The Spill Talks Mirror Balls and Tracking Porcupines with Seth Fleishman

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below: The cartoonist and his wife tracking porcupines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below: a recent Fleishman Esquire cartoon

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Latest New Yorker Cartoons Dissected; George Booth New Yorker Original Cover Art; Blog of Note… A New Yorker State of Mind: Carolita Johnson’s “This Is The Hand”; Cartoons From The Saturday Evening Post; PR: Blitt, Chast

The Cartoon Companion guys, Max & Simon, are back with their customary dissections of the latest New Yorker cartoons.  Read it all here.

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George Booth New Yorker Original Cover Art

Above is the published Booth cover from February 4, 1974.  To see the original art visit Attempted Bloggery

Don’t forget! An exhibit of Mr. Booth’s work just opened yesterday at the Society of Illustrators (the opening reception is tomorrow night).   _________________________________________________________________

Blog of Interest: A New Yorker State of Mind

It’s always a treat to get away from 2017 for awhile and visit A New Yorker State of Mind.  This latest post explores the September 1, 1928 issue, featuring a cover by the one of the magazine’s first stars, Helen Hokinson. See the piece here. 

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Carolita Johnson’s “This Is The Hand”

From newyorker.com‘s Culture Desk October 26, 201 , Carolita Johnson’s “This Is The Hand: A Response To Recent News”

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Cartoons From The Saturday Evening Post

News to me until this morning: The Saturday Evening Post has a cartoon archive of sorts;  unfortunately it’s not a database of all its cartoons — it’s selective and thematic — with just a handful of cartoons per theme.  You’ll see some New Yorker cartoonists (I ran across a number by Chon Day and at least one by Tom Cheney). Link here

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Note: this new feature on the Spill allows for the opportunity to list items previously lost in the sauce. 

…Barry Blitt’s next stop on his book tour promoting the just released Blitt takes him tonight to Harvard Bookstore. On Sunday he’ll be at Politics & Prose in D.C. Details here.

…a New York magazine piece posted today: “What Roz Chast Can’t Live Without”

 

Advertising Work by New Yorker Cartoonists, Part 13: The Rambler Campaign

Continuing on with the Spill’s series of advertising work by New Yorker Cartoonists (research and scans courtesy of Warren Bernard of SPX) is this great campaign by Rambler from the late 1950s.  Some of the best of the best in the New Yorker’s stable were involved: William Steig, George Price, Whitney Darrow, Jr., Barney Tobey, Chon Day, and Otto Soglow (The Tobey & Price ads are from 1959, the others from 1958).

Here are the Spill’s A-Z entries for the above artists:

William Steig (photo above) Born in Brooklyn, NY, Nov. 14, 1907, died in Boston, Mass., Oct. 3, 2003. In a New Yorker career that lasted well over half a century and a publishing history that contains more than a cart load of books, both children’s and otherwise, it’s impossible to sum up Steig’s influence here on Ink Spill. He was among the giants of the New Yorker cartoon world, along with James Thurber, Saul Steinberg, Charles Addams, Helen Hokinson and Peter Arno. Lee Lorenz’s World of William Steig (Artisan, 1998) is an excellent way to begin exploring Steig’s life and work. NYer work: 1930 -2003.

George Price (above) Born in Coytesville, New Jersey, June 9, 1901. Died January 12, 1995, Engelwood, New Jersey.  New Yorker work: 1929 – 1991. Key collection: The World of George Price: A 55-Year Retrospective. New York: Beaufort, 1988.

Chon Day (self portrait above from Collier’s Collects Its Wits) Born April 6, 1907, Chatham , NJ. Died January 1, 2000, Rhode Island. New Yorker work: 1931 – 1998. Key Collection: I Could Be Dreaming (Robert M. McBride & Co., 1945)

Whitney Darrow, Jr. (photo above) Born August 22, 1909, Princeton, NJ. Died August, 1999, Burlington, Vermont. New Yorker work: 1933 -1982. Quote (Darrow writing of himself in the third person): …in 1931 he moved to New York City, undecided between law school and doing cartoons as a profession. The fact that the [New Yorker’s] magazine offices were only a few blocks away decided him…” (Quote from catalogue, Meet the Artist, 1943). All of Mr. Darrow’s cartoon collections are excellent. Here’s a favorite: “Stop, Miss!” New York: Random House, 1957.

Barney Tobey (photo above from Think Small, a book of humor produced by Volkswagon) Born in New York City, July, 18, 1906, died March 27, 1989, New York. NYer work: 1929 -1986. Key collection: B. Tobey of The New Yorker (Dodd Mead & Co., 1983)

Otto Soglow (pictured above) Born, Yorkville, NY, December 23, 1900. Died in NYC, April 1975. NYer work: 1925 -1974.Key collections: Pretty Pictures ( Farrar & Rinehart, 1931) and for fans of Soglow’s Little King; The Little King (Farrar & Rinehart, 1933) and The Little King ( John Martin’s House, Inc., 1945). The latter Little King is an illustrated storybook. Cartoon Monarch / Otto Soglow & The Little King (IDW, 2012) is an excellent compendium.

 

 

 

The Monday Tilley Watch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Are these the dog days of summer? According to Wikipedia, Sweden’s dog days are  bracketed by the dates July 22nd through August 23rd.  That seems reasonable for the United States as well.  My mental inventory of New Yorker covers from this time of year include a whole lot of beach scenes and summer in the city scenes, as well as covers depicting shore towns. This week’s New Yorker cover (a double issue, dated August 7 & 14) by Bob Staake (the artist responsible for this iconic cover) takes us underground in NYC.  The magazine has the NYC subway system on its mind — just last week we saw a David Sipress NYC subway cartoon, and in this very issue is a full page Sketchbook, “Subway Substitutes.”  Mr. Staake’s red hot cover brought to mind another red hot cover of just a few years back, at this exact same time of year (the aforementioned dog days): Mark Ulriksen’s cover of August 3, 2015.

The opposite of a red hot dog days of summer cover is (to my mind) this deeply moving New Yorker cover by Mary Petty, published 72 years ago this week in the summer of the last year of WWII, approximately midway between the close of the European theater and the close of the Pacific theater. A quiet, peaceful moment on a beach with a woman and her dog, while war continues to rage in the Pacific. 

Now on to the inside of the magazine:

I note as I turn to The Talk of The Town that my campaign to reinstate Rea Irvin’s classic Talk  masthead is not going well. The new one installed in May is still there. The Irvin masthead ran, barely untouched, for 91 years. This campaign, despite its odds of success, will press on. 

Joe Dator, who has been contributing to The New Yorker since August of 2006, leads things off with a zebra cartoon. I took a quick look back at some zebra New Yorker cartoons and found each and every one appealing.  This one by J.B. “Bud” Handelsman, caught my eye (published in November of 1992).

 

Next is a theater marquee drawing by Charlie Hankin (his first New Yorker appearance was in August of 2013).  Beautifully placed on the page. I’ve noticed (and noted) that many of the cartoons in the past few issues have been given more breathing space on the page. This is a very good thing.  Half a dozen pages later we come to a William Haefeli drawing (his last name rhymes with “safely”).  Last week I mentioned how super-detailed his original work is. Get out your magnifying glass. (Mr. Haefeli’s first New Yorker drawing appeared in 1998). 

A couple of pages later is a Frank Cotham drawing (first New Yorker drawing, 1993). As with Mr. Haefeli, Mr. Cotham’s style is instantly recognizable.  I’d add that his subject matter is also instantly recognizable, with cave people, heathens, and the like playing a big part in his world.  Part 1 of a fun interview with Mr. Cotham ran on Cartoon Companion just a few weeks ago — check it out.    A Liana Finck drawing follows Mr. Cotham. Ms. Finck’s first New Yorker cartoon appeared in February of 2013.  Ms. Finck shows us a cast cartoon —  like zebra cartoons, something we don’t see a whole lot of in the New Yorker. When I think of them, I’m happily reminded of this fabulous  Chon Day cartoon from  September of 1948:

A couple of pages later is a dog and businessman cartoon by Chris Weyant (first New Yorker cartoon, 1998)Ink Spillers may remember that it was just a few days ago we learned Mr. Weyant now has a weekly op-ed cartoon in The Boston Globe. 

On the very next page, a touch of color in an Ed Steed cartoon (first New Yorker cartoon, 2013). An artist paints a nude. I know, I know — you see a nude woman in a New Yorker cartoon you think Peter Arno. I’d argue that Sam Cobean was the New Yorker’s king of nude cartoons. Take a look at the cover of his 1950 collection of cartoons.

In Mr. Steed’s drawing he incorporates 3-D (thus the color) —  a rarity in the New Yorker. 3-D was used to great effect in this classic by Bob Eckstein from 2012. It remains one of my favorite New Yorker drawings of modern times.

Two pages later we run into a P.C. Vey drawing (first New Yorker appearance, 1993). For me, this is the Vey-ist of the Veys. The Spill doesn’t rate cartoons (that’s what they do over on the Cartoon Companion site), but if it did, this drawing would have all sorts of happy adjectives heaped upon it.

Next up is a drawing by a relative newbie, Kendra Allenby (her first New Yorker appearance was in August of last year). Ms. Allenby, who is a storyboard artist, opts for the storyboard-like look, i.e., a boxed drawing, employed with regularity by Harry Bliss, among others. Four pages later is a veteran newbie, Will McPhail (first New Yorker drawing, 2014). Heads on pikes…a rarity in the magazine (there are at least two in Charles Addams’s New Yorker oeuvre: one in the issue of January 4, 1941. Another, “Excuse me, Walter, that’s my cue”  contains a head on a pike, but it’s incidental.  There’s also, “Ready, dear?” on page 40 of Monster Rally  — but it’s not a New Yorker drawing). 

Next is a Roz Chast drawing (Ms. Chast’s first New Yorker appearance, 1978).  Love the flow of words (alas, no Ziegler-esque pop-up toaster). A Tom Chitty drawing follows Ms. Chast’s (Mr. Chitty’s first New Yorker drawing, 2014). On tomorrow’s Spill we’ll visit a cartoonist whose style is as out there as Mr. Chitty’s — maybe even more out there.  An Ellis Rosen musical courtroom  drawing follows (Mr. Rosen’s first New Yorker drawing, December of 2016).  Newyorker.com readers will remember that Mr. Ellis just appeared on a “Cartoon Lounge” video with  Emma Allen (the magazine’s cartoon editor) and Colin Stokes (the associate cartoon editor). See it here if you missed it. Three pages later is a Maddie Dai cartoon employing a fairy tale setting.  Mix in a little modern technology and bingo! (Ms. Dai’s first New Yorker appearance, June 5, 2017). I am reminded of an out of office discussion I had with former cartoon editor, Bob Mankoff, back in 2008, in which he declared,”No more fairy tale drawings!”  Well that didn’t happen.  A Barbara Smaller sidewalk conversation cartoon is next (Ms. Smaller’s first New Yorker appearance, 1996). Someone should really do a Sidewalks of New York cartoon collection.

As mentioned here last week, I avoid looking at the cartoonists listed on the Table of Contents for the express purpose of being surprised while looking through every new issue.  This week, that resulted in a wonderful moment toward the end of the issue with the appearance of a drawing by one of our cartoon gods, George Booth.  A classic Booth scene, with more cats than you can shake a fur ball at, this drawing is a real treat. Mr. Booth was the subject of a Fave Photo of the Day here on the Spill last week. In the photo he is shown working at his desk. According to a highly reliable source (his daughter), he works every day, perhaps that’s one of the secret ingredients for an artist who has been contributing to The New Yorker for nearly half a century.  This coming Fall we can all look forward to a Booth exhibit at The Society of Illustrators (October 24 through December 23, 2017).

And lastly in the issue (not counting the Cartoon Caption Contest — I’ve decided, for now,  to opt out of covering it) is a David Sipress words of wisdom drawing, cleverly distilling a page out of Pete Frames Rock Trees.  Mr. Sipress’s first New Yorker drawing appeared in the summer of 1998). It’s nice to see Blind Faith mentioned in a New Yorker cartoon.

The Ink Spill Jack Ziegler Interview

jack-ziegler-1985

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?

jack-ziegler-nyer-cover

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

jack-ziegler-1st-new-yorker-drawing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

ziegler11

ziegler13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Reminder: There’s A Mary Petty Exhibit Happening in Pensacola

MPI was reminded today while reading an article that there is right this very moment an exhibit of Mary Petty’s work at the Pensacola Museum of Art. Here’s a link.

Shown here is my favorite cover of hers (I’ve no idea if it’s in the exhibit), and one of my favorite New Yorker covers of all-time (let’s say it’s in the top 100).

In that issue of August 4, 1945 are two cartoons by Ms. Petty’s husband, Alan Dunn as well as two by the great Helen Hokinson. Also in the issue are drawings by: Steinberg, Robert Day (a full page!), Whitney Darrow, Jr., Otto Soglow, Julian de Misky (a sequential drawing running over the gutter and onto the following page), Eric Ericson, Sam Cobean, Charles Addams, Garrett Price, Perry Barlow, and Chon Day. For anyone interested in why this era was called the golden age of New Yorker cartooning, seek out and enjoy the artistry of these contributors. (it’s available to New Yorker subscribers online; it’s also available on  the Complete New Yorker, and any library still holding bound New Yorkers).