It Was Twenty Years Ago Today: Catching Up with…The New Yorker’s Frank Cotham

 

 

 

 

Frank Cotham's dog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 I met Frank Cotham  just once, in 1997 at a photo shoot organized during the Tina Brown era at the magazine. Forty-one cartoonists showed up to pose for Arnold Newman (the group photo was  published in the very first Cartoon Issue of The New Yorker). After saying hello to each other that day, sixteen years passed before we connected again.

 

Cotham 1997

 

(photo: Frank at the shoot, top center, in the pointed party hat. On the left, hatless, Dean Vietor; on the right,in top hat, Mick Stevens. Lower left, Lee Lorenz, lower right, Mike Twohy).

Michael Maslin : You know, it’s funny, but I realized this evening while looking up your work on The New Yorker‘s database that tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of your first appearance in the magazine, the issue dated December 13, 1993.

What was that moment like for you, selling that first drawing, and then seeing it in the magazine?

Frank Cotham: Total disbelief when I sold one to The New Yorker.  I had been sending a batch to them every week for fifteen years – the first twelve years or so were a little discouraging, but I was glad I kept with it.

MM:  According to a bio in the New Yorker, up until 1986 you were  “a staff artist in the production department of a television station”–so what transpired professionally  in those seven years after you left the staff artist position and broke into The New Yorker?

FC: I kept sending work to The New Yorker of course, and getting rejected, but I did do a lot of work for other magazines, mostly Penthouse. They pretty much kept me in business. There were quite a few “features,” which meant short deadlines and working through the night. I don’t think I could do that anymore.

MM:  Since you’re down in Tennessee we don’t see much of you up here in the Northeast — you’re kind’ve a mystery man. 

FC: I like the sound of that, being a mystery man.

MM: With some cartoonists, you can see the influences or influence.  Your work is a bit of a puzzle. Can you talk about what brought you into the cartoon world, your influences.

 FCThe New Yorker and its cartoons caught my attention when I was in junior high school – Charles Saxon was one of my favorites, and Robert Weber.  A friend of mine at the TV station suggested that I send some of my cartoons to magazines, and after a couple of years, I sold one to Saturday Review – My friend and I were both very surprised.

MM: Regarding Saxon and Weber:  now that you’ve mentioned them as favorites I can see a lineage there — it’s odd I never saw it before.  I had thought you more in the Addams school with a dash of Richard Taylor.   Did either of those artists influence you?

FC: Yes, very much so. Addams certainly. I always loved the somber grays in their work. In my mind, I thought that’s what a New Yorker cartoon was supposed to look like.

MM: What’s a typical work day for you — if there is such a thing as typical? For instance, Jack Ziegler writes first, then eventually heads on over to his desk to draw.   I don’t read anything first — I just sit down with a cup of coffee and wait.  How does it begin for you?

FC: My day usually begins by sitting down, after I’ve fed the dog and cat, with a book for about half an hour.  I have my orange juice, cereal, and coffee while reading the local paper, check Facebook for essential news on my iPad, and then sit at my drawing table and stare out the window.

MM: When I think about your work there’s a certain cartoon environment  that comes to mind.  It’s different from say a George Booth environment or a Mick Stevens environment — it’s so very much your own.  Can you describe it?

FC: I’m not sure I know what you mean.  I’ve noticed that two country people sitting on the front porch of a rundown house figure prominently in my cartoons in the last few years, I’m not sure why that is. It’s not really something that I see often around here, but my dog and I do mull things over on the back porch. [Frank sent a drawing of his dog for this piece — it appears above: “I’ve attached a sketch of my dog, but she can’t really sit up like that.”]

MM:  I’m going to ask you a question similar to the one I asked Roz Chast:  has anything changed for you regarding your work…the way you work, I mean.  What’s it like for you now in 2013, going on 2014 when you sit at your drawing board? Is it any different than what it was like in say, 1994 or 1999 or 2007?

FC: I work pretty much like I have from the very beginning – still use the same drawing table, still use watercolor crayons, a dip pen, and a bottle of ink.  But I have moved my office downstairs – I don’t have trouble going up the stairs, but when I’m ready to come down I feel that I need to call the fire department.

MM: Is there anything, cartoon-wise, you’re working on other than your weekly NYer batch that you’d care to tell us about?

FC: I’m not working on anything else – fretting and coming up with a batch decent enough to send in to The New Yorker pretty much occupy all my time.

MM: You were living near Memphis when we met back in the late 90s —  you’re still there? 

FC: I still live in a Memphis suburb, and have lived here since forever.

MM: I’ve got to ask:  Have you ever been to Graceland?

FC: I’ve never been to Graceland.  It’s not like I’m anti-Elvis or anything, it’s just that I’ve never been an Elvis fan. Janice [Frank’s wife] and I just happened to be returning from a brief vacation in Florida the day Elvis died, and we stopped in a Waffle House late that night. The waitress asked where we were going and we told her Memphis, and she said, “Oh, Elvis.”  I didn’t have the heart to tell her that we weren’t headed to the candlelight vigil.

Click here to see Frank Cotham’s work on The New Yorker‘s Cartoon Bank site

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Catching Up With…Roz Chast

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Roz Chast has been contributing her work to The New Yorker since 1978 when she burst on the scene in the magazine’s pages causing a mixture of excitement and in some quarters, just a little confusion.  The veteran New Yorker cartoonist, Charles Saxon, a giant in the  magazine’s ranks, queried Ms. Chast, and not in the most positive sense,  “Why do you draw the way you do?”  She responded, “Why do you draw the way you do?”

 

Since that time Ms. Chast has herself gone on to become a giant in the ranks of the magazine’s contributors. Most everyone knows what a Chast drawing looks like (and often they smile just upon hearing her name).

RC
Roz and I have known each other since the year our work first appeared in The New Yorker, Incoming Class of ’78.  I remember being introduced to her by the cartoonist, Richard Cline, in the Grand Ballroom of the Pierre Hotel, where The New Yorker once held its anniversary parties.  We email from time-to-time, and recently, I asked her if she’d let Ink Spill visitors in on what’s happening in her life these days.

 

Michael Maslin:  Roz, when we connected a few weeks ago you were making your first pickles.  It’s not at all what I imagined you would be doing that day.  I’m not sure what I imagined you’d be doing, but it wasn’t that.  What’s with the pickling? And how did it go?

 

Roz Chast: I have a couple of friends who are obsessed with pickle-making. Looking back, I think it was peer pressure. Anyway, my pickles were ok. Don’t know if I’ll do it again, though. Voice in my head right now: shut up about the pickles. [Roz’s first batch of pickles are in the photo above].

 

MM:I know you’ve returned to one of your passions: pysanka egg-decorating. I love seeing group photographs of them, as if they’re assembled for a concert or something.  When you’re decorating them, are they individuals, or do they belong to various egg families?  In other words, is there ever a story between them, or are they strangers to each other? Am I making sense?

 

imagesRC: They are both individuals and part of a group. With the pysanka dyes, each egg becomes very pretty in its own way, but when you put them all together, they become almost head-explodingly pretty.

 

MM: I know you’ve been working on a book, coming out next May, and that it’s perhaps different from previous books of yours. Can you tell us us about it?

 

51DlvVXiTiL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_RC: It’s called Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, which is what my father used to say whenever a difficult topic, like death or illness, came up.  It’s a graphic memoir and includes writing (nothing typeset), cartoons, illustrations, some of my mother’s poems, photographs, and, as they say, much, much more. The book begins when I realized I had to “step up to the plate” and deal with their increasing frailty—that none of us could continue sticking out heads in the sand– and it ends with my mother’s death.

 

MM: Let’s turn to our favorite magazine for a moment.  A good percentage of the cartoonists who began when we did, in the mid-to-late 1970s, are still contributing to the magazine. They’re (we’re) continuing a tradition of long careers for cartoonists at The New Yorker. Jack Ziegler, Mick Stevens, yourself, Liza Donnelly, Tom Cheney, and, of course, our current cartoon editor, Bob Mankoff are full participants nearly some forty years into it.  What do you make of that, if anything?

 

RC: Hasn’t it always been that way, in a way? When I started, it seemed like there were lots of older people who had been contributing for several decades.

 

MM: Has anything changed for you regarding your work…the way you work, I mean.  What’s it like for you now in 2013, going on 2014 when you sit at your drawing board? Is it any different than what it was like in say, 1982 or 1990 or 2005?

 

RC: It’s the same in a lot of ways. I still contribute a weekly “batch.” I still use a Rapidograph-type pen and draw on 9 by 12 Vellum Bristol paper. I still am happy when something makes me laugh. I no longer go in to The New Yorker in person—I send my work in via pdf, so that’s different. And of course, I’m a lot older and closer to death now than I was when I started. Let’s change the subject.

 

Click here to vist Roz Chast’s website.

Click here to see Roz’s work at The New Yorker‘s Cartoon Bank site.

 

The Street Where They Lived

 

 

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When I moved to Manhattan in the fall of 1976, just out of college, I was on a mission to be published by The New YorkerLittle did I know when I  rented an apartment at 113 West 11th Street,  that I had moved to a street that was home, at one time or another,  to a stellar array of the magazine’s artists and writers.  

A day after getting the keys to my apartment, I was standing in the small vestibule of my new address, when a tall man with an Amish-like beard came bounding down the stairs.  He paused to ask me what I was doing there.  After I introduced myself as the new tenant moving into 3R, he stuck out his right hand and introduced himself:  “Donald Barthelme.”   I didn’t know who he was — my initial thought was that he had an interesting name and beard —  but it didn’t take long before I learned I had moved into an apartment right above one of the most acclaimed New Yorker writers of the day. In no time at all, I discovered that Grace Paley,  a good friend of Donald’s,  lived nearly just across the street, west of the public school. (I met Ms. Paley in Donald’s apartment at a holiday party when we ended up sitting side-by-side on hassocks near the fireplace).

In time, as  I began to read up on New Yorker history, 11th Street continued to pop up:

E.B. White & Katharine White lived on 37 West 11th in the mid 1940s. 

The man who invented The New Yorker, Harold Ross, moved into 52 East 11th  following his time overseas during World War 1.

Steinberg lived in the Adams Hotel on the corner of West 11th and 6th Ave in 1942 – his first residence in this country. (Donald introduced me to Steinberg in the garden behind 113 West 11th).

Peter De Vries (profiled on Ink Spill ) lived at 32 West 11th before moving up to Connecticut.

S.J. Perelman lived at 134 West 11th.

  And I learned that my hero, James Thurber,  the man responsible for my wanting to become a New Yorker cartoonist, once lived at 65 West 11th.  The address was less than a minute walk east from my building, past Ray’s Pizza,  across 6th Avenue, and just a few steps along 11th on the north side, right where the New School building now stands.

(West 13th also had a small contingent of New Yorker residents: Thurber, John Updike and E.B. White).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liza Donnelly on Women on Men

Women On Men COVER FINAL

 

 

Liza Donnelly, the long time New Yorker cartoonist recently spoke with me, her husband, about her forthcoming book, Women On Men, and her recent trip to France, where she was invited to participate in  the Forum d’Avigon.

Michael Maslin:  Women On Men is your sixteenth book.  How does this one differ from your last book, When Do They Serve the Wine?

Liza Donnelly: It’s bigger and better!  Women On Men is a collection of my cartoons that I have drawn over the course of my 30 plus year career as a cartoonist.  A fair portion of what I draw is women speaking and making light of our world — snarky women who care.  I gathered the best of that type of cartoon that I do, and so Women On Men is about women being funny, and affectionately making fun of men. Like my previous book, Women On Men has my writing as well; but there’s more of it, and it’s grittier.  I like using that word.  Also, the writing in this new book is done all in my handwriting. Since this is an ebook, I wanted to give it a hand-done feel.

MM: Looking over the previous fifteen books, you’ve had what some might call — and some have called —  a checkered career.  There’re seven childrens books (all for Scholastic), a history of The New Yorker’s women cartoonists (Funny Ladies), a couple of anthologies, a compilation, a semi-autobiographical collection, and Cartoon Marriage, a collection we co-authored.  How did all this happen?

LD:  It’s all a blur. I just follow my instincts and keep pushing. The children’s books came out of an interest in doing a wordless book for little kids, and ended up being a series, with minimal words. The history about women cartoonists came about because I really wanted to understand why there are so few women in cartooning. So I researched The New Yorker‘s archives for over a year and discovered many wonderful cartoonists (The New Yorker had a women cartoonist in their first issue in 1925).  The “semi-autobiographical book” I assume you mean When Do They Serve The Wine?  The idea for that came about because I was teaching Women’s Studies at Vassar College (using cartoons in my class to illustrate points, of course), and came to the realization that the generations of women were not talking to each other.  So all the stupid things I have gone through in my life as a woman, if I could share with women just starting out as women in their 20’s–it might make their life a little easier.  And I could learn from them. So that book is about women navigating society and the pressures of life each decade they live, from birth to 60s (I’m not there yet!). You and I did Cartoon Marriage because we knew how much humorous material there is in marriage.

MM: Of all your books, Women On Men seems to come closest to a true collection of cartoons. Do you think of it that way?

LD:  I guess so, yes.  Primarily because most of the cartoons were not drawn for the collection, but gathered from my career (some are brand new, however).   And a good number of these were published in The New Yorker. The only thing that makes it not a true collection is that I draw a lot of cartoons about all kinds of subjects, not just women. Maybe someday I can collect it all in one spot.

MM: It also differs from all your previous books in that it’s an e-book. Knowing it would be published in that form — did that change the way you approached working on it?

LD: The only thing from the start that I thought might be interesting for an ebook is having handwritten copy for the text. That way it has a just-done, sketchbook feel.  The publication date is more fluid because buying an ebook is not tied to publisher-determined seasons, bookstore schedules, etc, as traditional publishers have usually worked.  Other than that, it wasn’t really any different.

 

MM:  Along with your work here at home you have a great interest in international cartoonists (including running a  website, World Ink, devoted to their work). You just got back from France. Tell us a little about what you did there.

LD: I have had an interest in international cartoons since I was in high school when I lived in Rome with my family. But I love international political art, it’s so powerful and in recent years I have met many cartoonist from around the world because of my being a part of Cartooning For Peace. Also, I am now a cultural envoy for the US State Department and have traveled to Israel, Palestine and Macedonia.  In France, I was invited to participate in the Forum d’Avigon, a think-tank about culture. I gave a short speech during a panel discussion of Culture and Peace; and along with five other cartoonists, we drew our impressions of the debates. They put our drawings on the wall immediately–it was fun and challenging.

MM:  I know you’ve several more books on the way.  What can you tell us about them?

LD: The next book I am working on is due in 2014, but will be published in 2015 by Holiday House, and it is a children’s book!  I am happy to be back in this world of writing and drawing for children, and will be doing two for them in the coming few years. The first one is called The Rainbow, and contrary to the title, is not about  same-sex marriage.  But it is about inter-species friendships.  Beyond that, I am working on another adult book, tentatively titled Kooky.

MM: A final question: you’ve been contributing to The New Yorker for over thirty years — a  career that spans four editors: William Shawn, Robert Gottlieb, Tina Brown and, currently, David Remnick.  What’s the best part of working for the magazine?

LD:  When I began at The New Yorker in 1979 (when they bought my first cartoon), I felt that it was a place where one could be creative and say something simultaneously.  This is still true, and I am proud to work there.

 

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 Click here for more information on how to obtain a copy Ms. Donnelly’s new book, Women on Men

Click here to see Ms. Donnelly’s recent post on forbes.com, where she begins a series of interviews with women in humor

To see Ms. Donnelly’s New Yorker work click here.

Click here to visit her website,  lizadonnelly.com

Thurber Is #1

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It’s silly to rate cartoonists, but around here, as anyone who follows Ink Spill knows, James Thurber is the #1 New Yorker cartoonist. Thinking about him on the eve of his birthday (he was born in Columbus, Ohio, December 8, 1894) I stood in front of the Thurber paperback section of our cartoon library, looking at title after title.  After taking several of the books down and thumbing through, I realized that there’s no better way to celebrate the man than by simply showing his work (or, in this case, some of it). Not all his titles are in the photograph, but the span of his career is represented (in paperback form) from Is Sex Necessary (co-authored with E.B. White) all the way up to the last book published while he was alive, Lanterns & Lances (it came out in April of 1961, just seven months before he died).

There are no favorites here, but I confess a fondness for the low-key graphics of the Penguin English paperbacks, with their vertical orange borders (there’s a Japanese copy of The Last Flower in the photo as well — I suppose it would be fun to start collecting Thurber editions from around the world).

What doesn’t surprise me after all these years of looking at Thurber’s work is that his drawings never disappoint. The seal in the bedroom never seems less than a miracle; the present Mrs. Harris on the bookcase continues to baffle in the best way; the naive domestic burgundy continues to amuse,  the War Between Men & Women never truly ends, and Dr. Millmoss has yet to be accounted for.

 

 

And…a little more Thurber:

See some of Thurber’s New Yorker work here.

Link here to a fun Thurber piece on the Attempted Bloggery site.

And…

William Shawn, The New Yorker‘s second editor (he presided over the magazine from 1952 through 1987) died on this day in 1992. Here’s a short piece marking the day.

If you have the double issue of the New Yorker dated December 28 1992 & January 4 1993, this would be a good day to take another look through. It contains a wonderful section, “Remembering Mr. Shawn” wherein you’ll find short pieces by, among others, Charles McGrath, Calvin Trillin, John Updike, Lee Lorenz, Kennedy Frazier, Philip Hamburger, Roger Angell, Andy Logan, Mark Singer, John McPhee, William Maxwell, Daniel Menaker, Lillian Ross, and Brendan Gill.  There are also a number of b&w photos of Shawn taken by James Stevenson.

Felipe Galindo Exhibits “Frida’s New York”

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An exhibit by Felipe Galindo (aka Feggo), “Frida’s New York”  opens December 8th, at the Word Up Community Bookshop.

Details:

Word Up Gallery
December 8,  2013 – January 5, 2014
Artist Reception Sunday Dec. 8th, 2 – 5 pm
Hours: Tue-Fri, 3-9pm. Sat 12-9pm, Sun 12-6pm
2113 Amsterdam Avenue @ 165th St. New York, NY 10032
T 347-688 4456
Link here to see Mr. Galindo’s New Yorker work.