The New Yorker before Addams, Steig and Steinberg

NY-albums

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the release this past week of The New Yorker’s Cartoons of the Year 2013 (a relative of a long line of New Yorker Albums seen in the photo) I thought it would be fun to leaf through The New Yorker‘s very first collection, simply called The New Yorker Album. published in 1928, just three years after the magazine’s debut. For starters, I love this part of the introduction (authored by “The New Yorker”):

The New Yorker has been dealing with artists for upward of three years.  We are tired but happy.  Our artists, we feel, have been worth the trouble. They have taken the electric and protoplasmic and comic town and reduced it to page size. To be merry and wise and subtle every week is scarcely possible; but there have been good weeks.

If you substitute the “upward of three years” to “upward of eighty-eight years” the excerpt could’ve easily introduced the 2013 collection.

The very first cartoon you run into in the 1928 collection is a full page by Peter Arno.  This makes perfect sense as Arno was, just  three years into the New Yorker’s life, already its star (his co-star was Helen Hokinson).  Arno was fond of the full page cartoon, but paging through the Album, you’ll find he had plenty of company in that department. Ms. Hokinson, Rea Irvin, Gluyas Williams, George Shanks, Al Frueh, Gardner Rea, and Reginald Marsh, to name but a few, all worked well on a full page (you’ll find a number of full page cartoons in the 2013 collection, but none originally ran as such; full page cartoons in the modern New Yorker are rare, with Roz Chast’s work being one of the exceptions.

What might be remarkable to anyone looking through the 1928 Album is the absence of plenty of the marquee names we associate with the magazine’s past. Cartoonists such as  Charles Addams, William Steig, Saul Steinberg, Thurber and George Price had yet to begin contributing drawings to the magazine (Thurber had begun contributing his writing in 1927, but The New Yorker’s founder & first editor, Harold Ross, wouldn’t publish a Thurber drawing in the magazine until 1931). Addams’ work didn’t appear until 1933, Steig’s not until 1935, Steinberg’s not until 1941, George Price’s not until 1932.  The Album of 1928 was a blueprint for what was to come in later years on the magazine’s pages: a variety of styles, of cartoon worlds, beautifully co-existing.

Much as the 2013 collection is heavy on a handful of cartoonists, such was the case in 1928.  The aforementioned Hokinson, Irvin, Rea, Frueh and Arno command the most space, with plenty of full pages.  Alan Dunn and Barbara Shermund’s work is everywhere, but mostly half-page or quarter-page. Work by other familiar names (or soon to be familiar names) are sprinkled about the volume.  There’s a single Mary Petty drawing (if my counting is correct) with healthier showings by, among others, Otto Soglow, Perry Barlow, Leonard Dove, Peggy Bacon, John Held, Jr., Alajalov (still spelled “Aladjalov”), I. Klein, Carl Rose and Garrett Price (in an early style, far less fluid than his later work). There are a few spreads in the Album (unlike the spreads in the 2013 Cartoons of the Year,  which were created specifically for that publication, the 1928 spreads ran in the The New Yorker).

What struck me as I looked back and forth between the 1928 collection and the 2013 collection (much as a spectator watches the ball during a tennis match) is that here we are eighty-eight years after the magazine’s debut,  still highly entertained, and yes, sometimes still puzzled, by the very simple format Harold Ross and company fostered and nurtured: a drawing atop a caption.  Every week we continue to dive into each issue, turning the pages, eager to run into the next cartoon (and lately, the Cartoon Caption Contest cartoon).  As someone commented on this site following a post on the Cartoons of the Year, “Can’t wait for the shiny new cartoons of 2014.”   Me neither. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

Astaire Cartoonists vrs Kelly Cartoonists

 

Astaire feetKelly feet

 

 

 

 

 

Someone once said that the greatest difference between Fred Astaire’s dancing and Gene Kelly’s dancing is that you could see Gene Kelly’s sweat.  Pauline Kael, writing in The New Yorker in 1972 said, “Kelly isn’t a winged dancer; he’s a hoofer and more earthbound” which she compared to “Astaire’s grasshopper lightness.” Here are some other words you’ll run into when reading about Astaire’s dancing: effortless, graceful, floating on air.  And for Kelly: muscular, dynamic, down-to-earth.

 

I pose this simple question: is it possible to divide New Yorker cartoonists into two distinct camps: Astaire Cartoonists and Kelly Cartoonists? Are there some cartoonists whose work seems effortless, like Astaire’s?  Do others show the sweat, and muscularity of Kelly’s performances?  Well of course I think the answer is yes.  I’m not saying Astaire’s dancing was better than Kelly’s or vice-versa – I’m just saying they were different.

 

This has everything to do with what cartoons look like on the printed page or glowing screen and how a cartoonist’s work appears to the reader’s eye. Is the reader aware of the mechanics of the drawing (do you see the sweat?) or does the cartoon seem effortless?

 

I’m reminded of the story James Thurber told of the day he was sitting in his driveway in Connecticut drawing his car head on.  Al Freuh, the great New Yorker artist happened by, and seeing Thurber struggling with crosshatching and perspective, said, “Don’t bother drawing like that – if you ever got good at it, you’d be mediocre.”  (I’d put Frueh in the Astaire camp).

 

As an example of what I’m talking about, here’s my short-list of Astaire cartoonists and Kelly cartoonists:

Robert Weber definitely in Astaire camp.  Mischa Richter in the Kelly school. Thurber, Astaire; Gluyas Williams, Astaire.  Mary Petty, Kelly; and her husband, Alan Dunn: Kelly. George Price, Kelly. William Steig, Astaire. Richard Taylor, Kelly. Charles Barsotti, Astaire; Whitney Darrow, Jr., Kelly. Helen Hokinson, Astaire. Steinberg, Kelly & Astaire (yes, there are hybrids!).

 

I invite Ink Spill visitors to offer their lists; I fully expect some will completely disagree with mine – so let me have it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Society of Illustrators Exhibits Work by 45 New Yorker Artists

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As promised a few days ago, below is a list of New Yorker artists whose work appears in an upcoming exhibit at The Society of Illustrators. The artists included span the entire history of The New Yorker, beginning with early masters, Helen Hokinson, Peter Arno and Gluyas Williams right up through many of today’s most exciting and incredibly funny contributors.

 

 

Ed Arno, Peter Arno, Charles Barsotti, David Borchart, John Caldwell, Roz Chast, Richard Cline, Joe Dator, Drew Dernavich, Matthew Diffee, Liza Donnelly, Bob Eckstein, Dana Fradon, Felipe Galindo, Sam Gross, Larry Hat, Helen Hokinson, Zachary Kanin, Nurit Karlin, Farley Katz, Robert Leighton, Bob Mankoff, Marisa Marchetto, Michael Maslin, Richard McCallister, Warren Miller, Roxie Munro, Paul Noth, John O’Brien, Danny Shanahan, Michael Shaw, Barbara Shermund, Barbara Smaller, Edward Sorel, Peter Steiner, Mick Stevens, Julia Suits, P.C.Vey, Liam Walsh, Kim Warp, Robert Weber, Christopher Weyant, Gluyas Williams, Bill Woodman, Jack Ziegler

 

In the House: Curtain Calls of 1926

Curtain Calls of 1926This wonderful  book arrived in today’s mail. I was very lucky to find it for the price of a couple of slices of pizza (with toppings).  According to an online bookseller’s listing there were 40 copies produced. It’s a small book, 8 1/2″ high, 6″ wide.  I’d only seen one before, years ago in a museum case. If I’ve had a Holy Grail of New Yorker books, I suppose this would be it (until something else comes along I’ve never seen before).

The title page includes this note:

“..limited edition for the enjoyment of a few appreciative friends

 

Inside are a number of pieces, including  Dorothy Parker’s “Dialogue At Three in The Morning” as well as Corey Ford’s “Anniversary of a Great Magazine: Looking Back Over the Vast History of The New Yorker with Mr. Eustace Tilley” (we have Mr. Ford to thank for the name “Eustace Tilley”).   There are drawings by Helen Hokinson, John Held, jr., Peter Arno (his Whoops Sisters), a full page by Gluyas Williams, and a full page by Rea Irvin as well as an Al Frueh caricature of Al Smith, a McNerney drawing, and so much more. The cover is, of course, by Rea Irvin

 

The New Yorker’s Art Meeting: A Potted History

 

 

It’s tempting to believe that the structure of The New Yorker’s Art Department arrived fully formed in 1924 when Harold Ross, with his wife Jane Grant  began pulling together his dream magazine.  But of course, such was not the case.

 

What we know for certain is that once the first issue was out,  Ross and several of his newly hired employees began meeting every Tuesday afternoon to discuss the incoming art submissions.  The very first art meetings consisted of Ross, his Art Director, Rea Irvin, Ross’s secretary, Helen Mears, and Philip Wylie, the magazine’s first utility man.  In no short order, Ralph Ingersoll, hired in June of ’25  joined the art meeting, and later still, Katharine White (then Katharine Angell), hired in August of ’25, began sitting in.

From  James Thurber’s account in The Years With Ross we get a good idea of what took place at the meeting, which began right after lunch and ended at 6 pm:

In the center of a long table in the art meeting room a drawing board was set up to display the week’s submissions…Ross sat on the edge of a chair several feet away from the table, leaning forward, the fingers of his left hand spread upon his chest, his right hand holding a white knitting needle which he used for a pointer…Ross rarely laughed outright at anything. His face would light up, or his torso would undergo a spasm of amusement, but he was not at the art meeting for pleasure.

William Maxwell, who joined The New Yorker’s staff in 1936,  told the Paris Review in its Fall 1982 issue:

Occasionally Mrs. White would say that the picture might be saved if it had a better caption, and it would be returned to the artist or sent to E. B. White, who was a whiz at this… Rea Irvin smoked a cigar and was interested only when a drawing by Gluyas Williams appeared on the stand.

And from Dale Kramer’s Ross and The New Yorker:

When a picture amused him Irvin’s eyes brightened, he chuckled, and often, because none of the others understood art techniques, gave a little lecture.  There would be a discussion and a decision. If the decision was to buy, a price was settled on.  When a picture failed by a narrow margin the artist was given a chance to make changes and resubmit it. Irvin suggested improvements that might be made, and Wylie passed them on to the artists.

 

In a letter to Thurber biographer, Harrison Kinney, Rogers Whitaker, a New Yorker contributor from 1926 – 1981, described the scene in the magazine’s offices once the art meeting ended:

The place was especially a mess after the weekly art meeting. 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 Ross wanted done.

Wylie was one of many artist  “hand-holders” – the bridge between the editors and the artists.  Some others who held this position were Thurber (briefly, in 1927), Wolcott Gibbs, Scudder Middleton, and William Maxwell.  According to Maxwell, Katharine White’s hand-holding duties were eventually narrowed to just Hokinson and Peter Arno, the magazine’s prized artists.

Lee Lorenz wrote in his Art of The New Yorker that, in the earliest years,  the look of the magazine:

had been accomplished without either an art editor in the usual sense or the support of anything one could reasonably call an art department.

That changed in 1939 when former gagman, James Geraghty was hired.  As with so much distant New Yorker history, there’s some fuzziness concerning exactly what Geraghty was hired to do.  Geraghty, in his unpublished memoir, wrote that he took the job “without any inkling” of what was required of him. There’ve been suggestions in numerous accounts of New Yorker history, that Geraghty was hired as yet another in the lengthening line of artist hand-holders, in this case, succeeding William Maxwell, who was increasingly pre-occupied with his own writing as well as his editorial duties under Katharine White.

Geraghty, in his memoir,  recalled his first art meeting and the awkwardness of sitting next to Rea Irvin: two men seemingly sharing one (as yet unofficial, unnamed) position: Art Editor.   While E.B. White and others continued to “tinker” with captions, Geraghty began spending one day a week working exclusively on captions.   He also adopted the idea that he was the Artists’ “representative” at meetings, following Ross’s assurance  that Geraghty was being paid “to keep the damned artists happy.”

With these new components, the art meeting committee model stayed in place until the death of Ross in December of 1951.  When William Shawn officially succeeded Ross in January of 1952, he pared the meeting to two participants: Shawn, and Geraghty.

With Geraghty’s retirement in 1973, and Lee Lorenz’s  appointment as Art Editor, the art meetings continued with Lorenz and Shawn. Shawn’s successor, Robert Gottlieb and then Tina Brown, subdivided the Art Department, creating a Cartoon Editor, an Art Editor (for covers) and an Illustration Editor.  Lorenz, who was in the midst of these modern day changes,  lays them out in detail  in his Art of The New Yorker.

Today, the  Shawn model Art Meeting continues, with the current Editor, David Remnick, and the current Cartoon Editor, Bob Mankoff (and with a third editor occasionally joining the meeting) sitting down one day a week to look through the pile of drawings Mankoff has distilled from the mountain submitted to the magazine. The cartoonists no longer wait outside the Art Meeting’s door for the verdict on their work,  but I assure you: wherever they are on Thursday or Friday afternoon:  they’re waiting.

An Arno on My Desk

Above: “And now you must meet my bosom friend.”  (rough version of the drawing published in The New Yorker, October 10, 1931)

 

An Arno on My Desk

 

Not too long ago I took an original Peter Arno drawing we own, popped it out of its frame, and placed it on my desk.  My thinking was that the drawing, unadorned by glass and metal, might bring me somehow closer to Arno.

 

His work up close is even more graphically powerful than it appeared in the pages of The New Yorker, and that’s saying something.  No one commanded the magazine’s pages like Arno: not Steinberg, not Gluyas Williams, not Addams.  While Steinberg’s work played and soared and amazed, it never got right up in your face like Arno’s.  Williams’ full pages were delights of subtle construction, and Addams’ draftsmanship ominously hilarious (as the veteran New Yorker cartoonist, Henry Martin, might say, “he drew funny.”) but Arno’s work overpowered, and demanded attention.

 

Arno drew large in a fairly small space.  The 10” x 15” Bainbridge board holding this particular drawing seems barely big enough to hold his patented swooping brushstrokes.  Like the man himself, the work presents itself all at once, and not, as Frank Sinatra once sang, “in a shy way.”

 

Obviously not pleased with the rough, Arno went on to do god-knows-how-many-more versions before deciding on the piece eventually published. The major change (improvement?) is that the two central women have become bustier, playing more obviously on the word “bosom’ in the caption. (In The New Yorker’s archives I found this drawing’s caption on a list of “Ideas which Have Been Assigned to Peter Arno.” Unfortunately, the person who wrote the caption is not identified).

 

Looking very close at the rough version, the pencil lines can be seen cutting beneath the brushstrokes. Arno’s brushstrokes are deceptive; they look as if he brushed with abandon; it was anything but.  Each stroke was plotted in advance. And yet, we know that as he worked, he sometimes sang and tapped his feet to a personal rhythm.  A man who knew exactly what he wanted to do on the page, and who had a hell of a time doing it.

 

For now, the 81 year old Arno drawing remains on my desk.  There’s definitely a vibe surrounding it –- especially today, on what would’ve been his 108th birthday.