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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

Latest New Yorker Cartoons Rated; Tom Toro Talks Trump; Messing Around With The New Yorker’s Logo

Posted on 3rd March 2017 in News

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the latest installment of The Cartoon Companion:  Ed Steed’s fowl: chickens or ducks?…plus Dernavich’s refrigerator, Cotham’s stairway to heaven, and more.

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Tom Toro has been drawing a lot of Trumps lately.  He talks about the experience on the Huffington Post: “New Yorker Cartoonist Explains Why Humor is the Heartbeat of Democracy”

Link here to Mr. Toro’s website

 

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The latest New Yorker features a Russian-inspired Eustace Tilley and Rea Irvin typeface.

You might wonder when the magazine has played with its look before.  Here are just a few examples:

 

Rea Irvin (of course!) broke  the mold first. Jan 2, 1932

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

S. Liam Dunne in 1934

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rea Irvin (again) in 1947

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The one-and-only Helen Hokinson in 1948

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

James Stevenson in 1969

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mr. Stevenson again in 1973

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emma Allen To Succeed New Yorker Cartoon Editor Bob Mankoff

Posted on 2nd March 2017 in News

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a memo to all New Yorker Cartoonists this afternoon, the magazine’s editor, David Remnick announced that  Emma Allen, a New Yorker editor will succeed Bob Mankoff as cartoon editor in two months time.

In part, the memo reads:

The person I’ve chosen to be the next cartoon editor is Emma Allen, who has worked in recent years an editor of The Talk of the Town, a writer, and the driving force behind Daily Shouts, which is one of the best features of newyorker.com. Unlike Bob and Lee, she is not a cartoonist, but then neither was James Geraghty, who did the job before Lee. (Hell, William Shawn was not a writer, either, and he wasn’t too bad in the editing department.) Emma has a terrific eye for talent, knows the history of cartooning deeply, and is an immensely energetic and intelligent and sympathetic editor. She will work with Colin Stokes on selecting cartoons, running the caption contest, and creating a bigger digital footprint for cartoons. I am quite sure that we have only just begun to figure out new ways to explore and exploit digital technologies as a way to distribute your work to more and new readers. All of this is intended to stake out a healthy future for cartoons at The New Yorker.

Ms. Allen will be the third person in the magazine’s history in charge of editing its cartoons (Rea Irvin, who helped the magazine’s founder develop the New Yorker’s cartoon culture, was considered the art supervisor).  James Geraghty,  hired in 1939, was the first official cartoon editor (his title was Art Editor).  Lee Lorenz succeeded Mr. Geraghty in 1973 and held that position (as Art Editor from 1973 -1993 and then as cartoon editor from 1993-1997) until Mr. Mankoff was appointed in ’97.

Update: In a statement released to the press, Mr. Mankoff had this to say:

“My greatest gratitude goes to the cartoonists. I know how much easier it is to pick a good cartoon than do one, much less the many thousands they have done and will continue to do,” Mankoff said. “And, continue they will, with Emma Allen who now takes over this most iconic of all New Yorker features. I wish her and them the best of luck. And me, too—I’ve got to find that old cartoon pen of mine.” 

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The filmmaker Sally Williams has been hard at work on her documentary about James Stevenson. Here’s a brief clip from the film.

Link here for even more on Sally Williams

Link here to see some of Mr. Stevenson’s New Yorker work

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Being Eustace Tilley; Roger Angell Remembers James Stevenson; Oscar Time! Liza Donnelly Back on the Red Carpet Live Drawing the Oscars, Drooker’s Oscar Cover, Eckstein’s Oscar Wielding Eustace

Posted on 25th February 2017 in News

 

 

Eustace Tilley is of course a fictional character — commonly referred to as The New Yorker‘s mascot.  There is a suggested backstory to Tilley himself in Lee Lorenz’s Art of The New Yorker: 1925-1995; there are best guesses elsewhere as to why Rea Irvin (see below) decided to submit the cover to Harold Ross to adorn Ross’s inaugural issue and there are probably just as many best guesses as to why Ross chose to use Irvin’s submission.

Following the advent of the New Yorker, it didn’t take long for a Tilley stand-in to show up; a New Yorker in-house publication featured Harold Ross as Tilley and Alexander Woollcott as the butterfly hovering at Tilley’s eye-level.  Over the years there have been innumerable parody New Yorkers (Ink Spill has a selection here).  But how many real people, after Harold Ross, have stood in for Tilley on a New Yorker cover or on another magazine’s cover.

If you search online you’ll see perhaps hundreds of Tilley stand-ins, some on the cover of The New Yorker itself, many submitted to the New Yorker as part of a contest, many just for personal amusement (Tilley as Disney’s Goofy, or Mad’s Alfred E. Neuman, Dr. Seuss’s Cat In The Hat, etc., etc.)    But here I’m concentrating on published covers featuring real people (and one real dog) as Tilley.   I’ve found just a few (please let me know of others that fit this category…update: my thanks to Attempted Bloggery for reminding me about the Eustace Clinton/Obama cover ):

 

First the real deal: Rea Irvin’s classic cover:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The New Yorker‘s in-house issue featuring Harold Ross.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Renata Adler as Tilley on Manhattan, Inc. November 1986

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New York magazine, July 20, 1992,  with Tina Brown as Tilley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The New Yorker’s 75th anniversary issue, February 21, 2000, with a William Wegman dog as Tilley (and one of his dogs standing in for the butterfly)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Eustace Tillarobama” (credited to Rea Irvin and Seth) February 11, 2008

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And that brings us to the March 6, 2017  The New Yorker, with Barry Blitt’s  “Eustace Vladimirovich Tilley” and Donald J. Trump as the butterfly

Image result for eustace tilley putin

 

Rea Irvin’s entry on Ink Spill‘s “New Yorker Cartoonists A-Z”:

Rea Irvin  (pictured above. Self portrait above from Meet the Artist) *Born, San Francisco, 1881; died in the Virgin Islands,1972. Irvin was the cover artist for the New Yorker’s first issue, February 21, 1925.  He was the magazine’s  first art editor, holding the position from 1925 until 1939 when James Geraghty assumed the title. Irvin became art director and remained in that position until William Shawn succeeded Harold Ross. Irvin’s last original work for the magazine was the magazine’s cover of July 12, 1958. The February 21, 1925 Eustace Tilley cover had been reproduced every year on the magazine’s anniversary until 1994, when R. Crumb’s Tilley-inspired cover appeared. Tilley has since reappeared, with other artists substituting from time-to-time.

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…From the New Yorker‘s Culture Desk, February 25, 2017, “Looking At The Field” Roger Angell on James Stevenson’s art and writing.

photo: Mr. Stevenson in Westport, Connecticut in 2015

 

 

 

 

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Oscar Time!

…Liza Donnelly has been out in Hollywood all week drawing  the scene as the Academy Awards prepares for its big night. Following her historic appearance last year as the first ever cartoonist live drawing on the Red Carpet, she will be back again tomorrow night drawing the stars and the hooplah.

Check out her drawings @lizadonnelly  and  @CBSThisMorning

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The New Yorker’s  Oscar cover, February 27, 2017 by Eric Drooker (titled “#OscarsNotSoWhite”)

 

 

 

 

 

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…I’ll wrap up this post appropriately enough with Bob Eckstein’s Eustace holding an Oscar. Be sure to follow Mr. Ecksteins coverage of the big event on newyorker.com 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lee Lorenz On James Stevenson; Cartoon Companion Rates the Latest New Yorker Cartoons

Posted on 24th February 2017 in News

“Postscript: James Stevenson”

James Stevenson is remembered by the great cartoonist  Lee Lorenz  who, as The New Yorker‘s  Art Editor guided the magazine’s Art Department (that included the cartoons and the covers) from 1973 through 1993, and then served as Cartoon Editor from 1993 through 1997.  Mr. Lorenz was Mr. Stevenson’s editor from 1973 through 1993.

 

More Stevenson:

…from the Greenwich Times, February 21, 2017,  “James Stevenson, New Yorker Cartoonist, Cos Cob Resident, Dies”

…from The New York Times, February 24, 2017, “James Stevenson, Ex-New Yorker illustrator, Dies at 87” *

*If only someone at The New York Times could change “Ex-New Yorker Illustrator” to “New Yorker Cartoonist” — Mr. Stevenson was first and foremost a New Yorker cartoonist.

UPDATE: The online headline for Mr. Stevenson’s New York Times obit has just been changed to read “New Yorker Cartoonist” …thank you, NYTs!

…Special Note: Attempted Bloggery has been featuring art by Mr. Stevenson all week.  Check it out!

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The latest Cartoon Companion is posted. The two anonymous critics take a close look at the cartoons appearing in the issue of February 27th.  A new rating system is in effect.

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New Yorker Cartoonist Extraordinaire, James Stevenson, Has Died

Posted on 18th February 2017 in News

 

Ink Spill has learned  this morning that James Stevenson, who contributed to The New Yorker for nearly half a century and was the very definition of a New Yorker cartoonist, has died. The news was conveyed by his wife, Josephine Merck.

 

Photo: James Stevenson in the 1960s

 

Mr. Stevenson, born in New York City in 1929, found his way to The New Yorker in 1947. “I was not hired on merit,” Mr. Stevenson wrote in The Life, Loves and Laughs of Frank Modell — “My mother was  a friend of the Fiction Editor, William Maxwell.” He worked for that summer as an office boy, and a part-time supplier of cartoon ideas.  Nine years later he was hired by the Art Editor, James Geraghty, as a full-time ideaman.  Mr. Stevenson recalled that Mr. Geraghty turned to him after the hiring handshake and said, “You must not tell anybody at the office or anywhere else what you do.”

 

 

 

 

Stevenson’s own drawings were eventually  published in the magazine beginning in March of 1956 (his first appears here).  He went on to become one of scant few New Yorker contributors who could say they had contributed written pieces in the magazine as well as covers, cartoons, and illustrations, or spot drawings. James Thurber, Lou Myers and Peter Arno come to mind as the only other members of that club. I once mentioned to Mr. Stevenson how energetic he seemed, considering the amount and variety of his contributions to The New Yorker.  He replied, “I had to be energetic — I had a large family.”  In a career at the magazine that lasted 47 years, he published nearly 80 covers.  His astounding  number of cartoons –1,987 — places him, according to Ink Spill’s calculations, in the top five contributing artists in the magazine’s history (the other four being William Steig, Lee Lorenz, Alan Dunn, and Helen Hokinson).

 

Below: a Stevenson cartoon from The New Yorker, June 11, 1999

For me, as a kid just out of college beginning at The New Yorker, Mr. Stevenson’s work and the work of his colleagues, was my real education. I noted immediately that Stevenson’s world was inhabited by drawings that connected to the very moment. His seemingly effortless line flowed buoyantly across the page, welcoming us in, and then, as the best cartoons do, surprising us with a caption we never saw coming; in those pre-social media days, Stevenson expertly distilled and commented on a news item or cultural event as quickly as a cartoonist working for a weekly publication could possibly manage. It’s difficult enough for any cartoonist to successfully do that kind of drawing on any given week, but Stevenson’s gift allowed us to laugh out loud (or on the inside) nearly 2000 times, almost weekly, for close to half a century.

In 2013 Mr. Stevenson published a book about his best friend, and New Yorker colleague, Frank Modell.  Mr. Stevenson is shown here, to the left, with Mr, Modell in a photo taken in the mid-to-late 1970s or early 1980s.

Below: one of my all-time favorite Stevenson covers.  The best New Yorker artists share with us a moment.  This moment has stuck with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On a personal note: I had an opportunity to meet Mr. Stevenson within the first few years of my time at The New Yorker, in February of 1980.  Standing in a circle of cartoonists at the magazine’s annual  anniversary party in the grand ballroom of The Pierre, Mr. Stevenson was directly across from me. But instead of reaching out my hand and introducing myself, I kept mum;  he was, after all, one of the magazine’s biggest stars. It took more than thirty years for us to finally connect, first on the telephone and later in person. Our first meeting, via a telephone call (he graciously agreed to speak with me about his early days at The New Yorker) was filled with good cheer and plenty of laughs — it was as if we’d known each other for years.

 

 

Here’s Ink Spill’s New Yorker Cartoonists A-Z entry for Mr. Stevenson:

James Stevenson Born, NYC, 1929.  NYer work: March 10, 1956 -.   Stevenson interned as an office boy at The New Yorker in the mid 1940s when he began  supplying ideas for other NYer artists. Nine years later he was hired a full-time ideaman, given an office at the magazine and instructed not to tell anyone what he did. He eventually began publishing his own cartoons and covers as well as a ground-breaking Talk of the Town pieces (ground breaking in that the pieces were illustrated). His contributions to the magazine number over 2000.   Key collections: Sorry Lady — This Beach is Private! ( MacMillan, 1963), Let’s Boogie ( Dodd, Mead, 1978).  Stevenson has long been a children’s book author, with roughly one hundred titles to his credit.  He is a frequent contributor to the Op-Ed page of The New York Times, under the heading Lost and Found New York. Stevenson’s recent book, published in 2013, The Life, Loves and Laughs of Frank Modell, is essential.

Exhibit of Interest: James Stevenson

Posted on 30th January 2017 in News

An exhibit, “Century Masters: James Stevenson” is up and running at the Century Club at 7 West 43rd Street in New York.  The exhibit, although in a private club, is open to the public Monday – Friday,  10am – 10pm through March 17th.

According to the Century:

“Century Masters is a series of occasional exhibitions celebrating the work  of venerated Centurions who in their later years continue to make significant contributions to the art world and to the club.”

 

Here’s James Stevenson’s entry on Ink Spill’s   New Yorker Cartoonists A-Z:

James Stevenson Born, NYC, 1929.  NYer work: March 10, 1956 -.   Stevenson interned as an office boy at The New Yorker in the mid 1940s when he began  supplying ideas for other NYer artists. Nine years later he was hired a full-time ideaman, given an office at the magazine and instructed not to tell anyone what he did. He eventually began publishing his own cartoons and covers as well as a ground-breaking Talk of the Town pieces (ground breaking in that the pieces were illustrated). His contributions to the magazine number over 2000.   Key collections: Sorry Lady — This Beach is Private! ( MacMillan, 1963), Let’s Boogie ( Dodd, Mead, 1978).  Stevenson has long been a children’s book author, with roughly one hundred titles to his credit.  He is a frequent contributor to the Op-Ed page of The New York Times, under the heading Lost and Found New York. Stevenson’s most recent book, The Life, Loves and Laughs of Frank Modell, is essential.

Here’s Stevenson’s collection of cartoons from 1978:

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

 

NYC Subway Car of Interest: Mark Alan Stamaty’s Illustrated Shuttle; More Spills… Harry Bliss in a Salinger Home… the new Swann Catalog with Original Art by 18 New Yorker Artists

Posted on 8th September 2016 in News

timessquare-grandcentralshuttlemarkstamatyRead all about Mark Alan Stamaty’s NYC illustrated subway car on Mike Lynch‘s blog here.

 

Mr. Stamaty’s New Yorker debut was with this cover in November of 1992. Here’s a link to his website.

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Bliss

From newyorker.com, September 8, 2016,  “Salinger’s House, Artists Retreat” — the New Yorker‘s Sarah Larson visits Harry Bliss in a Salinger home, now owned by the cartoonist.

 

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swann-cat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The new Swann catalog is now available online.  Anyone interested in original New Yorker art will absolutely love looking through.  New Yorker artists represented (both cartoonists and cover artists) are Charles Addams, Frank Modell, Ed Fisher, Tom Toro, William Steig, James Stevenson, Mischa Richter, Barbara Shermund,  Ilonka Karasz,   Laura Jean Allen, Beatrice Szanton, John Jonik, Peter Arno, Ludwig Bemelmans, Whitney Darrow, Jr., Richard Decker, Arthur Getz, and Leonard Weisgard.

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

Posted on 7th July 2016 in News

 

Helene Parson : gag slip

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

Hafeez

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Helene Parson's Tree

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