Peter Steiner: The Ink Spill Interview

Posted on 7th June 2016 in News

PS selfpor w:camera

I first met Peter Steiner in 1984 at an impromptu party thrown the night of The New Yorker’s annual anniversary bash (at the Pierre on the corner of 5th Avenue at 59th Street). Following the festivities in the hotel’s grand ballroom, a bunch of cartoonists made their way west to the other side of Central Park to a much smaller space: Liza Donnelly’s apartment on 79th Street. Roz Chast and her husband, New Yorker writer, Bill Franzen were there as was Richard Cline —  I believe Mick Stevens was there as well. Jack Ziegler was certainly there (he and I left the apartment at some point on a beer run, walking up to a bodega on Columbus Avenue). And Peter Steiner was there. His incisive wit was immediately evident as was his ability to stray from cartoon-talk. Less than a decade later he would go on to make New Yorker cartoon history by  authoring On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” — the most reprinted drawing in the magazine’s history. And about a decade after that he began to carve out another career, as a novelist. This was a rare pursuit for a New Yorker cartoonist.  We’ve had just a few outside-of-the-box colleagues (James Thurber of course, and the late William Hamilton was a playwright as well as a novelist.  Lou Myers did a fair share of non-cartoon writing as well).

I spoke with Peter this past week, thinking it was a perfect time to catch up with him as he ventures afield again, this time as a graphic novelist, with the publication of An Atheist in Heaven.

 

Michael Maslin: Let’s begin with the present. We’ll eventually work our way around to the past. Your fifth novel, The Capitalist was published this past February, and you’ve followed it three months later with An Atheist in Heaven. Is this an unusually productive period for you, or is this your norm?

 

Peter Steiner: Well, it actually seems like a more productive period than it was.  I finished writing The Capitalist a couple of years ago, then there was the final editing process, then it sat for a good year and half at the publisher (St. Martin’s Press) before it finally came out.  So, a while after I was finished with the book, I came on the idea of an Atheist in Heaven and started drawing.  That was in the spring of 2014.  It took me about a year to do. It’s pretty much a coincidence that they came out so close together.

 

Q: It’s not easy — nor necessary really — to pigeonhole you as a writer, a cartoonist, a painter, an editorial cartoonist, a graphic novelist (now with An Atheist in Heaven). Are any of those callings greater to you than the others or are they all relatively equal. Do you wake up each morning and think, today I’m painting? Or today I’m writing? Or today I’m working on a drawing? Where does the day’s direction come from?

 

Atheist

A:  I tend to work in one medium or another—painting, writing—for long periods.  So when I’m working on a novel, I’m not painting.  And usually I won’t paint until I’ve finished the novel.  And likewise when I’m painting, I keep painting until I feel the urge to move back to writing. That can last a year or longer.  When I’ve tried to write in the middle of painting  it throws me off, and visa versa. Cartoons, being a smaller medium (in time, not in importance), get sprinkled about as the spirit moves me.  The year I was working on An Atheist in Heaven came after the writing of The Capitalist.  And now I’m looking forward to starting to paint again. 

 

Q: Looking at the self-portrait series of paintings on your website I see seeds of the kind of drawing that fill An Atheist in Heaven. By that I mean the work seems to be cinematic. The question is: are you finding that your recent cartoons are at all influenced by the drawings in the book, i.e., are you drawing differently?

 

A:  I hadn’t thought of the interplay of painting and cartoons.  I’ve always tried to make my cartoons cinematic, if you want to call it that.  I like interesting settings with particular details, odd angles and dramatic lighting.  Since doing cartoons on my blog I’ve started using pencil for both shading and color, and that continued into my drawing of Atheist. Pencil is more painterly than water color washes; you get more texture sort of like brush strokes in a painting.  And doing color, you can mix color or lay down layers of color on top of one another with exciting effect.

 

Q: Without going into the Atheist story line too much, I have to say it pulled me in right away and then felt carried along quickly on a great ride. Is that was it was like writing it? Was it an express train kind of experience for you?

 

A:  I wrote the text for Atheist very quickly, over the course of a couple of days, without doing any drawings at all or knowing what the drawings were going to be like.  Then I set to work on the drawings, page by page without having any plan or sense how it would develop.  I drew entire pages, rather than individual panels that would need fitting together.  I had no plan, not even from one page to the next.  I drew with ink and, at the beginning, on various kinds of paper.  I also tried out different color methods.  The drawings were rough and a little crude; so was the script.  I wanted it to look handmade and unrefined.  I decided to leave some corrections visible.  The main character evolved as I went along, developing more specific facial and body features.  And the various settings evolved too, becoming more and more involved.  And, yes, it was an express train kind of experience that carried me along.  I tried to keep struggle out of it and just enjoy the experience.  And in that regard, at least, I succeeded.

 

Q: Let’s rewind a good deal to the period just before you began trying to get your drawings into the New Yorker. When was that and what were you doing at that point in your life?

page from Atheist

[Left: a page from An Atheist in Heaven]

 

A:  I sold my first cartoon to the New Yorker in 1979.  (I know that because I looked it up; I’m not good at remembering dates.)  I was living in Watkinsville, Georgia at the time and had moved there from Pennsylvania the year before.  I had just given up my professorship at Dickinson College in order to be an artist full time.  We had bought our first home, a big rambling farm house with a wonderful if delapidated barn and a lovely grove of huge pecan trees.  I was painting seriously and was submitting cartoons every week to the New Yorker.  I had been since leaving teaching, maybe even before leaving teaching.  (Again, I can’t remember exactly.)  I was drawing cartoons for the local paper, a weekly called the Oconee Enterprise for $25 each. I had sold some cartoons to the Saturday Evening Post and the Saturday Review, but the New Yorker was the big prize I was aiming for, and when I hit the bulls eye I was elated.

 

Q: Can you describe your entry into the New Yorker, both the first cartoon published, and the first time (or first few times) you traveled to Manhattan and visited the offices. Did you meet with Lee Lorenz [the magazine’s Art Editor at the time] right away; did you meet other cartoonists at the office?

 

Steiner 1st july 9 '79[left: Peter Steiner’s first New Yorker drawing, in the issue of July 9, 1979]

 

A: When I was 25 or so (about 1965), headed for grad school and about to be married, I was in New York on my way to Maine, and I stopped at the New Yorker with about 75 or eighty roughs. I had been getting cartoons in various small publications, but didn’t think of cartooning as a career or even a job. Of course there was a woman guarding the door who told me I couldn’t see the editor—was that still Geraghty? [James Geraghty was Lorenz’s predecessor as Art Editor, in that position from 1939 through 1974], but I could leave them for him to look at and pick them up the next week.  I was only there for a day, so, for whatever reason I decided not to leave them.  Who knows how it could have changed my life if I had left them.  The next time I was there was fifteen years later–1979 or 80 with at least one sale under my belt—A Swiss guy with an Alpenhorn, and some cows saying to him, “For heaven’s sake, we’re right here.”  I did meet Lee Lorenz then.  I was very reverent and awed by the whole New Yorker thing, and being let in was like arriving at Mecca.  I would come back every few months—I was living in Georgia, and over those first few times met lots of cartoonists.  I mostly remember those older cartoonists who were nice to me–Arthur Getz, Joe Mirachi, Sam Gross.  Of course I met Jack Ziegler, Mick Stevens, Bob Mankoff, Roz Chast, and then we all went for lunch at the worst restaurants in the neighborhood.  I don’t remember whether you and I met there or not [see the introduction above].

Q: I believe I’ve heard you mention (in interviews, or perhaps in earlier conversations with me) that there are certain New Yorker cartoonists that you consider (my word) exceptional. Can you mention a few, and briefly tell us why they stand out so for you?

A:  When I think of “exceptional” cartoonists, I mean my favorites, those whose work would lift my spirits.  And most of my favorites are the beautiful drawers—Gluyas Williams; Helen Hokinson; Arno, of course; Steinberg; Addams; Charles Saxon; Bob Weber; Booth.  I’m sure there are some I’ve forgotten to mention.  Their drawings are lovely to look at, each in its own way.

Q: Before I let you return to your painting, writing, and drawing, do you foresee more written work in the Atheist in Heaven vein (i.e., text and graphics)?  I’m hoping you say ‘yes’.

A:  I don’t have another drawn book in mind, but it was so interesting and amusing doing an Atheist in Heaven that I can’t imagine not doing it again.  I’ll let you know when I start something.

 

To see more of Peter Steiner’s drawings and  paintings, including more self-portraits like the one at the top of this piece, visit his website: plsteiner.com

To read more about his latest book, An Atheist in Heaven, go here.

Besides An Atheist in Heaven, Mr. Steiner has published five novels of a series, the latest being The Capitalist. In 1994 he published a collection of cartoons, I Didn’t Bite the Man, I Bit the Office.

Peter's Capitalist STEINER1photo-9

Art Young Opening! Plus…The Spill’s Mid-Week Round-up: P.C. Vey, Kominsky-Crumb, Kupperman, Mankoff, Katchor, Sikoryak & Mouly; The New Yorker’s 5th issue Gets a Close Look

Posted on 25th March 2015 in News

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P.C>

P. C. Vey, whose April 15, 2013 New Yorker drawing appears here,  talks about his tools of the trade on A Case For Pencils. Go see!

Link here to Mr. Vey’s website

Link here to see some of his New Yorker work

 

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MOCCA-DAVIS

The Museum of Comic & Cartoon Art has announced its MoCCA Fest 2015 line-up. The list includes a bunch of New Yorkery names, including Ben Katchor, R. Sikoryak, Francoise Mouly, Aline Kominsky-Crumb and Michael Kupperman. A panel on Saul Steinberg is one of the highlights.  The Beat has the all the info.

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Art Young 4:22:30Art Young, whose April 22nd, 1930 New Yorker drawing appears here, will be celebrated big-time, beginning this Friday, March 27th. Back in February, Marc Moorash, curator of the Art Young Gallery told Ink Spill,  “March and April we’re giving Art his first solo show since his exhibition at the ACA Gallery in 1939. We’ll have 40 original illustrations and 120 pieces of ephemera – letters, books, magazines, etc.” Go here for all the information.

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More Spills:

…Attempted Bloggery’s latest post: a close look at The New Yorker’s 5th issue

…Video: The New Yorker’s Cartoon Editor, Bob Mankoff & The Harvard Lampoon

Auction of Interest: Swann Offers Numerous New Yorker Cartoons; Covers Calendar Noted; Video: Mankoff on Science of Humor

Posted on 2nd January 2015 in News

SwannSwann’s upcoming auction on January 22nd is chock full of New Yorker cartoons, with work by a number of the magazine’s giants.

Cartoons on the block by Steinberg, Mischa Richter, Barbara Shermund, William Steig, Richard Taylor, Edward Sorel, Victoria Roberts, Charles Addams, Helen Hokinson, Rea Irvin, and Peter Arno.

Below: a beautiful early Steig included in the auction.

steig

Link here to see all the work and for all the auction info.

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Covers Cal

Ordinarily, New Yorker cartoon calendars, diaries, and the like aren’t listed here, but this sounds like it’s not your ordinary calendar, so I’m making an exception.

Here’s an excerpt from the publisher’s blurb for The New Yorker 365 Days of Covers Page-A-Day Gallery Calendar 2016:

“…this calendar features hundreds of the very best examples, all beautifully reproduced in full color. Here are iconic covers from Jean-Jacques Sempé, George Booth, Maira Kalman, Arthur Getz, Roz Chast, and the other illustrators whose work has helped shape The New Yorker’s inimitable style. Unprecedented quality with its exceptional art, coated paper, and exacting standards of color printing, this calendar is a gallery for your desk.”

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Bob

 

From Business Insider, December 31, 2014, this short video featuring The New Yorker’s Cartoon Editor, Bob Mankoff: “Scientists Discovered What Makes Something Funny”

 

Review: Steinberg Exhibit at The Art Institute of Chicago

Posted on 28th October 2014 in News

SteinbergFrom Forward.com, “Better Call Saul Steinberg” — this look at the exhibit of the master’s work in Chicago. [to the left: a fragment of Steinberg’s “Untitled (Las Vegas) (1989)”]

Steinberg’s 100th to be Celebrated at The New Yorker Festival

Posted on 8th September 2014 in News

St.The 100th anniversary of Saul Steinberg’s birth (he was born June 15, 1914, and died May 12, 1999)  will be celebrated at the upcoming New Yorker Festival as well as other venues in and around New York (and later in the year, across the seas). Here’s the online notice on newyorker.com by Ian Frazier.

 

 

And here’s a link to the Steinberg Foundation site where you’ll find a complete calendar of centennial events.

 

 

Also: Don’t forget to check out Deirdre Bair’s  Saul Steinberg: A Biography. (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2012)51i-vGpuQ0L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Also of interest: The Saul Steinberg Foundation’s 93(!) page Corrections to the Biography.

Steinberg’s 100th Celebrated in Chicago

Posted on 4th July 2014 in News

St sig

From The Chicago Sun Times, July 3, 2014, “Art Institute of Chicago exhibit sheds much light on the career of Saul Steinberg”–this piece on The Art Institute’s “Commemorating the 100th Anniversary of his birth” running from today through October 12, 2014

Link here to the Art Institute’s page on the exhibit.

Link here to the Saul Steinberg Foundation.

Link here to see some of Steinberg’s New Yorker work on the magazine’s Cartoon Bank website.

 

 

(My thanks to the cartoonist, Ken Krimstein for bringing this exhibit to my attention via Facebook)

 

 

Noting Steinberg on the 15th Anniversary of his Death

Posted on 12th May 2014 in News

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From Jewish Currents, May 11, 2014,  “May 12: Saul Steinberg” –a piece marking the 15th anniversary of his death.

Link here to the Saul Steinberg Foundation, where you’ll find all kinds of biographical information as well as examples of his work.

And don’t forget Deirdre Bair’s wonderful biography of Steinberg (cover to the left).

Krementz photographs of Addams, Steinberg, Brendan Gill, S.J. Perelman, Renata Adler, Donald Barthelme & more

Posted on 29th April 2014 in News

 

 

I stumbled across this piece today: “Jill Krementz Covers Saul Steinberg” — it’s chock full of photographs by Krementz of Steinberg including shots of him with Charles Addams, Donald Barthelme, and Woody Allen (there’s also a photo of Charles Addams with Jackie Kennedy Onassis).  Other New Yorker contributors pictured include Brendan Gill (wearing a funny straw hat), Ian Frazier, Renata Adler, and S.J. Perelman.  Enjoy!

“60 Minutes” airs The Cartoonist

Posted on 24th March 2014 in News

60 Minutes

In last night’s installment of 60 Minutes, Morley Safer & Company brought us “The Cartoonist” — a look at the weekly selection process for New Yorker cartoons, a glimpse of some of the cartoonists who show up at the magazine’s office every Tuesday, a peek at Editor David Remnick choosing which cartoons to buy, and a min-profile of the magazine’s current cartoon editor, Bob Mankoff.

An impressive number of cartoonists managed on-screen time in the thirteen-and-a-half minute segment including Robert Leighton, Paul Noth, Joe Dator, Bob Eckstein, Marisa Marchetto, Drew Dernavich, Corey Pandolph, Carolita Johnson, Emily Flake, Sam Gross, Mort Gerberg, Farley Katz, Charlie Hankin, Ben Schwartz, David Sipress and Roz Chast.  Go to The New Yorker‘s Cartoon Bank site to see work by any or all of these cartoonists.

Also, as you’d expect, a good number of cartoons went flashing by on the screen, including, the one below, only one of  two published in The New Yorker by J.S. Cook (both in 1927). j s cook

Ink Spill’s New Yorker Cartoonists Library

Posted on 20th March 2014 in News

Library:Ink Spill

 

When I began Ink Spill back in 2008 one of the major sections planned for its future was a library of collections by New Yorker cartoonists. I’m more than pleased to announce that work has been underway for the past few months to build the library and it is now stocked with titles.  Not fully stocked, but well on its way.  Certain cartoonists are yet to be represented (no John Held, Jr. or Bruce Eric Kaplan yet) while others who are represented (like Ludwig Bemelmans, for example) need lots of fleshing out. This is an on-going endeavor with scans of book covers and publishing information continually added.

The library is an attempt to build a comprehensive collection of books (titles and covers)  by the magazine’s artists, including some of the books they illustrated.  In the case where a cartoonist did not publish a collection of their work, we’ve included a book or books they illustrated or wrote/edited (Roberta Macdonald is one example, Julia Suits is another) We’ve also added a number of illustrated books by cartoonists who do have collections (Steinberg, for instance), but the library is by no means trying to be inclusive of all illustrated books.

The  Library draws heavily on our personal collection but is not a catalog of the collection.   Chris Wheeler and Warren Bernard  contributed some of the rarer cover scans. Other images were pulled from various online sources.  I am particularly indebted to Gretchen Maslin, who is archiving the materials and has built the library.  She comes to Ink Spill having worked in Special Collections at the Vassar College Library as well as The New Yorker‘s library.

To enter the Library just click on the new icon to the left (“The New Yorker Cartoonists Library”) or click here.