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.