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. 

 

 

The Monday Tilley Watch: The New Yorker issue of September 25, 2017

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

As this is the Style Issue I decided to tackle the issue while listening to Starring Fred Astaire, a set of songs recorded by Mr. Astaire between 1936 through 1940. What a great photograph. What style. What a great top hat.

And now to the issue:

In the habit of expecting some political commentary on the cover of the new issue, I paused to examine the cover art, wondering if president Trump’s face was hidden in the leaves (ala the hidden Beatles on the Rolling Stones album, Their Satanic Majesties Request cover).  No such luck.

It takes seconds, once past the cover, to get to the very first cartoon.  If it’s a theme issue, there’s an excellent chance the first cartoon will tie-in to the theme. Bingo!  The first drawing,  by Carolita Johnson, whose first New Yorker cartoon appeared in the issue of October 20, 2003, features Elton John-ish stage shoes. As is always the case, my mind associates what I’m seeing with what I’ve previously seen in the New Yorker, and the first thought was this fabulous Steinberg cover from May of  1993: 

 

Flipping through the Goings On About Time (or GOAT) section, page 28 stood out.  Why? It is a page completely devoid of graphics (no illustration, photographs, etc.). The layout is a throwback to what was once common place in the magazine. The only design element is the renovated Rea Irvin nervous horizontal line across the top (“renovated” in that it is slightly less nervous than his original lines).   Beautiful nonetheless. 

We don’t arrive at the next cartoon until page 40, where we’re greeted by Tom Chitty’s frankfurter-ish figures involved in the age-old scenario of a couple arriving at a home,  bringing a bottle of wine. Mr. Chitty’s first New Yorker appearance was in the issue of October 13, 2014. Nice use (essential use!) of the phrase “limited expectations” here. Four pages later is a David Sipress cartoon. I note that Mr. Sipress’s drawing and Mr. Chitty’s drawing share similar standard rectangular space on the lower left of their respective pages. The drawings have just enough breathing room on the page.  Mr. Sipress’s first New Yorker appearance: July 1998. Perhaps Mr. Sipress will someday give us a ten years later sequel to this drawing (it’s about a couple possibly about to explore the idea of whether or not to have children).  I’m curious if they had children and if they did, if it was the right decision for them. 

Eleven pages later we come to a Charlie Hankin courtroom scene (Mr. Hankin’s first New Yorker appearance: August 2013). The drawing is given some nice breathing room at the upper right hand corner of the page.  I love courtroom scenes (Perry Mason, and all that).  The Monday Tilley Watch, as I keep reminding visitors (and myself), is not an overtly critical column. However, with a nod to my friends over at Cartoon Companion, I occasionally find myself wanting to applaud a certain drawing. This week I applaud Mr. Hankin’s drawing. There’s a (James) Thurber, (Charles) Barsotti feel to it — and that is always a very good thing.

Mr. Hankin’s drawing is immediately followed by a BEK drawing (and we’re back to the lower left rectangular space).  I think of every issue of the magazine as having at least one anchor artist, and hopefully three or four. Mr. Kaplan is the definition of an anchor artist. Contributing since 1991, his work does not disappoint.

Three pages later, given a full page, is the now much talked about Hillary Clinton cover that would have been had she, well, you know.  Two pages later, a cartoon by another anchor cartoonist: Roz Chast (first New Yorker cartoon: 1978).  With cargo clothing as Ms. Chast’s focus (remember, this is the style issue) I cannot help but think of the late Leo Cullum’s classic drawing from the issue of August 17, 1998:

 

Sidenote: good spacing (breathing room) for Ms. Chast’s drawing.

On the very next page is a Liana Finck drawing (first New Yorker drawing: 2013). The subject is one of those “head-in-the-hole” props you see at carnivals.  Here’s an example I lifted off of (out of?) the internet:

Ms. Finck’s drawing has a decidedly Charles Addams quality to it (I was wondering if we could get through today’s Monday Tilley Watch without mentioning Addams).  I like that Ms. Finck’s cartoon camera has a strap. Three pages later is a well-placed Emily Flake drawing (first New Yorker drawing: 2008).  I’ve never used Uber or their app-minded competition (cabs I have used), but I gather what’s happenin’ here. I wonder if the clown is a reference to the current clown film (It) scaring the pants off of everyone, or is it just a generic scary clown thing. 

Turning the page we have a cartoon by newbie, Curtis Edwards. I spent time examining the “vintage” clothing in this drawing, it being the Style Issue and all.  Note to myself: E.T. looks kind’ve like a turtle. I will remember that next time I’m drawing a turtle, or E.T..  On the opposite page from Mr. Edward’s drawing is a Will McPhail cartoon (first New Yorker appearance: 2014). Mr. McPhail’s is a romance tinged football drawing. Again, my mental library of imagery takes me immediately to this 2003 New Yorker cover  by Harry Bliss:

Next up is a hot air balloon drawing by Ed Steed (first New Yorker cartoon: 2013). I know zero about hot air balloons — was only up in one once.   I’m deeply sorry the  bearded passenger had to toss his musical instrument out of the balloon’s passenger basket.  My first thought — a typical cartoonist’s mash-up thought —  was that I would’ve tossed the actual speech balloon, say perhaps in the vicinity of where a caption would ordinarily go, thus saving a perfectly good cartoon accordion, but hey, I wasn’t there — it wasn’t my call.

Fifteen pages later we come to a domestic bean-centered P. C. Vey drawing, nicely placed. Mr. Vey’s been contributing to the magazine since 1993.  I hate to admit it, and I don’t like recalling it, but I’ve seen even bigger cans of beans than the one Mr. Vey’s cartoon character is eating from. Five pages later is a Sara Lautman energetic carnival drawing.  Her first New Yorker cartoon appeared in March of last year.  The way Ms. Lautman uses the word “things” — it’s printed as “Thiiiings”  — makes the word vibrate.  

And that is that until next Monday. By the way, I have not abandoned my campaign to encourage the return of Rea Irvin’s long running iconic masthead to the Talk of The Town.  I leave you with a common chant of wisdom, commonly heard on sports fields:

“Don’t mess, don’t mess with the best…”

Here’s the best:

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Monday Tilley Watch

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

The week begins with the eclipse eclipsing political news, if only for a moment. Good luck with that, eclipse.  As noted here last week the cover of the new issue (dated August 28, 2017) has received more notice than usual.  Read about it, and two covers from different publications, here. This is the first New Yorker cover for David Plunkert (it says so right on the  Contributors page in the issue. How did we ever manage before Tina Brown instituted a Contributors page many moons ago. Wait –don’t answer that.  It’s a rhetorical question).

I will briefly derail to mention that I often return to the contributors page that accompanied the very first Cartoon Issue (December 15, 1997). It wasn’t identified as the Contributors page — it simply said “Cartoonists” but you get the idea. It’s handy for tidbits of information not found elsewhere. A sample:

Back on track now and breezing through the front of the current issue.  After pausing, briefly, to stare blankly at the rejiggered Rea Irvin Talk of The Town masthead (sorry — this is very much a dog worrying a bone thing with me), we see several graphic eclipse references (one by the late great Otto Soglow, the other by the contemporary illustrator, Tom Bachtell).  I have to admit I was fooled into thinking that the Goings On About Town full page photo of the fellow very obviously pointing skyward was also an eclipse thing, but after reading the text, I was set straight.

Now to the issue’s cartoons.  Getting ahead of things, I noticed that the first three out of four drawings are death-or-injury related. An unannounced theme issue, perhaps? (Don’t answer that either.  It’s another rhetorical question).  I also noticed that the first cartoon didn’t appear until page 45. I don’t keep track of when the first cartoon appears in every issue (and I won’t start now, or should I?) but it’s noticeable. That first cartoon is a kitty drawing by David Borchart, whose first New Yorker drawing appeared nearly ten years ago (September 24, 2007).  Here’s an interesting piece about Mr. Borchart on Jane Mattimoe’s Case For Pencils blog. 

A few pages later a rats-and- sauna drawing by Will McPhail (first New Yorker appearance: 2014). I can almost guarantee that this scenario has never appeared in the magazine before. It’s a caption-less drawing, yet the rat to the extreme left appears to be speaking. Just idle rat chat I guess. I had to look up the spoon used by the third rat in from the left. My search tells me it’s a ladle used to pour water over hot rocks to produce even more steam. I was unaware that hot rocks figured into manhole covers. You live, you learn. 

A couple of pages later we come to a beautifully placed Roz Chast drawing (Ms. Chast’s first New Yorker cartoon appeared in 1978). I’m a fan of Ms. Chast’s summertime drawings (and covers).  On the very next page is a Liam Walsh drawing (his first New Yorker drawing appeared in July of 2011) —  the third of the aforementioned death-or-injury related cartoons (the other two: Mr. Borchart’s elderly kitty, and Ms. Chast’s lottery winner).  There are an awful lot of caskets in this cubicle-related drawing. Someone should really do a book of cubicle cartoons (Harry Bliss authored a book of death cartoons, Death By Laughter, back in 2008).

Next up is an Ed Steed drawing (his first New Yorker cartoon appeared in 2013).  Mr. Steed recently had a run of death-or-injury related cartoons, but here the subject is Romantic Poets (that’s the title of the drawing).  I’m wondering (still) if the couple in bed are in one of those laboratories where people’s dreams, sex lives (etc.) are monitored. The large observation-like window suggests as much.  I like Mr. Steed’s sensitive lettering in this drawing.  Three pages following Mr.Steed’s drawing is newcomer, Maddie Dai (first New Yorker drawing appeared this past June). I wonder how many dentist offices will hang reprints of this cartoon.  The drawing seems firmly rooted in the school of Kanin (Zach Kanin), which was itself in the school of Addams (Charles Addams). Blue ribbon lineage. 

Three pages later is a Julia Suits drawing featuring crocs. (Ms. Suits first New Yorker cartoon appeared in 2006). I’ve a passing familiarity with crocs (in other words, I’ve seen them worn) but the use of “hosed off” caused me to go to Google for a refresher course. This passage in the article cleared things up for me, hosing off-wise:

“The shoes’ original home was Boulder, Colo. The early Crocs customer was probably a Pacific Northwesterner who liked to boat or garden…”

Next up is an eye-catching cartoon by David Sipress (first New Yorker cartoon: 1998).  I’m a sucker for animated luggage cartoons. I’m surprised that only one other person in the area — that fellow with a suitcase nearest the animated luggage — acknowledged the luggage was alive.  Following Mr. Sipress’s cartoon is another caption-less cartoon with a character who is speaking. In this case, the speaker is likely reading out loud from Stories About Crumbs (I would definitely buy that book). Someone should really do a book of park bench cartoons.  (P.C Vey is the artist here. His first New Yorker cartoon appeared in 1993). A broken-record aside: this is another well-placed cartoon. It’s so great seeing cartoons sit on the page as they should.

Five pages later is the familiar boxed drawing style of Harry Bliss (first New Yorker appearance: 1998).  This drawing requires some familiarity with Scooby-Doo

Five pages later is a Barbara Smaller drawing with,  as you might have expected for this late August issue of The New Yorker, a back-to-school reference. Ms. Smaller’s first New Yorker appearance was in 1996. Following Ms. Smaller’s cartoon is a Carolita Johnson cartoon. Of interest:  this 2015 Case For Pencils post about Ms. Johnson’s tools of the trade.

On the following page is the last drawing of the issue (not counting the Cartoon Caption Contest drawings appearing on the very last page). I can’t think of a better way to end the issue than with   a truffle-related cartoon by Joe Dator (his first New Yorker appearance: 2006).  I really do not want to get into “liking” certain drawings but since the die was recently cast when I liked a Bruce Kaplan drawing,  I’ll admit this drawing registered quite high on my inner laugh-o-meter.  For evaluations and ratings of every drawing in every issue I recommend going over to Cartoon Companion. They usually post their ratings for each new issue by the end of the week. I’ll say this about Mr. Dator’s work: for me, he is representative of that wonderful continuum of New Yorker artists who have their very particular world.  Think of George Price, or Richard Taylor, or Syd Hoff or Jack Ziegler.  I’m not suggesting that Mr. Dator’s sense of humor is similar to these artists (although you might be tempted to compare the senses);  I’m suggesting that he, like those artists, is as successful in providing us with a world of his own.  Good stuff.

 

 

 

 

Newest Addition to Ink Spill’s Library: Comically Correct

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Courtesy of Danny Shanahan, this promotional booklet (offered with new New Yorker subscriptions?) from 1995 has been added to Ink Spill‘s Library. Of the many promo booklets produced by The New Yorker I’d never seen this one until today. Shown are the cover, the introductory page and the list of cartoonists whose work is within (yes, Bruce Eric Kaplan’s middle name is spelled wrong).

intro-comically-correct-edtcartoonists-comically-correct

The Ink Spill Jack Ziegler Interview

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Jack Ziegler, recently referred to on this site as the Godfather of Contemporary New Yorker Cartoonists, has been contributing to the magazine since February of  1974.

Now in 2016 he is solidly in the K Crowd — meaning he’s published well over a thousand cartoons and one cover in The New Yorker (we’ll get to the cover later).  Considering that Jack has been the subject of former New Yorker Art Editor, Lee Lorenz’s The Essential Jack Ziegler and more recently as one of Richard Gehr’s subjects in I Only Read It For the Cartoons, I thought it would be interesting to talk about things that, for the most part, weren’t brought up in those books. I highly recommend seeking out both those titles for a full account of Jack’s personal and public shenanigans over the years.

This is Part 1 of my interview with Jack. Later in the week I’ll post Part 2, where we discuss a number of Jack’s favorite drawings, and a number of my favorite Ziegler drawings.

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I’d heard from Jack years ago that he was a CBS page during the Beatles historic Ed Sullivan debut, but what I didn’t know was that he also paged for the Jackie Gleason and Garry Moore shows. It seemed the perfect place to begin our interview.

MM: So, this inquiring mind wants to know: did you get to meet  “The Great One” (Jackie Gleason) when you were a page at CBS?

JZ: I never got to meet Gleason.  He wasn’t around all that much and when he was in the studio he was referred to as “God.”  I think we taped the show on Tuesday nights & he wouldn’t show up till sometime that afternoon so that he could watch the dress rehearsal.  That was apparently all he needed to absorb everything he needed to do onstage.  Barney Martin, who eventually played Jerry’s father on Seinfeld, was his stand-in.  It was a fat guy to fat guy transference.

As a page, or glorified usher, I did get to watch all the tapings from Studio 50, now the Ed Sullivan Theatre, at Broadway & 53rd in NYC, from the audience until the Gleason Show moved – lock, stock & barrel – to Miami.

[In Gehr’s book, Jack mentions an elevator ride with Jackie O.  I wanted details]

MM: What about the elevator ride with Jackie O.  Just the two of you?

JZ: I had sold my second book, Filthy Little Things, to Doubleday – and Jackie Kennedy happened to snag a job there around that time as an editor.  I had just dropped off a bunch of drawings for the book and then took the elevator down.  The car stopped at another floor and she got on and it was just the two of us, sans Secret Service escorts.  Then we rode that baby down another couple of floors before she hopped off, exhausted but elated (they tell me), and I stayed on till I hit the street, at which point I had a chance to exhale.

MM: Do you remember the first time walking into the New Yorker’s art department [the magazine’s offices were then located at 25 West 43rd St]  What was that like for you? Who’d you meet?

JZ:  It was a Wednesday in November of 1973.  There was to be an annual Cartoonists Guild meeting & cocktail party later and I was wearing a sports coat and a heavy sweater so that I wouldn’t have to deal with an overcoat later.  I thought I was just going to drop off my usual batch, but there was a note from Lee Lorenz included in my returns asking me to come back to chat about one of my drawings.  Oh, boy!  Natasha the receptionist opened the gates and pointed me in the direction of the Inner Sanctum.

new-yorker-hallway-25-west-43rd-st-ldLeft: the New Yorker‘s Inner Sanctum at 25 West 43rd St.

It was a warmer than usual Nov. day and I was starting to perspire in my excessive outfit.  The first person I saw in the office was Henry Martin, whom I’d already met at True magazine while on rounds.  Sam Gross was there, too; I’d met him a few weeks back at National Lampoon.  I was then introduced to the other people who were there: Dana Fradon, Donald Reilly & Charlie Sauers.  By the time I got to sit down with Lee, the perspiration had turned to flop sweat.  Lee asked if I was OK as he handed me my first OK.  Then he gave me a little pep talk and basically just said to make the drawing a little bit better.  I was a wreck, but in a good way.  When I got back down to earth, i.e., 43rd St., I headed for the nearest pay phone to break the good news to my wife.

MM:  How aware were you of the work of veteran New Yorker cartoonists who were around when you began at the magazine…for example: Frank Modell, Warren Miller, Dana Fradon, Charles Saxon, Mischa Richter and on and on.

JZ: I knew of them all.  When I was a kid, my parents subscribed to a lot of magazines, but not the New Yorker.  Fortunately, a friend of mine’s parents did, so from the late ‘40s, early ‘50s, I was a big fan.  Some neighbors down the block had a copy of the New Yorker 25th Anniversary Album, with which I was fascinated.

nyer-25th-anniversary-album  Every time I went over there, I’d head for a quiet corner with that book.  One day I asked if I could borrow it & the owner said if I could find it, I could have it.  I interpreted “have” as “keep.”  I still “have” it.  After that, I started buying the mag on my own.

MM: Let’s talk about your one and only (as of this week, anyway) New Yorker cover.  Curious as to why there wasn’t a bushel basket full of more Ziegler covers following that one.  You obviously submitted more.   Did more sell that didn’t run?

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JZ:  Selling that cover was very encouraging, and i submitted a lot of them, but that was the only one that got bought until 1991, when I sold a fall-themed cover.  They weren’t able to run it that year because all the fall slots had been taken, so it got pushed back to ’92.  Then editor Robert Gottlieb left and Tina Brown took over and killed everything that was scheduled to run.  It was the beginning of The Tina Years.  So – that was that.  It did eventually run inside as a full-color full-pager with the title, Fall Sweeps.  Oh, well.  But I’d love the chance to redo that one cover – ya know, just to make it right.

MM: What about the cover would you change?

JZ: I like the guy.  The bricks should’ve started higher, instead of going all the way down to the sidewalk.  I had to take 3 stabs at the sandwich board before Lee was satisfied and you can almost see that it’s pasted on.  The final (sandwich board) came out OK, though.

MM: I’m going to ask you the same question I asked Woodman [Bill Woodman, who was the subject of an Ink Spill interview in September of this year]: when you began at the New Yorker were you aware your work was quite different than what the magazine had been publishing in its previous fifty years? (Ed Koren, who preceded you in the magazine by  a dozen years would be an exception).

JZ: I had no inkling of that.  I knew that I felt that I wasn’t quite seeing the type of cartoons I wanted to see in the magazine.  They were good cartoons, but too many of them weren’t making me laugh the way they had when I was a kid.  I wanted to do drawings that were funny to me, & not necessarily to anyone else.  I was out to please myself, so I never asked: Is this a New Yorker cartoon?  Who knows?  Is this a Jack Ziegler cartoon?  Yep.

MM: I remember the first time I saw you in person – it was an enormous book fair in midtown Manhattan, circa 1979.  That cartoon anthology Animals Animals, Animals had just been published and you were on a panel with Sam Gross out there on the street (West 50 something) in front of a large crowd.  Were you comfortable being in the spotlight?

JZ: It was probably either Doubleday or Rizzoli – also could have been part of NY Book Fair that year.  Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin were also there signing books, but hadn’t appeared yet.  I kept telling people that we had them both tied up in the basement & they wouldn’t be set free until the cartoonists had sold a certain number of books.  Oddly, some people were there to buy the Gordon/Kanin book and got pissed off.  So far as spotlight goes, I was never uncomfortable.  When I was a page at CBS we used to have to be front and center to give various little speeches and instructions to our captive audiences.  I was uncomfortable with that for awhile, but quickly got over it and began to tell them silly, made-up stuff, as well as the crucial info.  When you’re signing a lot of books for a crowd and the books are being passed around from cartoonist to cartoonist, the time goes fast and you start doing riffs on the little drawings that the other cartoonists have done before the book got to you.  It was fun.

mankoff-stevens-cline-ziegler-donnelly-1984Left: Bob Mankoff, Mick Stevens, Richard Cline, Jack Ziegler, Liza Donnelly. New York, 1984.

MM: The next time I saw you was in early 1985, at The New Yorker.  William Shawn had called in a bunch of cartoonists to talk about the impending sale of the magazine to Advance Publications. Besides us “kids” sitting on a table along the back wall, I only remember Steig and Barney Tobey. What do you remember from that somewhat historic meeting?  Besides Lee Lorenz, and the aforementioned Steig and Tobey, what cartoonists do you remember being in the room? And…what do you remember how you felt being there with Shawn, in that crowd?  Had you met Shawn before?

JZ:  I had met (or rather, seen) Shawn before, usually exiting or entering his elevator and sometimes in the hallway (rare).  He gave another speech to the assembled troops several years prior to Advance’s acquisition.  It was probably late ‘70s, when a group of New Yorker employees were attempting to unionize the workers.  The unionization never happened, but as a result, we were promised health insurance and a pension plan.  Not a bad outcome at all.
I sort of remember the Advance meeting being in Lee’s office, but that’s probably incorrect – there were a lot of people there.  I noted it in my desk diary as Black Wednesday, 2/13/85.  Other than those you mentioned, also present were gagwriter and sometime cartoonist Richard McCallister, cover artist Gretchen Dow Simpson, Charles Addams, George Price, Frank Modell, Joe Farris, Roz Chast, Al Ross, Ed Frascino, George Booth, Ed Fisher, Bud Handelsman, Arnie Levin, Henry Martin, Bob Mankoff, you, and I.  I was quite impressed with Shawn’s lucid presentation of the complicated takeover process.

MM: It’s risky talking about current New Yorker cartoonists, unless you’re all nicey-nice, so I’d like to ask you to comment, however briefly you’d like, about some of our departed colleagues. Either comment on their work, or them personally, if you knew them.
> Richard McCallister
> Charles Saxon
> Steig
> Charles Barsotti
> Al Ross
> Chon Day
> William Hamilton
> George Price

JZ:  When I first moved to New Milford, CT, in 1975 I used to mail in New Yorker finishes from the local PO.  One day there was a gentleman in front of me who was also holding a manila envelope addressed to Lee Lorenz.  I tapped him on the shoulder and introduced myself, told him that he had to be either Richard McCallister or Stan Hunt (I knew that he, too, lived in the area, but had never met him).  It was McCallister.  We – my wife and I – became friends with him and his wife Alice and would occasionally socialize, at which times I would pump him with questions about the magazine and his (kind of) partnership with Peter Arno, for whom he supplied a buttload of ideas.

Bill Steig also lived in the area, about 20 miles north of us in Kent, CT.  We used to meet up by happenstance in various restaurants and would join each others’ table for the meal.  Bill was always saying that no matter how old they get, he still always worried about his kids. One day I mentioned that I would occasionally send in some resubmissions to fill out the batch if it was a particularly dry week.  He was amazed.  “You mean you can do that?,” he said.  I was stunned that in all his years with the New Yorker it had never occurred to him to do that.

I had communicated with Charley Barsotti for years prior to my moving to Lawrence, KS.  He was living only about 40 miles away in Kansas City, so it was only natural that we get together for lots of lunches & dinners – and we did that a lot, until he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and then died about a year later.  The last time I saw him was for a sun-filled patio dinner at Axois, a great restaurant a block from his house.  He was frail that evening, but still full of spunk, and I’ve never seen a nattier couple.  In comparison, I looked like a dropout in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt.  He wanted a side of potatoes with his meal, but his wife Rae told him they weren’t part of his strict diet.  He just looked at her and ordered the potatoes anyway.  He, as always, just wanted to have a good time.  He died about 2 weeks later.  And, no, it wasn’t the damn potatoes.

I still get together with Rae for the occasional meal and we talk about Charley and all the amazing work he left behind.

I would see Al Ross only occasionally at the magazine and he was always friendly and jovial.  I would see both Hamilton and Saxon at the mag, but they seemed more remote.  I never met Chon Day and only had a glimpse of Price once at the aforementioned Shawn meeting.

MM: Lee Lorenz brought you into the magazine. What was it like working with him? Did he just kind of let you do your thing once you began or was he working closely with you — a combination, perhaps?

JZ: My first meeting with Lee was when he invited me back into his office to “discuss” one of my drawings.  That was a big deal, a life-changing deal.  He gave me a few hints, very loose, very casual, about how to approach the finish.  I think I did 3 versions before it looked right to him.  After that, I sold sporadically for about 6 months before they started buying on a fairly regular basis.

Below: Mr. Ziegler’s first New Yorker drawing, published February 11, 1974

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I do remember having a hard time for some reason drawing older people – I was in my early thirties at the time and I guess I just couldn’t identify.  After several attempts with one idea, Lee gave up on me and had Whitney Darrow, Jr. do the finish. But I’ve come a long way now and drawing old codgers these days comes naturally.

“Hole: The Original Soundtrack” was a 3-page, 8-picture absurdist spread that the New Yorker bought.  Lee had spread out all the drawings on the floor of his office and we were crawling around among them trying to figure out various sizings.  Lee turned to me and mentioned what a ridiculous way this was for two grown men to be earning a living.  And it was.  He was serious about cartoons and great fun to work with.

MM: I know Charles Addams did at least two of your ideas. [Nevermore and the little mail truck…is that right?]  Were there more — and were there ideas given to anyone else other than the Whitney Darrow you mentioned?

JZ: Nope, that’s it.  Only those 3 – and they all looked great.  I couldn’t have done them better myself – I mean, the Darrow drawing I couldn’t do at all – his version is lovely.

whitney-darrow-idea-by-zieglerLeft: drawing by Whitney Darrow, idea by Jack Ziegler

MM: What did you think of Addams’ versions of your ideas?

JZ: Addams’ Nevermore drawing has a layout that closely follows my original (as I remember it – of course, I never saw it again) – there wasn’t anything much different you could have done with it.  His mail truck version is more elaborate and detailed and far, far better than mine.

MM: You began at the New Yorker with Shawn and you’ve seen Bob Gottlieb, Tina Brown and now David Remnick move into the big chair.  Have any of these changes meant some kind of change for you, your work?

JZ:  There’s always a worry when a new editor takes over, but I never had any major problems with any of them.  I didn’t have to make any adjustments, with the exception of the Gottlieb years.  For some reason, Bob G. didn’t like white space in drawings, so every square centimeter had to be filled with something, sometimes to the detriment of the drawing.  The words in a balloon caption had to rub up against the sides of that balloon.  No air allowed.  Seemed silly to me and the drawings of almost everyone suffered.

Tina Brown was different.  She was an anything-goes girl, the nuttier, the edgier, & sometimes the sexier the drawing, the better.  I submitted a rather rude cartoon, “I just did a huge one in my diaper,” a drawing for the hell of it that I knew the New Yorker would never buy.  But, to my surprise, Tina did and it made me very happy.  I love it when a surprise like that happens.

ziegler-huge-one-in

MM: So what’s the thrill, some forty-three years since you began at the magazine: is it that moment an idea works for you, the drawing itself, selling the drawing, seeing it published in The New Yorker?

JZ:  It’s always a blast when you come up with an idea that you know no one has ever come up with before.  Also, it’s fun just thumbing through a stack of old drawings and coming across something that you’ve totally forgotten about and it makes you laugh out loud.

Selling a drawing is always nice for the bottom line, but the choices of what gets bought are almost invariably a surprise.  Personal favorites rarely get chosen.  Sometimes the worst idea in the batch is bought – and then, once it’s published, it turns out to be a huge hit.  Seeing anything of one’s own in the magazine is always a thrill, no matter how many times it happens – especially if it’s sized correctly.  Judging the value of one’s own work has always been impossible.  And I’ll always have certain favorites among my thousands of children, no matter how crappy everyone else thinks they are.

MM: Not long ago someone asked me how I could come up with ideas without getting out in the world. Do you think it’s necessary to “get out in the world” for your work?

JZ: You certainly have to have some background of having been out in the world, but as far as a day-to-day thing, nah.  I have very little live contact during the week, except for dog walks and buying the newspaper.  I rely on the blank piece of paper on my clipboard to reveal the secrets within.  I had normal jobs and contacts for my ten years between college and cartooning, so I was aware of the ins and outs of daily workplace socializing, so I rely on those not-so-fond memories to get me through the batch.

MM: I know you read everyday before you begin working on drawings.  Does the reading actually translate into drawings or is it something that, let’s say, exercises the brain?

JZ: It’s more a case of getting the brain moving in the morning.  Sometimes ideas spring from that, but mostly not.  After reading, I check out the New York Times, just the first page of each section, to see if anything leaps out at me.  With all the budget cuts and downsizing of that paper over the past few years, there’s far less there, so that formerly useful tool has become kinda useless.  But I still look, just in case.  I rarely get to delve into the interior until lunchtime.

MM: Is there a certain cartoon scenario that your happiest working on/workin in? (marital situations, barbeques, the old west, business people, etc) or are you happiest with whatever you’re working on at the moment?

JZ: Whatever I’m working on at the moment, whatever ideas pop into my head, no matter the genre.  I do like drawing cowboys on horses and almost anything to do with the “Wild West,” however.  Whenever I’m stuck I invariably start drawing guys on horses, and ninety per cent of the time that leads somewhere.

MM:  I love your  drawing of the cowboy kissing the gal while covering his horse’s eyes.  It’s one of those not laugh out loud drawings (although it could be), but some other kind of humor.

j-ziegler-aug-19-1991

JZ: I really like that one too.  My memory of it is that it’s something that emerged totally out of a doodle that I just kept adding things to, including the frame.

MM: I’m not one for dissecting what’s successful, but I think of that as a very successful drawing, an evergreen. Any comment on that drawing, or evergreen drawings in general (as in: do you prefer them to topical drawings?). 

JZ:  I do like drawings where there really isn’t any joke — or kicker, as Sam Gross would say. The cannon in the bushes is like that.  I’m sure a lot of people scratched their heads over that one, but it’s just a cannon poking out of some suburban bushes and that’s all it is. There can be many interpretations.  It amuses me and I have no idea why. I far prefer these types of drawings to topical.  They have a longer shelf life, at least in my own mind.

jz-cannon

MM: The New Yorker‘s current cartoon editor, Bob Mankoff memorably said, “It’s the think, not the ink.”  Agree, disagree?

JZ: Agree.  But it’s always nice when cartoonists know how to draw so that they can give us something pleasant and fun to look at.

 

(Photo of Jack Ziegler at the very top of the piece, taken in 1985;  photo of the New Yorker‘s Inner Sanctum, taken in 1991: both courtesy of Liza Donnelly)

A Jack Ziegler selected bibliography:

ziegler4ziegler5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hamburger Madness  Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978.

Filthy Little Things    Dolphin, 1981.

Marital Blitz   Warner, 1987.

Celebrity Cartoons of the Rich and Famous   Warner, 1987.

Worst Case Scenarios    Fireside, 1990.

The Essential Jack Ziegler (Edited by Lee Lorenz)  Workman Publishing, 2000.

How’s the Squid?   Harry N. Abrams, 2004.

Olive or Twist? Harry N. Abrams, 2004.

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American Bystander #3 Ready to Go; Liam Walsh’s 7 Things

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Here’s Drew Friedman’s cover for American Bystander #3.  If you saw the first two issues, you know what fun awaits you.  If you haven’t seen those issues, well now’s the time to catch up. Go here to Mr. Friedman’s site to see more on the cover, a short video about issue #3 and #4,  and a link to the Bystander‘s  Kickstarter campaign. A few of the cartoonists appearing in issue #3: M.K. Brown, Gahan Wilson and George Booth.

american-bystander-4

And looking ahead to issue #4, it will feature an R.O. Blechman cover and drawings by, among others,  Charles Barsotti, P.S. Mueller, and Liza Donnelly.

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51eebe163e412.preview-620From Writer’s Digest, September 23, 2016, “7 things I’ve Learned So Far” Liam Walsh shares.

Link to Mr. Walsh’s website.