Book Store on a Dirt Road

Sundays usually make me think of books – don’t know why, can’t explain it, but that’s the way it’s been for a long long time. It’s the day I traditionally set out for my favorite bookstore in upstate New York.

Twenty some years ago a friend suggested the store to my wife and I, saying it was a bit of a drive but worth it.  We followed his van ( between the friend’s family and ours there were too many kids and parents to fit in one car) up the Taconic Parkway, then off onto back roads, past broken down farms, and ancient cemeteries, and finally onto a rutty dirt road where we stopped at a low barn with a few cars parked out front.  I admit I didn’t expect much — after years of haunting used bookstores, I thought I could judge a used bookstore by its cover.  I’d been to too many barn bookstores filled with battered books at high prices.

Walking into this place, it took only a few seconds for things to go very right.  Inside, and just to the left was the humor section; before I had time to scan the room my eyes fell on an Otto Soglow collection that had been on my “want list” for years (this was before the days of the internet when used book searching was door-to-door, and not site-to-site).

The visit was already a success, and even better:  the store was a delight in every way, from the wood stove heating up a kettle filled with a concoction of spice and water,  to the organization of each jam-packed room, to the proprietor, whose friendly but low-key manner is key to the store’s charm.

There were a number of used book stores in our area back then; Main Street Books, up in Germantown, was another favorite, but sadly, it has closed its doors. Only this one, on the dirt road, has survived.

Note:  The New Yorker’s blog, “The Book Bench,”  posted a piece about The Book Barn back in July of 2010.  You can read it here

(Photo: courtesy of Gretchen Maslin)

Fifty Years Earlier

As a cartoonist it’s (mostly) all about what’s next; this may explain why I sometimes like to take a breather and think about what was.  Still in a celebratory mode because of The New Yorker’s 86th anniversary, I went to my collection of anniversary issues and pulled out the issue from fifty years ago, dated February 18, 1961.   Thought I’d sit with it for a few moments and take a look at the cartoons.

There’s no “Table of Contents” for the issue ( the magazine didn’t add that helpful feature until the issue of March 22, 1969),  so knowing whose work appears inside will be a surprise.

William Steig’s work appears on page 14, but it’s not a cartoon, it’s an ad — an illustration for  First National City Bank.  Moving through the movie listings ( “Ben Hur,” “the Misfits,” “Exodus,” etc., etc.) and pausing to take in Otto (“The Little King”) Soglow’s wonderful “Talk of the Town” drawings, we encounter the first cartoon of the issue, and it’s by the magazine’s most prolific cartoonist, Alan Dunn (Dunn also holds the honor of being one half of the first married New Yorker cartoonist couple.  His wife was Mary Petty).   Dunn was an expert at making something out of the day’s headlines, and in this case the drawing reflects our country’s endless fascination with the Russians.

Next is a George Price drawing of a waiter holding a giant shish-kebob setting off the  restaurant’s sprinkler system.  A good solid effort by one of the masters of the Golden Age.  Richard Decker’s drawing of a doctor’s waiting room filled with self-promoting ads, including a “Specials” sign, wouldn’t be so out of place – with some tweaking — in today’s New Yorker.

A Robert Kraus is next, done in his inviting moody Dedini-esque style, and then an Ed Fisher drawing (by my calculations, the eighty-fifth of his career at The New Yorker – he eventually published just over 700).  Another Alan Dunn follows ( tied into current events, of course) and then a classic Steig husband-and-wife  domestic scene ( I can’t help but be reminded that The New Yorker is fortunate to have a contemporaneous expert at  capturing domestic scenes: Victoria Roberts). Opposite Steig’s drawing is a Steinberg,  captionless of course ( he’d given up captions long ago).  A man wearing  a helmet and shield sits on a rearing horse—they’ve just encountered a projection screen, such as the kind a family would set up to watch home movies.

A page later is a  half-page captionless Charles Addams drawing ( Addams told Dick Cavett that the captionless drawings were his favorite kind).  Turn the page and there’s a Charles Saxon ( man, did he have a smooth style) and then a Lee Lorenz ( his eighty-eighth drawing for the magazine in a career still going like gang-busters). Another page finds a Chon Day, the master of economical styling ( not counting Thurber).  Two pages later, a three-quarter beauty by Whitney Darrow, Jr.,  specifically referencing the new family at The White House; Caroline Kennedy utters the caption.

After the Darrow drawing it’s a fifty-four page wait til the next cartoon, wherein James Stevenson takes us back to a couple in ancient Rome and, shockingly(!) uses the word “orgy” in his caption.  Another twenty-nine pages zoom by before we reach the last cartoon in the issue.  By Frank Modell, it’s a bar scene, and the subject is nearly everyone’s favorite subject — a subject at which Modell excels: men and women.

Welcome back Tilley; Paul Karasik on the 2011 Angouleme Comics Festival; Al Hirschfeld’s Pink Townhouse for sale

It’s great to see Eustace Tilley has returned to The New Yorker’s cover in  celebration of the magazine’s 86th birthday ( he made cameo appearances last year by way of Chris Ware, Adrian Tomine, Dan Clowes, and Ivan Brunetti ).  Click here to see “Tilley Over Time,” a piece contributed to The New Yorker’s blog in February of 2008 (above is the photo of my Tilley collection  that originally accompanied the New Yorker blog post — it no longer appears there).

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Paul Karasik blogs about this year’s Angouleme comics festival Read here

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Ink Spill sometimes wanders outside of The New Yorker cartoonist orbit…in this case for a story about the home of iconic illustrator, Al Hirschfeld:

Al Hirschfeld’s pink NYC townhouse is up for sale.  Read about it here. ( from Cartoon Brew, February 3, 2011, “Buy Al Hirschfeld’s Pink Manhattan Townhouse”)

Time Capsule

Staring me in the face as I sit at my desk is a wooden Cuban cigar box, stamped “Ramone Allones Trumps.” I began using it as a filing system back in the late 1970s when  I moved to Manhattan and began taking this whole business of becoming a New Yorker cartoonist very seriously.  Each week, on a 5×7” index card, I listed and numbered the cartoons I would bring up to the magazine’s offices on West 43rd Street.  The card system  began before I was accepted by The New Yorker and ended in the early 1980s  when it suddenly dawned on me that writing down the captions each week was pointless. The cigar box, jammed with these cards, has remained untouched all these years—it’s a time capsule documenting my early attempts to grab the golden ring.

For me, the card dated August 22nd, 1977  marked a major turning point.  Up til then I’d managed to sell zip, nada, nothing to The New Yorker.  But with the August 22nd card everything changed.  Among the fifteen drawings sent in that week were such curious captions (curious to me now) as caption #13, “I’ve been able to find mittens, but no Mickey” and caption #2, “Are you really buying the old Tony Curtis place?” But it was caption #10, “Nothing will ever happen to you” that The New Yorker bought and then  handed over to Whitney Darrow, Jr.  to draw up.  It was an odd moment, being accepted and rejected ( the editor rejected my drawing, but accepted the caption). It would take a number of months for the The New Yorker to finally “OK” one of my drawings and run it under my own name.