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.

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):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Cartoonist David Sipress on Staying Sane in Trumpland; Attempted Bloggery Looks at Tomato Juice Ads by Thurber, Arno, Steig, Hoff, and Soglow; Cartoon Companion Rates the New Yorker’s Latest Cartoons; Preview: New Yorker’s 92nd Anniversary Issue Cover

Posted on 3rd February 2017 in News

 

Post of Interest:  David Sipress’s  Cultural Comment on newyorker.com, February 3, 2017 “How To Stay Sane As A Cartoonist in Trumpland”

See Mr. Sipress’s New Yorker work here on the magazine’s Cartoon Bank site.

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Attempted Bloggery updates a post looking into Libby Tomato Juice ads featuring some of the all-time great New Yorker cartoonists. See it all here!

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Cartoon Companion has returned with a look at the latest New Yorker cartoons (the February 6 2017 issue).  Read it here.

 

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The New Yorker has posted a preview of its upcoming anniversary issue.  Eustace Tilley fans, who look forward to seeing the magazine’s mascot every mid-February on the cover will have to wait another year (if not longer, judging by the last six years). The post also includes a slide show of the non-classic Eustace covers.

For those keeping track, Rea Irvin‘s  cover has not been on an anniversary issue since 2011.

 

Need more Tilley?  Here’s  “Tilley Over Time”  — a piece of mine that ran on the New Yorker‘s website in 2008.

And here’s 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.

 

 

 

Book of Interest: Thurberville

Posted on 17th January 2017 in News

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming in April of this year,  Thurberville, by Bob Hunter.  From the publisher(Trillium):

James Thurber’s Columbus was not today’s Columbus—or even yesterday’s. It was a Columbus he both knew and created, a place perched on the fringe of reality and the fringe of his imagination. It is the place Bob Hunter revisits in Thurberville, a book where the author separates truth from fiction and identifies what parts of the famous humorist’s hometown of 180,000 exist in the burgeoning metro area of more than two million today. 

Cartoonists Gather for The New Yorker’s Holiday Party

Posted on 15th December 2016 in News

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Once or twice a year New Yorker cartoonists gather to do something other than show their work.  Yesterday was one of those days — the annual holiday party (which includes all of the editorial staff, not just the artists). In years past the party has been mostly out-of house; this year it was in-house. Too-many-to-count boxes of pizza were spread out on long tables. Bottles of wine and large bottles (jugs?) of beer were here and there on other tables in a hallway and adjoining conference room. The place was packed.  The magazine’s editor, David Remnick was spotted wending his way through the throng, slice of pizza in hand.

A small framed copy of the cover of the magazine’s first issue hung in one of the hallways as well as a number of blow-ups of New Yorker covers. A good number of cartoons  lined the walls (some framed, some greatly enlarged). Was happy to see that Peter Arno’s “Well, back to the old drawing board!” continues to reside among the framed pieces. I paused to spend some time with the  wonderful  Thurber drawings, lovingly installed in these new digs.

Among the cartoonists present were Sam Gross, Joe Dator, Christopher Weyant, Robert Leighton, Liza Donnelly, Emily Flake, Edward Steed, Corey Pandolf, Bob Eckstein, Amy Hwang, Harry Bliss, Jason Adam Katzenstein, John O’Brien, Felipe Galindo (aka feggo), Drew Dernavich, Ben Schwartz, David Borchart, Mort Gerberg, and David Sipress.

A splendid time was had by all!

 

A Perfect Cartoon

Posted on 8th December 2016 in News

Below is a short piece I wrote back in December of 2011 (it originally appeared on the New Yorker’s website).  I’m posting it here in honor of James Thurber, who was born this day in 1894.

 

“What Have You Done with Dr. Millmoss?” changed my life. It was the first Thurber drawing I ever saw and the first New Yorker cartoon that ever meant anything to me. It would be easy to say the seal drawing—Thurber’s most popular—is perfection itself, and in so many ways it is, but I’d go with Millmoss.

The woman is classic Thurber, but look closely at the hippopotamus: at its eye and its eyebrow, at the curve of the mouth. What is that expression? There’s no answer. And so you look again, and again. I’ve been looking for thirty-five years.

The caption is short and uncomplicated, and Thurber didn’t try for a “funny” name for the doctor. And other than his name, all that’s left of Dr. Millmoss is the pipe, the shoe, and the hat. Try covering them up with your finger. The drawing works O.K. without them, but with them it’s a masterpiece.

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Interview of Interest: Liza Donnelly

Posted on 1st December 2016 in News

 

liza-krgc-621x414livemint

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Live/Mint, December 1, 2016, “Funny Lady: The New Yorker’s cartoonist Liza Donnelly on Trump, feminist cartoons, how she works, and her favorite cartoonists” — this interview with Ms.Donnelly, who is in Delhi this week.

Follow her live-tweet drawings she’s doing while there:  @lizadonnelly

[photo: Anik Biswas]

Updike & Roth (John & Arnold)…and Henry Bech

Posted on 6th November 2016 in News

“All cartoonists are geniuses, but Arnold Roth is especially so. The first time I saw a Roth drawing, I was zapped…A superabundant creative spirit surges through a Roth drawing like electricity; the lines sizzle.”

— From John Updike’s introduction  to Poor Arnold’s Almanac (Fantagraphic Books, 1998).

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I’ve been running into Arnold Roth at cartoonist gatherings for about forty years, but it wasn’t until the other day that I heard him mention the covers he created for John Updike’s trio of Bech books, Bech: A Book (published in 1970), Bech Is Back (1982) and Bech at Bay (1998). We continued the subject a few days later over the telephone. Mr. Roth was in his Manhattan studio.

Michael Maslin: Did you ever meet Updike?

Arnold Roth: Yes, we were at  a party on Madison Avenue before they put up all the high rises, and we were on the roof; there are still a few left here and there, with the chimneys. I was up there because I was smoking — which I still do.  Caroline, my wife, appeared with him and he said he was very glad to meet me — I was astonished.

And then, one year we invited him to the National Cartoonists Society Christmas party.  He sat at the president’s table with Mel Lazarus  [creator of the comic strips ‘Momma’ and ‘Miss Peach’]. But I did get to chat with him and I met his wife. But mostly it was done through letters and [laughs] very quick phone calls.

In addition to the three covers I did, I did various other drawings for him…two or three personal Christmas cards.  I was also involved in those very small printings with hand set type…monographs. I did additional drawings for them. I did send him all the original drawings [of the Bech covers] and he was very nice and gracious and accepted them.

[Updike mentions these drawings by Mr. Roth in his Introduction to The World of William Steig, edited by Lee Lorenz. In a list of original art he owned, Mr. Updike wrote: “The originals of watercolors Arnold Roth painted for the jackets of my three books about Henry Bech, also three terrific  ink sketches of Bech that Roth just jotted down, the way you and I would make a quick grocery list.” Also in Mr. Updike’s collection: a Thurber drawing, a Steig drawing, an Arthur Getz New Yorker cover and a caricature by David Levine.  “All of these artworks,” Updike wrote, “cheer me up.”]

AR: One of the monographs reprinted a portion of the Beck book when he goes to Europe for the first time.   I did at least four additional drawings and maybe more.  He sent me a note and he said make sure you draw the four women.  Which I did.   He called me up afterward  and he  said, “I can’t believe it.  You drew all those women perfectly. They are exactly those women.  I don’t know how you do it.”  And I said, “Well, I read your descriptions.” [laughs]

MM: Isn’t that what was partly so attractive about his writing.  Those descriptions really sucked you in.

AR: Absolutely.  It was like watching a movie, every scene raced through that little camera in your brain.

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AR: I tell this story sometimes, like when I give talks in art schools, because people ask about those covers. We lived in Princeton then.  It was a Friday evening. I had my studio in my house, naturally.   The phone rang and it was woman who said, “I’m an art director with Knopf. John Updike has instructed us that he wants you to do a cover for a book that will be coming out, Bech a Book.”  I was honored. We put it in action — I sent him a bunch of drawings — some of them ran on the cover flaps.  About 11 years later,  again — I got a call,  and she said, “We have another Bech book.” [Bech Is Back] So same thing, I did the jacket. Thirteen years after that, the phone rings, the same conversation. I raced down to the kitchen where Caroline was making dinner, and said, “Hey — I have a steady gig.”

MM: I love the progression of the covers — the way he loses his hair.

AR: Well he does age in the stories.  I thought they were wonderful stories.

MM: That first cover, Bech A Book,  was pretty surreal.That figure looks like a thumb or something.

AR: I think there are woman’s faces in the hair if I remember.  I just sent him a collection of drawings.  I don’t like to do sketches.  Because to me it becomes redundant and I feel why not make up a new one. In my hands it would invariably would stiffen up — it’s already been seen and blah blah. On that first book jacket he ran some of the sketches — I just sent him 15 or 20 drawings of Bech, and I said, “Is this okay for what I’m reading?  I think it’s a guy that would look like this.”   He loved them all and asked if they could use the other ones, and I said sure.

The second cover,  I had huge breasts pointed up on the bird, and he asked me  if I could take them down a little. Which I did.  He and I had invented breast reduction.

MM: On the last cover I looked for women, but I didn’t see any.

AR: Because he’s old. I think what I did  — I wouldn’t bet on this — on the last one, I might’ve sent 2 or 3 variations. Usually I didn’t do the finished drawing.  You know — if you like it, send it back and I’ll paint it. But I’m pretty sure I just did finished drawings for that last one and that was the one he chose.

MM: Did you base your drawing of Bech on any one person, or combination of persons — or was he conjured straight out of your imagination?

AR: I would have had in mind any description of Bech’s features mentioned in the text but I made up what you see in the drawings.  All based on any of the descriptive bits and my “feeling” for how such a guy might look. How others react to him, his own considerations of his general appearance, etc.. No Laurence Olivier he. But not Stan Laurel, either. 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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