Checking In: Peter Kuper Talks Spy Vs. Spy, The New Yorker, and So Much More

When I think of MAD magazine I think of Alfred E. Neuman, of course, and Al Jaffee’s Fold-In, and Spy vs Spy. For the past twenty years the latter has been in the hands of Peter Kuper.  His non-Spy work has been appearing more and more in The New Yorker these days, both the print version (an example above — a drawing from the March 6th issue this year)  and the non-print version — the Daily Cartoon.  Graphically, his work is a feast for the eyes, incorporating solid construction and style. And naturally, it’s very funny.

I only met Peter a year or so ago at a book event at Columbia University; we’ve emailed from time-to-time ever since.  I thought it was about time to officially check in with him; luckily he agreed to allow some Spill questions to fill his inbox.  We covered MAD, The New Yorker, and much more in the following conversation. 

Michael Maslin: So Peter, you’re a MAD person as well as a New Yorker person, but I also think of you as someone out there getting your fingers inky in a lot of projects.  True?

Peter Kuper: Yes, in the sketchy career as a cartoonist I juggle at a high velocity to make this work.

A new edition of my book Diario de Oaxaca, a chronicle of time I spent in Mexico from 2006-2008, was just published. I added 40 pages of new material and overall redesign to this updated edition.

I’m currently working on a collection of Franz Kafka short story adaptations titled Kafkaesque that will come out Fall 2018. I’m also co-editing a new issue of World War 3 Illustrated ,a political comics magazine I co-founded when I was in art school…a few years back. This is our 48th issue (due out in November) with the theme of fascism. For some reason that seemed like a timely subject.

Along with Steve Brodner and Andrea Arroyo I’ll be curating OppArt a site gathering work by a wide range of artists about our insane political climate. It’s hosted by The Nation magazine’s website.

Above: a page from Ruins

A Chinese edition of my last graphic novel Ruins is in the works and following Kafkaesque I will be adapting Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. All of this, I hope, will  relate to commenting on the current presidency.

MM:  The current political climate must seem like a shooting-fish-in-barrel moment for you — evidenced by your work frequently showing up on the New Yorker’s online Daily Cartoon.  One of those drawings [shown above] received a good deal of notice . Can you describe how this drawing came to you? 

PK: There is so much material everyday I could just devote all of my time drawing about it, even if I had nowhere to publish them besides my own, very limited, social media. I’m very thankful for the outlet the New Yorker site provides so can address things as they happen and reach a pile of eyes. Doing these cartoons also helps me avoid the short trip to losing my mind over the news.
The “Five Stages” popped into my head thinking about how Trump was turning on even his closest supporters like Jeff Sessions. The timing was dumb luck given within the week Priebus and Scaramucci were booted. Since I’m interested in sequential art, doing this as a series of images was a nice fit.

MM: I really like the way that drawing is sequential within itself, if you know what I mean.  It’s not broken into separate panels, but seems animated.  The little clocks along the bottom tricked me into thinking the employee was on a conveyor belt.  Was that intentional?

PK: The conveyor belt was very much part of the idea, but I threw the clocks in last minute. I would have collaged in photos of real clocks, but I got word on my sketch at 9:30 and didn’t get to work until 10. The art was due at noon and I got it in at 12:01, so I ran out of time…hmm, how ironic. 

MM: Let’s talk MAD for a moment. Like a zillion other cartoonists, part of my earliest comic art education came from absorbing every issue of MAD. Spy vs Spy was a major piece of the experience.  Can you talk about about what Spy vs Spy meant to you as a kid, and how it came about that you inherited it.

PK: Mad was all that to me too. Really the first place I saw the intersection– or maybe more accurately– the collision of humor and politics. Of course I always “read” Spy first, you couldn’t help it. They only ran it periodically so seeing it was a real treat. In 1996 the editors called me in and asked if I was interested in taking an, er, stab at it.

I almost passed since it was someone else’s characters and I had lost touch with the material. I had been doing a wordless strip called Eye of the Beholder (It began in the New York Times  in 1993 and I had been self-syndicating to alternative newspapers) and I’d just finished a book called The System  which was entirely wordless, which I assumed was why they called me. I later learned that the editor had discovered an oddball book I did called Comics Trips in a remaindered books bin (it was a collection of my sketchbook work from a trip through Africa and S.E. Asia) and that’s why he called. So to make a short story long, I said I’d do a sample story. I figured if I was to take it on I’d have to give it a personal touch, so I did the sample in stencils and spray paint figuring they’d say “thanks, but no thanks” and I’d be on my way. In doing the sample I realized what a big influence the strip had on my interest in wordless comics (along with Sergio Aragonés marginal drawings).

If I had wanted the gig, I’m sure I would have blown it. They were looking for a change and I turned out to be a good fit. I thought I’d do it for a few years and move on. That was twenty years ago.

MM: One of the Spy images we’re showing in this piece is of the 2 prong/3 prong optical illusion (or whatever it’s called). It’s so great it’s still being used. I remember as a kid being transfixed by that drawing [I feel as if I saw it on the back page, or near the back page] and learning how to make it work. Was that drawing specific to MAD — do you know its origin?

PK: It is called a Blivet it dates back to American servicemen in World War II. It refers to any unnecessary or superfluous thing. It may be a mixture of blip and widget–or so says Google.

MM: Is there a typical work day for you?  With MAD and the New Yorker Daily and the regular New Yorker batch to get in weekly, plus all the other things you’re doing, how do you arrange work? Are you incredibly organized?

Above: Kuper in The Nation

PK: Not much “typical” exactly and I’m certainly not crazy organized (fortunately my wife, Betty, is). I have a studio separate from my apartment, but only a few blocks away, happily. I tend to get to work between 9-10 and work until 7-ish. Sometimes I return to work after dinner and I work most weekends, but really that’s by choice. I love doing what I do especially comics and they take an absurd amount of time. When I was working on Ruins  (over a three-year period) at a certain point I brought a drawing table to the apartment so I would see more of my wife and daughter. Though fortunately freelancing does afford one the opportunity to speed up or slow down work. It doesn’t matter exactly when I work as long as it gets done, so I do end up getting to hang out, then race later to meet deadlines. I  swear, I wasn’t an absentee husband/father! (At least according to my autobiography, Stop Forgetting To Remember )

MM: You were first published in The New Yorker in 2011; some time passed until now when you seem to be in there more often. Any reason behind these better times at the magazine, or just one of those things?

PK: Actually, I pitched to The New Yorker from the beginning of my career back in the 1980’s to no avail. I was first published there in 1993 when Tina Brown came in. I did a number of illustrations for Chris Curry and a two page spread titled ” Masks of the Urban Jungle”  that I did for Lee Lorenz [one page of “Masks…” shown above]. I had a six-month run pitching cartoons to him and sold two, neither of which ran. I was doing them in stencils and spray paint which was probably too far from a New Yorker cartoon tone. Soon I found myself doing New Yorker-esque ideas and felt I was losing a sense of direction, so I started pitching multi-panel political cartoons. One that didn’t fly I pitched to The New York Times and it ran on the Op-Ed page. An editor from the NY Daily News saw it and I got a spot there doing a weekly five panel political cartoon titled “New York Minute” that ran every Sunday for two years. I concluded that was what all the pitching to The New Yorker had lead me to, so it had been worth it. My next round was in 2011. I had an idea and crazily on a Friday afternoon figured what-the-fuck and pitched it to Mankoff. It was topical and amazingly he bought it. So I was deluded enough to pitch for another six months and had zero sales.

In 2015 I got another bee in my bonnet, and the fickle cartoon Gods have seen fit to throw me enough bones to keep me at it. I’m surprised to find that my drawing style morphed through the years into something that fits there, but isn’t forced.I had grown tired of the stencil work and was afraid that the toxic enamel spray paint would kill me.Doing this work brought me back to the  realization of how much New Yorker cartoonists have influenced me. Cartoonists like Charles Saxon and Arno (I’m not just blowing smoke here) Addams, Gluyas Williams, Rea Irvin, Booth and on and on were a huge part of why I wanted to be a cartoonist. So doing work for the New Yorker has been one of my life-long goals.

MM: Back to Spy vs Spy: spies are big news again what this period of almost daily talk of Russian spies; in your mind, who are your Spy vs Spy spies? 

PK: Bond’s the name, James Bond and whatever that recent movie Charlize Theron was in.

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Visit Mr. Kuper’s website for more on most everything discussed above. 

*While this piece was being put together, Mr. Kuper’s book Ruins received the Boscarato, an Italian award for best foreign graphic novel. The Spill extends its congratulations!

Of Note from yesterday’s OppArt press release:

Long a home to quality accountability journalism, The Nation broadens its horizons in this unprecedented political moment with OppArt, a new series of artistic dispatches from the front lines of resistance. Spearheaded by celebrated artists and illustrators Andrea ArroyoSteve Brodner, and Peter KuperOppArt will showcase fresh content daily as a diverse set of artists take aim and draw. The first installation of the series, “Nuisance Flooding,” launched today.

Curated with a singularly progressive and political point-of-view, OppArt will convene international artists with a broad range of talents, from comics and illustrations to street graphics and fine art. Their work will confront and expose power, while sustaining a wry humor in turbulent political times. The series complements The Nation’s longstanding ComixNation print feature.

The Monday Tilley Watch: The New Yorker Issue of September 11, 2017

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

We’ve come to expect, in these modern New Yorker times, that the cover will likely be a graphic comment on the biggest news of the week, and so it is with this new issue, featuring Chris Ware’s reflection on Hurricane Harvey. On a week like this it’s not really a surprise what the magazine’s cover will be about — the only question is, who will have the cover. Selfishly, I would love to see what other artists had submitted (perhaps the magazine will provide a slide show?).

And now on to the issue’s cartoons. First, of course, we must page through the Goings On About Town (GOAT) section. As a sidebar, I clearly recall looking through the first copies of The New Yorker I found when I began collecting older issues (by older, I mean issues from the magazine’s earliest decades). A read through GOAT in those issues was (and can still be) a form of time travel. For instance: in the After Theater Entertainment listed in the issue of November 15, 1930 there’s this:

Grill Neptune, Hotel Pierre, 5 Ave. at 61. (Regent 5901) –- A new and unusual room for supper dancing. For the more fastidious. Must dress.

Wow, Peter Arno’s Manhattan did exist, once.

This morning, with my mission quite clear, there’s no time to pause to see what’s happening at the Metropolitan Museum, and yet, sheepishly, I do stop at the full page ad for Zabar’s. For a brief moment, I wish I was a hundred feet from the entrance to Zabar’s instead of a hundred miles away.

Onward to the Talk of The Town — there’ll be a Spill “Posted Note” one day soon about Rea Irvin’s classic masthead — and to the first cartoon ( like last week’s issue, it doesn’t take very long to come upon: page 28). The cartoon is by newish-comer Jeremy Nguyen (recently a subject of Jane Mattimoe’s Case for Pencils blog). It opens up a whole new situation for cartoonists to mine: artists in cages. Mr. Nguyen’s first cartoon appeared in the magazine February 7, 2017.

Flipping through to the next cartoon I can’t help but notice a Personal History piece by  Calvin Trillin (now in his 54th year of contributing to The New Yorker).  Note to myself: read later! Several pages later is a John McNamee Garden of Eden drawing. Mr. McNamee’s first New Yorker work appeared in June of 2016, unless the magazine’s search function is mistaken.  I’ve just realized Mr. McNamee is not on The Spill’s A-Z.  My only excuse is that his work appeared in the year when more new cartoonists appeared (16) in The New Yorker than in any other year in modern times. Things were a little nutty then. [I just added his name. Again, my apologies to Mr. McNamee].  Here’s the Case For Pencils post on him and his tools of the trade.

Seven pages later we come upon an Amy Kurzweil drawing nicely situated in the upper right hand corner of the page. Ms. Kurzweil’s graphic memoir, Flying Couch  (Black Balloon Publishing, 2016) was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice.  In this issue  she visits one of the cartoonist’s tried-and-true situations: the boardroom. I’ve scurried around my memory library for sterling boardroom cartoons and two immediately came to mind, but I’ll mention just one, by the late great Charles Saxon,  published May 25, 1981. “Of course, honesty is one of the better policies.” (also the title of a wonderful 1984 collection of his work).

Five pages later is another standard situation and character utilized by scores of cartoonists: the King on his throne (I’ve done way more than my share).  The curtains In this drawing vaguely remind me of this classic scene from Monty Python’s Holy GrailThe cartoonist, Kaamran Hafeez, first published in The New Yorker in 2010 (you can see his work on the Cartoon Bank site here). For me, Mr. Hafeez’s cartoon (both the setting and the caption itself) is, in a way, a step-child to many drawn by master cartoonist,  Dana Fradon over his long New Yorker career (Mr. Fradon, now in his 90s, is still drawing and occasionally posting the drawings on social media).

Four pages later is a well-placed Tom Chitty drawing of two businessmen. The anatomy here reminded me of those plastic cowboys from the 1950s or 1960s who were designed to sit on a plastic horse.

Mr. Chitty’s work began appearing in the magazine, October 13, 2014.

Three pages later, a Barbara Smaller back-to-school drawing sans Smaller people(!).  Ms. Smaller’s first cartoon appeared in the magazine in 1996. (Ms. Smaller’s work can be found on the Cartoon Bank site). A few pages later is a Robert Leighton drawing that takes place at some sort of event that involves a dais.  It’s fun when a cartoonist widens the scene and gives us a lot to look at. Mr. Leighton’s first drawing in the magazine: 2002. (See his work on the CB site). 

Next up is Liana Finck drawing.  I appreciate the Thurberesque framed piece Ms. Finck has placed on the wall and the electrical socket near the floor. Somewhere in my research for the Arno biography I ran across a cartoonist discussing how, in ancient times at the magazine, certain cartoonists were allowed or not allowed to show plugged-in lamps, depending on their abilities (or was it seniority?). Thanks to Thurber’s influence,  I’ve always drawn sockets and plugged in my lamps — how else would they work?  Ms. Finck’s work first appeared in February of 2013 (visit the Cartoon Bank site to see more).

After a page-and-a-half color politically-themed spread (called a”Sketchbook” on The Table of Contents) by the great Edward Sorel, we come to a Will McPhail drawing based on the ever popular Whac-A-Mole.  I did not know, until this moment that Whac-A-Mole was invented in 1975.  An unscientific survey of Whac-A-Moles images show most moles with their mouths closed.  Mr. McPhail’s mole’s mouth is open, suggesting the mole is speaking. I suppose that makes sense as the seated fellow pictured is trying to understand the mole. How I wish I knew what the mole was saying. (Link here to Mr. McPhail’s website.  His first New Yorker appearance was in 2014).

Immediately following Mr. McPhail’s mole drawing is a beautifully placed color piece by Roz Chast with a political twist.  Ms. Chast’s work first appeared in the New Yorker in 1978. Five pages later is a full page Ed Steed piece about the eclipse.  Responding to this piece just graphically, it seems like a page out of The National Lampoon (sort of a graphic mixture of Mark Marek‘s work with Randall Enos’s and Charles Rodrigues’s). Mr. Steed’s work first appeared in The New Yorker in March of 2013.  You can see more here on the Cartoon Bank site.

Five pages later is an Avi Steinberg drawing incorporating boxing and music. My personal laugh-o-meter responds well to this drawing even though the “kid” looks like he’s well past a career in boxing. Mr. Steinberg’s work first appeared in the magazine in December of 2012. His work can be found on the CB site.

In the final cartoon of the issue, not counting the Cartoon Caption Contest work on the back page, is a David Sipress drawing (first New Yorker cartoon: 1998…see his work on the CB here). Mr. Sipress mashes tennis with Shakespeare. The caption immediately  takes me away from the tennis court to the televised court of public opinion, to the  McCarthy era and to William R. Murrow’s famous use of the line.  None of that had anything to do with tennis, but then again — and here we return to Mr. Ware’s Hurricane Harvey cover — everything is political. 

 — See you next Monday.

 

 

 

Flake’s “Mama Tried” on IFC’s 2018 Slate of Projects; Books of Interest: Seth, Ben Katchor; Advertising Work by New Yorker Cartoonists, Part 7: Charles Saxon

Flake’s “Mama Tried” on IFC ‘s 2018 Slate of Projects

From Deadline Hollywood, July 29, 2017, “IFC Sets 2018 Slate…” — in a list of projects following this sentence:

IFC has given episodic script orders to the following projects:

is:

Mama Tried
A show about the seamy underbelly of new motherhood, Mama Triedfollows the struggles (and occasional triumphs) of Liz Callahan who’s finding that she could care less about being a “super-mom”- she just wants to survive. Mama Tried weaves Emily Flake’s darkly funny animation to help bring to life all of motherhood’s graphic, and sometimes gruesome, realness. Written by Emily Wilson (Cougar Town, Superior Donuts) and animated by and based on the graphic novel by Emily Flake, executive produced by Jax Media (Full Frontal, Broad City, Search Party).

Ms. Flake was a recent subject of the Spill’s “Checking In With…” series.  Read it here.

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Books of Interest: Seth, Ben Katchor

Never too early to think about upcoming books.  Both of these are University Press of Mississippi titles. Forging the Past: Seth and the Art of Memory –  (the paperback edition; the hardcover was published in 2016) — this edition comes out in December. Seth has been a New Yorker contributor since 2002. 

Ben Katchor: Conversations due in February of 2018. Mr. Katchor began contributing to The New Yorker in 1994.

Link here to Seth’s Wikipedia entry.

Link here to Mr. Katchor’s website.

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Advertising Work by New Yorker Cartoonists, Part 7: Charles Saxon

A June 8, 1980 New York Times article, “The New Yorker’s Humor Merchants” lead off with this: Charles Saxon, a cartoonist for The New Yorker for the last 25 years, has a problem. So many companies have been buying his drawings for their ads that last year he was able to do only 15 cartoons for the magazine, half his usual total. “I was just swamped with ad assignments and my New Yorker work suffered,” he said.  “This year, I’m setting aside more time for the magazine which I consider my home home and where I can really express myself.”

It is true that, back then, ads using Saxon drawings seemed to be everywhere.  Here’s the very tip of the iceberg, courtesy of SPX’s Executive Director, Warren Bernard, who spent a  great deal of time and effort collecting ads featuring New Yorker cartoonists (and then allowed Ink Spill to reap the rewards).  Dates for ads: Polaroid, 1969; Chivas Regal,1981; Jacuzzi, 1979; IBM, 1963

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s Mr. Saxon’s entry on the Spill’s A-Z:

Charles Saxon (self portrait above left from Best Cartoons of the Year 1947) Born in Brooklyn, Nov 13, 1920, died in Stamford, Conn., Dec 6, 1988. New Yorker work: 1943 – 1991 (2 drawings published posthumously). Key collection: One Man’s Fancy ( Dodd, Mead, 1977).

50 Years Ago This Week…In The New Yorker

A Summer of Love issue of The New Yorker begins with Peter Arno’s 98th cover for the magazine (out of 101). Arno’s color palette in his last years had turned (mostly) brighter, his composition (mostly) a little more casual. This cover is an excellent example.

Within the magazine we find an array of graphically balanced cartoons appearing on the pages in a variety of sizes: a half-page Warren Miller drawing; a wonderful Steig drawing of a King –the drawing sits at the bottom of the page, surrounded on three sides by text; a perfectly-sized classic beauty from Ronald Searle (shown below); a  Modell drawing, done in his trademark casual style, sits across from a (typically) densely drawn Alan Dunn cartoon;  an easy on the eyes Stevenson drawing of two witches settling in to watch Julia Child is placed across from a Steinberg drawing of the eye of providence (that pyramid with the eye that’s on the backside of the U.S. dollar bill).  Unlike Stevenson’s drawing, which you pause to look at, enjoy and then move on, you feel as if you should pull up a chair and get out a magnifying glass for the Steinberg illustration. It’s time to inspect.

A few pages later on in the issue I was surprised to come across a 5 part Stan Hunt drawing. Did he do a lot of these? I don’t remember seeing one before (it’s a question to be answered another time).  The Hunt is followed by a nearly full-page  Everett Opie cartoon and then a masterful Saxon drawing (also almost a full page).

The last drawing of the issue is by the wonderful Henry Martin. Like Steig’s King drawing, it appears at the bottom of the page surrounded on three sides by text. There’s plenty of white space around the business man noticing a sign in a window, “Data Processed While U Wait” — the man’s right leg and his briefcase are allowed to drift off towards the edge of the page itself — a cartoonist’s work beautifully handled by the New Yorker‘s long-time layout person, Carmine Peppe, who, according to Brendan Gill, “would properly set off whatever we published.”

 

50 Years Ago in The New Yorker

Every so often I like to take a look at a random issue of The New Yorker from well before my time there, or well before my time, period. This issue, of April 29, 1967 is solidly in the former category. The New Yorker was not yet on my mind —  I was in fact, just about to begin transitioning out of comic books, and into underground comics. My last (non-underground) comic book bought at the time of its release was this one, Superman and The Flash, December 1970 (yes, I still have it — I don’t throw much away).

 

 

Flipping through this Spring-time issue of The New Yorker, the first thing I noticed, besides the lovely Abe Birnbaum cover, was the  very simple Table of Contents, when the magazine seemed intent on just offering up a few clues as to what was inside. No listing of artists or writers, just column headings such as “The Air” and “Current Cinema”  — we’ve come a very long way since then.

Of the seventeen cartoonists represented in this issue, not one was a woman. This was a time when only one veteran female cartoonist was still on the scene, the great Mary Petty.  But her run at the magazine had ended a year before in the issue of March 19, 1966 (she died in 1976). The next female cartoonist to show up was Nurit Karlin, and she wouldn’t begin publishing until 1974. 

These are the seventeen  cartoonists in this issue: Charles Saxon, Warren Miller, Lee Lorenz, William Hamilton, James Mulligan, Dana Fradon, William O’Brien, Edward Koren, Ton Smits, James Stevenson, Robert Kraus, Donald Reilly, J. B. “Bud” Handelsman, Carl Rose, Barney Tobey, Robert Weber, and William Steig. Many of these names will ring a bell with New Yorker cartoon aficionados, and some names will ring a very large bell.  Edward Koren and Lee Lorenz are still contributing to the magazine.  Dana Fradon and Warren Miller are still hail and hearty.  James Stevenson, Robert Weber, and William Hamilton  were among the recently departed slew of New Yorker cartoonists this past year. 

For me, the most surprising cartoonist to see  in the issue was Carl Rose (“surprising” because I unfairly tend to place his work more in the 1920s – 1940s). Mr. Rose contributed his very first cartoon to The New Yorker in the Halloween issue of 1925, when the magazine was about nine months old; his last cartoon appeared in the summer of 1971. (Below: Mr. Rose’s April ’67 drawing)

Though he had  a great run in the New Yorker,  he only published one collection, One Dozen Roses — but what a collection.

 And here, for a little more on One Dozen Roses and other noteworthy New Yorker cartoon moments in Mr. Rose’s career, I’m going to lift some of the info from his entry on the Spill‘s  “New Yorker Cartoonist A-Z” section: 

this collection contains essays by Rose on cartoon themes. Especially of interest is his essay concerning Harold Ross, “An Artist’s Best Friend is His Editor”. Carl Rose will forever be linked to E.B. White for the December 8, 1928 New Yorker cartoon of the mother saying to her child, “It’s broccoli, dear.” and the child responding, “I say it’s spinach, and I say the hell with it.” The drawing was by Rose, the caption was adapted by White from Rose’s original idea (for a slighty expanded explanation go here). Rose also had a Thurber connection. In 1932, Rose submitted a drawing captioned, “Touche!” of two fencers, one of whom has just cut off the head of the other. Harold Ross ( according to Thurber in The Years With Ross) thinking the Rose version “too bloody” suggested Thurber do the drawing because “Thurber’s people have no blood. You can put their heads back on and they’re as good as new.” The drawing appeared December 3, 1932.

One last thing about Carl Rose: there aren’t a lot of photographs of him around but when Irving Penn (whose work is now being celebrated at New York’s  Metropolitan Museum), photographed a number of The New Yorker‘s artists in 1947 for a spread in Vogue, an unassuming looking Carl Rose was right up there on the top-most platform with Otto Soglow and Alajalov, seated just behind Charles Addams. Among the others in the photo: Steinberg, Steig, Helen Hokinson, George Price, Richard Taylor, Perry Barlow, Barney Tobey,  Barbara Shermund and Whitney Darrow, Jr. —  an array, if ever there was one, of New Yorker cartoonist royalty. 

Getting back to Mr. Rose’s colleagues work appearing in the April issue, the magazine was, in 1967, still laying-out the cartoons with the graphic gusto it always had: a beautiful full page by O’Brien , an equally beautiful half-page Warren Miller drawing;  other drawings were run in various shapes and sizes.  The subject matter seemed to be bridging the older New Yorker art with the new: businessmen and housewives appear, as do people dealing with obviously modern cultural keystones such as  long-haired men and  hip young woman;  personal computers courtesy of Donald Reilly and  politics via Lee Lorenz, whose drawing depicts Robert Kennedy photo bombing a couples vacation picture. Dana Fradon’s drawing, about recharging electric cars,  could’ve run in modern times.  Needless to say (so why am I saying it?) that the issue was a blast to look through.  The cartoonists were in top form, providing us with a lot, a whole lot, to look at. As Jack Ziegler told me in an interview last year:  “…it’s always nice when cartoonists know how to draw so that they can give us something pleasant and fun to look at.”

 

 

 

Robert Weber 1924 – 2016: An Ink Spill Appreciation

The great cartoonist Robert Weber, a major contributor to the New Yorker for 43 years, has passed away at age 92.  Mr. Weber began his New Yorker career in 1962 and went on to contribute nearly 1500 cartoons and 11 covers. The cartoonist Jack Ziegler, a New Yorker colleague, had this to say about Mr. Weber: “One of the all-time New Yorker greats.  Gorgeous drawings.  Beautiful settings.  Elegant. ” In a telephone interview, another New Yorker colleague, George Booth, said this about Mr. Weber: “He was an outstanding artist and a keen cartoonist.  He was top of the pile.”

   

weber

 

 

Born April 22, 1924, in Los Angeles, Mr. Weber was perhaps one of the most unassuming cartoonists  in a sea of unassuming cartoonists at the magazine.  Although he is solidly in the top tier of most published New Yorker cartoonists, with his work in  numerous New Yorker anthologies, he never published a collection of his own work. He told Lee Lorenz (who succeeded James Geraghty,  Mr. Weber’s first Art editor at The New Yorker)  that he “wasn’t interested” in having a collection. His low profile belied the work he delivered to the magazine: assured drawings, sometimes on a grand scale, usually, but not always focused on Manhattanites and  suburban dwellers  as far north as  Westport, Connecticut. His style was bold and exceptionally focused. Yet he managed to convey an irresistible fluency.   Weber’s people stood tall (or especially squat if they were children). His captions — his writing — in true New Yorker cartoon fashion, always delivered the unexpected punch, never disappointing.

He seemed to arrive graphically fully formed at The New Yorker (his first drawing appears below). His drawings featured well-defined characters imbedded within an exuberantly sketched environment, whether it was a parking garage or the Manhattan skyline. Like fellow New Yorker artists  Charles Saxon and Peter Arno, he handled the full page with ease.  In a letter to me in 2000, discussing Arno, he wrote: “I don’t think I ever consciously tried to emulate him, although I’ve learned  a lot from his superb sense of composition and drama. He had a marvelous ability to simplify. He never permitted anything extraneous, and he developed a powerful style unlike anyone else.”  Of course, he could have been talking about himself.

robert-weber-1st-nyer-drawing-july-14-1962

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Besides Jack Ziegler and George Booth, Edward Koren, Liza Donnelly, Peter Steiner, Mort Gerberg, David Sipress , Felipe Galindo and Dana Fradon weighed in on Mr. Weber. Jack Ziegler’s first New Yorker cartoon appeared in 1974, George Booth’s in 1969, Edward Koren’s in 1962, Liza Donnelly’s in 1982,  Peter Steiner’s in 1979, Mort Gerberg’s in 1965, David Sipress’s in 1998, Felipe Galindo’s in 2002, and  Dana Fradon’s in 1948. 

Edward Koren
I did know Bob in the 70’s and 80’s–but never well. I saw him fleetingly during those days ,when Geraghty was the ringmaster for his “talent”, (as we humble laborers in the arts are referred to now,)  and presided over the  fabled Tuesday and Wednesday lunches. Like many New Yorker artists then who lived in an isolated diaspora (as, increasingly,now), those lunches provided the week’s social capital. And Bob would train in from Connecticut to show his work and then proceed , with the rest of the crew to the Blue Ribbon or the Lobster for drinks and grub and talk.–and then the train.I remember him as  sweet, shy and a wryly funny guy. Generous and amiable and, to me, appreciative and encouraging. Qualities in his work, too, as manifested in the lead drawing in the New Yorker Album, 1975-1985. It is  one of his hallmark masterworks, a commanding, full page drawing of New York’s towers , executed in Bob’s masterful  signature style– , nervous charcoal accretions of marks subtly toned and colored in black and white . The  point of view he chooses– from out in the river looking at the waterfront as if he were in a low riding boat–gives the skyscrapers an overwhelming presence in the drawing. And into this stage set, he draws, on an exaggerated , foreshortened pier, a  tiny couple and their bicycles, sharply accented by a white space he’s carved out of the grey buildings. They have taken a pause in their ride, and  she is lounging on the pier, while he is sitting on its edge, turning to her–the body language saying what he is articulating:” The thing I like about New York, Claudia, is you.”
A quiet, deeply understood , sweetly funny masterpiece—Bob  himself.
Liza Donnelly
When talking about New Yorker cartoons, and I am asked whose work I love, I always mention Bob Weber’s work. His cartoons personally speak to me in a way that is hard to describe. But I can point to the following: his line work is masterful. Weber drew in charcoal, and any artist knows how difficult that is. He once told me that he began with a blank sheet of paper and drew from the left side to the right to complete the drawing without it getting smudged. In other words, he had the image in his head and just proceeded to put it on paper.  Weber’s people are lovable in how they look and often what they say. In one drawing, he has a gorgeous drawing of NYC filling the page, skyscrapers and all;  in the foreground are two tiny figures, a man and a woman sitting on the edge of the dock. The man says, “The thing I like about New York, Claudia, is you.” Another one I love is a living room scene: man and child are about to play ball and we see a sad little dog in the corner. The woman says to the man,  “Sweetheart, could you maybe include the dog?”
Weber’s captions were always perfectly crafted to work in concert with his beautiful drawings. His cartoons are not always sweet, but they have a gentle tone to them that I liked, and they were true to Weber’s voice. Bob Weber was not unlike his drawings: tall, thin and classy; when I would run into him, he didn’t use many words, and he seemed to chose his words carefully. He was always kind to me when we would meet at parties and in The New Yorker office waiting to see the editor. If I complimented his work, he would almost dismiss it with a thank you and lowered head, as if to say I was being silly.  I will miss his quiet presence and his wonderful cartoons.
Peter Steiner
Robert Weber was, to my mind, one of the New Yorker‘s greatest artists, which (again to my mind) means they showed both exquisite draftsmanship and marvelous humor.  His gorgeous, lush drawings made you smile even before you read the caption which made you smile all over again.  His art was to combine insight into our foibles with generosity and genuine affection.  His cartoons always left me amazed.  Once at a New Yorker Christmas party I went up to him to tell him just that.  He was a shy and modest man, and  seemed mostly embarrassed by my naked admiration.  I always regretted embarrassing him.  Still, if I could, I’d do it again.
Mort Gerberg
I always thought that Bob Weber’s drawings, besides being among the most sensitive and artful among the thousands that appeared in The New Yorker, were also truly unique.
Bob drew directly, with ulta-soft, difficult-to-find Swiss charcoal sticks that were extremely responsive to his delicate touch.  He usually worked on smooth ledger paper, producing fuzzy strokes that could smudge effortlessly, to form lush, flat grays.
In fact, the soft charcoal smeared so easily that Bob would often draw his characters and backgrounds from top to bottom, starting on the left and then drawing vertical areas, moving right across the sheet, completing the picture in one sweep, to avoid re-touching any part of it.
Then he’d spray the drawing with fixative, to give it permanence. He wore a surgical mask when he sprayed and would go outside or open a window, to avoid inhaling fixative fumes.
I never knew anyone else who drew that way. And, the drawings gave his cartoons an air of innocence that made them quietly hilarious.
Also, somehow it seemed that Bob’s drawing style reflected his personality.  Soft-spoken, sensitive, generous.
I met him for the first time (he was wearing his wearing his surgical mask) at an advertising agency, where he was subletting workspace for his freelance advertising illustrations, and I was just starting to think seriously about cartooning.  I was awed. He was approachable and happy to share advice about this quirky profession, and always, in the years following, easy to talk to, and helpful in so many ways, both personal and professional.
And I still feel especially grateful and honored for his contributions to my collection, “Last Laughs.” It contains eight Weber cartoons.  Unique, classic art.  Unique, classic person.
David Sipress
I was saddened to hear that one of my cartoon heroes, Bob Weber, had died recently, at the age of ninety-two. Bob’s gorgeous, unfettered, sublimely assured drawings graced the pages of The New Yorker for more than forty years. Bob’s great talent was his ability to create convincing, knowable, complex, fully formed characters in his cartoons, and to do it with a few deft strokes of his charcoal pencil.( To read more of David’s piece link here on newyorker.com)
 Felipe Galindo
I had the honor of meeting Bob Weber at the Cartoon Lounge at the The New Yorker offices in Times Square. Very tall, quiet and an affable person. We spoke about traveling to the other side of the world (me to Bali, Thailand & Cambodia and his wife to the same places plus Myanmar). When one day I showed him my cartoons, he said: “Oh, your work might not be suitable for this magazine, you are too nice, too kind!” I took it as a compliment and as a warning as well! I consider him a fine artist who liked to draw cartoons. His style was sketchy yet elegant, balanced and bold and representative of a particular era, a classic. I also shared lunch with him and other cartoonists at Pergola’s, our regular joint to vent. I was also amazed at his resilience to continue working, despite having wrist and hand problems. He would show up quite often.
I was surprised that he stopped going to the office after one of his cartoons was criticized in the letters section for making fun of of a Polish name, the letter coming from the Polish ambassador. I think that cartoon was the last he ever published in the magazine. A casualty of the PC era? Perhaps. Or perhaps he couldn’t care less. In any case, Bob Weber knew he was already a legend.
Dana Fradon
Although I shared a New York apartment with the Webers for a couple of years — I had it on weekdays and he and his wife had it on weekends — we never really became close friends. My only thoughts about him are that I greatly admired his work. He was an exceptionally good artist and ‘idea’ man. I envied his ability to create his ideas while expending, perhaps, one-tenth the time and energy I had to spend on mine. I own several of his originals and I treasure them.
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   (photo of Robert Weber, taken on an Amtrak train heading to Washington, D.C., mid 1980s.  Courtesy of Liza Donnelly)
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More Weber (I’ll continue to add Bob Weber obits, tributes, etc. as they come in): link here to the New York Times obit; here for a newyorker.com post, and here for a ComicsDC  post.