Checking In: Lars Kenseth Talks About “Deodorant People” and His First New Yorker Cartoon

I won’t lie to you Spill visitors, the first time I saw a Lars Kenseth drawing in the New Yorker, I was both baffled and intrigued. No one draws like Mr. Kenseth. He is one of the newest of the newest wave of cartoonists who have broken into and onto the pages of Harold Ross’s now 92 year old weekly. Mr. Kenseth’s first drawing appeared last Fall and those that have followed have not lost their peculiarity. That’s a good thing.

Happily, I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Kenseth this past Spring when he was east.  Meeting him was in a weird way like meeting his cartoon world; cartoonists who seem like their worlds fascinate me (two of the New Yorker cartoonists he mentioned in our discussion qualify as perfect examples: Sam Gross and Charles Addams). 

With the recent publication of another Kenseth cartoon in the New Yorker it seemed like a good time to check in with him…

Michael MaslinAccording to your website bio you are a very very busy cartoonist.  So, what are you up to these days? 
 
Lars Kenseth: The project that’s giving me the most stress dreams right now is an animated show I created for Adult Swim called Chuck Deuce. It’s about this sketchy, burnout surfer from Santa Cruz who is terrorized by a bevy of weird, pervasive hallucinations. We did a pilot and it’s about to go into “testing” which means they’re going to screen it for a roomful of people in Union, New Jersey who will then decide if I should be on the TV. Fingers crossed.
 
At the same time, I’m trying to sell four other TV projects and a movie. The thing about Hollywood is… nothing is real. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told something is a sure thing only to see it fall apart. Which is why I’m always working on new material. The upside is I’m usually employed. The downside is I’m more panic attack than man. But that’s just great cartoon material.
 
On the cartoon side, I’m doing my batches every week and trying to get better. And I’m investigating other outlets to sell to — the rejects. They just hang around the house all day doing nothing. Meanwhile I’m out there busting my butt. I’ll tell ya…
 
I’ve also started writing short comedy pieces, a la Shouts & Murmurs. I’ve always loved short form stuff like that. I’m a HUGE Jack Handey fan. Anyway, it’s something I’ve always wanted to try. And I just sold one to The American Bystander! That was exciting. I love that magazine.
 
MM: You’re a west coaster, and you’re also involved in television.  Do you ever interact with other west coast New Yorker cartoonist / television colleagues such as Alex Gregory,  Bruce Kaplan, and Zach Kanin?
 
LK: I haven’t met Alex or Bruce yet. Although I would love to, I’m a giant fan of them both. I’ve met Zach Kanin once – very nice guy and also insanely busy out here. And I know Sam Marlow’s out here, too – I need to reach out to him. Sam, if you’re reading this, drop me a line.
 
Matt Diffee and I are great friends and we see each other often. We are both members of The Order Of Cornelius (the NCS – L.A. Chapter) where we do secret handshakes and wear plaid and talk about cartoons. It’s fun! Matt was a huge help as I was shaping my drawing style.
 
MMYou have one of the most unusual styles of all contemporary New Yorker cartoonists. Can you talk about your style.
 
LK: Can I just say, I LOVE hearing people try to describe the characters I draw. I’ve heard everything from deodorant roll-on people to egg people to blobs to Weebles to gel caps to jellybeans to lozenges – it’s like the way every clan of survivors in The Walking Dead has a different name for “zombies”.
 
Ever since I was a kid I’d always drawn friendly looking characters, it’s what I like to do, but when I started working in TV animation that clean, big eyed look really snaked more and more into my drawings – because if I wanted to sell an animated show it would have to look like what’s on TV. When I finally got the courage to start submitting to The New Yorker, I knew I had to switch up my style. Matt Diffee put me through a kind of cartoon boot camp – feeding me different reference material. Weird Iranian cartoons, 18th century French doodles, etc. I just took it all in and started grinding away on a new style. I started drawing these strange little characters – my lumpy guys, I called them. They were squat, blobby characters with long pointy noses, bags under their eyes and I was using a rough, glitchy line quality. I thought I found something kind of interesting.
 
Eventually I flew out to New York to meet Bob [Mankoff, the New Yorker’s cartoon editor from August 1996 – April of 2017], introduce myself and get some face-to-face feedback on my stuff. Bob liked my jokes, but he HATED my style. It was the pointy noses that really did it.
“You need to get rid of that…” he searched for a descriptor, “aviary proboscis.” I’ll never forget that – so funny. And such a Bob Mankoff thing to say. Bob was sympathetic, “I’m sure you’ve been drawing this way your whole life.” I laughed, “More like three weeks.” 
I left that initial meeting unsure of where I stood. All I knew was my style wasn’t there yet. To quote Peter Arno, “Well, back to the old drawing board.”
 
When I got back to L.A. I took a hard look at my cartoons. The thing that I realized was these characters I was drawing weren’t me. They were mean and tired looking. It didn’t fit with my jokes or my personality. What I did like was the line quality. So I kept that. But from there I went friendlier, softer and pulled back on all the extremes. And that was that. After a month I’d rehabilitated my style to something that, thankfully, has found favor at the magazine… or at least enough favor to get the occasional OK. And I love it.
 
MMI think you may have made New Yorker cartoon history by including the words “New Yorker Cartoon” within the cartoon itself, and (unless I’m wrong), it was your first New Yorker cartoon.  Can you talk about that cartoon, and about that “first” moment?  Every cartoonist remembers that moment of the first OK.  Can you share your memory? 
 
LK: What a delightful shock that was, haha. I still have to pinch myself sometimes. As far as that first cartoon goes – I can’t believe I even sold that one. The whole “creepy clown” phenomenon was so odd – and not “New Yorker” at all. But, it’s a therapist’s office scene, so that’s the tether I suppose. It’s fitting that was my first one because some of my favorite New Yorker cartoons marry the surreal with the everyday. I’m reminded of that Charles Addams cartoon where a security guard locks eyes with a minotaur in the center of a labyrinthine museum. I need to sell a minotaur cartoon.
 
I got the OK on a Friday in late October of last year. I was eating fancy burgers in this Hollywood gastropub with a friend of mine. We were wrapping up dinner and about to walk over to The Wiltern to see a heavy metal concert. I was at the urinal checking my phone – because I’m classy – and saw I got an e-mail from Bob. And there it was in the subject line, “OK”. Everything after that is a blur – really hope I zipped up before I ran out of the bathroom to tell my buddy and call my wife and parents. My mom never swears but when I told her she was talking to a New Yorker cartoonist, she came close, “Shut the front door!!” 
For a kid whose father started feeding him Charles Addams and Sam Gross cartoons at a frightfully young age, this was a landmark moment.
 
Note: I asked Mr. Kenseth if he wouldn’t mind drawing a deodorant guy for the Spill.  He happily obliged and sent what he called “a little self portrait” — it appears at the very top of the post.

 

The Monday Tilley Watch

A new feature in the new week. Around here at the Spill this roller coaster cartoon life begins anew every monday with the publication of the latest issue of the New Yorker. 

The latest issue is the klieg light for cartoonists; we go to it with some higher level of curiosity: to see who’s in and what our colleagues have come up with; to see, and yes, judge, whether we believe the work is great, good, bad, or so-so; whether there’s a just published drawing exactly like the one we were about to submit; whether there’s a drawing we’ll never forget, or never remember.  I’ve always thought of every new issue’s cartoons as fuel — whether I like what I see or dislike it, it somehow gets the new week going…with a bang.

The Monday Tilley Watch is a look at the latest issue. I’ll record whose work we see, and whatever peripheral thought about the cartoon or cartoonist hits me at the moment. I’ll likely wander into other departments as well (at least mentioning the Art Department’s baby: the cover).  It is not at all like what my friends over at the Cartoon Companion do. They dissect each cartoon and then rate it, bringing an objectivity to this party I can’t (neither of the Cartoon Companion fellows contribute to The New Yorker…yet).

And off we go. 

  The issue of July 24, 2017

… We begin with a political cover by Barry Blitt (surprise!) featuring the President and two of his children —  the cover was already mentioned, and shown here at the end of last week…I note on the Table of Contents that there are no special cartoon features this week (no full pages…at least, none listed here… no spreads, etc.)..and then onto The Talk of The Town, still headed by the newly modernized Rea Irvin masthead. I’m going to keep wishing the previous masthead returns — the one that was in place for 91 years. The magazine has, in very recent times, tried out redesigns up front only to pull them back. If only it would happen here.  I also note on the Talk page that there’s a wonderful Tom Bachtell drawing of the President and his in-the-news son; Donald and Donald, Jr. making their second appearance in the issue and we’re only 15 pages in. 

The first cartoon of the issue is by a relative newcomer, Amy Hwang, who’s closing in on her seventh year contributing to the magazine…it’s followed by a P.C. Vey cartoon featuring nudity. There haven’t been all that many nude cartoon characters in the New Yorker in recent years, so, a novelty.  Mr. Vey’s been contributing to The New Yorker for quite some time (his first appeared in 1993)…then a Barbara Smaller drawing — it might possibly be related to the Trump family, or not (Ms. Smaller’s first New Yorker cartoon appeared in 1996); an Edward Koren drawing is up next.  Mr. Koren is our senior (in terms of years contributing) cartoonist, and a national treasure — his first New Yorker drawing appeared in May of 1962…

Paul Karasik, whose first drawing appeared in 1999, has the next drawing. No cartoonist can resist drawing talking fish in a fishbowl.  Mr. Karasik’s other lines of work include teaching and authoring (his new book, How to Read Nancy, was noted on the Spill  last week). Liana Finck is next.  We rarely see scout drawings in the magazine anymore.  I think back to some classics by Peter Arno and Charles Addams.  It should be noted that Ms. Finck, whose first drawing appeared in the magazine in 2013,  has an opening this week of her Instagram work.   Next is a doctor-themed drawing by one who knows about doctors, Ben Schwartz

…Sam Gross, another national treasure, has the next cartoon — let’s just say it’s about the working life of dogs.  Mr. Gross’s first New Yorker cartoon appeared in 1969. Mr. Gross is among a small group whose work I enjoy at first sight, before even taking in the what the drawing is all about (George Booth and the aforementioned Edward Koren come to mind as among the others in that group — I love seeing their work).  Next up is another relative newcomer (first drawing in The New Yorker in 2013), Ed Steed.  Three on-the-dark-side cartoons by Mr. Steed in the last three issues. Of note: this one stretches along the very bottom of two pages…

…Mr. Steed’s drawing is followed by the veteran, Roz Chast (her first cartoon was published in the magazine in 1978).  I love how this particular cartoon looks on the page (yesterday’s Spill concerned itself with placement). William Haefeli‘s drawing is next (first New Yorker drawing: 1998).  Mr. Haefeli has one of the most distinctive styles of this current stable of cartoonists.  And speaking of distinctive styles, Drew Dernavich has the next cartoon.  Some cartoonist’s styles are easily summarized (“the dot guy” for instance) —  Mr. Dernavich’s tag might be “the woodcut guy.” (Mr. Dernavich should not be confused with John Held, Jr., the New Yorker ‘s much earlier “woodcut guy”).   A Robert Leighton cartoon is next. Mr. Leighton is the artist behind this classic cartoon. His first drawing appeared in The New Yorker in 2002. In this new drawing he mixes crime with a food cart.   Alex Gregory’s very Summery drawing follows.  Mr. Gregory, like a few other cartoonists, has another whole career: he’s a writer for the award-winning televison show, VEEP.  His first New Yorker cartoon appeared in 1999.

As usual, The Cartoon Caption Contest ends the issue. Drawings by David Borchart (first New Yorker cartoon published 2007), Tom Cheney (first New Yorker cartoon published 1978), and P.C. Vey. The drawings feature a food cart (two food carts in this issue!), a whole lot of business men following some ancient warriors on horses, and a hospital scene that blends in a little stadium gear.   

 

 

 

New Yorker Cartoons of the Year 2016 Index

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An Ink Spill tradition continues with the posting of an Index for the Cartoons of the Year bookazine.   Why an Index you might ask.  Mostly because I always enjoyed seeing them in the magazine’s hardcover anthologies (the New Yorker‘s Cartoon Albums) and missed having an Index for these yearly bookazines (they started in 2010). I wouldn’t read too too much into the numbers of drawings you see listed for each cartoonist, but the Index itself is a reasonably good snapshot of the New Yorker‘s somewhat boisterous stable of cartoonists in these last few years.

You’ll see that few of the entries have a “(cc)” beside certain page numbers.  The “cc” refers to the Caption Contest.  So those particular drawings appeared on the magazine’s back page.  You might notice that there’s an asterisk next to Julia Wertz’s name.  That’s because her name does not appear on the list of contributing cartoonists found on page 4 of the bookazine. She is, however, included on the Contributors page (p.2).

And here you go:

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Darrin Bell   62

Harry Bliss 5, 12, 15, 45, 53, 57, 60, 77, 115, 142 (cc)

David Borchart 12

Pat Byrnes 32

Roz Chast 7, 55, 75-76, 89, 117, 138

Tom Cheney 9, 48

Tom Chitty 29

Frank Cotham 30, 34

Michael Crawford 78, 96, 133

Joe Dator 46, 120, 134, 139(cc)

Drew Dernavich 60, 90, 117

Matthew Diffee 138

Liza Donnelly  28

J. C. Duffy 59

Bob Eckstein 70, 102

Liana Finck 13, 37-40, 55, 95, 137

Emily Flake 26, 28, 87, 121

Seth Fleishman 79, 80

Alex Gregory 70, 124

Sam Gross 135

William Haefeli 22, 122

Kaamran Hafeez 74, 94, 123

Tim Hamilton 93

Charlie Hankin 6, 25, 36, 56, 88

Amy Hwang 21, 51, 54

Carolita Johnson 136

Zachary Kanin 11, 27, 59, 69, 93, 140(cc)

Bruce Eric Kaplan 14, 25, 67, 91, 123,

Farley Katz 11, 15, 24

Jason Adam Katzenstein 10, 13, 57, 62, 136

John Klossner 91

Edward Koren 8

Ken Krimstein 19, 82

Peter Kuper 17

Amy Kurzweil 122, 124

Robert Leighton 53, 72, 98, 101, 102, 104

Christian Lowe 78

Robert Mankoff 35, 119

Michael Maslin 80, 132

William McPhail 23, 42, 45, 63, 81, 98, 141(cc)

Paul Noth 61, 65, 71, 73, 74, 79, 83, 85, 92, 97, 135

John O’Brien 44

Drew Panckeri  88

Jason Patterson  86, 133

Victoria Roberts  120

Dan Roe  14

Benjamin Schwartz  13, 33, 56, 64, 83, 84, 101, 116

Danny Shanahan  8, 9, 23, 64, 141 (cc)

Michael Shaw  67

David Sipress 10, 24, 33, 52, 58, 66, 71, 116, 119, 134

Barbara Smaller  19, 22, 27, 30, 36, 54, 94, 118

Trevor Spaulding  43, 85

Edward Steed  16, 34, 43, 44, 49, 68, 86, 99, 103, 105-114

Avi Steinberg  96, 99

Mick Stevens  6, 47, 52, 86, 89, 103

Matthew Stiles Davis 18

Mark Thompson  61

Tom Toro 16, 21, 46, 48, 50, 69, 82, 104

P.C. Vey 31, 35, 90, 95, 137, 140(cc)

Liam Walsh 18, 41, 47, 49, 50, 84

Kim Warp 7

Julia Wertz * 125-131

Christopher Weyant  31, 42

Shannon Wheeler  73

Gahan Wilson  20

Jack Ziegler  63, 66, 100

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Website of Interest: A Cartoon & Comics Podcast Archive; Alex Gregory Nominated for an Emmy

VMThe New Yorker cartoonist (and snowman expert), Bob Eckstein recently told me about a blog, Virtual Memories loaded with interviews of cartoonists (as well as non-cartoonists). The section, “Comics & Cartooning” lists  such interviewees as New Yorker contributors  Sam Gross, Ben Katchor, Ivan Brunetti, M.K. Brown, Roz Chast, Peter Kuper and Jules Feiffer.  Here’s a link.  Enjoy!

 

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Of Note: New Yorker cartoonist Alex Gregory has been nominated (along with Peter Huyck) for an Emmy in the category of Best Writing For a Comedy Series.  Mr. Gregory writes for “Veep” …Congrats Alex!