The Spill Talks Mirror Balls and Tracking Porcupines with Seth Fleishman

I took notice when Seth Fleishman’s first cartoon, uniformed cows standing over a table,  appeared in the New Yorker in the issue of April 4, 2016 (it appears below).  Sometimes a new cartoonist’s work (the drawing itself and/or the caption) will appear slightly awkward (my first New Yorker drawing fits both those categories), but Mr. Fleishman’s work seemed like it was already there, as if he’d been around for awhile.  Further Fleishman appearances in the magazine only confirmed that feeling.

So who is this guy?  He told me recently that he’s been asked several times by colleagues, “Where did you come from?”  The answer is that he was born and bred in north-western New Jersey, and by age 14 aspired to be, in his words, “either a musician, a cartoonist, or an impressionist.” Music won out for awhile.  In 2011 he launched GratefulGuitarLessons.com and three years later wrote and produced “I Don’t Look Good Naked Anymore” by the Snake Oil Willie Band. The song peaked at #2 on the Billboard Comedy chart. But before all that he submitted one batch of drawings to The New Yorker in 1994 (a drawing from that batch appears below).  None were accepted. He did not submit again until 2014.

 

In January of 2016 he sold his first drawing to the New Yorker (more on that later) and has been submitting ever since.  If you head over to the New Yorker‘s Cartoon Bank, you’ll find he has been published two dozen times as of now, an excellent batting average. I finally met Mr. Fleishman at the big George Booth opening at the Society of Illustrators, and while we chatted it occurred to me that further discussion (via email) should be Spilled.  And so…

 

Michael Maslin: I know you were too young to have frequented Studio 54, but looking at your New Yorker work, two of the two dozen published thus far are “Saturday Night Fever” related. Is there something you’d like to share with us, vis a vie your interest in  mirror balls, disco, and/or Tony Manero (John Travolta’s character in the film)?

Seth Fleishman: What a fun opening question! I love classic disco and R&B from the 70s. I love the Bee Gees. I love Barry White. When they bought the first one, I still had more disco ball ideas in me, so I submitted more. When they bought the second one, I figured I’d just keep going until they stopped buying them. There actually is a third one, but it hasn’t run yet, and it’s my favorite one of the trilogy. Hopefully it runs at some point. I confess I sent a few more after that, but sanity prevailed. I got no more OKs on the subject, and moved on. That’s why there are editors.

MM: When we first spoke you mentioned that Charles Barsotti came to mind as one New Yorker artist who, let’s say, was of importance to you before you became familiar with other New Yorker cartoonists.   Am I remembering that right? If not, please clarify.  What I’m getting around to is the question you mentioned you’ve heard before: “Where did you come from (artistically)?”  Can you talk a little about early influences (comics, cartoons, or whatever)?

SF: I was familiar with New Yorker cartoons at an early age. My mother turned me on to Booth, Thurber, Addams, plus Ronald Searle and others. I also liked the Sunday newspaper comics — Peanuts, Hagar The Horrible, Beetle Bailey, Ziggy, etc.

When I took on New Yorker cartooning, I didn’t want to be influenced. I wanted my own voice.  Bruce Eric Kaplan was an inspiration in that regard — the boldness in the originality of his visual style. The closest I came to falling under anyone’s spell was Charles Barsotti. No one would say my stuff looks like Barsotti, but there were things I saw in his work that appealed to me. It’s all so charming.

After I found my style, I began to notice and learn from cartoonists with whom I felt a connection — Otto Soglow, Chon Day, Mischa Richter, Bob Mankoff, Arnie Levin, to name a few.  I also like a lot of European cartoonists: Sempe, Bosc, Jules Stauber, Miroslav Bartak,  Pawel Kuczynski, as well as Argentinian cartoonist Guillermo Mordillo.  I’m a blind fool with broken hands compared to all of those names, but I drew inspiration from them all.

MM: As mentioned in my intro, music has loomed large in your life. I’ve found that there are at minimum, two camps of cartoonists: one camp listens to music while they work on their drawings, and the other doesn’t (a third camp blends silence with music, and a fourth camp listens to the radio…there are probably a hundred other camps).  Which camp are you in, if you are in one, and if you do listen to music while working on your batch, can you name names, or types of music you listen to.

 SF: When working on ideas, silence. When drawing, music. If not music, silence. Mostly Italian Baroque and Italian Renaissance instrumental music. Vivaldi, Marcello, Manfredini, Capirola (lute), Dalza (lute), Biber. Some Spanish Baroque vihuela music. Occasionally some Chinese guzheng. If it has words, it’s in a language I don’t speak. Russian Sacred Music, for example. There is a set called The Divine Wisdom of St. Sofia by The Choir of the Suzdal Holy Virgin’s Protecting Veil that is incredibly beautiful. 

MM: Wow. I was expecting maybe the Grateful Dead.  Interesting that if you listen to music with words, it’s in a language you don’t speak.  Is that because you don’t want to get caught up in lyrics? Or something else?

SF: Words are distracting, but if sung in a foreign language, they are effectively instrumental. Just sounds. I do love the Grateful Dead– ‘Dark Star’ is not totally out of the question. But doing all those video lessons, dissecting, demystifying, and explaining their music in granular detail has changed my relationship with them as a listener. Maybe that’s the price I pay. I love the work, but I can’t really listen to them as a regular civilian anymore. And anyway, I truly fell in love with Vivaldi once I heard his music performed by Rachel Podger. That led me into early Venetian music in general, and that’s a rabbit hole from which I have yet to emerge. I also play renaissance lute. 

MM: Looking at your work, it’s clear you’re happiest working caption-less. Are you thinking caption-less when you work, or is that just how the work turns out more often than not?

 SF: As a general rule, the less I say the better. In the words of the Psalmist, “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.”  Also, the people I draw don’t have mouths. They don’t even have chins or jaws. So it’s virtually impossible for them to say anything.  Seriously, the captionless stuff is what got the OKs. It came as a very pleasant surprise to me. I am happiest working captionless. It’s perfect. I give all the credit to Bob Mankoff. He just kept picking the captionless stuff, and a certain type at that. I learned who I am as a cartoonist by the selections he made. It is a particular way of thinking. It’s all visual. It’s a certain way of associating. And I love it.

MM: Not many of our colleagues have pursued captionless work. In modern times, John O’Brien, of course, and Nurit Karlin, Steinberg…and earlier, Otto Soglow and Sam Cobean among not too many others.  So you’re working captionless and graphically you’re using areas of black ink like nobody’s business. I’m thinking specifically of the vampire with a flashlight. Here the area of black ink is essential.  Anything you want to say about this drawing?  

SF: It was my first OK. I hadn’t yet figured out how important black was going to be for me when I drew it. About half of that batch still had greys. In some strange way, this cartoon was, if you’ll pardon the pun, a beacon for me. It heralded the importance of black. It was my first lesson learned from getting an OK. It was actually a revelation, and I committed to black then and there.

When people think of the classic New Yorker cartoon style, maybe they imagine rich, grey washes. But there have always been black and white practitioners, some of whom I’ve already mentioned — Barsotti, BEK, Soglow, etc. I think it works well for those who fall on the more abstract, iconographic end of the drawing spectrum. There are a few other things I hadn’t figured out yet that make the drawing less than ideal, but it was my first sale so who cares? 

  MM:Emily Flake told the Spill she bakes pies and has spent time at a firing range.  Is there something in your week that takes you outside of your work space? Something away from thinking about cartoons/music?

SF: Here’s something interesting — my wife Cheryl and I are fairly adept at porcupine tracking. They are present in our area, and we go out on weekends looking for them, and we often find them. If I had a spirit animal, it would be the porcupine. 

Below: The cartoonist and his wife tracking porcupines

During the week, my only purely social interaction is a weekly breakfast at the Branchville Grille with a regular group of friends. Branchville is a sleepy little town. One of our group is a beautiful 85-year-old gentleman named Sandy, who was a corpsman in the Marine Corps in Korea. It’s really something to be around special people like that. Other than that, during the week it’s work, work, work.

MM: And once you’ve tracked the porcupines, then what?

SF: Cheryl is a nature photographer, so she’ll take pictures [an example is below]. Other than that, we just observe and spend a little time with them. I’m not ashamed to say Cheryl and I both consider porcupines and many other creatures to be our friends. As far as we’re concerned, when we’re out in the woods or wetlands, we’re spending time with friends.

MM: If there’s a typical beginning to your work day (work on drawings that is) what is that day like? (Jack Ziegler told me he would begin his work day by sitting with the New York Times, then head off to his drawing board.  Danny Shanahan mostly begins by writing ideas down. Others just start drawing).  

SF:I work on ideas in the early morning, while my mind is still groggy. If the ideas are flowing, I keep at it until it peters out. If nothing’s shaking, I don’t press it. I give it a little time, then move on. I’m not constantly thinking about ideas. I used to do that, but I don’t anymore. Once the coffee has kicked in, I can start drawing.

MM: Your work is also appearing in Esquire these days. And, unless I’m mistaken, it utilizes color.   Is working for Esquire different than working for The New Yorker?  

SF: It’s very different. Esquire is filled with graphic design. Using color helps the drawings pop in that environment. It also fits the vibrant spirit of the magazine. Esquire has a distinct aesthetic. I try to visually and topically compliment that. Three of my cartoons appear per issue (monthly), linked by a theme, under the heading “Spot On by Seth Fleishman.” The November issue was “Spot On: Cinema.”  Each cartoon was a riff on a classic cinematic moment. That adds a layer of difficulty for me creatively, but it’s a fun challenge.

Below: a recent Fleishman Esquire cartoon

MM: Many cartoonists have something else going on with their work besides submitting to The New Yorker and whatever other publications they contribute to.  Some do children’s books, or they work on graphic novels, or mass media projects (television)… anything like that going on with you? 

SF: Not at the moment. Which is fine! I have plenty to do.

— I asked Mr. Fleishman if he would send an example of what his work looks like before it’s in the finished state you see published, and he sent this delightful sketch.

MM: Even more than mirror balls, I see that chickens show up a lot in your New Yorker drawings. Care to comment? 

SF: I have a simple rule: when in doubt, draw chickens. I’m typically an idea-first guy, but I’ll use other methods if necessary. One such method is to just start drawing without thinking. Trouble is, when I do that, nine times out of ten I draw a chicken! I’ve had many, many chicken drawings rejected. I don’t care. Have some more chickens! 

I live in a somewhat rural area. We still have working farms around here. I relate to animals. Chickens are humble, awkward looking little creatures. They have a certain charm to them. They are easy to draw. Who can explain it? I just like chickens. 

 

 

Latest New Yorker Cartoons Rated; A Barbara Shermund Rejected Cover; A Courthouse Opening

Latest New Yorker Cartoons Rated

The CC boys are back with their thoughts and idiosyncratic ratings for the cartoons appearing in the latest issue of The New Yorker. In this issue are, among others, cartoons featuring dogs, doctors, tombstones, and fish.  Read all about everything here.

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A Barbara Shermund Rejected Cover

Attempted Bloggery continues its week-long look at proposed, but rejected, New Yorker covers.  Today’s is by the great Barbara Shermund. Check it out here. 

Here Ms. Shermund’s entry on the A-Z:

 

 

 

 

Barbara Shermund (self portrait, above) 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)

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Cartoon Opening in a Courthouse

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There’ve been a whole lot of cartoons set in courtrooms, but I wonder how many cartoons have been in a courthouse. Bob Mankoff, who began contributing to The New Yorker in 1977 (and is now cartoon editor of Esquire), had an opening in the Federal Building Eastern District Courthouse yesterday (it’s in Brooklyn). Courtesy of cartoonist and author,  Bob Eckstein, we have a couple of photographs from the event:

 

Tom Toro: The Ink Spill Interview

New Yorker cartoonist, Tom Toro and I’ve been emailing now and then over the seven years he’s been contributing cartoons to the magazine, but it wasn’t until a month ago, when he came east from Kansas for Jack Ziegler’s memorial, that we finally met in person and were able to chat for awhile. The idea for an interview had been batted around by us earlier in the year; I like to think it began in earnest right there and then in a restaurant on Manhattan’s upper east side. With Dock Street Press’s release of Tom’s first book, Tiny Hands, a collection of the political work he did for The New Yorker’s Daily Cartoon slot, it seemed like the perfect time to turn our conversation into something more organized. Following the interview I asked Tom to select and comment on five favorites of his own work — you’ll see those at the end of this post.
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“A Very Complicated Thing”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 At the recent event covered here on the Spill (“Wall-To-Wall Cartoonists at David Remnick’s Hello Goodbye Party”) Mr. Remnick said of the New Yorker‘s former cartoon editor, Mr. Mankoff:

“I want to tell you that Bob’s effort to bring not only the work of cartoonists and artists who’ve been around for quite awhile forward, and to put them in their best light, but also to bring new artists into the picture, which is a very complicated thing, has been an enormous boon to the New Yorker…”

 Mr. Remnick’s focus on  the magazine’s cartoonists was notable and welcome.  It struck me while reading the recent news pieces about Mr. Mankoff’s departure as The New Yorker‘s cartoon editor  that all of them focused primarily, and nearly exclusively on Mr. Mankoff himself and his work as a cartoonist, with nary an exploration of exactly what happened with and to the magazine’s cartoonists and cartoon department during the past 20 years during his watch. Of course it makes perfect sense to focus on him — after all, he was the cartoon editor, and his departure was news,  but surely the greater part of his legacy are all those cartoonists that swelled the magazine’s stable these past twenty years.  I’m slightly puzzled as to why several of these news pieces showed us, almost in the form of a greatest hits or a summing up of his career, a good number of Mr. Mankoff’s own cartoons — he’s not retiring as a cartoonist, and in fact has said he will continue to submit work.  My puzzlement is over the absence of discussion of the 128 new cartoonists he brought in to the magazine (Mr. Mankoff mentioned, but only in in passing, 17 of his discoveries in one piece. That only leaves 111 more to talk about).

R.C. Harvey did a long piece that appeared in late March on The Comics Journal site looking at Mr. Mankoff’s editorship.  Selfishly, perhaps, I’m hoping there will be more such pieces looking at how the New Yorker‘s cartoons changed, for better or worse, during these past 20 years; how Mr. Mankoff shaped those changes; and how those changes affected the culture of the New Yorker cartoon department and the cartoonists themselves.  In other words, a critical examination of the Mankoff years. “A very complicated thing” is a thing worth exploring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wall-to-Wall Cartoonists at David Remnick’s Hello Goodbye Party

 The New Yorker‘s editor, David Remnick threw a Hello Goodbye party last night (Hello, Emma Allen, the magazine’s new cartoon editor; Goodbye, Bob Mankoff, the former cartoon editor). It was, by far, the largest gathering of New Yorker cartoonists since  1997, when forty-one gathered for an Arnold Newman group photo (it appeared in the magazine’s first cartoon issue, December 15, 1997). Here are a bunch of photos from the evening, courtesy of Liza Donnelly, the Spill‘s official photographer for the evening; additional  photos by  Sarah Booth, Marshall Hopkins, and Paul Karasik.

Photo above, l-r: Drew Dernavich, Sarah Booth, John Klossner, George Booth, Chad Darbyshire (back to camera), Matt Diffee, (New Yorker writer) Sarah Larson, Ken Krimstein, Bob Mankoff, Eric Lewis, Bob Eckstein

Edward Koren and Francoise Mouly (The New Yorker‘s Art Editor)

 

 

 

 

 

Emma Allen, The New Yorker‘s Cartoon Editor, and Stanley Ledbetter, the magazine’s jack-of-all trades.

 

 

 

 

 

George Booth and Roz Chast.  That’s Lars Kenseth in the background (photo courtesy of Sarah Booth)

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Karasik, Liana Finck and Gabrielle Bell (photo courtesy of Paul Karasik)

 

 

 

 

Jason Adam Katzenstein, unidentified, Roz Chast speaking with Sara Lautman (back to camera), and Chris Weyant far right.

 

 

 

Chris Weyant (partially obscured), Farley Katz, unidentified, David Sipress, New Yorker writer Matt Dellinger (in checked shirt), Andy Friedman, Danny Shanahan. The group in the back: Drew Panckeri, Mitra Farmand, Sara Lautman, Kendra Allenby

 

Sam Gross and Robert Leighton

 

Bob Mankoff and David Remnick

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chris Cater, with the New Yorker‘s assistant cartoon editor, Colin Stokes, and Avi Steinberg

 

 

 

George Booth and David Borchart

 

 

 

 

 

Joe Dator and Peter Kuper

 

 

Felipe Galindo and Carolita Johnson

 

 

 

John O’Brien and Bob Eckstein

 

 

Three former cartoon department assistants: Marshall Hopkins, Emily Votruba, and Andy Friedman (photo courtesy of Marshall Hopkins)

 

 

 

 

 

Chris Weyant and Paul Noth

 

 

Matt Dellinger with  Stanley Ledbetter, and Matt Diffee (and way back by the window: Chad Darbyshire to the left, and Amy Hwang to the right)

 

 

 

 

P.C. Vey and Trevor Hoey

 

 

 

 

 

Kim Warp, Pat Byrnes, and George Booth

 

 

 

Sam Gross and Roz Chast

 

 

 

 

l-r: P.C. Vey, Liza Donnelly, Danny Shanahan, George Booth, and Michael Maslin (photo courtesy of Sarah Booth)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chris Weyant and Liana Finck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sam Gross and Lars Kenseth

 

 

 

 

 

Eric Lewis, Andy Friedman, and Barbara Smaller

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pat Byrnes, Paul Karasik, and Peter Kuper

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marc Philippe Eskenazi and Ben Schwartz

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charlie Hankin, Amy Hwang, Kendra Allenby, and Avi Steinberg

 

 

 

Marshall Hopkins with Bob Mankoff’s first assistant, Emily Votruba (Mr. Hopkins was also at one time Mr. Mankoff’s assistant)

 

 

 

Far left: David Sipress speaks with Andy Friedman.  Foreground: Barbara Smaller, Emily Flake and P.C. Vey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

l-r: Felipe Galindo, Marshall Hopkins, Sam Gross, Mort Gerberg, and Ed Koren

 

 

 

 

 

Edward Koren, Michael Maslin, Liza Donnelly and a photobombing David Remnick. That’s Charlie Hankin in the back, far right.

 

 

 

 

Here’s an  incomplete list of all the cartoonists who were there (if you were there and don’t appear on this list, please let me know)

Kendra Allenby, George Booth, David Borchart, Pat Byrnes, Chris Cater, Roz Chast, Joe Dator, Chad Darbyshire, Drew Dernavich, Matt Diffee, Liza Donnelly, Bob Eckstein, Mitra Farmand, Liana Finck, Emily Flake, Andy Friedman (aka Larry Hat), Felipe Galindo(aka feggo), Mort Gerberg,  Sam Gross, Charlie Hankin, Marshall Hopkins, Amy Hwang, Edward Koren, Trevor Hoey, Carolita Johnson, Paul Karasik, Farley Katz, Jason Adam Katzenstein, Lars Kenseth,  John Klossner, Ken Krimstein, Peter Kuper, Amy Kurzweil, Sara Lautman, Robert Leighton, Eric Lewis, Bob Mankoff, Sam Marlow, Michael Maslin,  Paul Noth,  Jeremy Nguyen, John O’Brien, Drew Panckeri, Corey Pandolph, Ellis Rosen, Jennifer Saura, Ben Schwartz, Danny Shanahan, David Sipress,  Avi Steinberg, P.C. Vey, Kim Warp, Chris Weyant.  

Bob Mankoff’s Third Act; An Update: Mankoff Puts the Kibosh on an Esquire Look Day

On his 73rd birthday, Bob Mankoff, newly un-hitched from his duties as cartoon editor of the New Yorker, let the word go forth he was immediately beginning a new job as cartoon editor (and humor editor) of the 83 year old men’s magazine, Esquire.  Pre-dating Playboy, Esquire was once one of the major markets in this country for cartoons embracing more risque work than The New Yorker (when Playboy came along in the early 1950s, its cartoons made Esquire’s risque cartoons seem tame).  When Esquire was reinvented in the late 1970s there was initially great interest in bringing back cartoons.  After I sold a bunch of cartoons to them during the planning phase, I was invited in to meet with Clay Felker, Milton Glaser and then Esquire cartoon editor, Harvey Kurtzman  — it was all very exciting,  but the excitement was short-lived as using cartoons was abandoned before the first new-look Esquire was printed (it was, after all, the age of illustration, ushered in by the success of Mr. Felker’s and Mr. Glazer’s New York magazine).  But that’s all ancient history. It’s 2017 — with new cartoon markets hard to come by.  If Esquire has its own Look Day, cartoonists can head uptown to the Hearst Tower after first seeing Emma Allen at The New Yorker.

UPDATE:

Shortly after the above Spill piece was posted, Michael Cavna posted a piece on Mr. Mankoff’s intentions, viv-a-vis an Esquire Look Day.  Mr. Mankoff now calls the “open call” Look Day he inaugurated and presided over during his  twenty year New Yorker stint as cartoon editor, “delusional”; Mr. Mankoff’s  “open call”  was in stark contrast to his predecessor’s Look Day, which was open only to veteran cartoonists.  He told the Washington Post’s Michael Cavna what his new approach as Esquire‘s cartoon editor would be:

The idea: What if he were to work closely with a handful of different cartoonists every issue, in a process that he says would “feel less hierarchical” and “more productive”?

The piece continues:

… Mankoff wouldn’t just work with artists, but also performers. “I want stand-up comedians to work with cartoonists, too, to [explore] what a stand-up sensibility could be in a magazine.”

That collaborative approach, he notes, is more like what the New Yorker was still doing a half-century ago, when illustrators and gag writers might be paired on a cartoon.

 Mr. Mankoff  would seem to be thinking of returning, in part, to an approach that began to lose favor at The New Yorker in 1952, when William Shawn  began encouraging the magazine’s artists to develop their own voice, rather than to rely on gagwriters.  While using gagwriters is still an approach a very small number of New Yorker cartoonists employ, it has been largely out of favor at the magazine since the early 1970s (Roz Chast, in a brochure for an exhibit of New Yorker cartoons,  wrote that she felt the use of gagwriters was “like cheating.”)

In The New Yorker‘s earliest days, working on cartoons was a collaborative effort carried on in the Art Meeting, wherein a number of editors (and Rea Irvin, the magazine’s Art Supervisor) joined in on helping sharpen work. When Mr. Shawn was appointed the magazine’s editor, he abandoned that collaborative effort.

It will be fascinating to see how Mr. Mankoff’s retro-collaborative approach plays out in the pages of Esquire