Happy Birthday, Mr. Arno

Arno

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The late great New Yorker artist, Peter Arno was born 110 years ago today at home in Morningside Heights, New York.  As many regular visitors to Ink Spill know, I began a biography of Mr. Arno back in 1999.   Someday, a publisher willing, Mad At Something: The Life and Times of Peter Arno will be available to all those wishing to know a whole lot more about him.

 

Arno began contributing to The New Yorker in June of 1925 and continued contributing until his death in 1968 (his last cover for the magazine appears above). Over the past fifteen years I’ve asked New Yorker cartoonists to talk to me about Arno.  Today I’ve decided to run a handful of their responses. Some of these cartoonists were contemporaries of Arno’s, and some are in the early phase of their New Yorker cartoonist adventure.

 

 Frank Modell  began contributing cartoons to The New Yorker in 1946.  I first  interviewed Frank in February of 2000 and then again this past Fall.At 95 he is one of the two New Yorker contributors still with us who actually met Arno (Lillian Ross is the other.  Roger Angell told me he spoke with Arno on the phone, but never actually met him).

Let me tell you something about [Arno] – he was a worrier.  As good as he was, and as strong an artist as he was, surprisingly he was the most worried of all the cartoonists about his drawing.  He would call up [The New Yorker’s Art Department] and say,  ‘Did you get that drawing, the finish I sent in – did you print it yet?’  And I’d say no, then he’d say, ‘Don’t print it!  Tell Geraghty I’m doing another one – I don’t want him to print it until I do another one.’  Then he’d send in another version that didn’t look any different than the first.”

 

 

Syd Hoff, who died in 2004, began contributing to The New Yorker in 1931

“Arno belonged to the great era of Benchley, E.B. White, Perelman, etc., the era of the Great Depression and two emerging classes, upper and lower.  Arno belonged to the upper. Who’ll ever forget his Park Avenue types, on their way to a newsreel theater ‘to hiss Roosevelt’? Those bold drawings!  Nobody could imitate them.  They had to come out of the bourgeoisie!  I remember him standing outside 25 West 43rd Street!  He was big and narrow, just like his men, without [the] handlebar mustaches…”


Robert WeberIf you ask 20 cartoonists to name the top ten cartoonists to come out of the post-Harold Ross years, Robert Weber’s name will surely be on that list.  Mr. Weber’s distinctive bold effortless line is a thing to behold.  Mr. Weber will be 90 this coming April. He began contributing to The New Yorker in 1962.

“I wish I had known or even just met Arno and I regret I didn’t.  I’ve always admired his work, particularly his later work for The New Yorker.  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.  And, of course, he was funny.  Put me down as a big fan.”

 

Alex Gregory began contributing to The New Yorker in  1999. Besides his work for the magazine he works in television and film. 

 “As far as Arno’s impact on me personally, I grew up looking enviously at his drawings in anthologies.  I would say that Arno is the New Yorker artist that I would most like to have emulated yet had the least capacity to do so.  His cartoons are like black-and-white Matisses. but in some ways even more accomplished. – they capture a person’s mood, character, and breeding with just a few thick supremely confident brush strokes.  The art direction in each panel is flawless; characters are placed perfectly, and the action is always expressive without being broad.   And as rich as each image is, he never gets bogged down in any details that could slow down the joke. His drawings appear to be done by a man who has never known a moment of fear or self-doubt in his life.   I suppose it was Arno more than any other cartoonist save Thurber that made me think of cartooning as an actual art form.”

 


Al Ross, who died in 2012, began contributing to The New Yorker in 1937.

“Arno was special.  He was special like Charles Addams was special, and Price was special.  You know what I mean?”

 

George Booth  began sharing his wonderful world of dogs, cats and characters with The New Yorker’s readership in 1969. 

 “Peter Arno’s work stands out and holds up in the test of time. His drawings and words were never timid, or just clever. They stated high quality, joy, confidence, strength, style, humor, idea, life, simplicity.  His color was right; black and white became color.  His cartoons were researched, with words well applied.  The communication was clear and timely.  He knew what he was doing.  Peter Arno was an artist worthy who gave something of value to the world.  A hero.”

 

 

Eldon Dedini,  who died in 2006, began contributing to The New Yorker in 1950.

“[Arno’s] cartoons were a major inspiration to me.  His staging of a gag was masterful in its simplicity.  No extra crap — the point -bang!  Even today when I have trouble with a drawing I ask myself ‘How would Arno do it?’ and look in collections of his for the answer…Arno is still the model for me and for any thinking cartoonist.”

 

Paul Noth  began contributing to The New Yorker in 2004.  Besides his work for the magazine he has also written for television.

“I was attracted to library books of his when I was a kid because of the sexy ladies (I was raised a strict Catholic, so actual nudity was too much for me, but cartoons like his were somehow okay).

 

Mischa Richter,  who died in 2001, began contributing to The New Yorker in 1950.

“A modern Daumier.”

 

Barbara Smaller began  contributing to The New Yorker in  1996.

  “Arno’s sophisticated bad boy sensibilities never resonated with me in the way a William Steig or George Price’s more plebian ones did.  Still there is much I admire about his drawings, particularly his wonderful deep blacks and dramatic compositions.  I also admit to enjoying the People magazine aspects of his private life;  the high highs and the satisfying low lows.  They are an object lesson to all wayward cartoonists!”

 

Henry Martin began contributing to The New Yorker in 1964

 “… Jim Geraghty bought three ideas from me for Arno in 1964 and 1965.  He was the master, but like so many of the greats the idea wells ran dry, but, lord, how they could create memorable drawings.”

 

Kim Warp began contributing to The New Yorker in 1999.

Peter Arno wasn’t the reason I became a cartoonist in particular but he was always part of the cartoon collections  that fascinated me as a child…I was impressed by the graphic power of his drawings ( although I wouldn’t have called it that at the time of course) and by the world he portrayed.  In particular I remember the “I’m checking up for the company, Madam.  Have you any of our fuller Brush men.?” Cartoon which somehow melded in my mind with his man in the shower cartoon. This was a much  more interesting world of possibility than  I was being led to believe existed by 1960s TV shows. When I think of him now I’m struck by the grown-up playfulness and joy of life his cartoons portray which contrasts with the work-obsessedness of today.  Maybe it’s just me but I don’t know too many people who have wild cocktail parties after work or fuller brush men hidden in their apartment.  Everyone is at soccer practice with the kids.”

 

 

Edward Sorel began contributing to The New Yorker in 1990.  Mr. Sorel, I believe, is the closest we’ve come to a modern day Arno. 

“It was Arno, not John Held, Jr. who was the true artist of the Jazz Age. Not only was his canvas much larger—including not only the coeds in their yellow slickers, but rich clubmen, gold-diggers, Hollywood illiterates, the unemployed, and most especially, satyrs and other pursuers of sex. And beyond his subject matter, his style of drawing, so spontaneous looking, is much more in keeping with the spirit of the roaring, anything goes, twenties, than Held’s meticulous, carefully designed cartoons. Once the Jazz Age was over, Held seemed antique, whereas Arno’s style not only kept going, but attracted several imitators.”

 

And last, but certainly not least, William Steig.  Mr. Steig, who died in 2003, began his New Yorker career in 1930.

  “I like his work.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today: Catching Up with…The New Yorker’s Frank Cotham

 

 

 

 

Frank Cotham's dog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 I met Frank Cotham  just once, in 1997 at a photo shoot organized during the Tina Brown era at the magazine. Forty-one cartoonists showed up to pose for Arnold Newman (the group photo was  published in the very first Cartoon Issue of The New Yorker). After saying hello to each other that day, sixteen years passed before we connected again.

 

Cotham 1997

 

(photo: Frank at the shoot, top center, in the pointed party hat. On the left, hatless, Dean Vietor; on the right,in top hat, Mick Stevens. Lower left, Lee Lorenz, lower right, Mike Twohy).

Michael Maslin : You know, it’s funny, but I realized this evening while looking up your work on The New Yorker‘s database that tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of your first appearance in the magazine, the issue dated December 13, 1993.

What was that moment like for you, selling that first drawing, and then seeing it in the magazine?

Frank Cotham: Total disbelief when I sold one to The New Yorker.  I had been sending a batch to them every week for fifteen years – the first twelve years or so were a little discouraging, but I was glad I kept with it.

MM:  According to a bio in the New Yorker, up until 1986 you were  “a staff artist in the production department of a television station”–so what transpired professionally  in those seven years after you left the staff artist position and broke into The New Yorker?

FC: I kept sending work to The New Yorker of course, and getting rejected, but I did do a lot of work for other magazines, mostly Penthouse. They pretty much kept me in business. There were quite a few “features,” which meant short deadlines and working through the night. I don’t think I could do that anymore.

MM:  Since you’re down in Tennessee we don’t see much of you up here in the Northeast — you’re kind’ve a mystery man. 

FC: I like the sound of that, being a mystery man.

MM: With some cartoonists, you can see the influences or influence.  Your work is a bit of a puzzle. Can you talk about what brought you into the cartoon world, your influences.

 FCThe New Yorker and its cartoons caught my attention when I was in junior high school – Charles Saxon was one of my favorites, and Robert Weber.  A friend of mine at the TV station suggested that I send some of my cartoons to magazines, and after a couple of years, I sold one to Saturday Review – My friend and I were both very surprised.

MM: Regarding Saxon and Weber:  now that you’ve mentioned them as favorites I can see a lineage there — it’s odd I never saw it before.  I had thought you more in the Addams school with a dash of Richard Taylor.   Did either of those artists influence you?

FC: Yes, very much so. Addams certainly. I always loved the somber grays in their work. In my mind, I thought that’s what a New Yorker cartoon was supposed to look like.

MM: What’s a typical work day for you — if there is such a thing as typical? For instance, Jack Ziegler writes first, then eventually heads on over to his desk to draw.   I don’t read anything first — I just sit down with a cup of coffee and wait.  How does it begin for you?

FC: My day usually begins by sitting down, after I’ve fed the dog and cat, with a book for about half an hour.  I have my orange juice, cereal, and coffee while reading the local paper, check Facebook for essential news on my iPad, and then sit at my drawing table and stare out the window.

MM: When I think about your work there’s a certain cartoon environment  that comes to mind.  It’s different from say a George Booth environment or a Mick Stevens environment — it’s so very much your own.  Can you describe it?

FC: I’m not sure I know what you mean.  I’ve noticed that two country people sitting on the front porch of a rundown house figure prominently in my cartoons in the last few years, I’m not sure why that is. It’s not really something that I see often around here, but my dog and I do mull things over on the back porch. [Frank sent a drawing of his dog for this piece — it appears above: “I’ve attached a sketch of my dog, but she can’t really sit up like that.”]

MM:  I’m going to ask you a question similar to the one I asked Roz Chast:  has anything changed for you regarding your work…the way you work, I mean.  What’s it like for you now in 2013, going on 2014 when you sit at your drawing board? Is it any different than what it was like in say, 1994 or 1999 or 2007?

FC: I work pretty much like I have from the very beginning – still use the same drawing table, still use watercolor crayons, a dip pen, and a bottle of ink.  But I have moved my office downstairs – I don’t have trouble going up the stairs, but when I’m ready to come down I feel that I need to call the fire department.

MM: Is there anything, cartoon-wise, you’re working on other than your weekly NYer batch that you’d care to tell us about?

FC: I’m not working on anything else – fretting and coming up with a batch decent enough to send in to The New Yorker pretty much occupy all my time.

MM: You were living near Memphis when we met back in the late 90s —  you’re still there? 

FC: I still live in a Memphis suburb, and have lived here since forever.

MM: I’ve got to ask:  Have you ever been to Graceland?

FC: I’ve never been to Graceland.  It’s not like I’m anti-Elvis or anything, it’s just that I’ve never been an Elvis fan. Janice [Frank’s wife] and I just happened to be returning from a brief vacation in Florida the day Elvis died, and we stopped in a Waffle House late that night. The waitress asked where we were going and we told her Memphis, and she said, “Oh, Elvis.”  I didn’t have the heart to tell her that we weren’t headed to the candlelight vigil.

Click here to see Frank Cotham’s work on The New Yorker‘s Cartoon Bank site

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Video: A Cartoonist at The New Yorker Festival; A look at a Gahan Wilson novel; Stiller’s “Walter Mitty” premiers in NYC (and the critics disagree)

Andy B

 

 

 

Now that The New Yorker Festival has entered the history books, we can point out a New Yorker cartoonist moment to watch. With the endearingly funny Andy Borowitz at the helm of “A New Yorker Night with The Moth”  Matthew Diffee makes an appearance, telling us about his journey to becoming a New Yorker cartoonist, and running into George Booth along the way. (Photo: Mr. Borowitz at the Festival)

 

And…

 

Wilson's Duck

 

 

From Stephen Nadler’s site, Attempted Bloggery, October 10, 2013, “Gahan Wilson’s Favorite Duck” — a look at Mr. Wilson’s 1988 novel (with photographs).

 

 

 

 

 

 

And finally…

 

From The Huffington Post, October 5, 2013, “‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ Polarizes Critics After Debut”

— read all about it.

Cat Cartoons a-plenty in the Big New Yorker Book of Cats

 

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Coming October 1st from Random House: The Big New Yorker Book of Cats ( you may remember that The Big New Yorker Book of Dogs was published almost exactly a year ago).  As you’d expect, the book boasts a huge number of cat themed cartoons and covers. Here’s a list of the cartoonists represented:

Charles Addams, Harry Bliss, George Booth, Roz Chast, Frank Cotham, Leo Cullum, Joe Dator, Eldon Dedini, Liza Donnelly, J.C. Duffy, Jules Feiffer, Ed Fisher, Ed Frascino, Alex Gregory, Sam Gross, William Hamilton, Bruce Eric Kaplan, Edward Koren, Arnie Levin, Lee Lorenz, Robert Mankoff, Henry Martin, Paul Noth, Donald Reilly, Mischa Richter, Victoria Roberts, Danny Shanahan, Bernard Schoenbaum, Edward Sorel, William Steig, Mick Stevens, Anthony Taber (represented by two multi-page spreads), Mike Twohy, Dean Vietor, Robert Weber, Christopher Weyant, Shannon Wheeler, Jack Ziegler

Cross-over cover artists (meaning those who have contributed both cartoons & covers to The New Yorker):  Charles Addams, Abe Birnbaum (his March 30, 1963 cover is of a lion), Ronald Searle, J.J. Sempe, Saul Steinberg, and Gahan Wilson

 

 

Tom Cheney: Lessons from Charles Rodrigues

tom-cheney-paper-or-plastic-new-yorker-cartoon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the second installment in an Ink Spill series of cartoonists talking about the important cartoon connections in their lives.  Felipe Galindo wrote about Steinberg last week.  This week, Tom Cheney, who began contributing to The New Yorker in 1978 (one of his most famous contributions is above) writes about the late Charles Rodrigues, whose work is perhaps most associated with National Lampoon.

 

Lessons From Rodrigues

I can’t say that I’ve been influenced by just one or even many cartoonists, because all of my predecessors, as well as my peers, have taught me valuable lessons about this art over the years. There is, however, one cartoonist whom I’ve always regarded as my favorite, and whose work has always inspired me to put forth my best efforts as a cartoonist.
I discovered Charles Rodrigues’ cartoons when I was twelve years old.  I was thumbing through a copy of Cracked magazine and found a regular feature he was doing for them entitled “Shut-ups.”   I then began following his work in other magazines and discovered how versatile he was in addition to being consistently original.  I’ve always been enchanted with the way Charles draws. Take any character out of one of his cartoons, paste it to a plain white background, and you’ve got a complete,  ready-made cartoon.
I began reading National Lampoon when I was a freshman in college, and that’s where I saw the unleashed Charles Rodrigues test the subject boundaries of the single panel cartoon and the full page comic strip.  Joining him were Sam Gross, and John Caldwell.  Sam’s characters, if taken out of context, were nothing short of adorable, but he was an expert at putting them in themes and situations that would make a prison guard blush.   His amazing use of cuteness combined with shock was an explosively funny technique.  John Caldwell was just beginning to emerge as a cartoonist, but he already had a unique brand of humor that kept me rolling on the floor.  For John, the window of weirdness would open up, and he would just walk right in.   I regarded them, along with the other ‘Lampoon cartoonists, as explorers.  They were walking up to the edge and spitting over the railing.  For me, the prospect of being able to draw cartoons like that for a living began to overshadow anything that I might ever accomplish as a psychology major.  Consequently, I also took as many art courses as would fit into my schedule.
Shortly after graduating from Potsdam State College in 1976, I made the unfortunate mistake of turning my back on an acutely psychotic patient while I was working the night shift at a psychiatric facility.  He seized the opportunity to smash a chair across my back.  The following day I decided to become a professional cartoonist.  There would be no plan B.
I was discovering the New Yorker cartoonists at this time, and every single one of them had a lesson for me with each of their cartoons that appeared.  Charles Addams and George Booth taught me that you can never have too many details in a cartoon, as long as they contribute to its theme.  Lee Lorenz still dazzles me with his brilliant handling of bold lines, and how he can make a complex drawing look like it was done with a single brush stroke.  His thoughtful editing of my work during my early days at The New Yorker was immeasurably helpful in developing my drawing style.  Both Lee and Charles Saxon taught me the power of dynamics and good composition.  Arnie Levin and Charles Barsotti taught me the strength of simplicity, and how it’s possible to set off a humor “grenade” with just a few lines. Bob Mankoff, Jack Ziegler, William Hamilton, Al Ross, and Robert Weber taught me how effective it can be to match one’s drawing style to one’s particular brand of humor.  All of them were and are ingenious gag writers, and they’ve all taught me that the most important ingredient in every cartoon is a good solid idea.
Freelance cartoonists do not live by one magazine alone, and I found it necessary to keep as many magazines on my submissions list as possible, including The New Yorker.  Thus far, it’s been a 37 year journey that’s taken me from the boggy depths of Hustler to the erudite stratosphere of The New Yorker.  Along the way, I’ve frequently asked myself, “What would Charles Rodrigues do with this or that subject?”  I often relied on the most important lessons I learned from studying his work:  Details develop and enhance characters and settings.  There’s a way to draw a men’s room that will also make it smell like a men’s room.  Secondly, no subject is off limits, and the more stressful or taboo a subject is, the more explosively funny a cartoon about it can be with a carefully engineered gag.  Equally, a banal or boring subject can be easily walked out to its extreme with surprising results.  Finally, the reader’s imagination is one of the most important tools a cartoonist has, and the ability to grab it and haul it into a cartoon was one of Rodrigues’ special talents.
Often, without depicting nudity nor being the least bit graphic, and without using a single off-color word in the caption, Charles could take us into a hilarious and powerfully suggestive setting.  It brings to mind a cartoon he once did for National Lampoon.  A couple is entertaining another couple I their living room.  The lady of the house says to her husband, “Maurice, show Irene and Joe the funny trick you can do with your colostomy bag.”  The phrase, “colostomy bag” placed at the end of the caption was the perfect sucker-punch to an otherwise commonplace setting, and our imaginations can’t help but run with the possibilities of the trick “Maurice” is soon to perform.  Charles’ outstanding ability to manipulate the reader’s imagination was what I believe set him apart from many cartoonists.  That, in combination with his delightful drawing style and unique ideas always had me in awe of his work.  He was so good at what he did that he could go anywhere he wanted, with any subject, to the most extreme degree, and do it with class; simply by grabbing our imaginations and steering them into the right zone.  For me, working as a freelancer, maintaining that same versatility has been a matter of survival.
Again, I have to thank all cartoonists for being my teachers, and I especially thank Charles Rodrigues:  the cartoonist who brought us stories of a private detective in an iron lung;  the story of a man and his dead friend “Joe” who lived with him; Siamese twins who accidentally tore themselves apart, then went through the trouble of having themselves stitched back together (with one of them upside down;) and the story of a blind man who’s little friend, Deidre Callahan, was so ugly that her face was “too hideous for publication”  in her own comic strip (again grabbing at our imaginations.)  I’m forever grateful to Charles for daring to go to all of those places, and showing us how it could be done.  I’m sorry they’ve taken National Lampoon away from us, along with a throng of other magazines that used to publish adventurous cartoons.  I’m not certain, but I think Charles might agree with me that the mysterious disappearance of magazine cartoons might have something to do with all of the tattoos we’re seeing on everybody.

— Tom Cheney June 2013

 

For more information on Tom Cheney and a look at Charles Rodrigues’s work:

Link to Tom Cheney’s work for The New Yorker: The Cartoon Bank

Link to Tom Cheney’s Wikipedia page

Link to a listing of Tom Cheney’s work for Mad Magazine (Doug Gilford’s Mad Cover site)

Link to a site posting work by Charles Rodrigues