The New Yorker’s First Cartoon Santa Claus

You might ask yourself, as I did this Christmas morning: “When did the first Santa Claus appear in a New Yorker cartoon?” If you asked, you might’ve been tempted to guess it was sometime during the magazine’s first opportunity, in December of 1925. Wrong!  Hard to believe, but it was not until the second Christmas in the New Yorker‘s lifetime that it published a cartoon containing the jolly old fellow. There were cartoons in 1925 referencing Christmas — the earliest was in June(!) of 1925 by Al Frueh, but no Santa there — just a letter written to Santa.

No, it wasn’t until the issue of November 27, 1926 that a Santa Claus debuted in one of the magazine’s cartoons.  The cartoon was by Helen Hokinson, one of the magazine’s two stars (Peter Arno being the other. The very same issue bore Mr. Arno’s first of many covers for the magazine).

As usual with Ms. Hokinson, the drawing looks as if she dashed it off with brilliant ease. I love the little glimpse of a village. Was it a flat backdrop, or an actual small constructed set.  Santa, sitting in front of what seems to be a chimney top, or low wall,  looks weary in his debut. 

And if you were wondering when Santa made his first appearance on the magazine’s cover, it was just a few issues later, December 11, 1926, when the magazine’s go-to cover artist, Rea Irvin produced a tree bearing Santa-like ornaments. 


“All Right — Go Ahead and Look at Your Old Pictures!” — Robert Benchley in His Foreword to The Fourth New Yorker Album

The Fourth New Yorker Album of drawings, published in 1931 by Doubleday Doran, was the fourth Album to appear in four years (the first Album was published in 1928).  Four in four years! The cover, originally a New Yorker cover (for the issue of January 4, 1930 — see directly below) is the handiwork of the one-and-only Rea Irvin, the fellow responsible for Eustace Tilley, as well as the fellow responsible for adapting the typeface now referred to as the Irvin Typeface…and last but not least of all: the fellow who, in his role as the New Yorker‘s art supervisor, “rubbed most of the uncouthness and corn-love out of [Harold] Ross’s mind in the all afternoon Tuesday art conferences…Irvin educated Ross; all afternoon, weekly, for nearly two years.” (according to Philip Wylie, the magazine’s first “bona fide applicant”).

The Foreword, by Robert Benchley is, of course, priceless.  It includes these memorable moments:

 “As a constant though erratic contributor of text matter to the New Yorker and one or two other publications, I feel that I am in a position to state the (to me) distressing fact that the average magazine reader looks only at the drawings.”

“There is something consecutive about the drawings in the New Yorker, like salted almonds. You finish with one and you must go right on to the next just as quickly as possible.”

Mr. Benchley concludes with: “All right — go ahead and look at your old pictures!”

The old pictures — just a year old at most — are fantastic.  The Album leads off with a full page Peter Arno (by now the New Yorker‘s star cartoonist) and ends in what I find to be one of the sweetest final pages in all of the magazine’s Albums.  It’s not a grand exercise in drawing, or a famous drawing or a drawing with a caption that captures the times (it being 1931, there certainly could’ve been a statement made about the Great Depression.  But, ah!  Mr. Irvin’s cover of the overblown rich gent accomplished that).  The final drawing, by Alan Dunn (shown below) is just 2 1/4″ x 3″ (centered on an 8 1/2″x 11″ page):

Placed as the Album’s last drawing I can’t help but think its meant to mean something beyond two little kids sitting on a curb who have just become friends, or as Neil Young sang, “There’s more to the picture than meets the eye.” Perhaps (perhaps!) it was representative of a confident young magazine slyly addressing a loyal readership.

In between Mr. Arno’s drawing on the first page and Mr. Dunn’s drawing on the last page are an abundance of spectacular drawings. And by that I’m not referring to just the drawing —  I mean the whole cartoon: caption + drawing (as well as those gems that work perfectly without a caption). There are of course, some drawings with meanings lost to time, a clunker here and there, and a number that are not politically correct.  But no matter — they are instructive as an unvarnished graphic record of a time, and as a study in the art of the cartoonists themselves: the early Thurber drawings that inspired Dorothy Parker to refer to them as “unbaked cookies”;  Arno’s drawings at the tail end of his Daumier-inspired period, just before he swung into Rouault’s camp;  masterful drawings by, among others, Garrett Price, Ralph Barton, Helen Hokinson, Wallace Morgan, William Steig, Carl Rose, Gardner Rea, and Gluyas Williams (of course!). Below are just a few examples of the art within the Fourth:


The back of the Album is a first: an advertisement for another New Yorker publication: The New Yorker Scrapbook, comprised of “text matter” to use Mr. Benchley’s words. Despite the ad exhibiting glimpses of art, there is not a single drawing in the Scrapbook, not even a spot.


Perhaps this is as good a time as any in this Sunday series to drag out an essay I wrote back in 2008 (slightly updated this morning), “The Art Meeting: A Potted History.” Many of the albums discussed here, thus far, and those to come, exhibit work chosen under the magazine’s earliest editorial “process” during the magazine’s first 25 years. The format changed in 1952, with William Shawn’s installation as the magazine’s editor.  That model (or at least a version of that model)  is still in place today. Two very different ways of choosing the magazine’s art, both worth examining:

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 looking through the pile of drawings the current cartoon editor, Emma Allen, 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 a Friday afternoon (when the artists are notified if they’ve sold a drawing): they’re waiting.

— originally posted, February 18, 2012





Pretty in Pink: The New Yorker’s 25th Anniversary Album; More Spills: Moore Tweets Out a Ziegler… More Soglow

Judging by what I’ve noticed over many years of visiting used book stores, The New Yorker 25th Anniversary Album must have been the most popular in the series of their cartoon anthologies. This is the one you’re likely to find if you find any at all. Bonus: it’s easily found online for just a few bucks. The Album sports a series of firsts on the cover: the first time a monochrome Eustace Tilley appeared on an Album (the next time he would appear this close to so much solid color was on the magazine’s 60th Anniversary issue.  Then editor, Tina Brown presented Eustace surrounded by, um, gold). 

The 25th Album was the first to reproduce a number of full cartoons on the cover (minus the captions, which due to the size of each cartoon shown, would’ve been virtually impossible to read without a magnifying glass. The exception is John Held, Jr.’s work where the text is within the piece).  And it was the first to be divided into sections: The Late Twenties, The Early Thirties, The Late Thirties, The Early Forties, and The Late Forties.

All the big names are here, of course, and so are some of the most memorable cartoons in the magazine’s history, including Thurber’s Seal in the Bedroom, Addams’ skier, and Arno’s “Well, back to the old drawing board.”  This is the Album for anyone who has heard about the New Yorker‘s Golden Age, and wants to know what all the fuss was about.

The design of the book is excellent, with paper of good quality, allowing for Gluyas Williams’ masterpieces, run full page, to glow.  Arno’s brushstrokes look as if he just swept them across the page fifteen minutes ago. On the pages where a number of cartoons appear, the layout is handled with great care, never too busy; each page was obviously fussed over by someone (or someones) who knew what they were doing. Just look at the graphic balancing act directly below:

The contributors are a Who’s Who of the magazine’s pantheon of great artists, including the founders, and the ones who showed up while Harold Ross was still messing around with the ingredients.  Steig’s Small Fry are here, as is Soglow’s Little King.  Helen Hokinson’s Club Ladies are generously presented, as are spreads by Rea Irvin, and and and…gee willikers, so much more (to see more scroll down to the back cover’s list of artists).  This is one of the very best Albums of cartoons the magazine ever produced (as another 67 years have passed since its publication it shares the top shelf with a few others). 

The flap text (above) reminds us that the cartoons are a record of the times. I’ll go along with that. As the magazine moves closer to its 100th year it’s essential for the cartoons to change with the times and reflect the times. I expect that the Introduction to The New Yorker’s 100th Anniversary Album will express something close to that sentiment, if not exactly that.

If you’ve read Genius In Disguise, Thomas Kunkel’s great biography of Harold Ross, you might remember that book’s prologue has a wonderful section devoted to the party at the Ritz-Carleton celebrating the New Yorker‘s 25th Anniversary. It was a party, wrote Kunkel, “celebrating accomplishment, about creating something of enduring importance.”  


Michael Moore Tweeted out a drawing this morning by the late Jack Ziegler that’s right on the money (so to speak):

— My thanks to Bruce Eric Kaplan for bringing this to the Spill’s attention.


…A lot More Soglow

Attempted Bloggery has posted a cart full of rare Otto Soglow drawings (some of them are what used to be referred to as “naughty” — nowadays we’d call them not-PC. ) 



Just Opened! Library of Congress Exhibit “Drawn to Purpose: American Women Illustrators and Cartoonists; Advertising Work by New Yorker Cartoonists, Pt. 24: Otto Soglow’s Pudding Drawings; More Spills: Weyant and Twohy

Library of Congress Exhibit: Drawn to Purpose: American Women Illustrators and Cartoonists

From the LOC’s press release:

Original works by women cartoonists and illustrators are featured in a new exhibition opening at the Library of Congress on Nov. 18. Spanning the late 1800s to the present, “Drawn to Purpose: American Women Illustrators and Cartoonists” brings to light remarkable but little-known contributions made by North American women to these art forms.

Among the artists represented are New Yorker contributors Roberta MacDonald, Helen Hokinson, Liza Donnelly, Peggy Bacon, Roz Chast, and Anita Kunz.

Details here.

Above: March 1920 Vanity Fair cover by Anne Harriet Fish.


Advertising Work by New Yorker Cartoonists, Pt. 24: Otto Soglow’s Pudding Drawings.

Here are three Royal Pudding ads by the great Otto Soglow.  All feature his iconic “Little King”;  for those wanting more Soglow I suggest finding a copy of the fab Cartoon Monarch: Otto Soglow & The Little King,  edited by Dean Mullaney (IDW, 2012). I’ve shown the cover below the ads.

All these pudding ads ran in 1955.  As has been the case with a very large percentage of the Spill’New Yorker ads series, my thanks go to Warren Bernard for his generosity.


Two books of note.  One out in January and one not out for awhile. Both for kids.

Christopher Weyant has illustrated Laura Gehl’s My Pillow Keeps Moving (Viking Books for Young Readers).  Due in mid January 2018.

Mike Twohy‘s Stop! Go! Yes, No!: A Story of Opposites (Balzer & Bray) due in August of 2018.   Cover art not yet available




Latest New Yorker Cartoons Dissected; George Booth New Yorker Original Cover Art; Blog of Note… A New Yorker State of Mind: Carolita Johnson’s “This Is The Hand”; Cartoons From The Saturday Evening Post; PR: Blitt, Chast

The Cartoon Companion guys, Max & Simon, are back with their customary dissections of the latest New Yorker cartoons.  Read it all here.


George Booth New Yorker Original Cover Art

Above is the published Booth cover from February 4, 1974.  To see the original art visit Attempted Bloggery

Don’t forget! An exhibit of Mr. Booth’s work just opened yesterday at the Society of Illustrators (the opening reception is tomorrow night).   _________________________________________________________________

Blog of Interest: A New Yorker State of Mind

It’s always a treat to get away from 2017 for awhile and visit A New Yorker State of Mind.  This latest post explores the September 1, 1928 issue, featuring a cover by the one of the magazine’s first stars, Helen Hokinson. See the piece here. 


Carolita Johnson’s “This Is The Hand”

From‘s Culture Desk October 26, 201 , Carolita Johnson’s “This Is The Hand: A Response To Recent News”


Cartoons From The Saturday Evening Post

News to me until this morning: The Saturday Evening Post has a cartoon archive of sorts;  unfortunately it’s not a database of all its cartoons — it’s selective and thematic — with just a handful of cartoons per theme.  You’ll see some New Yorker cartoonists (I ran across a number by Chon Day and at least one by Tom Cheney). Link here


Note: this new feature on the Spill allows for the opportunity to list items previously lost in the sauce. 

…Barry Blitt’s next stop on his book tour promoting the just released Blitt takes him tonight to Harvard Bookstore. On Sunday he’ll be at Politics & Prose in D.C. Details here.

…a New York magazine piece posted today: “What Roz Chast Can’t Live Without”


84 Years Ago: The Sixth New Yorker Album of Cartoons

I love all of the New Yorker Albums that have come out in the magazine’s 92 years, but this one I like maybe just a teeny-tiny bit more than many of the rest (partially due to the fact that it was a gift from Jack Ziegler, back in the days when I was building a set of all the albums, with their dust jackets.  Jack’s copy arrived with a gold star on it, which, as you can see, is still there).

Published in 1933 by Harper & Brothers, the 6th Album sports a collage cover by Harry Brown (who contributed 18 covers to the magazine from 1931 thru 1937); the collage was a first — it was the first time the magazine allowed something other than a reproduction of one of its covers to grace an Album. I like the burst of color, but am thrilled the cover’s designer left the Thurber drawings, running up the strap, in black and white.

Starting top left on the cover, we see Otto Soglow’s Little King and his Queen and a couple of footmen in red with yellow sashes. Going clockwise, Peter Arno’s “Major” and his wife, then down at the bottom at the cover, Rea Irvin’s iconic Eustace Tilley. On the left is a William Steig father holding his son. In the middle of the cover, two Barbara Shermund ladies standing close to each other; directly below them, a classic Helen Hokinson woman (a so-called Hokinson “lunch lady”) holding her dog.

The inside cover flap shows us a partial list of the artists represented:


Looking through this Album I’m always struck by the variety.  Variety of sensibilities, of art, of subject.  Published just eight years after the very first issue of The New Yorker appeared on newsstands it’s loaded with artists whose work is instantly recognizable. It’s an excellent portrait of the New Yorker‘s first stable; a wealth of exceptionally talented artists such as Peter Arno, Helen Hokinson, James Thurber, William Steig, Barbara Shermund, Rea Irvin, Charles Addams, Otto Soglow, Carl Rose, Gluyas Williams, Whitney Darrow, Richard Decker, Syd Hoff, George Price, Alan Dunn, and Mary Petty.

Artistry was all over the place back in those early years (there’s a huge difference in Thurber’s work from Reginald Marsh’s, or Soglow’s from Perry Barlow’s). What a fun,  exciting, beautiful mix. 


Note: you can sometimes find a copy of this collection in used bookstores, or here online (although I don’t see any listed, at the moment, with a dust jacket). With the dust jacket, or without, you’re still in for a real treat.