The Monday Tilley Watch: The New Yorker Issue of January 15 2018; Happy 114th Birthday, Peter Arno

The Monday Tilley Watch is a meandering take on the cartoons in the current issue of The New Yorker.

 I don’t know about you, but after I’ve looked through the cartoons of each new issue of The New Yorker I have the kind of  immediate reaction I have after sitting through a movie. As I begin walking up the aisle, the verdict is usually already in: good movie, bad movie, loved it, hated it, so-so, etc.. I looked through this latest issue of the magazine and thought: good cartoons. Good cartoons from beginning to end, with a real gem mid-way through.  

The first cartoon of the issue, William Haefeli’s on page 18 gets things going. Haefeli’s drawings never disappoint, and in this case caption and drawing are doing exactly what I hope for in every New Yorker cartoon (giving us Peter Arno’s one-two punch; in this case the one-two are so close together it’s a onetwo punch) If you have the issue in front of you (print or digital) notice the child’s body language. Mr. Haefeli has created a drawing that almost moves. 

Three pages later a drawing by Amy Hwang, who has become somewhat of a cat specialist. This is a lovely drawing, with a terrific caption. I predict it’s going to be reprinted on a lot coffee mugs and t-shirts.  

Four pages later a couple at a table by JAK (Jason Adam Katzenstein). Good caption. The woman’s expression is as the British say, “spot on.”

Five pages later a curio: a P. C. Vey  Christmassy drawing in the January 15th issue. It’s a very good drawing  replete with tree and one very large gift.  I’ll forever wonder why it wasn’t in the issue  of December 18 or the issue just after, January 1, 2018. A mystery!

Another five pages brings us to a Kim Warp drawing employing two of my favorite subjects: dinosaurs and space travel (in this case time/space travel).  Another wonderful drawing with a really good caption. 

Six pages later, the gem I spoke of earlier.  John O’Brien gives us a site (a work site) to behold —   it’s caption-less too (to me, caption-less cartoons are the most difficult to successfully achieve.  Mr. O’Brien’s batting average of success with them is crazy high). This is a high bar New Yorker drawing. And so: applause, applause.

 

On the very next page is a Matt Diffee cartoon.  He, like a few other cartoonists in the magazine use a box to frame their work (Jack Ziegler was King of the New Yorker boxed drawings). Mr. Diffee’s drawings are always easy on the eyes (the soft greys).  Here we have a couple of folks ice fishing. The idea centers on the use of the ice machine known as a Zamboni blended with the popular urban food truck.  As sometimes happens with drawings, I paused to consider an element (last week it was missing tent stakes). Unfortunately, this pause never fails to get in the way of the one-two punch.  Why, I thought, would a Zamboni be on an ice fishing lake?  I looked up Zambonis, and learned they are sometimes used on ice skating lakes.  But there’s no sign of skaters anywhere on Mr. Diffee’s lake. Perhaps they’re just off to the side, out of the box.  I’m fairly certain my fascination with cartoon details such as this comes out of my early cartoon education by way of New Yorker art editor, Lee Lorenz. He once returned a drawing to me and asked if I’d make the surf board in the drawing look less like a six foot cigar.  It wasn’t the most important element in the drawing, but if it appeared to be a giant cigar it would take the reader too much out of the  drawing. I guess that stuck with me — and now you’re stuck with me pointing out cartoon minutiae.

Four pages later, a Will McPhail nearly deserted beach scene. I like the caption. Mr. McPhail  shows us one of those funny umbrella tables you see in movies of places that resemble wherever this is.  What’s missing is only someone (or something) off in the distance splashing in the ocean. What can I say — I like graphic splashing. 

Three pages later, a color drawing from Seth Fleishman in a setting far far away from Mr. McPhail’s.  Subway rats playing a game.  Having just seen a photo in the Times the other day of a NYC rat dragging a moon pie, I’m wondering if NYC subway rats are now a thing.  I guess they’ve always been a thing, if you think about it.

On the page after the rats is a Roz Chast package drawing.  Ms. Chast excels at these, and this one’s right up there, laughs-wise. I haven’t examined a package of Junior Mints in a long time (not my theater go-to candy) but I do wonder if those boxes show the “Juniors” as human…probably not.  Six pages later a Brendan Loper Evel Knievel inspired drawing. We don’t see enough dare- devil drawings in the magazine. Interesting drawing. Good stuff.  

Thirteen pages later, the last drawing in the issue (not counting the Caption Contest pieces): Julia Suits provides a trope that seems to be off-again on-again in the magazine: the military officer pointing out a medal. By off-again on-again I mean we don’t see many for awhile and then they suddenly pop up like asparagus. Henry Martin did a number of these, as did a number of other colleagues.  I can’t recall ever doing one. Time to get crackin’.  

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Happy 114th Birthday, Peter Arno

Strange to think of Peter Arno, whose work seems so very much alive, as born 114 years ago. All the years I worked on his biography, from 1999 through 2016, he seemed somehow on the scene, at least the New Yorker scene. In early 2016, with the book wrapping up, I paid one last Arno research visit to Yale, where he spent one year, the Fall of 1922- Spring of 1923. I went there to look for possible Arno materials in a box of Thurber’s papers; it turned out to be a fun but wild goose chase.

  Even though Arno only attended classes the one year (his father pulled the plug, financially) it was a launch pad year for his not-too-far-off entree to The New Yorker.  At Yale his cartoons became quite polished as they appeared more and more in the Record  (Arno did a few covers too). Besides drawing, Arno was fully engaged with his other love, music.

  He organized what he called an “orchestra” and found a place to play right across the street from the campus.  He mentioned playing there in a letter to his mother:

“…working in the Art School all day long and playing every evening in the Bull Dog Grille…”

 That last day I spent at Yale I took a walk along York Avenue, with the Bull Dog’s address in hand.  I came to the corner of Elm and York and could see some old buildings were right where I needed them to be, diagonally across the street. Crossing Elm I quickly spotted  #264 over one of two arched doorways on a three-story Victorian era building. The building had survived (!) but there was some kind of construction going on, with the front partially shrouded, and a dumpster parked out front.

The entrance to the Grille (it was upstairs on the third floor) was the door to the right, just behind the plywood wall behind the lone tree. I stood across the street for a bit, then crossed over to see what I could see close-up.  It was a wonderful moment thinking about the college-aged Arno heading through that door. I’d read in Dorothy Ducas’s great Arno piece in the March 1938 issue of Mademoiselle  that besides playing music upstairs Arno also drew on the walls (ala Thurber!). Standing in front of the building that day there was a lot to imagine. 

Here’s a photo I took that afternoon:

Before writing today’s piece I thought I’d use Google to see what had been done to the place a year or so later. Turns out it wasn’t construction after all — it was destruction.

Though the building is gone, those Arno moments playing music and drawing upstairs at the Bull Dog are not entirely forgotten.  Also not forgotten: the body of work Arno published in the New Yorker during his 43 years there, much of which can be found in the books below.

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ps: Rea Irvin’s classic Talk masthead (shown below) still missing from the magazine. Hope it returns soon.

  

 

 

 

 

 

Revisiting: The New Yorker 75th Anniversary Cartoon Collection

If you liked the cover of the New Yorker‘s very first Cartoon Issue (published in 1997) you might like the cover of The New Yorker 75th Anniversary Cartoon Collection (published in 2000).  Why? Because all of the cartoon grabs on the 75th Collection cover were on the cover of the Cartoon Issue. Now that’s not a bad thing; any cover with Thurber, Hokinson, Steig, Peter Arno, Barsotti, Gross, George Price, Gluyas Williams, Booth, and Leo Cullum, to name but a few, cannot possibly be a bad thing. I do remember being surprised, when first seeing the 75th Collection cover that these same drawings were recycled.

What was not on the Cartoon Issue cover but on the Anniversary Collection cover is one of Mike Witte‘s takes on Eustace Tilley (there’s another on the back cover).  Mr. Witte had become the go-to illustrator/cartoonist for updated Tilleys, with his work appearing on those numerous small New Yorker Book of __ (Cat, Dog, Doctor, etc., etc) Cartoons collections. 

Here’s the Cartoon Issue if you wish to hunt down the images appearing on both covers:

But back to the 75th Anniversary cover.  Strange, I know, but it has always reminded me somewhat of the package design for Stella D’oro cookies.

 

 Inside the collection (the cartoon collection, not the cookie collection) is an odd dedication. Odd in that it is a dedication from the magazine to the magazine itself: To the constant commitment of The New Yorker to this ridiculous and sublime art form.  That’s followed by a jokey Introduction, after which we finally get to the meat & potatoes.  Once to the cartoons, you’ll find they appear on “good” paper so you can enjoy the work without seeing a shadow of the cartoon on the following page. I’ve always been grateful that there is an Index provided as there is no chronological order to the work (there’s a Ziegler on page 2 and a Thurber on page 275). Though all the New Yorker albums shape history to some degree by including more or less of certain artists, in this volume the unbalance is noticeable. Or maybe not so noticeable if this was the first collection you ever picked up.  What I mean is this: for an anthology covering 75 years, a number of the most published cartoonists are represented by just one or two cartoons.  Examples:

Otto Soglow (published over 800 times): 1  cartoon

Carl Rose (over 500 times): 1

Perry Barlow (approx. 1,400 times): 1 cartoon

Alan Dunn, one of the most prolific New Yorker cartoonists of all time (close to 2,000 cartoons published): 2 cartoons

 In just four years, we would have the mother of all New Yorker collections: The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker.  Its Index shows a re-balance with all of the above cartoonists mentioned appearing far more than once or twice (in a closing aside, I should mention that this year we will apparently see the mother of the mother of all New Yorker collections, The New Yorker Encyclopedia of Cartoons, which somehow includes 4,000 cartoons (for comparison, The 75th Anniversary Collection has 707 cartoons). 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

Tilley Watch Online; Latest New Yorker Cartoons Rated; Blog of Interest: A New Yorker State of Mind; A Reminder: Kovarsky Exhibit Now Up & Running at The Society of Illustrators

Tilley Watch Online

New Yorker cartoonists doing the Daily cartoon this week: Jeremy Nguyen (a new book rains down), David Sipress (dressing well for the cold), Kim Warp (big button stuff), and Brendan Loper (back in time, politically).

This week’s Daily Shouts New Yorker cartoonists: Tom Chitty (“Why You Shouldn’t Go Outside Today”),  Julia Wertz (“Conversations with Ma: Harry Potter and the Internet”), and Jason Adam Katzenstein & Phil McAndrew (“Mistakes You’re Going to Keep Making Forever”)

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Latest New Yorker Cartoons Rated by Cartoon Companion

Cartoons appearing in the issue of January 8th ’18, go under the microscope in this latest edition of the Cartoon Companion. See it here!

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Blog of Interest: A New Yorker State of Mind

A fascinating and relaxed stroll through the issue of November 24, 1928. What fun it is, this blog. Read it here.

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And a Reminder: Kovarsky’s World: Covers and Cartoons From the New Yorker

The Anatol Kovarsky exhibit at The Society of Illustrators is now open.   Go see!

Info here

 

 

Interview of Interest: Joe Dator; Society of Illustrators Art Young Panel Discussion w/ Kunz, Brodner & Spiegelman; A Smorgasbord of Cartoons by Pat Byrnes

Interview of Interest: Joe Dator

The Cartoon Companion has posted Part 2 of its interview with one of the New Yorker‘s best.  Read it here

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Society of Illustrators Art Young Panel

Check it out! Steve Brodner, Anita Kunz and Art Spiegelman will be at the Society of Illustrators on January 11, discussing Art Young.  All the info here.  (My thanks to Stephen Nadler of Attempted Bloggery for bringing this event to my attention).

Here’s Art Young’s entry on the Spill’s A-Z: Born January 14, 1866, Illinois. Died December 29, NYC @ The Hotel Irving. An online biography. 1943. New Yorker work: 1925 -1933. The Art Young Gallery

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A Smorgasbord of Cartoons by Pat Byrnes

From Esthetic Lens, January 4, 2018, “Comic Relief: The Art of Pat Byrnes”

To see even more of Mr. Byrnes’s work, visit his web site.

 

Steinberg’s Pyramids via Attempted Bloggery

Why not think about blue skies and  pyramids and Steinberg on this blizzardy day in the Northeast. I took a look at Stephen Nadler’s Attempted Bloggery site this morning, scrolled through the Steinberg pyramid series he’s been focusing on and immediately thought of the cover of Steinberg’s 1973 collection, The Inspector. Somewhat similar sky, rubber stamps, clouds, colors found on his pyramid series.  The only thing missing from The Inspector cover is a Steinberg pyramid.  To see a bunch of those  head on over to Mr. Nadler’s ever-fascinating site

A Special Ink Spill “Kovarsky Wednesday”: Anatol Kovarsky’s Russia

 Since this past Fall, Wednesdays here at the Spill have been referred to as “Kovarsky Wednesdays” as we’ve posted some of the late great artist’s unpublished cartoons and cover art (Mr. Kovarsky’s daughter, Gina refers to them as “sketches and preliminary forms of ideas for covers”).  All of this work is in celebration of Kovarsky’s World: Covers and Cartoons From The New Yorker, an exhibit opening tomorrow at the Society of Illustrators, with a special reception on January 12th.

Though long an admirer of Mr. Kovarsky’s work for The New Yorker, seeing these unpublished pieces over the past few months has deepened my respect for the energy and enthusiasm with which he lived his art. From what I’ve learned of him, from meeting him, reading about him, speaking about him with his family, he was always working.  And what work! The show is a must-see. 

In celebration of tomorrow’s opening, the Kovarsky family has generously provided us with three proposed cover pieces specifically related to Mr. Kovarsky’s Russian heritage. In addition, we are indeed fortunate and thankful that Gina has contributed the following piece, expanding our understanding and appreciation of her father and his beautiful work.

Since 2017 marked the 100-year anniversary of the Russian Revolution, I thought I would share a few details about how it affected my father Anatol Kovarsky’s life.  He was born into a prosperous and assimilated Russian-Jewish household in Moscow in 1919.  But the social and political unrest that came in the wake of the Revolution put his family at risk.  His father was arrested by the Soviet secret police and jailed in 1923 or 1924.  When he was released three months later, Anatol’s parents understood that they had to leave home and took him south to Crimea, then onward to Warsaw. They remained in Poland until WWII, when they were once again forced to leave everything behind. (His parents and sister survived the war in France; Anatol was able to leave Europe for the U.S., later joining the army and returning to Europe as a U.S. serviceman.)

My father was about 4 or 5 when he and his parents left the Soviet Union, but he remained fluent in Russian until the end of his life and never lost his identification with the Russian part of his heritage.  In the early 1960s, at a time when the Soviet regime had inaugurated a policy of greater openness to the West, my father made several sketches for a proposed New Yorker cover depicting American tourists on Red Square.  The presence of Western tourists in the heart of Moscow would have seemed positively incongruous to him, given how unimaginable that type of travel had been for decades.  History, a supreme ironist, was offering a corrective to misplaced certainties. 

Anatol took heart at the gradual resumption of ordinary tourism after Stalin’s death, regarding this as a positive sign that a new era of peaceful coexistence was at hand.  It meant a great deal to him that he was able to travel to the USSR in 1979, and that on subsequent visits in 1989 and 1990, he could observe first-hand the remarkable changes that led to the regime’s collapse in 1991.  He aptly noted that we were witnessing a “revolving revolution,” but the new banners were advertising Pepsi and McDonald’s instead of calling upon the proletariat to unite. 

In these cover ideas, my father manages to poke fun simultaneously at both the Soviet and the Western (capitalist) ideological orientations.  The sketches comment ironically on the waning relevance of Communist ideals, by minimizing the presence of Communist emblems: in the first sketch, the star above the modern hotel in the background is rendered not in red, but in grey wash to fade into the background.   But the humor also derives from Anatol’s portrayal of the consumption-oriented perspective of the “bourgeois” visitors with their cameras and, in the second sketch, also of the home movie audience.  There are two focal points in the movie: St. Basil’s with its colorful onion domes, and also the woman in the colorful hat.   By providing the woman with her own bright “dome,” my father creates a visual parallel, cueing us to realize that in the husband’s eyes both objects in the viewfinder are of equal importance.  Or is it the American woman’s presence on Red Square that’s the key element, to mark the spot, as if to state, “we were here” and also perhaps, “look at us!”   (What would Dad have made of the ubiquitous selfie?)

  

Anatol’s earliest memory was of the circus in the resort town of Yalta in Crimea, when he was around the age of 3 or 4.  He remained forever enamored of the circus, to the point where he even had a special pass to sketch the performers and animals up close at the old Madison Square Garden (he remembered once getting too close to a lion and being chased away by the personnel).  During the 1960s, the Moscow Circus was a special favorite of New York audiences, and I remember going with my parents several times. Among my favorite paintings by my father are ones he did of the Russian circus horses and their daredevil riders. 

 

–Gina Kovarsky

Dec. 30, 2017

(Please note that all work by Mr. Kovarsky posted here on Ink Spill is copyright the Estate of Anatol Kovarsky)