Quite a while ago (decades, in fact) I began collecting tearsheets of my New Yorker work (and back then, tearsheets from other publications that would have me). The New Yorker drawings were kept in the black 3-ring binders you see above (non-New Yorker work was placed in 10″ x 13″ envelopes). The binders seemed like a great idea, as the only record keeping I knew of were the black books the New Yorker kept (and keep) of everyone’s work. Here’s a shot of my black book (book-ended by some recognizable names) in the New Yorker‘s library.
For a very long time this household received two copies of each issue, making it easy to rip out my work (and/or my wife, Liza Donnelly’s work) from issues and save the other issue. This practice went on until the early 2000s when I decided that the New Yorker’s Cartoon Bank was, in effect, doing my work for me by running a well-organized easily searchable database. While it wasn’t ever a complete picture (a hundred or more of my drawings never made it into their database), it was a good source. Along with that was the publication of several databases: The Complete New Yorker‘s 8 discs, and The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker‘s 2 discs (just 1 disc in a later edition).
As all the work, up that time, was right there, all printable, it seemed silly to continue ripping out pages from the print magazine. The Complete New Yorker‘s discs covered February of 1925 through February of 2005 — with a promise to continue updating the work; The Complete Cartoons covered 1925 thru 2004.
Now some ten years after abandoning the tearsheet practice (the last tearsheet in my black volumes shown above is dated October 20, 2008), I regret not continuing. There is currently no reliable contemporary archive online or on disc. The magazine’s online search function (available to subscribers) is inadequate.
I’d hoped that any forthcoming celebration of the magazine’s cartoons for The New Yorker‘s 100th birthday in 2025 might update the cartoon database. Heck, update the database for the entire magazine. If you own the aforementioned 8 discs from the Complete New Yorker, you’ll eventually discover that the discs will not work with modern computer systems. Luckily I have an ancient iBook around and use that to search the database.
So far, there is no mention in any of the promotional text accompanying the upcoming New Yorker Encyclopedia of Cartoons that it includes a database — its interests seem to be fashioned around cartoon “tropes” — but we’ll see.
Interesting then that it’s back to where it started here: with collecting hard copies. In my case, I held on to a large number of back issues of the magazine, but not enough issues to fill in these past 8 years. In the last year I’ve started ripping out tearsheets, but they’ve yet to be placed in the binders. The chronologist in me wants to pick up where I left off, in 2008, and move forward.
Perhaps I should’ve known better. Having a binder in front of you, with everything in chronological order is the best way to go. I’ve used these binders as reminders of certain moments tied-in to the drawings (if there was something memorable to record). Here’s an example: a drawing published March 16, 1987. As you see in the note attached, the drawing includes a nod to William Shawn.