Tilley loading

 

 

Above: a glimpse of the first New Yorker cover.

Ever since Tina Brown broke the sixty-nine year string of unbroken appearances by Rea Irvin’s Eustace Tilley on the anniversary issue in 1994 by running R. Crumb’s Eustace Elvis, there’s always been, for me, some nail biting in early February about whether the real Eustace will show up on the cover (one year it was a Wegman dog in Tilley clothing, another year it was Tilley ala Dick Tracy, etc.; there were also a couple of years when Eustace made no appearance at all, 1998 and 1999 to be exact)  It was a thrill to see his familiar profile, although still loading, on the cover this year.

Posted Note: Happy 87th

With The New Yorker’s 87th birthday just around the corner (the very first issue was dated February 21, 1925) I thought it would be fun to muse about the magazine’s present cartoon universe.

What New Yorker cartoonists do so well and have done so well over eight decades is knee-jerk to their time. The New Yorker’s hands-off system, begun by its founder, Harold Ross, of encouraging contributing cartoonists to explore their creative bent, wherever it may lead them, remains very much in place to this day.  This was a spectacular editorial decision, providing a home for those (of us) who have trouble taking direction, but no trouble at all staring into space or messing around on paper awaiting the pulsating light bulb of inspiration to strike. It’s a freedom that’s produced tens of thousands of great cartoons and scores of great cartoonists, from Addams to Ziegler. I’d venture to say — without the research to back it up — that the magazine’s current crop of cartoonists, more than any in the past, has taken this freedom and run like hell with it, graphically and otherwise.

Part of the genius of Harold Ross, was his decision to encourage his artists to run amuck creatively, insuring that the magazine does not hand the readership formula.  As each issue arrives (either in our mailbox or electronically), I, like many of the magazine’s million other readers, look at the cartoons first. The 87th anniversary issue, now in hand, with its fuzzy “loading” Eustace Tilley cover, was no exception; the excitement of flipping through looking at the cartoons came not from what was expected, but, as always, from the unexpected.

 

The First New Yorker Cartoon

As the 86th anniversary of The New Yorker approaches,  I’ve played a bit of New Yorker Trivial Pursuit, thinking about the first issue, and wondering who had the very first cartoon in the first issue of The New Yorker.

Once you’ve made your way past the famous Rea Irvin Eustace Tilley cover, and have turned the first page (with its heading, “Of All Things”) you run right into an Al Frueh drawing of a gent on a subway car, heeding the advice of a nearby sign to keep the subway cars clean. The passenger is seen putting great effort into cleaning one of the car’s windows.  Frueh not only had the first cartoon in the first New Yorker, he also had the first full page cartoon in the first issue (Wallace Morgan goes him one better later in the issue with the magazine’s first double page spread).

Frueh worked a decade-and-a-half at The New York World before settling into The New Yorker for the next thirty-seven years.  It’s more than fair to say he became at least as well known for his theatrical caricatures as for the roughly two hundred cartoons he contributed (and one cover,  for the magazine’s second issue, February 28, 1925).

Long ago, before I habitually dove into elderly copies of The New Yorker and became familiar with Frueh’s work,  I ran into this passage from James Thurber’s The Years with Ross:

…Frueh…once came upon me in my garage in Connecticut, sitting ten feet in front of my Ford and trying to draw it head on. ‘You can’t do that, Thurber,’ said Frueh, out of his vast knowledge and experience as a draughtsman. ‘You’d better draw it from the side.’ I took his advice.

The passage made an impression on me.  I draw cars nearly every day, and with Frueh’s words of wisdom in the back of my mind, I avoid the head-on drawing like the plague.

For more on Al Frueh:

The Complete New Yorker: the best place to see his work for the magazine.  It’s all there on disc: the theatrical caricatures, the cartoons, and his cover.

The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker:  limited, of course, to his cartoons.

Obscure, but worth it if you can find it:  an excellent booklet “The Art of Al Frueh” (pictured at the head of this post) that accompanied an exhibit of his work at The University of Connecticut in the Fall of 1983.  It includes The New Yorker’s obituary (written by Brendan Gill) in its entirety, published September 28, 1968.

The New York Times obituary of September 18, 1968.  Along with The New Yorker’s obit you  get a decent idea of Frueh’s rural life on his 100 acre nut farm in Sharon, Connecticut.

The New Yorker’s Cartoon Bank has three examples of Frueh’s cartoons.

Here At The New Yorker:  Brendan Gill’s memoir contains a self portrait of Frueh as well as affectionate memories.