All Cartoonists Are Actors

“If I’m drawing a certain type of character, I try to get into the spirit of the thing – and my wife complains about the faces I make while I’m working. All cartoonists, I guess, are actors in a way.”

— George Price to Jud Hurd, Cartoonist Profiles, March 1975

 

If you can find it, Jud Hurd’s Price interview is worth seeking out. Price (pictured above) who died in 1995 at the age of 93, is best remembered for his unparalleled mathematical drawing style, characterized by the split pen line created by his crow quill.

 

Let us pause briefly and consider the idea of Mrs. Price watching Mr. Price draw.  I wonder how many spouses or partners make a habit of watching their cartoonist mate draw.

 

I could never work with an audience.  From time-to-time while drawing I’ll realize I’m mimicking the face I’m working on. My only audience at those moments would be our Jack Russell Terrier, Bernie, who sometimes plants himself under my desk, at my feet. If there is such a thing as an audience of one, Bernie qualifies. Once I realize he’s staring at me, I can’t work. I cap my pen, leave my desk and do my best to resolve his issue (after all, he’s not there to be entertained — he wants something, such as the cat’s bowl of milk).

 

But I digress.  Heading back to the Price interview, it was “All cartoonists …are actors…” that really caught my attention.  I’ve long thought of cartoonists as spies, sponges, stage directors, costume designers, lighting experts, set designers, script writers (script doctors!), hair stylists, haberdashers – well, you get the idea.  But until I read this Price interview it never occurred to me that we were (possibly) actors as well.

 

This explains the number of cartoonists who have sought and seek the stage.  Otto Soglow was famous for his love of the stage, and Thurber appeared in his own Thurber Carnival on Broadway,  winning a special Tony for the adapted script. Peter Arno performed in summer stock, as well as investing his talents on Broadway as a producer and playwright (he also did time in Hollywood making a brief appearance in a 1937 film, Artists and Models). Frank Modell appeared in Woody Allen’s  Stardust Memories. In more recent times, Victoria Roberts has won acclaim for her stage appearances as Nona Appleby.  And then there are the numerous cartoonists currently involved in stand-up comedy.

 

So are all cartoonists actors?  I suppose you could say (super-duper groan alert!) some are drawn to it.

Funny Business to be rebroadcast May 7th; Video: Chast’s Ant & The Grasshopper

According to its official website, Funny Business — An Inside Look at the Art of Cartooning, shown last night on New York’s PBS station WNET, will be rebroadcast this Saturday, May 7th, at 3:30 am.

The film pays studio visits to a number of New Yorker cartoonists, including Frank ModellLee Lorenz (the former Art Editor/Cartoon Editor of The New Yorker, from 1973 through 1997),  George Booth, Victoria Roberts, Arnie Levin, Roz Chast, and Matthew Diffee.

Also from PBS, this short animation.  Roz Chast’s take on The Ant & The Grasshopper

Fifty Years Earlier

As a cartoonist it’s (mostly) all about what’s next; this may explain why I sometimes like to take a breather and think about what was.  Still in a celebratory mode because of The New Yorker’s 86th anniversary, I went to my collection of anniversary issues and pulled out the issue from fifty years ago, dated February 18, 1961.   Thought I’d sit with it for a few moments and take a look at the cartoons.

There’s no “Table of Contents” for the issue ( the magazine didn’t add that helpful feature until the issue of March 22, 1969),  so knowing whose work appears inside will be a surprise.

William Steig’s work appears on page 14, but it’s not a cartoon, it’s an ad — an illustration for  First National City Bank.  Moving through the movie listings ( “Ben Hur,” “the Misfits,” “Exodus,” etc., etc.) and pausing to take in Otto (“The Little King”) Soglow’s wonderful “Talk of the Town” drawings, we encounter the first cartoon of the issue, and it’s by the magazine’s most prolific cartoonist, Alan Dunn (Dunn also holds the honor of being one half of the first married New Yorker cartoonist couple.  His wife was Mary Petty).   Dunn was an expert at making something out of the day’s headlines, and in this case the drawing reflects our country’s endless fascination with the Russians.

Next is a George Price drawing of a waiter holding a giant shish-kebob setting off the  restaurant’s sprinkler system.  A good solid effort by one of the masters of the Golden Age.  Richard Decker’s drawing of a doctor’s waiting room filled with self-promoting ads, including a “Specials” sign, wouldn’t be so out of place – with some tweaking — in today’s New Yorker.

A Robert Kraus is next, done in his inviting moody Dedini-esque style, and then an Ed Fisher drawing (by my calculations, the eighty-fifth of his career at The New Yorker – he eventually published just over 700).  Another Alan Dunn follows ( tied into current events, of course) and then a classic Steig husband-and-wife  domestic scene ( I can’t help but be reminded that The New Yorker is fortunate to have a contemporaneous expert at  capturing domestic scenes: Victoria Roberts). Opposite Steig’s drawing is a Steinberg,  captionless of course ( he’d given up captions long ago).  A man wearing  a helmet and shield sits on a rearing horse—they’ve just encountered a projection screen, such as the kind a family would set up to watch home movies.

A page later is a  half-page captionless Charles Addams drawing ( Addams told Dick Cavett that the captionless drawings were his favorite kind).  Turn the page and there’s a Charles Saxon ( man, did he have a smooth style) and then a Lee Lorenz ( his eighty-eighth drawing for the magazine in a career still going like gang-busters). Another page finds a Chon Day, the master of economical styling ( not counting Thurber).  Two pages later, a three-quarter beauty by Whitney Darrow, Jr.,  specifically referencing the new family at The White House; Caroline Kennedy utters the caption.

After the Darrow drawing it’s a fifty-four page wait til the next cartoon, wherein James Stevenson takes us back to a couple in ancient Rome and, shockingly(!) uses the word “orgy” in his caption.  Another twenty-nine pages zoom by before we reach the last cartoon in the issue.  By Frank Modell, it’s a bar scene, and the subject is nearly everyone’s favorite subject — a subject at which Modell excels: men and women.