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

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

 

 

Expecting something political on the July 31st cover it was a surprise when Javier Mariscal‘s water’s edge pastoral popped up on my screen (I’m looking at the digital version of the magazine; I’ll look at the print version when it arrives. Two different experiences). My first thought: if James Stevenson had worked in stained glass, this might be the result. Here’s an example of what I was thinking (a Stevenson cover from October 1975, and Mr. Mariscal’s on the new issue):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A note before heading into the issue: I have a habit of not looking at the cartoonists listed on the Table of Contents — I look at everything else on the TOC, but want to be completely surprised by the cartoons as I page through. I see on the TOC that Bruce McCall has a Shouts & Murmurs piece — things are already interesting.  On my way to “The Talk of The Town”  I stopped to examine the illustration on page 8 by Henning Wagenbreth. Glad I stopped — enjoyable illustration, and, bonus: the name Henning Wagenbreth is now a new favorite name.

Moving on: a quick look at the Talk masthead —  it’s still the revamped version brought in a few months back. I ask the power(s) that be to reconsider and bring back Coke Classic (i.e., Rea Irvin’s masterpiece masthead  — shown directly below — that led off Talk from January 30, 1926 through May 15, 2017). 

It should be noted (and maybe I did note it once on this site): Tom Bachtell is the contemporary artist behind the drawing appearing on the opening Talk page and many of the others sprinkled through the rest of Talk, but the small spots that look like this:

are by the late great Otto Soglow (fondly remembered by many for his creation,  “The Little King”). Mr. Soglow supplied the Talk spot drawings in earlier times (pre-Lee Lorenz years as Art Editor).   We are lucky his work is still appearing here some forty-two years after his death.

And now, finally to the cartoons: the first is by Sara Lautman, whose first New Yorker drawing appeared in March of last year. If the search function on the digital edition is correct, this is her 6th New Yorker appearance. A few pages later is a David Sipress drawing.  Mr. Sipress’s active line is immediately recognizable, as is the New York City subway setting (the subway has been in the news quite a lot, with the Mayor of NYC taking a well -publicized ride just yesterday). Next is a drawing by Paul Karasik (whose new book, How to Read Nancy was mentioned here last time, so I’m mentioning it again). In Mr. Karasik’s drawing, Grant Wood’s American Gothic farmer returns to the New Yorker.  During Charles Addams’ long run at The New Yorker he had a lot of fun with Mr. Wood’s pitchfork-wielding farmer, as well as at least one of the other folks at the bar in Mr. Karasik’s drawing.

Here’s Addams working with the American Gothic duo– this from The Charles Addams’ Mother Goose.

And here’s a link to another.

And here’s Addams with a roomful of recognizable subjects, including Mona Lisa

But I, uh, digress…so back to the issue at hand. Opposite Mr. Karasik’s barflies is a timely drawing by Liza Donnelly featuring colluding ice cubes. As with Roz Chast’s drawing from the last issue, I like the way this drawing has been placed on the page.  Today’s New York Times carries the headline “‘I Did Not Collude,’ Kushner Plans to Tell Senate Investigators” — hmmm

Several pages later we come to another well-placed/sized drawing — this one’s by Harry Bliss. As noted on yesterday’s Spill, it’s “Shark Week” on The Discovery Channel. It’s also summertime. Mr. Bliss manages to celebrate both, as well as tipping his hat to lifeguards (a New Yorker colleague, John O’Brien, was a longtime lifeguard in Wildwood, New Jersey. I believe he’s the only New Yorker artist with those intersecting credentials). Next is a kangaroo cartoon (also well placed & sized) by Liana Finck (who was mentioned on the Spill yesterday for several reasons…both good). Here we have a drawing that, stylistically (and maybe even thematically) brings to mind a cross between Ed Arno and Arnie Levin, with even a dash of Bill Woodman tossed in to the mix.  In the end, of course, it’s pure Finck.

A Seth Fleishman Newton’s Cradle cocktail drawing follows Ms. Finck’s. Mr. Fleishman, like the aforementioned Ms. Lautman, started at The New Yorker in the early months of last year —  his generous use of black against white made (and make) his work easy to pick out in the crowd. A Roz Chast six-parter follows (Ms. Chast’s first New Yorker appearance was in 1978). I failed to mention last week that Ms. Chast has a new book coming out this Fall: Going Into Town: A Love Letter To New York.

A Paul Noth prison drawing is next (Mr. Noth’s first New Yorker appearance was in 2004)  — Mr. Noth has a book coming out as well — it’s not due until next year, but I’ll mention it here anyway.  Someone should do a collection of New Yorker prison cartoons. Three pages following Mr. Noth’s drawing is the very recognizable work of Drew Dernavich.  If you want to know a little more about how he works, visit Jane Mattimoe’s Case For Pencils post here.  Three more pages brings you to one of the newest kids on the block (first New Yorker appearance: November 14, 2016): Lars Kenseth. In this drawing, Mr. Kenseth meets King Arthur, sort of. For some reason I wanted the caption to have the word “sticky” in it, but “licked” comes close enough.

Two pages on we find a drawing by cat and elephant-lover, Danny Shanahan, who’s been contributing to The New Yorker for 30 years.  No one draws  elephants like Mr. Shanahan (he’s even had a New Yorker elephant cover).   

Another new kid, Ellis Rosen is up next (first New Yorker appearance: December 12, 2016). I like birds-in-flight cartoons. Carl Rose, Lee Lorenz, and a number of other colleagues have offered them up to us over the years.

On the opposite page from Mr. Ellis’s drawing is a drawing executed in the instantly recognizable  style of William Haefeli (first New Yorker appearance: 1998). The Spill’s archive is lucky enough to have one of Mr. Haefeli’s original New Yorker drawings.  Visitors who are shown the piece are usually surprised by its size (it’s quite small) and its complexity (his originals look even more complex in person than on the printed page or screen).

A few pages later, we have what looks like a Smith Bros. cough drop board meeting —  a bunch of bearded men courtesy of Carolita Johnson (first New Yorker appearance: 2003), followed by a cat and dog living room situation by Christopher Weyant (first New Yorker appearance: 1998; Mr. Weyant is the  illustrator of a recent childrens book, I Am (Not) Scared by Anna Kang).  I love the way Mr. Weyant draws cats (he joins the Well-drawn Cat Club; I won’t list all the members for fear of possibly leaving someone out).  Tom Toro’s next (first New Yorker appearance: 2010) with a rarity: a lethal-signage cartoon. Kudos to the author of Tiny Hands. 

Mr. Toro’s drawing is followed by a Liam Walsh cartoon featuring a smallish fish with a big appetite (Mr. Walsh’s first New Yorker appearance: 2011). I already mentioned Bill Woodman above, but I’ll mention him again. I see fishing cartoons and I think Woodman. For some examples check out his book, Fish and Moose News (published in 1980). 

 

Lastly, the newest of the newbies, Maggie Larson, whose first New Yorker drawing appeared in last week’s issue.  I can’t recall how many massage-related cartoons have been in The New Yorker. At least one, now (someone with a better database than mine please let me know of others).

 

And that’s that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.   

 

 

 

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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Lou Myers’ Times Square; The Addams Family House…in Plastic

From Attempted Bloggery, June 11, 2017, “Lou Myers in Times Square” — this piece on a Lou Myers tour de force promotional mailer from 1973.

Mr. Myers, who died in November of 2005, contributed stories, cartoons and one cover to the New Yorker from 1974 through 1989. 

In Mr. Myers’ NYTs obit, Steven Heller wrote: “Mr. Myers developed a deceptively childlike, raw, black brushstroke that gave the illusion of lightheartedness.  But his cartoons were more like comic bombs that exploded political and social taboos.”

 

Here’s his  terrific New Yorker cover and a Myers cartoon collection from 1980.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Courtesy of David Pomerantz, this fun ad: