Barbara Shermund Biography In the Works

Word has reached Ink Spill that a biography of the prolific New Yorker cartoonist (and cover artist) Barbara Shermund is in the works. Shermund’s great niece, Amanda Gormley is in the early stages of research on the artist’s life and work.  Ms. Gormley writes that her “goal is to bring her story to light and marry her early life and works in San Francisco to her life and love for New York.”  Anyone wishing to contribute information on Barbara Shermund may contact Ms. Gormley through her email address: amanda.janes@att.net

Here’s Ink Spill’s  “New Yorker Cartoonists A – Z” listing:

Barbara Shermund Born, San Francisco. 1899. Studied at The California School of Fine Arts. Died, 1978, New Jersey.  New Yorker work: June 13, 1925 thru September 16, 1944.  8 covers and 599 cartoons. Shermund’s later. post-New Yorker  work was  featured in Esquire. (See Liza Donnelly’s book,  Funny Ladies — a history of The New Yorker’s women cartoonists — for more on Shermund’s life and work)

Shermund’s self portrait above from Colliers Collects Its Wits (Harcourt Brace and Company, NY.  1940, 1941)

Niculae Asciu, New Yorker Cover Artist & Cartoonist, Dies at Age 70

The long time illustrator for The New York Times,  Niculae Asciu has died at age 70.  Mr Asciu was also a New Yorker cartoonist and cover artist, contributing 3 covers and 23 cartoons  over sixteen years, from 1974 thru 1990.  Mr. Asciu was that rare cartoonist whose work, like his contemporary Nurit Karlin,  was mostly captionless if not entirely wordless — not one of Mr. Asciu’s New Yorker cartoons bore a caption.  His line, disarmingly casual but precise, seemed to echo elements of Bruce Petty and Arnie Levin, as well as his fellow Romanian, Saul Steinberg.

 

According to his New York Times obit (March 17, 2013), Mr. Asciu was born April 5, 1942 in Cerna Voda, Romania. He died  March 3, 2013, in Queens, New York.

(A tip of the hat to Mike Lynch, especially for the link to this translated piece on Mr. Asciu from cotidianul.ro: “He Died a Great Cartoonist: Nicolae Asciu”)

Happy Birthday, Mr. Roth

Philip Roth, who celebrates his 80th birthday today, was first published in The New Yorker the issue of March 14, 1959, with his story, “Defender of the Faith” causing an immediate stir (see the upcoming PBS American Masters profile “Philip Roth: Unmasked”  for, among so many other things,  Mr. Roth’s recollection of buying, opening up, reading and rereading his story in this particular issue — jokingly(?) saying he even read it “upside down”).

 

The issue featured a cover by the wonderful Abe Birnbaum, who contributed nine cartoons and nearly a hundred and fifty covers to The New Yorker.  His New York Times obit (June 20, 1966) contains this quote by Mr. Birnbaum: “Nothing is ugly. Everything is what it is.”

 

Brendan Gill reprinted the robin cover in his book,  Here At The New Yorker, writing of it:

 

“Nobody was satisfied with the ‘rough’ of this giant robin as it was first seen at the weekly art meeting. At the time, the background consisted merely of landscape. Geraghty [the New Yorker’s Art Editor from 1939 thru 1973] suggested the addition of birdwatchers. That simple change changed everything.”

 

When Philip Roth read, reread, and read his first New Yorker story upside down, he ran across cartoons by the following cartoonists — a roster that’s just about as good a snapshot of The New Yorker cartoon universe late 1950s as any:

William O’Brian, Frank Modell, Robert Kraus, Saul Steinberg, Everett Opie, Barney Tobey, William Steig, Ed Fisher, Robert Day (whose cartoon appeared on the first page of Roth’s story), James Stevenson, Otto Soglow, Syd Hoff, Whitney Darrow, Jr., Charles Saxon, Anatol Kovarsky, Dana Fradon, Eldon Dedini,  and Lee Lorenz

 

 

 

One Club addition: George Wilson; Friedman on Grossman; Univ of Florida’s Comics Collection

While browsing through ancient copies of The New Yorker, there’s always a little jolt when I come across a cartoonist whose name is unfamiliar. It happened today when I reached page 38 of the November 29, 1930 issue and found a cartoon by George Wilson. A quick check with The New Yorker database revealed that Mr. Wilson was published just once in the magazine.  That of course qualifies him for immediate membership in The One Club, and a listing in red on The New Yorker Cartoonists A – Z.  At the moment I have no additional information on Mr. Wilson.  Please contact me if you do.

 

From Drew Friedman’s blog, March 15, 2013, “The Caricature of Robert Grossman” —  Mr. Grossman is not only a New Yorker contributor but also worked as an assistant in the magazine’s Art Department in the early 1960s.

 

Finally, out of the scope of Ink Spill’s focus, but likely interesting to most comic art enthusiasts:

From the University of Florida, Department of English, “Comics Collections at UF” — I just happened upon this site, and admit I had no idea that U of F had a comics collection. If you link here, you’ll find more information on the collection  as well as a link to their downloadable database.

Capote and New Yorker Cartoons

   Reading the Holly Golightly piece (“Forever a Gamine at Tiffany’s”) in today’s New York Times revived a thought I had lodged in my mental “to do” file a few weeks ago when I had the pleasure of meeting Thurber biographer, Burton Bernstein.

 

Listening to  Mr. Bernstein expanding upon a passage from his biography concerning (the nearly blind) Thurber being led around The New Yorker’s offices and elsewhere by Capote,  got me to thinking about the legend of Capote throwing away cartoons while assisting in The New Yorker’s art department.

 

Before we get to that, here’s a very brief look at Capote’s earliest days at the magazine. In late 1942 or early 1943, he was hired, while still attending school, as a New Yorker copyboy – a catch-all job that apparently included sharpening pencils, running errands (and yes, leading Thurber around).  After a time he was given the plum job of assisting in the art department (according to some, this came out of his close friendship with office manager, Daise Terry).

 

Capote’s new duties included sorting through incoming envelopes of unsolicited cartoons and attending  the art meeting where his job was to place selected drawings on an easel. Each drawing would be examined and discussed by Harold Ross, Rea Irvin, fiction editor, Gus Lobrano, and the temporary art editor, Albert Hubbell (filling in for James Geraghty who’d gone off to serve his country).  Daise Terry would take notes on the comments.

 

Albert Hubbell told Gerald Clarke that up until Capote worked the easel, all previous assistants were like “automatons” — Capote, however, would laugh, make faces and comment on the cartoons.  This led Ross to instruct Hubbell:  “Tell him to stop that.”

 

Capote’s copyboy/art assistant days at The New Yorker lasted until the summer of 1944 (his leaving came on the heels of an oft told misunderstanding between Capote and the poet, Robert Frost that eventually led Harold Ross to ban Capote from the offices).

 

 

And now on to throwing away cartoons.  I’d first come across the story in Brendan Gill’s Here At The New Yorker:

 

The story goes that after Capote’s departure from the magazine, it was discovered that he had been serving as a sort of self-appointed art editor. One of his tasks was to open the envelopes that contained drawings sent in by artists from all around the country; when Capote didn’t like a drawing, he dropped it over the far edge of the big table at which he worked. Years passed, and someone thought to move the table. Behind it were found hundreds of drawings that Capote had peremptorily rejected, instead of sending them along to Geraghty or Ross. True or false? Nobody knows, for Capote anecdotes are hard to check.

 

 

So did he, or didn’t he?  This morning, in a stab at clarity, I gathered the Capote material* at hand on these premises and came up with a couple of puzzle pieces.

 

During many many hours of conversation, conducted over the last two years of Capote’s life, writer Lawrence Grobel had this exchange with Capote about the disappearing cartoons:

 

Grobel: Is there any truth to the story… that you appointed yourself an art editor, rejecting submitted drawings you didn’t like by dropping them behind a table where you worked?

Capote:  No. Where’d you hear that?

Grobel: It’s in Brendan Gill’s book.

Capote: “Well, I was in the art department but I wasn’t throwing away people’s cartoons.”

 

And, Capote told his biographer, Gerald Clarke:

 

Sometimes I would get the cartoons all messed up and confused. Then I would throw them into one of those holes  and say to myself,  ‘Well, I’ll straighten that out later.’  I somehow happened to lose about seven hundred of them that way. I didn’t deliberately destroy them, and I don’t know how I lost track of them.

 

Despite it being a more colorful story that Capote appointed himself editor and/or destroyed or threw away cartoons, it’s far more believable that the 17 year old Capote was overwhelmed by the volume of unsolicited cartoons (reportedly thousands a week) coming into the office and inadvertently lost track of many of them.  But of course, as Brendan Gill suggested, we’ll never really know.

*Books consulted:

Bernstein, Burton  Thurber (Dodd, Mead, 1975)

Clarke, Gerald   Capote: A Biography (Simon & Schuster, 1988) pp. 71 – 73.

Clarke, Gerald  Too Brief A Treat; The Letters of Truman Capote (Random house, 2004)

Gill, Brendan   Here At The New Yorker (Random House, 1975)  p.317

Grobel, Lawrence   Conversations with Capote (New American Library, 1985) p.56

Inge, M. Thomas   Truman Capote: Conversations (University Press of Mississippi, 1987)

Plimpton, George   Truman Capote (Nan A.Talese/Doubleday, 1997)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cats get their due: Big New Yorker Book of Cats out in October; Gehr’s “Know Your New Yorker Cartoonist” interviews collected in book form

Following in the paw prints of The Big New Yorker Book of Dogs is The Big New Yorker Book of Cats (Random House, October 1, 2013). Anthony Lane, Calvin Trillin and M.F.K. Fisher are listed as among the contributors. And of course, there’ll be cartoons.

 

We’ll have to wait a while — til December, to be exact, for Richard Gehr’s “Know Your New Yorker Cartoonist” series of interviews to be in book form. Amazon has recently listed Gehr’s  For A Minute There It Suddenly All Made Sense!: Behind the Scenes with The New Yorker’s Most Brilliantly Twisted Cartoonists.

Published by New Harvest, the book has a pub date of December 3, 2013.  From the publisher’s  promotional material:

Gehr’s book features fascinating biographical profiles of such artists as Gahan Wilson, Sam Gross, Roz Chast, Lee Lorenz, and Edward Koren. Along with a dozen such profiles, Gehr provides a brief history of The New Yorker cartoon itself, touching on the lives and work of earlier illustrating wits—including Charles Addams, James Thurber, and William Steig.