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.”

 

 

 

“The Place Was Especially A Mess After The Weekly Art Meetings”

 

 

… “The artists, who waited for the verdicts, scrambled for desk space where they could retouch their cartoons and spots according to what Wylie, or Katharine Angell, told them what Ross wanted.”*

 

— So said New Yorker editor and writer Rogers Whitaker to Thurber biographer, Harrison Kinney. He was describing a wonderfully fun and exciting time and place: The New Yorker in its infancy, ninety some years ago.

 

What’s changed since then?  Well, the cartoonists no longer wait in the office to hear the verdict for that week’s submissions (email now alerts them to a sale, and more often, rejection). However, many cartoonists still head to the New Yorker every week to sit across from the cartoon editor. It’s a chance to connect with the editor, to get feedback, to discuss that week’s submissions.  It’s also a chance to socialize with colleagues.  Cartoonists, as has been said many times, are mostly solitary creatures, whiling away at their drawing boards or tablets without the company of other humans.

 

Using the clues of the personalities Mr. Whitaker mentioned we know that the artists (cartoonists for the most part with some cover artists tossed in) began showing up at the New Yorker from the very first days of the magazine. What we don’t know is exactly when the cartoonists began showing up to see the Art Editor — a ritual that began sometime during James Geraghty’s tenure as the magazine’s first Art Editor.

 

Rea Irvin, the New Yorker‘s Art Supervisor did not meet the artists flooding into the office. So who actually saw the artists coming in? It was, in the very beginning, Ross’s secretary, Helen Mears, who was soon fired and replaced by a young man named Philip Wylie. He was the unofficially titled artists “hand-holder” — the link between the editorial staff and the cartoonists.   Most importantly to The New Yorker‘s history, and to its success, Wylie is the person who, while looking through twenty-one year old Peter Arno’s portfolio one day in 1925  happened to spot a drawing Arno hadn’t intended to show: a sketch  of “two old bats about to charge obliviously into a trap — made by the rise of a sidewalk elevator. It [the drawing] greatly amused me.”   The  “two old bats” came to be called The Whoops Sisters, and also came to be credited as very likely rescuing The New Yorker from an early demise.  This moment was one of the so-called “happy accidents” that saved the New Yorker and propelled it forward. And it could have only happened because Arno came into the office and sat down with Wylie.

 

We know that upon James Geraghty’s appointment as Art Editor in 1939 he began working closely with the magazine’s staff cartoonists on Look Day (Tuesdays back then, and for many years after. Wednesdays now).  What has always endeared me to the editor/artist dance at the magazine is that editorial prompts are not directives — they are suggestions.  This practice continued on during Lee Lorenz’s twenty-four years as art editor after he succeeded Geraghty, and it continues right up to today.

 

Mr. Lorenz ran a very tight ship in those twenty-four years; artists had to be invited in to the office on Look Day.  Even some long-time contributors did not receive the coveted invitation.  They had to drop off their work at the receptionist’s glassed-in cubicle at the end of the hallway near the elevators. To be invited back was well-earned. And what you found once you were buzzed through the hallway door and then walked down the dog-legged hallway to the Art Department was a small cream-colored waiting room filled with cartoonists whose names would most likely be as familiar as the names of your family members. Their work, of course, would be familiar as well. The days of artists messing up the office were in the rear view mirror.  Some of the cartoonists actually had “studios” in the building (Charles Addams, Frank Modell, James Stevenson, Edward Koren among them).  Mr. Lorenz had an editorial light touch when working with artists — a shade lighter than Geraghty’s, or so I’ve been told; like Geraghty, Lorenz’s advice was succinct, and spot-on.

 

When Bob Mankoff succeeded Mr. Lorenz, he instituted what he called an “open door” policy,  saying, “I’ll see anyone.”  And in they came. To be sure, it created a different climate in what is called the cartoonists lounge.  Lots of new faces, many unpublished in The New Yorker, or anywhere, mingled with veteran contributors such as Sam Gross, George Booth, and Mort Gerberg. The scene wasn’t messy, as in the old days, but it was lively (they’ve had to be “hushed” on more than one occasion.  Dana Fradon, recalling the pre-Mankoff days, told Ink Spill: “Once, when someone down the hall voiced an official complaint about ‘noise’ coming from the cartoonists waiting room, Ed Fisher and I went out into the hall and sang, in close harmony, ‘The Beer-Barrel Polka’. “Roll out the barrel…”).

 

It was recently announced that a New Yorker editor, Emma Allen would replace Mr. Mankoff in May. A Cartoon Department email soon followed announcing that Mr. Mankoff would not see cartoonists on Look Day in these last weeks of his editorship.  How eerily quiet it will be around the cartoon lounge on Wednesday mornings!  I imagine that come May, the non-existent doors to the cartoon department will swing open again (there are waist-high partitions everywhere now, and just a few doors) and the cartoonists will flood in, as lively and boisterous as they’ve been for over ninety years.

 

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*A Who’s Who of those mentioned above

Emma Allen:  Ms. Allen has worked as an editor of Talk of The Town, a writer, and editor of Daily Shouts, and as of May this year, The New Yorker‘s Cartoon Editor.

Ed Fisher: Mr. Fisher’s first cartoon appeared in The New Yorker October 27, 1951; he went on to contribute over 700 cartoons. He died in 2013.

Dan Fradon:  Mr. Fradon, whose first cartoon appeared in The New Yorker, May 1, 1948,  is the doyen of the magazine’s artists. He has published well over a thousand cartoons in the magazine.

James Geraghty: a former gag-writer, hired in 1939, he became the magazine’s first Art Editor.  Before Geraghty, there was no one single person at the magazine dedicated to overseeing all the art (Harold Ross was the overseer of everything in his magazine).  Ross’s successor, William Shawn said of Geraghty: “Along with Harold Ross…he set set the magazine’s comic art on its course and he helped determine the direction in which the comic art would go and is still going.”  Mr. Geraghty was the art editor from 1939 through 1973. He died in 1983.

Rea Irvin: Mr. Irvin is a huge part of the New Yorker’s DNA as he’s responsible for the New Yorker‘s first cover (featuring the fellow referred to as Eustace Tilley); Mr. Irvin adapted the typeface that we now call the Irvin typeface; he contributed a record number of New Yorker covers, and last but not least, he helped “educate” Harold Ross, art-wise. He died in 1972.

Harrison Kinney: A reporter for The New Yorker from 1949-1954; his massive biography of James Thurber: His Life & Times was published in 1995.

Lee Lorenz: Geraghty’s successor as Art Editor (and later, under Tina Brown’s editorship, as Cartoon Editor).   He began as editor in 1973, handing over the reigns to Bob Mankoff in 1997. Mr. Lorenz is also one of, if not the most prolific New Yorker cartoonists. He is also the author of numerous books about New Yorker cartoonists, including the must-read history, The Art of The New Yorker:1925- 1995.

Bob Mankoff: Mr. Mankoff, also a cartoonist for the magazine, has been its cartoon editor for over nineteen years.  His memoir, How About Never — Is Never Good For You?: My Life In Cartoons was published in 2014.

Helen Mears: Harold Ross’s first secretary and the first person delegated to be a go-between the editorial department and the artists. She was fired by Philip Wylie on orders from Harold Ross. Mr. Wylie then assumed Ms. Mears duties.

Harold Ross: The founder and first editor of The New Yorker. There are three biographies of Mr. Ross. Thomas Kunkel’s biography Genius in Disguise is essential reading. Mr. Ross died in 1951.

William Shawn: Appointed in January of 1952 as Harold Ross’s successor. He remained editor until 1987. He died in 1992.

Rogers E. M. Whitaker: hired in 1926 he headed the checking department and later the make-up department.  Mr. Whitaker went on to become an editor and contributor to the New Yorker, working under various names:  “E.M. Frimbo”  (“The World’s Greatest Railroad Buff”) for pieces chronicling his journeys on the nations railways; “J.W.L.” for his pieces about Ivy League football; “The Old Curmudgeon” when he wrote for The Talk of The Town.   Mr. Whitaker died in 1981.

Katharine White: Hired in August of 1925, Ms. White (then Angell) was the magazine’s first Fiction Editor.  According to the New York Times: she…”exerted a profoundly creative influence on contemporary American literature…having transformed The New Yorker from a humor magazine into the purveyor of much of the best writing in the country.” Before James Geraghty consolidated the Art Department, the art was under the umbrella of the Fiction Department.  Lee Lorenz has written of her that “she was a powerful voice in the selection of the magazine’s art.” She died in 1977.  Linda Davis’s biography, Onward & Upward: A Biography of Katharine S. White is essential reading.

Philip Wylie: “The New Yorker‘s first bona fide applicant” was the magazine’s second artist hand holder.  He attended hundreds of the magazine’s first art meetings.  His short stint at The New Yorker was followed by a long and successful career as a writer including the best-selling Generation of Vipers.  He died in 1971

 

 

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.”

   

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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.

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?

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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.

ziegler11

ziegler13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Yorker Artist Anatol Kovarsky Has Died At Age 97

The sad news arrived here this morning that the great New Yorker artist Anatol Kovarsky died this week.  He was 97.  In his honor I’m re-posting the piece, in now slightly edited form,  about Mr. Kovarsky that I wrote three years ago this month. The above photo, by Liza Donnelly, was taken at Mr. Kovarsky’s upper west side apartment, June, 2013. To see the entire piece, with art and photographs link here.

 

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At 3 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon in late June, my wife and I, wearing our cartoonist historian hats, were welcomed into an apartment in a pre-war building along Manhattan’s west side. We made our way through a short hallway to a foyer lined with paintings. There were paintings on the walls, and paintings lined up several feet deep along the floor. Paintings paintings everywhere. All of them by the New Yorker cartoonist/artist, Anatol Kovarsky.

Kovarsky’s wife, the actress Lucille Patton, married to the artist since 1954, greeted us, and a few moments later, Kovarsky himself appeared from a back room. He held the latest issue of The New Yorker, and was eager to talk about an illustration that caught his eye. “This was done with a [computer] program?” he asked pointing to the piece.

When Kovarsky began his publishing career at The New Yorker he was 28 years old; he is now 94. His New Yorker work, which began with a cartoon in the issue of March 1, 1947 (cartoon above), ended with a great flourish of covers in 1969. After 1969, Kovarsky turned to painting full time. New Yorker readers no longer saw his work in the magazine and on its covers, but his work continued and continues on to this day.

For me, it was a rather surreal moment shaking Kovarsky’s hand. I had long ago placed him in my thinking — and rightly so– in the late Harold Ross, early William Shawn era of the magazine’s history, what some have referred to as “the Golden Age” of the magazine’s cartoons. In 2013, if you count the number of New Yorker Golden Age cartoonists who are still with us — those who began contributing to the magazine during the editorship of Harold Ross — you will count no further than four: Frank Modell, Dana Fradon, James Stevenson, and Anatol Kovarsky [Note: Frank Modell passed away exactly one week ago today, May 27, 2016]. Meeting these artists is meeting New Yorker history. In the past two months I’ve had occasion to speak to three of these men, and all three exhibit the playfulness of spirit I’ve encountered in most every cartoonist I’ve ever met, no matter their age.

For someone who contributed hundreds of cartoons to The New Yorker it may seem odd that only one collection, Kovarsky’s World, was published (by Knopf, in 1956). Kovarsky’s Kabinett der Kuriositaten, published in Germany in 1962, seems to be a paperback reprint of Kovarsky’s World.

 

images-1

I had always wondered why there was no follow-up collection – a book that would have included some of his scores of covers for the magazine. When I posed that to Kovarsky, he shrugged, and said, “there were some other books” – one in particular he seemed proud of is an unpublished illustrated guide to English spelling. His work found its way into books as illustrations ( Cycles in Your Life, and a book of limericks, There Was a Young Lady Named Alice). Kovarsky’s work also made it to the Great White Way; he designed and drew the sets for the Broadway play, “The Owl and the Pussycat.”

I said to him that I couldn’t help but notice, looking through his New Yorker work, that the majority of drawings were uncaptioned – to my way of thinking, the most difficult kind of cartoon to do (there have been scant few masters of the form: Otto Soglow, Sam Cobean, Steinberg, Anthony Taber, Nurit Karlin, and more recently, John O’Brien). Kovarsky said, pointing to this newer work of his — a book-in-the-works of drawings accompanied by humorous rhymes — that this latest effort “made up for” the lack of words in his earlier work. He opened the manuscript and read several of the rhymes, then his finger ran over one of the drawings, as if he was redrawing it.

His daughter, Gina, a college professor who teaches Russian literature and culture, showed us some of her father’s recent work: drawings on newspapers, on ads, on stock market charts.

Lucille said, “Anatol will draw on anything” as she handed us two large round cardboard platters that had come from a catered event: each were painted over by Kovarsky. A design incorporating an elephant on one, three nudes on the other. Later she showed us two small cardboard saucers or dessert plates, also transformed by Kovarsky into works of art.

I had done my homework on Kovarsky before meeting him, looking through his entire New Yorker ouvre, and reading an extended biography from a conference volume about American cultural figures from the Russian empire. Born in Moscow in 1919 to Jewish parents, he drew at a very young age, entertaining his classmates (behavior much in common with many cartoonists) – he drew his first political cartoon at age 9. After the Russian revolution, his family settled in Warsaw.Kovarsky studied briefly in Vienna (his father wanted him to be an economist), but then, according to his daughter, “he found a drawing master and shifted his attention exclusively to art.” Kovarsky went on to Paris where he studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts for three years. The war was on in Europe and in 1941 Kovarsky was able to make his way to Casablanca, where he boarded the last passenger liner leaving Morocco for the United States.   He was eager “to see,” he told me, “what the rest of the world looked like.” He arrived in America just as it entered the war. Kovarsky told me of the circuitous route he took from the South up through the Midwest and finally to New York City.

He enlisted in the Army, serving as a cartographer and translator; he also began contributing cartoons to Yank and the Stars and Stripes. He returned to Europe as a soldier, at first based in London, and then landing at Normandy. He arrived in Paris the day after it was liberated from the Nazis, and was eventually reunited with his family, who amazingly had survived.

Back in America following the war, he turned to the world of magazine cartoons but never away from painting. Lucille told us that the large studio Kovarsky once used in lower Manhattan, was divided in two: one part for doing drawings, the other for paintings.  Lucille said, “he would switch from one to the other.” (photo below: Anatol Kovarsky and Lucille Patton, in the late 1950s or early 1960s)

Kovarskys passport

I asked Kovarsky if he was led to cartoons by the work of other cartoonists, and he replied, “No, they (the cartoons) just came out of me.” While it’s not exactly clear how Kovarsky was introduced to The New Yorker, Gina Kovarsky believes it was “very likely” that the enthusiasm and encouragement of the author, Herbert French, led her father to submit work to the magazine. Kovarsky had contributed illustrations for French’s 1946 book, My Yankee Paris.

The New Yorker immediately fell in love with his work; Kovarsky’s drawings averaged at least two appearances a month (sometimes his work appeared every week of the month). His work often centered on the art world: artists in their studios, with their models and without, museum art; foreign culture was also a theme of great interest, specifically the Middle East. Little of post-war American life escaped Kovarsky’s imagination.

After a decade of contributing drawings to The New Yorker, his covers began to appear. Kovarsky has said he never did more than six a year, and seeing them it is not difficult to understand why. Many of his covers, like the paintings that surrounded us in the Kovarsky’s apartment, were energetic displays of brilliant color and action.

Before our visit, Kovarsky’s daughter wrote to me of her father’s interests:

His eye has been attuned to beauty not only in pageantry and performance, but also at the bar and grill, the beaches of Coney Island, the boxing ring, and the supermarket.   (Indeed, his appreciation for city life was such that when I was a little girl and we would be going on walks, he would periodically draw my attention to the colorful and interesting patterns created by garbage strewn about on the streets, or by dilapidated storefronts with their torn-off signs).

What he was doing was what all great cartoonists do: he was taking it all in, no matter what “it” was (Kovarsky continues to take it all in to this very day).

We were shown a brilliant unpublished cover sketch obviously intended for The New Yorker (it included the famous “strap” that runs along the left edge of every New Yorker cover). It was a snapshot from Kovarsky’s eye, perhaps a combination of snapshots, with what appeared to be a throng of pedestrians on a major Manhattan avenue and  above them a collage of bright signage. An elevated train roared past above the signage and then,  the quiet grey backdrop of the city sky. We were also shown another New Yorker cover submission with the strap section showing a commuter reading his newspaper; the cover field itself is a series of images one would see from a train or elevated subway. It could easily be a contemporary New Yorker cover.

Gina Kovarsky has been spending her summer off from teaching cataloging her father’s work. She has accomplished much, but there is plenty left to do. She showed us three rooms filled – and I do mean filled — with her father’s work. Going through his drawings she found a number of folders labeled “Nyet” (Kovarsky is fluent in Russian, Polish, French, and English – indeed, when we first arrived Gina and her father spoke to each other in Russian before switching to English). It’s a puzzle now as to whether the “Nyet” folders contain drawings rejected by The New Yorker, or whether Kovarsky pre-rejected them as not suitable for the editors.

Sitting next to Kovarsky on a living room sofa, surveying the living room walls lined with his paintings, the hallway beyond, with paintings stored in racks, I said to Kovarsky, “You have done so much work” to which he replied, “I am told,” he said, “that there are 600 paintings here. I would like to do more.”

Kovarsky-Commuters-224x300

 

Kovarsky contributed nearly 300 drawings & almost 50 covers to The New Yorker.  All of his work (drawings & covers) can be found in The Complete New Yorker, or to see just his drawings:  The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker.   Another option:  any library with a collection of bound New Yorkers.  The New Yorker’s Cartoon Bank has a few examples of Kovarsky’s work for the magazine. To the left: an unpublished Kovarsky New Yorker cover idea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
   

 

 

New Yorker Cartoonist Joe Dator Tells Us About “The Cartoons on Peggy Olson’s Wall”

 

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On this momentous Mad Men weekend, it gives me great pleasure to post an Ink Spill exclusive from my New Yorker colleague, Joe Dator.  I can’t think of a better cartoon-related way to salute this classic series. My thanks to Joe for bringing this terrific piece to the Spill. [click on the cartoons to enlarge them ]

  And now, without further ado…

 

 

 

 

“The Cartoons on Peggy Olson’s Wall”

 

Is there a clever nickname for Mad Men fans? “Maddies” doesn’t seem right, and “Mennies” is even worse (How about “Trekkies”? The Star Trek people aren’t using it anymore. I say we make them an offer). Whatever the word for it is, I am one. I’m completely enthralled by the writing, the acting and the incredible attention to period detail. For me, these characters seem absolutely real, and I’ve met some future older version of just about all of them.

 

One of those is copy chief Peggy Olson, played by Elisabeth Moss. In the fifth season episode “Dark Shadows”, which takes place in 1966, Peggy opens a pitch meeting for a soft drink with “Everyone loves the cartoons in The New Yorker, and I thought we could do that kind with the guy crawling across the Sahara dying of thirst”. Her idea doesn’t fit the campaign, but it fits her character. Peggy’s come a long way (vintage advertising reference!) since starting at Sterling Cooper, working her way up to copywriter when few women were anything other than secretaries. She’s an upward striver who would have reveled in her new found metropolitan lifestyle (although as a young professional she might not have been the ideal demographic for The New Yorker at that time- its ads from those days seemed to mostly target the kind of people who buy furs and travel to India for the food).

 

Three fictional years later, Peggy has a bit more office real estate and she decorates it partly with cartoons. In the seventh season episodes “Severance” and “New Business” there are four New Yorker cartoons visible on the wall (I couldn’t identify the other four- it’s likely they were culled from one of the other magazines that ran cartoons back then, of which there were still many).

 

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True to the production’s meticulous attention to detail, all of them were published prior to those episodes April 1970 setting. Let’s take a closer look.

 

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First up is this William Steig cartoon from March 22nd, 1969. It’s funny, but why would Peggy want to clip it out and save it? I think it would have struck a nerve with any woman of that era. Despite revisionist nostalgia for the 60s as a time for acceptance of curvier figures, the reality is that weight-loss, or “reducing” products were sold exclusively and aggressively to women back then. Peggy wrote copy for a few of those, like “Patio”, a kind of proto Diet Pepsi, and “The Electrosizer”, a baffling vibrating harness contraption (which proved to have benefits for women that were very far away from weight loss).

 

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Of course, I think this cartoon may have resonated with Peggy for a different reason. Is that hen just stout or is she pregnant? Peggy spent the better part of Season 1 carrying Pete Campbell’s baby, unaware or more likely in willful denial of her condition and her growing shape. Her boss Don Draper chillingly says to her, after she’s given the child up for adoption, that “This never happened.” Don is a shape-shifter, and this cartoon may be a reminder to Peggy of how much she is like her mentor after all.

 

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At the time this Dana Fradon cartoon was published, on February 22nd, 1969, the Cold War was still in full swing, and the Paris Peace Talks were entering their second year. It’s safe to say the public was losing some confidence in its leaders’ and diplomats’ ability to talk through their problems. But I’d like to think Peggy taped this one up because it reminded her of all the time she spent in places where “the ladies have to sit and listen to the men talk”. She’s heard a lot of important men saying a lot of important things, and she knows better than anyone else how much of it is just pure gobbledegook.

 

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This Warren Miller cartoon, from February 15th, 1969, in which animals have occupied a zoo administrator’s office, is clearly a reference to student protests at universities in 1968 and 69. It’s a snapshot of the power struggle that was going on between the establishment and the counter culture at that time. Peggy’s a part of that menagerie that has wrestled control of the institution away from the stuffy pipe-smokers that run it, although I imagine she feels more like the zoo director- in constant danger of being pushed out of her hard-won position by the animals of the firm. That lion looks a lot like Don, the giraffe like the statuesque Joan and the ostrich could easily be mistaken for Roger Sterling (I don’t see a duck in there, but if there was one I guess it would be… Duck?).

 

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Another Dana Fradon cartoon, from March 22nd 1969. On numerous occasions throughout the series Peggy expressed a desire to go to Paris but couldn’t get there. Another time she accepted a job at a rival firm that she thought would take her to new places (Paris included) and within months was back working for Don due to an impromptu merger. That could be what she sees in this cartoon, or maybe, as we saw from her measured response to the complete dissolution of the firm in Season 7, she just has the right attitude about her climb up the corporate ladder- she takes it all in stride because she knows all roads really lead to nowhere, anyway.

 

I imagine Peggy Olson today, still healthy in her mid-70s, owner of numerous cats in a cavernous rent-controlled apartment on Columbus Avenue. She’s still witty and caustic, yet still sweet and filled with wonder. She still subscribes to The New Yorker, but I don’t think she’s one of those people who only reads it for the cartoons. She likes the ads, too.

(Thanks to Leigh Montville for help with research)

 

Credits, in order of appearance:

Cartoon by William Steig / The New Yorker Collection / www.cartoonbank.com

Cartoon by Dana Fradon / The New Yorker Collection / www.cartoonbank.com

Cartoon by Warren Miller / The New Yorker Collection / www.cartoonbank.com

Cartoon by Dana Fradon / The New Yorker Collection /www.cartoonbank.com