty consolidated the Art Department, the art was under the umbrella of the Fiction Department.  Lee Lorenz has written of her that “she was a powerful voice in the selection of the magazine’s art.” She died in 1977.  Linda Davis’s biography, Onward & Upward: A Biography of Katharine S. White is essential reading.

Philip Wylie: “The New Yorker‘s first bona fide applicant” was the magazine’s second artist hand holder.  He attended hundreds of the magazine’s first art meetings.  His short stint at The New Yorker was followed by a long and successful career as a writer including the best-selling Generation of Vipers.  He died in 1971

 

 

Video of Interest: John Updike & New Yorker Cartoons; From Ink Spill’s Archives: Art of The New Yorker Ephemera

Posted on 19th March 2017 in News

 

The late John Updike (he died in 2009) wrote almost as much about the magazine’s cartoons and cartoonists as any New Yorker contributor outside of the Art/Cartoon Department [see below].  Here we have a chance to see him for five and-a-half minutes,  up close with some of the magazine’s most iconic drawings, including James Thurber’s Seal in the Bedroom, Charles Addams’s skier and Peter Arno’s “Well, back to the old drawing board.”  The video comes out of WGBH’s archive (that’s the Boston public television station). My guess is that Updike was visiting the traveling exhibit of art tied into the New Yorker‘s 60th anniversary in 1985.   Here’s the link.  Enjoy!

A Selected List of Updike on New Yorker Cartoons and Cartoonists:

Introduction to Christmas at The New Yorker: Stories, Poems, Humor, and Art (2003)

Thurber’s Art — a contribution to Cartoon America: Comic Art in the Library of Congress (2006)

A Tribute to Saul Steinberg for The New York Review of Books (1999).

Introduction to The World of William Steig, edited by Lee Lorenz (1998)

Introduction to a section (“The Fourth Decade: 1955- 1964”) of The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker (2004)

Introduction to Poor Arnold’s Almanac (1998) *the “Arnold” is Arnold Roth

Note for an Exhibit of New Yorker cartoons at The Art Institute of Boston (1993)

Review of  Steinberg’s The Discovery of America (in The New York Review of Books, 1992)

 

Some ephemera from the exhibit:

When the show ran its course, the art was returned to the contributing artists.  With the art, the Nicholls Gallery included the slip of paper you see below (Barbara Nicholls curated the exhibit). We can see that the exhibit Updike likely visited was at The Boston Athenaeum:

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the opening night in New York (at The New York Public Library, not The Yorker Public Library as it’s spelled on the Nicholls sheet. The New Yorker did have then, and continues to have now, its own library, but it’s not generally open to the public), attendees were offered a swag bag on the way out of the exhibit. The bag contained a brochure, a large Charles Addams poster as well as a copy of The New Yorker Cartoon Album 1975-1985, and a packet of postcards, all shown below except for the poster, which is too big for my scanner — the image is the same as you see on the bag and postcard):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swann’s Ad with Addams “Z” Subway Car; Cartoon Companion Rates the Latest New Yorker Cartoons; Book of Interest: Shannon Wheeler’s “Sh*t My President Says: The Illustrated Tweets of Donald J. Trump”

Posted on 16th March 2017 in News

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Was pleased and surprised to come across this full page Swann ad in today’s New York Times (the special “F” section devoted to Museums).  The Addams drawing, included in an upcoming auction, originally appeared in The New Yorker October 1, 1979. That issue, to me, is memorable. For starters the cover, by R.O. Blechman,  is one of my all-time favorite New Yorker covers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The roster of cartoonists in the issue included some heavy hitters from the magazine’s golden age, including George Price (whose drawing in the issue is three-quarters of a page), William Steig, Addams of course, and James Stevenson (represented by a full page drawing).  Also in the issue are some of James Geraghty’s best additions from his later years manning the art editor’s desk: Lee Lorenz, Warren Miller, Edward Koren, Robert Weber, and J.B. Handelsman.  And there are a number of the new kids brought in by Geraghty’s successor, Lee Lorenz: Arnie Levin, Jack Ziegler, Bob Mankoff, Roz Chast and yours truly (another reason the issue was memorable for me: it contained my first sequential drawing).

Looking through the issue at the cartoons one can’t help but notice how the  cartoons sit in a wide variety of space. Price’s three-quarters page, Stevenson’s beautiful full page, my own multi-panel spread bleeding onto a second page, Ziegler’s drawing (the first of two Zieglers in the issue) in an upright rectangle surrounded on three sides by text; Mankoff’s drawing and Arnie Levin’s as well as Addams’s allowed to spread across the width of the page. Weber’s gorgeous drawing run large, and  set so perfectly on the page. What’s even more remarkable about this issue is that it wasn’t unusual — this is what was normal in that time.

 

Here’s what the Addams drawing looked like in that issue:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

______________________________________________________________________

 

The only blog offering a critical take on each week’s New Yorker cartoons returns with a look at  cavemen pondering their wardrobe, a drafty Hades, a King’s best friend, King Kong’s mom & pop, and 8 more.   Read it here.

___________________________________________________________________________

Coming from Top Shelf Productions this summer, Shannon Wheeler’s Sh*t My President Says: The Illustrated Tweets of Donald J. Trump.

From the publisher:

Acclaimed cartoonist Shannon Wheeler (The New Yorker, God Is Disappointed in You, Too Much Coffee Man) transforms Donald Trump’s most revealing tweets into razor-sharp cartoons, offering a subversive and illuminating insight into the mind of the most divisive political figure of our time. Whether you love him or hate him, this take on Trump will help you come to grips with the man and his ideas thanks to Wheeler’s signature mix of slapstick and sophistication.

Details here.

Steig Covers Brendan Gill’s Here At The New Yorker

Posted on 13th March 2017 in News

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few days ago I took a look at Charles Addams’s original cover for Brendan Gill’s Here At The New Yorker (Random House, 1975).  Today I’m adding the 1990 edition of that book to the Spill’s New Yorker Cartoonists Library. This edition, published in the UK by Heinemann, features  a William Steig cover originally published by the New Yorker, February 14, 1964.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An even later edition (De Capo Press, 1997) features a typically exuberant Frank Modell drawing:

 

 

 

Luckily, Mr. Gill kept adding new introductions as each edition appeared, giving us a kind of play-by-play as the New Yorker‘s editors and the magazine itself changed over time.

A bonus tucked away at the end of every edition: “Shawn On Ross” — nearly eight pages about Harold Ross written by his successor, William Shawn.

The Long Island Connection: Wolcott Gibbs, John O’Hara, and Charles Addams

Posted on 7th March 2017 in News

Photo, left-right: John O’Hara, Elinor & Wolcott Gibbs, Charles Addams

Here are three stellar New Yorker contributors whose private lives intertwined with their professional lives — i.e., they were friends. Curiously, or maybe not so curiously, they all at one time  called Long Island home (Gibbs on Fire Island, O’Hara in Quogue, Addams in Westhampton Beach).  Here’s a quick look at their professional intersections (not including within the pages of The New Yorker itself).  Let’s begin with Charles Addams’s wonderful cover art for Brendan Gill’s 1975 Here At The New Yorker, in which all three of these fellows appear:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top left, John O’Hara by Addams; top right: Wolcott Gibbs by Addams; bottom: Charles Addams by Addams

 

 

 

 

Gibbs wrote the Introduction to Addams’s 1947 collection, Addams and Evil. Here’s a portion of it:

“Altogether, if you have to have the dismal facts, I’m embarrassed to say that as far as I can tell he is just a hell of a nice guy, whose habits are probably a good deal less sinister than yours or, for that matter, even mine.”

 

Jonh O’Hara wrote the foreword to Addams’s 1950 collection, Monster Rally.  It reads, in part:

“Addams is a big man, about 6’1″ and around 195, a toxophilist who can handle a sixty-pound pull, but I don’t think he’d hurt a fly. I never have seen him lose his temper, although that is not to say he doesn’t get mad. He happens to be what is called easy-going, and has a decent contempt for the opinions of mankind.”

 

 

 

Addams provided the book jacket art for Gibbs on several occasions:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more on Wolcott Gibbs and his role in The New Yorker‘s Art Department, here’s an Ink Spill piece from a few years back.

For much much more on Gibbs I highly recommend Thomas Vinciguerra’s recent book, Cast Of Characters: Wolcott Gibbs, E.B. White, James Thurber and the Golden Age of The New Yorker (W.W. Norton & Co., 2015)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And as for Charles Addams, there’s no better place to go than Linda Davis’s Charles Addams: A Cartoonist’s Life (Random House, 2006)

 

 

For Addams’s work:  any of his cartoon collections will do just fine.

 

 

 

 

Mr. O’Hara has been the subject of a number of biographies. Here’s one: The Life of John O’Hara by Frank MacShane (E.P. Dutton, 1980).  There’s a mountain of work by Mr. O’Hara available and another mountain of information available online.

 

 

 

 

_____________________________________________________________________

Attempted Bloggery Ramps Up

Posted on 15th January 2017 in News

Attempted Bloggery takes a close look at similarities (and differences) between a Charles Addams drawing published in The New Yorker in 1946 and the cover of Startling Stories published in 1939.  Read all about it here.

Startling Stories Vol. 2, No. 3 (Nov., 1939). Cover Art by Earle Bergey

Startling Stories Vol. 2, No. 3 (Nov., 1939). Cover Art by Earle Bergey

Neither Creepy Nor Kooky: Charles Addams Westfield Home To Be Renovated

Posted on 30th November 2016 in News

addams-childhood-home-elm-st-westfield-njFrom the Westfield NJ Patch, November 30 2016, “Plans Started to Restore ‘Creepy and Cooky’ Historic Addams Family Historic Home (Snap Snap)”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, definitely not creepy…Addams’s biographer, Linda H. Davis had this to say about the house in  A Cartoonist’s Life (Random House, 2006):

“…the shutters at 522 Elm Street had nothing wicked to hide. ‘I know it would be more interesting, perhaps, if I had a ghastly childhood — chained to an iron bed and thrown a can of Alpo every day,’ said Addams. But ‘I’m one of those strange people who actually had a happy childhood.'”

When most folks think of the Addams Family house they think of the Victorian home that made appearances in Addams’s New Yorker cartoons, as well as on the television series,  and even on this 1954 collection of his cartoons:

addams11

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more on Charles Addams, pick up Ms. Davis’s book and visit the Tee & Charles Addams Foundation website. There’s also The Unofficial Charles Addams World Wide Website.

 

 

 

Frank Modell Celebrated

Posted on 26th October 2016 in News

ModellCartoonists mostly live solitary work lives. When they’ve finished a drawing, sit back and take a look at it, the feedback usually comes from within; then there’s the occasional  laugh from their spouse, friend, room mate or visitor. In the reverse, it’s also usually a solitary experience for someone looking at a cartoon in a magazine.  More often than not, the reaction is internal, and yes, sometimes a laugh, out loud.

It is always slightly jarring — at least for me — to sit in a crowd and hear the collective roar of laughter at cartoons projected on a screen. Such was the experience last night at an evening dedicated to celebrating the life and work of the great New Yorker cartoonist Frank Modell, who passed away in May at age 98.

The event was held a few doors east of  the 44th Street entrance to The New Yorker‘s former longtime address at 25 West 43rd Street (the building’s main lobby stretches from 43rd to 44th).  A plaque attached to the magazine’s one-time residence bears Frank’s name alongside a number of other heavy hitters: Harold Ross, E.B. White, James Thurber, Helen Hokinson, Peter Arno, Charles Addams, Katharine White and James Stevenson to name but a few.  Mr. Stevenson, Frank’s best friend, was in attendance last night, as were a number of other New Yorker colleagues, including Warren Miller, Mort Gerberg, Edward Sorel, Arnold Roth, Liza Donnelly, Charles “Chip” McGrath, Roger Angell,  Anne Hall Elser, Thomas Vinciguerra  and Linda Davis.

Remarks from Frank’s close friends, Flicker Hammond, Edgar Lansbury, Tom Meehan, and the long-time New Yorker writer, Kennedy Fraser were preceded by the presentation of a wonderful array of Frank’s work. Watching the drawings come up on the screen, with each caption read by Nancy Franklin (the New Yorker‘s former television critic), the laughter moved from the front of the room to the rear — a true wave of laughter.  Each drawing was a reminder of Frank’s ability to reach us with elegant drawings (it was noted that Frank’s long-time colleague and editor Lee Lorenz had said that Frank’s drawings “popped off the page”) topped off by a disarmingly precise caption:  nothing elaborate, nothing obtuse — just plain funny. Funny, and evergreen; that magic ingredient  that for many many years was the hallmark of New Yorker cartoons.

As each cartoon was presented I was also reminded of the friendliness of Frank’s work — work as friendly as the man himself. The people he drew were people we knew, or know, or are. His animals, whether mythical or not, are animals we feel an attachment to, whether it’s the unicorn riding a unicycle or a dog sleeping on a stuffed chair.  One of the drawings shown, “Boy, am I glad to see you.” was greeted with exceptionally riotous laughter.  I couldn’t help but think of Frank himself at that moment.  Boy, Frank, were we glad to see you.

modell-boy-am-i-glad-to-see-you

 

The Ink Spill Jack Ziegler Interview

Posted on 10th October 2016 in News

jack-ziegler-1985

Jack Ziegler, recently referred to on this site as the Godfather of Contemporary New Yorker Cartoonists, has been contributing to the magazine since February of  1974.

Now in 2016 he is solidly in the K Crowd — meaning he’s published well over a thousand cartoons and one cover in The New Yorker (we’ll get to the cover later).  Considering that Jack has been the subject of former New Yorker Art Editor, Lee Lorenz’s The Essential Jack Ziegler and more recently as one of Richard Gehr’s subjects in I Only Read It For the Cartoons, I thought it would be interesting to talk about things that, for the most part, weren’t brought up in those books. I highly recommend seeking out both those titles for a full account of Jack’s personal and public shenanigans over the years.

This is Part 1 of my interview with Jack. Later in the week I’ll post Part 2, where we discuss a number of Jack’s favorite drawings, and a number of my favorite Ziegler drawings.

__________________________________________________________________________

 

I’d heard from Jack years ago that he was a CBS page during the Beatles historic Ed Sullivan debut, but what I didn’t know was that he also paged for the Jackie Gleason and Garry Moore shows. It seemed the perfect place to begin our interview.

MM: So, this inquiring mind wants to know: did you get to meet  “The Great One” (Jackie Gleason) when you were a page at CBS?

JZ: I never got to meet Gleason.  He wasn’t around all that much and when he was in the studio he was referred to as “God.”  I think we taped the show on Tuesday nights & he wouldn’t show up till sometime that afternoon so that he could watch the dress rehearsal.  That was apparently all he needed to absorb everything he needed to do onstage.  Barney Martin, who eventually played Jerry’s father on Seinfeld, was his stand-in.  It was a fat guy to fat guy transference.

As a page, or glorified usher, I did get to watch all the tapings from Studio 50, now the Ed Sullivan Theatre, at Broadway & 53rd in NYC, from the audience until the Gleason Show moved – lock, stock & barrel – to Miami.

[In Gehr’s book, Jack mentions an elevator ride with Jackie O.  I wanted details]

MM: What about the elevator ride with Jackie O.  Just the two of you?

JZ: I had sold my second book, Filthy Little Things, to Doubleday – and Jackie Kennedy happened to snag a job there around that time as an editor.  I had just dropped off a bunch of drawings for the book and then took the elevator down.  The car stopped at another floor and she got on and it was just the two of us, sans Secret Service escorts.  Then we rode that baby down another couple of floors before she hopped off, exhausted but elated (they tell me), and I stayed on till I hit the street, at which point I had a chance to exhale.

MM: Do you remember the first time walking into the New Yorker’s art department [the magazine’s offices were then located at 25 West 43rd St]  What was that like for you? Who’d you meet?

JZ:  It was a Wednesday in November of 1973.  There was to be an annual Cartoonists Guild meeting & cocktail party later and I was wearing a sports coat and a heavy sweater so that I wouldn’t have to deal with an overcoat later.  I thought I was just going to drop off my usual batch, but there was a note from Lee Lorenz included in my returns asking me to come back to chat about one of my drawings.  Oh, boy!  Natasha the receptionist opened the gates and pointed me in the direction of the Inner Sanctum.

new-yorker-hallway-25-west-43rd-st-ldLeft: the New Yorker‘s Inner Sanctum at 25 West 43rd St.

It was a warmer than usual Nov. day and I was starting to perspire in my excessive outfit.  The first person I saw in the office was Henry Martin, whom I’d already met at True magazine while on rounds.  Sam Gross was there, too; I’d met him a few weeks back at National Lampoon.  I was then introduced to the other people who were there: Dana Fradon, Donald Reilly & Charlie Sauers.  By the time I got to sit down with Lee, the perspiration had turned to flop sweat.  Lee asked if I was OK as he handed me my first OK.  Then he gave me a little pep talk and basically just said to make the drawing a little bit better.  I was a wreck, but in a good way.  When I got back down to earth, i.e., 43rd St., I headed for the nearest pay phone to break the good news to my wife.

MM:  How aware were you of the work of veteran New Yorker cartoonists who were around when you began at the magazine…for example: Frank Modell, Warren Miller, Dana Fradon, Charles Saxon, Mischa Richter and on and on.

JZ: I knew of them all.  When I was a kid, my parents subscribed to a lot of magazines, but not the New Yorker.  Fortunately, a friend of mine’s parents did, so from the late ‘40s, early ‘50s, I was a big fan.  Some neighbors down the block had a copy of the New Yorker 25th Anniversary Album, with which I was fascinated.

nyer-25th-anniversary-album  Every time I went over there, I’d head for a quiet corner with that book.  One day I asked if I could borrow it & the owner said if I could find it, I could have it.  I interpreted “have” as “keep.”  I still “have” it.  After that, I started buying the mag on my own.

MM: Let’s talk about your one and only (as of this week, anyway) New Yorker cover.  Curious as to why there wasn’t a bushel basket full of more Ziegler covers following that one.  You obviously submitted more.   Did more sell that didn’t run?

jack-ziegler-nyer-cover

JZ:  Selling that cover was very encouraging, and i submitted a lot of them, but that was the only one that got bought until 1991, when I sold a fall-themed cover.  They weren’t able to run it that year because all the fall slots had been taken, so it got pushed back to ’92.  Then editor Robert Gottlieb left and Tina Brown took over and killed everything that was scheduled to run.  It was the beginning of The Tina Years.  So – that was that.  It did eventually run inside as a full-color full-pager with the title, Fall Sweeps.  Oh, well.  But I’d love the chance to redo that one cover – ya know, just to make it right.

MM: What about the cover would you change?

JZ: I like the guy.  The bricks should’ve started higher, instead of going all the way down to the sidewalk.  I had to take 3 stabs at the sandwich board before Lee was satisfied and you can almost see that it’s pasted on.  The final (sandwich board) came out OK, though.

MM: I’m going to ask you the same question I asked Woodman [Bill Woodman, who was the subject of an Ink Spill interview in September of this year]: when you began at the New Yorker were you aware your work was quite different than what the magazine had been publishing in its previous fifty years? (Ed Koren, who preceded you in the magazine by  a dozen years would be an exception).

JZ: I had no inkling of that.  I knew that I felt that I wasn’t quite seeing the type of cartoons I wanted to see in the magazine.  They were good cartoons, but too many of them weren’t making me laugh the way they had when I was a kid.  I wanted to do drawings that were funny to me, & not necessarily to anyone else.  I was out to please myself, so I never asked: Is this a New Yorker cartoon?  Who knows?  Is this a Jack Ziegler cartoon?  Yep.

MM: I remember the first time I saw you in person – it was an enormous book fair in midtown Manhattan, circa 1979.  That cartoon anthology Animals Animals, Animals had just been published and you were on a panel with Sam Gross out there on the street (West 50 something) in front of a large crowd.  Were you comfortable being in the spotlight?

JZ: It was probably either Doubleday or Rizzoli – also could have been part of NY Book Fair that year.  Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin were also there signing books, but hadn’t appeared yet.  I kept telling people that we had them both tied up in the basement & they wouldn’t be set free until the cartoonists had sold a certain number of books.  Oddly, some people were there to buy the Gordon/Kanin book and got pissed off.  So far as spotlight goes, I was never uncomfortable.  When I was a page at CBS we used to have to be front and center to give various little speeches and instructions to our captive audiences.  I was uncomfortable with that for awhile, but quickly got over it and began to tell them silly, made-up stuff, as well as the crucial info.  When you’re signing a lot of books for a crowd and the books are being passed around from cartoonist to cartoonist, the time goes fast and you start doing riffs on the little drawings that the other cartoonists have done before the book got to you.  It was fun.

mankoff-stevens-cline-ziegler-donnelly-1984Left: Bob Mankoff, Mick Stevens, Richard Cline, Jack Ziegler, Liza Donnelly. New York, 1984.

MM: The next time I saw you was in early 1985, at The New Yorker.  William Shawn had called in a bunch of cartoonists to talk about the impending sale of the magazine to Advance Publications. Besides us “kids” sitting on a table along the back wall, I only remember Steig and Barney Tobey. What do you remember from that somewhat historic meeting?  Besides Lee Lorenz, and the aforementioned Steig and Tobey, what cartoonists do you remember being in the room? And…what do you remember how you felt being there with Shawn, in that crowd?  Had you met Shawn before?

JZ:  I had met (or rather, seen) Shawn before, usually exiting or entering his elevator and sometimes in the hallway (rare).  He gave another speech to the assembled troops several years prior to Advance’s acquisition.  It was probably late ‘70s, when a group of New Yorker employees were attempting to unionize the workers.  The unionization never happened, but as a result, we were promised health insurance and a pension plan.  Not a bad outcome at all.
I sort of remember the Advance meeting being in Lee’s office, but that’s probably incorrect – there were a lot of people there.  I noted it in my desk diary as Black Wednesday, 2/13/85.  Other than those you mentioned, also present were gagwriter and sometime cartoonist Richard McCallister, cover artist Gretchen Dow Simpson, Charles Addams, George Price, Frank Modell, Joe Farris, Roz Chast, Al Ross, Ed Frascino, George Booth, Ed Fisher, Bud Handelsman, Arnie Levin, Henry Martin, Bob Mankoff, you, and I.  I was quite impressed with Shawn’s lucid presentation of the complicated takeover process.

MM: It’s risky talking about current New Yorker cartoonists, unless you’re all nicey-nice, so I’d like to ask you to comment, however briefly you’d like, about some of our departed colleagues. Either comment on their work, or them personally, if you knew them.
> Richard McCallister
> Charles Saxon
> Steig
> Charles Barsotti
> Al Ross
> Chon Day
> William Hamilton
> George Price

JZ:  When I first moved to New Milford, CT, in 1975 I used to mail in New Yorker finishes from the local PO.  One day there was a gentleman in front of me who was also holding a manila envelope addressed to Lee Lorenz.  I tapped him on the shoulder and introduced myself, told him that he had to be either Richard McCallister or Stan Hunt (I knew that he, too, lived in the area, but had never met him).  It was McCallister.  We – my wife and I – became friends with him and his wife Alice and would occasionally socialize, at which times I would pump him with questions about the magazine and his (kind of) partnership with Peter Arno, for whom he supplied a buttload of ideas.

Bill Steig also lived in the area, about 20 miles north of us in Kent, CT.  We used to meet up by happenstance in various restaurants and would join each others’ table for the meal.  Bill was always saying that no matter how old they get, he still always worried about his kids. One day I mentioned that I would occasionally send in some resubmissions to fill out the batch if it was a particularly dry week.  He was amazed.  “You mean you can do that?,” he said.  I was stunned that in all his years with the New Yorker it had never occurred to him to do that.

I had communicated with Charley Barsotti for years prior to my moving to Lawrence, KS.  He was living only about 40 miles away in Kansas City, so it was only natural that we get together for lots of lunches & dinners – and we did that a lot, until he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and then died about a year later.  The last time I saw him was for a sun-filled patio dinner at Axois, a great restaurant a block from his house.  He was frail that evening, but still full of spunk, and I’ve never seen a nattier couple.  In comparison, I looked like a dropout in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt.  He wanted a side of potatoes with his meal, but his wife Rae told him they weren’t part of his strict diet.  He just looked at her and ordered the potatoes anyway.  He, as always, just wanted to have a good time.  He died about 2 weeks later.  And, no, it wasn’t the damn potatoes.

I still get together with Rae for the occasional meal and we talk about Charley and all the amazing work he left behind.

I would see Al Ross only occasionally at the magazine and he was always friendly and jovial.  I would see both Hamilton and Saxon at the mag, but they seemed more remote.  I never met Chon Day and only had a glimpse of Price once at the aforementioned Shawn meeting.

MM: Lee Lorenz brought you into the magazine. What was it like working with him? Did he just kind of let you do your thing once you began or was he working closely with you — a combination, perhaps?

JZ: My first meeting with Lee was when he invited me back into his office to “discuss” one of my drawings.  That was a big deal, a life-changing deal.  He gave me a few hints, very loose, very casual, about how to approach the finish.  I think I did 3 versions before it looked right to him.  After that, I sold sporadically for about 6 months before they started buying on a fairly regular basis.

Below: Mr. Ziegler’s first New Yorker drawing, published February 11, 1974

jack-ziegler-1st-new-yorker-drawing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I do remember having a hard time for some reason drawing older people – I was in my early thirties at the time and I guess I just couldn’t identify.  After several attempts with one idea, Lee gave up on me and had Whitney Darrow, Jr. do the finish. But I’ve come a long way now and drawing old codgers these days comes naturally.

“Hole: The Original Soundtrack” was a 3-page, 8-picture absurdist spread that the New Yorker bought.  Lee had spread out all the drawings on the floor of his office and we were crawling around among them trying to figure out various sizings.  Lee turned to me and mentioned what a ridiculous way this was for two grown men to be earning a living.  And it was.  He was serious about cartoons and great fun to work with.

MM: I know Charles Addams did at least two of your ideas. [Nevermore and the little mail truck…is that right?]  Were there more — and were there ideas given to anyone else other than the Whitney Darrow you mentioned?

JZ: Nope, that’s it.  Only those 3 – and they all looked great.  I couldn’t have done them better myself – I mean, the Darrow drawing I couldn’t do at all – his version is lovely.

whitney-darrow-idea-by-zieglerLeft: drawing by Whitney Darrow, idea by Jack Ziegler

MM: What did you think of Addams’ versions of your ideas?

JZ: Addams’ Nevermore drawing has a layout that closely follows my original (as I remember it – of course, I never saw it again) – there wasn’t anything much different you could have done with it.  His mail truck version is more elaborate and detailed and far, far better than mine.

MM: You began at the New Yorker with Shawn and you’ve seen Bob Gottlieb, Tina Brown and now David Remnick move into the big chair.  Have any of these changes meant some kind of change for you, your work?

JZ:  There’s always a worry when a new editor takes over, but I never had any major problems with any of them.  I didn’t have to make any adjustments, with the exception of the Gottlieb years.  For some reason, Bob G. didn’t like white space in drawings, so every square centimeter had to be filled with something, sometimes to the detriment of the drawing.  The words in a balloon caption had to rub up against the sides of that balloon.  No air allowed.  Seemed silly to me and the drawings of almost everyone suffered.

Tina Brown was different.  She was an anything-goes girl, the nuttier, the edgier, & sometimes the sexier the drawing, the better.  I submitted a rather rude cartoon, “I just did a huge one in my diaper,” a drawing for the hell of it that I knew the New Yorker would never buy.  But, to my surprise, Tina did and it made me very happy.  I love it when a surprise like that happens.

ziegler-huge-one-in

MM: So what’s the thrill, some forty-three years since you began at the magazine: is it that moment an idea works for you, the drawing itself, selling the drawing, seeing it published in The New Yorker?

JZ:  It’s always a blast when you come up with an idea that you know no one has ever come up with before.  Also, it’s fun just thumbing through a stack of old drawings and coming across something that you’ve totally forgotten about and it makes you laugh out loud.

Selling a drawing is always nice for the bottom line, but the choices of what gets bought are almost invariably a surprise.  Personal favorites rarely get chosen.  Sometimes the worst idea in the batch is bought – and then, once it’s published, it turns out to be a huge hit.  Seeing anything of one’s own in the magazine is always a thrill, no matter how many times it happens – especially if it’s sized correctly.  Judging the value of one’s own work has always been impossible.  And I’ll always have certain favorites among my thousands of children, no matter how crappy everyone else thinks they are.

MM: Not long ago someone asked me how I could come up with ideas without getting out in the world. Do you think it’s necessary to “get out in the world” for your work?

JZ: You certainly have to have some background of having been out in the world, but as far as a day-to-day thing, nah.  I have very little live contact during the week, except for dog walks and buying the newspaper.  I rely on the blank piece of paper on my clipboard to reveal the secrets within.  I had normal jobs and contacts for my ten years between college and cartooning, so I was aware of the ins and outs of daily workplace socializing, so I rely on those not-so-fond memories to get me through the batch.

MM: I know you read everyday before you begin working on drawings.  Does the reading actually translate into drawings or is it something that, let’s say, exercises the brain?

JZ: It’s more a case of getting the brain moving in the morning.  Sometimes ideas spring from that, but mostly not.  After reading, I check out the New York Times, just the first page of each section, to see if anything leaps out at me.  With all the budget cuts and downsizing of that paper over the past few years, there’s far less there, so that formerly useful tool has become kinda useless.  But I still look, just in case.  I rarely get to delve into the interior until lunchtime.

MM: Is there a certain cartoon scenario that your happiest working on/workin in? (marital situations, barbeques, the old west, business people, etc) or are you happiest with whatever you’re working on at the moment?

JZ: Whatever I’m working on at the moment, whatever ideas pop into my head, no matter the genre.  I do like drawing cowboys on horses and almost anything to do with the “Wild West,” however.  Whenever I’m stuck I invariably start drawing guys on horses, and ninety per cent of the time that leads somewhere.

MM:  I love your  drawing of the cowboy kissing the gal while covering his horse’s eyes.  It’s one of those not laugh out loud drawings (although it could be), but some other kind of humor.

j-ziegler-aug-19-1991

JZ: I really like that one too.  My memory of it is that it’s something that emerged totally out of a doodle that I just kept adding things to, including the frame.

MM: I’m not one for dissecting what’s successful, but I think of that as a very successful drawing, an evergreen. Any comment on that drawing, or evergreen drawings in general (as in: do you prefer them to topical drawings?). 

JZ:  I do like drawings where there really isn’t any joke — or kicker, as Sam Gross would say. The cannon in the bushes is like that.  I’m sure a lot of people scratched their heads over that one, but it’s just a cannon poking out of some suburban bushes and that’s all it is. There can be many interpretations.  It amuses me and I have no idea why. I far prefer these types of drawings to topical.  They have a longer shelf life, at least in my own mind.

jz-cannon

MM: The New Yorker‘s current cartoon editor, Bob Mankoff memorably said, “It’s the think, not the ink.”  Agree, disagree?

JZ: Agree.  But it’s always nice when cartoonists know how to draw so that they can give us something pleasant and fun to look at.

 

(Photo of Jack Ziegler at the very top of the piece, taken in 1985;  photo of the New Yorker‘s Inner Sanctum, taken in 1991: both courtesy of Liza Donnelly)

A Jack Ziegler selected bibliography:

ziegler4ziegler5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hamburger Madness  Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978.

Filthy Little Things    Dolphin, 1981.

Marital Blitz   Warner, 1987.

Celebrity Cartoons of the Rich and Famous   Warner, 1987.

Worst Case Scenarios    Fireside, 1990.

The Essential Jack Ziegler (Edited by Lee Lorenz)  Workman Publishing, 2000.

How’s the Squid?   Harry N. Abrams, 2004.

Olive or Twist? Harry N. Abrams, 2004.

ziegler11

ziegler13