This morning on the Colin McEnroe show, “What It’s Like to (try to) Make Cartoons for The New Yorker” featuring Bob Mankoff and Jack Ziegler, among others. You can listen here live.
This morning on the Colin McEnroe show, “What It’s Like to (try to) Make Cartoons for The New Yorker” featuring Bob Mankoff and Jack Ziegler, among others. You can listen here live.
This is third part of an Ink Spill series looking at newer New Yorker cartoonists. I asked three of the most recent additions to the magazine’s stable of artists to tell us a little about themselves and how it was they ended up at The New Yorker (previously we heard from Liana Finck and Edward Steed). The series wraps up with the newest of the trio: Charlie Hankin, whose first cartoon appeared in The New Yorker this past August (a Hankin cartoon from The New Yorker, October 14, 2014 appears below).
And now, here’s Charlie:
My interest in cartooning went through cycles. I did single-panel bits for my high school newspaper, and then nothing until a single installment of a graphic-novel/zine I drew in college. After school, I got deep into realist painting. I also started a comedy webseries called Good Cop Great Cop with my friend Matt Porter. Maybe the merging of art and comedy finally attracted me to cartooning for The New Yorker. Either way, it seemed like a good fit: both the webseries and my paintings have undertones of dry, quiet absurdity.
Since entering the fold, it’s been great to meet some of the big names in cartooning–Roz Chast, David Sipress, Sam Gross, and of course Bob [Mankoff]. Ben Schwartz and Liam Walsh have both given me guidance. And I dig around the archives for extra inspiration. Much older generations aside (Chas Addams, Peter Arno, et al.), I love Mick Stevens, Mike Twohy, Tom Cheney, Leo Cullum, Jack Ziegler, Danny Shanahan, and too many others to name.
To see Charlie Hankin’s New Yorker work, link here to The New Yorker‘s Cartoon Bank.
Link here to visit Charlie’s webseries, Good Cop Great Cop.
To visit his website, link here: charliehankin.com.
Photo: Sasha Arutyunova
(Above: a detail from Joe Dator’s “How We Do It” — it appeared in The New Yorker, September 24, 2012)
Each New Yorker cartoonist brings something different to the pages of the magazine – it’s sort of an unofficial requirement for arriving. Some are more different than others; former New Yorker cartoon editor Lee Lorenz once said that the best cartoonists are the ones that create their own world. Since arriving at The New Yorker in the summer of 2006, Joe Dator has done just that. His work is addictive – I bet you can’t look at just one. Though his subject matter ranges far and wide, through past and present, this native New Yorker has said that the cartoons he is“most proud of are the ones that are very specific to this city.”
Mr. Dator recently agreed to be part of Ink Spill’s interview series. Here’s how the conversation went:
MM: So Joe, where in this great metropolis were you born?
JD: The Bronx. The Pelham Parkway area, to be specific. Botanical Gardens, The Bronx Zoo, and so forth. Nice area. Not the burned-down post-apocalypse wasteland you see in pictures of The Bronx from the 70s. That was happening quite a few blocks away, and thus in a different reality.
MM: You say in the New Yorkers film that “the first time I could pick up a crayon, I could draw” — and then what happened?
JD: After I picked up the crayons – well, immediately after I probably drew some pictures of Sigmund the Sea Monster or Evel Knievel and then watched The Brady Bunch Goes to Watergate or something like that, but if you mean in the years after that’s different. I had a talent for drawing from an early age, but I can’t say I was especially enchanted by comics or cartoons in the way that a Jules Feiffer or an R. Crumb was (the first of many instances in which I will compare myself to living legends and find we have little in common). I loved comedy, that was the main thing. I didn’t read superhero comics and I didn’t like sports and I was indifferent to popular music. I just liked things that were funny.
I watched comedians on TV and my parents would buy me comedy albums. I loved Steve Martin and Monty Python’s Flying Circus and George Carlin and Peter Sellers. My parents had a sense of humor and so they would let me stay up to watch Johnny Carson if a comedian was on that I liked. I remember my dad taking me to see the Marx Brothers film “Animal Crackers” when it was re-released to movie theaters in the early 70s, and that pretty much blew my mind. My mom took me to see Mel Brooks movies like “Young Frankenstein” and “Blazing Saddles” which I know I was too young to see but she was very permissive about stuff like that.
I did read some cartoons but it was mostly Peanuts and a hell of a lot of MAD. MAD was huge. Don Martin was my favorite. His stuff had a quality to it that I would describe as “otherworldly.” That was always the feeling I was attracted to. Don Martin, the Pythons, Steve Martin – they all had that in common. They weren’t earthy and relatable or lovable – they were odd. Non sequitur. They could have stepped off a spaceship from another galaxy the day before. Maybe they did – you didn’t know. I attribute this interest to having always felt alienated myself as a child. Anyway, I used to redraw Don Martin’s comics, sometimes mimicking his drawings but sometimes putting my own characters in them. In school drawing became a way to get attention and approval and at the same time I could never quite get the hang of paying attention in class, so I used to fill up my notebooks with drawings, almost to the complete exclusion of schoolwork.
MM: What finally drove you to submit to The New Yorker. Was it a slow realization that this was the place for you or did lightning strike one day when you saw, say, an Arnie Levin drawing or picked up a copy of a Mick Stevens cartoon collection?
JD: I didn’t think about drawing cartoons for The New Yorker for a long time. When I was 11 or 12 I read National Lampoon (my parents were very permissive) and Playboy (very, very permissive) and that’s where I first saw cartoonists like Charles Rodrigues and Gahan Wilson and Sam Gross. Also there were books. The late 70s was a time when every gag cartoonist had two or three collections of their cartoons published (I would love it if that time came back. Any publishers interested? Text me). We lived in Manhattan by that time so I would go to the B. Dalton on 5th Ave and hang around the humor section looking at cartoon books, and that’s where I discovered B. Kliban. Kliban had a series of books with titles like “Whack Your Porcupine” and “Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Head” and his humor completely blew me away with it’s absurdity and imagination and point of view. It was a kind of Zen-like detachment. He wasn’t making jokes about the world from within it, it seemed to me, but from far above it. Kliban saw the ridiculousness of everything. Life itself. It’s all nonsense. That was what made me laugh, and I felt a kindred spirit.
But… getting to The New Yorker: my mother had many doctors and as a child I would often be sitting alone in waiting rooms, so naturally I knew about The New Yorker and was familiar with the cartoons, but the first time I actually thought about being in it was in my mid 20s. Things hadn’t been going so well for me. I knew I wanted to be funny and make a living through my talent but I never had a practical plan for doing so because, well, I’ve never had a practical plan for doing anything, really. I’d gone to SVA, the School Of Visual Arts on 23rd St, but when I left I was kind of lost. The “You’re Very Talented” subsidy checks weren’t coming like I thought they would, and I wasn’t one of those confident industrious guys who would zero in on a goal and beat down doors to get to it. I was eking out a paltry living with illustration jobs and stuff, which I wasn’t very good at.
By chance my girlfriend at the time knew someone who knew Bob Mankoff and arranged for me to meet him. He was one of the cartoonists then but not yet the cartoon editor. I went to work for him at the business he was starting (which eventually became The Cartoon Bank) and he became a kind of mentor to me. I learned an enormous amount about humor and gag cartoons from Bob, and he was always very encouraging and supportive. He thought I could draw cartoons for The New Yorker before I thought I could.
Now is the part where you think I’m going to say “that’s when I started submitting to The New Yorker” but in fact it was 15 years before I did that. Without going into too much detail let’s just say that I was a confused young man and still had a lot of stuff to figure out. I stopped working for Bob and moved to the west coast for a while and then came back and tried all kinds of other things like writing comedy for television, and that old standby “being unemployed and broke.”
You see I still was thinking I was going to find my place as a comedian and not a cartoonist. It seems odd, but I had this talent for drawing from such a young age that I developed a kind of complicated relationship with it. When I was young drawing got me approval and attention and a good feeling of being special but at the same time there were adults all around me telling me “You’re going to be an artist.” and sometimes it didn’t sit well with me. I didn’t like being told what to do, so I resisted for a long time.
When I finally started submitting to The New Yorker it was 2005. I’d just finished making a short film about Willy Wonka, and I got an email from Bob asking if I’d be interested in submitting cartoons. That was serendipitous because at that moment I knew I was ready. I’d done everything else and failed and it just kind of clicked in my head that this was exactly what I wanted to do at this moment, and it felt right. In retrospect I can see that I couldn’t have started doing cartoons for The New Yorker when I was younger. My ideas weren’t as good, my drawings weren’t as good, I just wasn’t ready. The bottom line is, no one can do anything before they’re ready, so it doesn’t make any sense to say “I wish I’d done that sooner.”
MM: When you did decide to go to The New Yorker, did you know other cartoonists (besides Bob Mankoff), or did you go cold? What was it like that first visit?
JD: The first time I went in was pretty surreal. I was incredibly uncomfortable. I didn’t know any of the cartoonists. I stood in the crowd waiting to go in to Bob’s office with my head down looking at my feet and not talking to anyone. I think I did that for an entire year, and made many keen observations about my own feet.
MM: I’d heard a number of stories leading up to finally getting into the magazine, but nothing like yours. I’ve been thinking of what you said in the New Yorkers film:“To be really creative you have to not know you’re being creative.” I’ve thought for awhile that a part of what makes for a successful cartoonist is the ability to know when to identify an idea that comes drifting by. You sit there, leaving yourself wide open, not actively seeking an idea, biding your time, and then suddenly (if you’re lucky): there it is! Is that what you meant by “not know you’re being creative?”
JD: What I mean by that is that the conscious brain seldom produces good art. The creative part of your brain is very mysterious and temperamental, and if the other part – the part that runs things and gets things done – tries to browbeat it into producing, it just freezes up and won’t do anything. I find my best ideas come when I’m working on lousy ideas, moving things around and drawing them 80 different ways or something. The conscious part is busy so the creative part of the brain is free to do its thing in the background, with no pressure or scrutiny. Once you lose yourself in the process it says “Hey how about this other thing… ” and you don’t know where it came from.
MM: In the film we see you sitting in a diner entering drawings & words into a sketchbook. So many of your drawings look to have come directly come from the Dator Diary. Drawings such as: “You look just like your profile picture.” “I died in Buffalo.” “See? There’s no monster in the corner — it’s just a pile of old skulls.” “Got any bathtub gin?” — they’re sort of Twilight Zone-ish. Do you see them that way at all?
JD: It’s funny you mention those four cartoons because almost every one of them fits the model I just described. The profile picture cartoon grew out of something completely different that I was working on for a long time, but I just couldn’t get it right. Then the cat head solution just hit me, and I said “Of course! Why didn’t I think of that?” which makes no sense because I did think of it. Then, I didn’t want her to look like a cute cartoon cat, so I drew a fairly realistic cat face and made it too small for her body. I wanted her to look creepy and grotesque, like a refugee from The Island Of Dr. Moreau.
With “I died in Buffalo”, the finished cartoon I ended up with is nothing like what I’d been working on. I was trying to do a cartoon about complimentary hot wings. It just seemed funny to me – that “complimentary hot wings” is a thing. I liked the words and how they could be used to attract anyone anyplace, just the promise of trays of complimentary wings. How far can it go? What will people do for blazin’ Buffalo wings? I still wonder. But I was banging away trying to get that to work when this simple, silly thing appeared whole in my head.
I can’t remember where the skulls cartoon came from except I think I was wasting a lot of time trying to do a twist on a father tucking his kid in to bed and saying “sleep tight don’t let the bedbugs bite” and I had a bunch of those that didn’t work. I also had the image in my mind of a Killing Fields-style pile of skulls. It’s a dark gruesome image but it’s fairly iconic and I didn’t think it’d been used in a cartoon before so I’d been trying to work that in for a while. Somehow the father tucking in his kid and the pile of skulls met and fell in love and got married and there they are.
The one that was different was the bathtub gin cartoon. That was very easy. I was just doodling rubber ducks and y’know if rubber ducks were sentient I’m fairly sure they would spend all their down time in bars, just getting tanked. So then the joke just kind of writes itself. The hard part was making a cartoon rubber duck look distinguishable from a cartoon “real” duck.
MM: I wonder, do you see yourself in any particular school of New Yorker cartoonist? By that I mean, do you ever think of your work as following in the footsteps of say, Addams, or Steinberg, Richard Taylor, Ziegler, etc., etc.?
JD: There are four basic kinds of New Yorker cartoonists: smokers who drive, smokers who don’t drive, non-smokers who don’t drive and non-smokers who do drive. I’m a non-smoker and I don’t have a driver’s license, which puts me in a very exclusive group.
Other than that, I don’t really see myself following anyone’s footsteps. I have certain qualities that I aspire to put into my work, so I suppose that puts me in certain company. I tend to prefer a tight, deliberate drawing style, and strange or dark humor. I feel that something impossible should always be going on in a cartoon. If there’s a school of that, I would like to be in it, especially if it’s convenient to the subway.
MM: Going back to MAD magazine for a moment –so many of us contributing for the New Yorker these days have MAD in our cartoon DNA. I see a direct line from MAD to Kliban to Crumb to Ziegler to a whole school of cartoonists let loose, graphically and otherwise. With your work, I get the feeling I’m going to be very surprised each time I see one of your drawings in a new issue of the magazine. For instance, your full page color piece in the 2012 Cartoon Issue, “How We Do It” which purports to examine a typical week in the life of New Yorker cartoonists. is almost like a page ripped out of MAD or The National Lampoon. Do you remember when the idea for that hit you?
JD: Yes, at 4:30 in the morning. That was the result once again of spending a lot of time on something else and when I wasn’t looking it just appeared. I wanted to come up with a full page piece for the Cartoon Issue, and I had this other idea that I thought would be hailed as a work of genius. I slaved over this stupid thing for days and days and it was just becoming painfully obvious to me that it had no chance at all, but I’d invested all this time and it was close to the submission deadline. That’s when “How We Do It” occurred to me, and I had to crank out the rough in record time. Bob Mankoff gave me one or two notes for small changes but the first submission was pretty much what you saw.
That’s the weird way my brain likes to screw with me: it’ll give me a great idea, just serve it on a silver tray, but it’ll wait until I’ve suffered good and hard and I’ve got almost no time left. There’s no reward without suffering. I’m an Agnostic but my brain is Catholic.
MM: Peter Arno thought of himself as a reporter (obviously, he meant a graphic reporter). Syd Hoff called himself The New Yorker‘s Bronx correspondent. I suppose that we cartoonists are all, in our own ways, reporters. Agree, or disagree?
JD: I don’t know. I like to draw monkeys, so far be it from me to claim membership in the Fourth Estate, however if I’m going to be a reporter then I want a little card I can wear on my hat. And I want a hat.
You can visit Joe Dator’s website by clicking here.
You can see Joe Dator’s New Yorker work by clicking here
See Joe Dator’s New Yorkers video profile here
The world of P.C. Vey (the “C” is for Christopher) was introduced to The New Yorker’s readership November 22, 1993 with the publication of the drawing below:
The drawing set the stage for what was to come. Vey people, either male or female seem flounder-ish.His people are Manet-like crepes floating over a backdrop.His washes are as flawless as his captions. He uses language as a banana peel. For example: a Vey drawing hanging in this house shows a couple of businessmen leaving a restaurant, going over their check; one man says to the other:
“You’re right — they did charge you for the Heimlich maneuver.”
I first met Peter in the small coffee shop on the ground floor of the building at 25 West 43rd Street that housed The New Yorker. At the time he resembled a version of a young Roy Orbison – dressed all in black, with jet black hair. He brought an edge to the tweedy crowd that gathered upstairs on the 20th floor in the magazine’s Art Department.
Peter’s work has become a steady presence at the magazine in the 20 years he’s been contributing. He kindly agreed to add his voice to this continuing Ink Spill series.
Michael Maslin: Peter, let’s go back to 1993 for a moment—hope you don’t mind. I remember speaking with you when your first drawing appeared in the magazine and you told me that the one that appeared was not actually the first one you sold. What was that all about? And did that first sold drawing eventually appear?
Peter Vey: I think I might have been referring to ideas The New Yorker bought from me for Charles Addams. That was in the early 80s. The Yugoslavia cartoon to the best of my memory, was the first drawing they bought and published.
MM: So you’re a member of the Charles Addams Gagman Club, which includes Jack Ziegler, Leo Cullum, Mick Stevens, Peter Steiner, Frank Modell, myself, and a number of others. Which ideas of yours did he do?
PV: One had the title HOT TUB SABBATH with three witches in the cauldron having a time of it. The only other one I remember was a business man with a briefcase standing in front of an opening elevator opening onto another elevator opening onto another elevator etc.
MM: Some cartoonists work changes over time, but your drawings –– as long as I’ve seen your work, it’s always looked as it does now — I can’t remember an early Vey period. What did your drawings look like when you were say, 15?
PV: When I was a teenager my drawings were much more complicated, even ornate. I filled up as much space as possible with as many lines as I had the energy and stamina to draw. Which was quite a bit. An infatuation with the black and white work of Virgil Finlay, Aubrey Beardsley and Peter Max had a lot to do with it.
MM: I admit not knowing Virgil Finlay’s name/work, so I looked him up Where were you seeing his work when you were a teenager?
PV: I saw his illustrations in science fiction and fantasy magazines [a Finlay illustration to the left]. I used to read a lot of them when I was a teenager. In fact, I read a lot of science fiction up until a few years ago. I especially like Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, J. G. Ballard and Robert Sheckley. Incidentally some of those magazines had cartoons. I remember one of them had a full page Gahan Wilson cartoon every month.
MM:Many cartoonists construct captions that are inherently amusing, some bounce the caption off the drawing, or use the drawing itself as the caption – in your case I often feel ambushed – in the best sense – by your captions. Do you know you’re ambushing us when you write these captions?
PV: I kind of think of it as stopping the thought process or creating a mind freeze by taking an inexplicable or unexpected or unanticipatedturn in a direction that nobody, including myself, was prepared to go.
MM: How did you end up at The New Yorker? –and please don’t say you went up 6th avenue and made a right on 43rd Street. What led up to your first sale?
PV: Actually I went up 5th Avenue and made a left. I started submitting in 1978. I didn’t sell the first drawing till ’93, between ‘93 and ‘97 three or four more. It wasn’t until Bob [Mankoff, the magazine’s current cartoon editor] became cartoon editor that I started selling regularly. In those days I did a lot cartoons and illustrations for many magazines and newspapers including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. The first gag I ever sold was to Saturday Review in 1979. While waiting for the elevator at the Saturday Review offices I met Bob [Mankoff], Jack [Ziegler] and Mick [Stevens] and they invited me to the Wednesday cartoon lunch. The rest is history.
MM: Not long ago, you told me that the cartoon collection, The World of George Price was meaningful to you. I can see some of Price’s geometry in your style, but not in an obvious way [to the left: an example of Price’s work]. Meaning that your lines aren’t Sempe-like, but more straight-edged. Am I totally off on this?
PV: No, you’re not off. I use the lines to divide the space. I enjoy a pleasing arrangement of space, a balance. Not particularly well balanced but balance that’s interesting, the line just happens, depending on the age and or deterioration of the pen nib.
MM: For many years, up until very recently, I was unable to sell a bar drawing to the magazine. It wasn’t a goal or anything, but it did seem kind’ve odd I couldn’t break through. Is there a cartoon staple that’s so far eluded an OK for you?
PV: The desert island cartoon. I did hundreds of them, whole batches of them and not one was bought. A lot of those were eventually sold to other markets but most were never seen again.
MM: Is there a typical day of work for you? Do you tend to follow a – I hate using this word – routine?
PV: After getting up and making coffee I walk four feet to the computer to check the emails. When I’m sure I don’t have any I walk a different four feet to the work table where I drink more coffee. I put a lot of graphite on a lot of paper getting no place. So I get more coffee.
After a while I have a bunch of half done drawings of people in various situations so I start having conversations with them or they have conversations with each other, I’m never sure which. Sometimes I’ll start adding objects or people that don’t seem to belong like a caveman or a toaster. When somebody says something funny I think I have a gag.
MM: When I see you at events, we often end up talking about music rather than cartoons. Does music play a part in your work day?
PV: I use music as background noise to distract myself so all those “great ideas” can sneak past the forebrain. I start off with Mozart and end up with Sun Ra and Bill Dixon.
MM: Without counting them, I feel as if a good number of your drawings concern business people. If we were allowed to see your weekly batches, would the batches contain a large percentage of business drawings, or are what we’re seeing in the magazine just happenstance due to editing? (i.e., they just happen to buy a lot of business cartoons when the batches actually contain a wide variety of subjects).
PV: I do do a lot of business cartoons. I enjoy the spatial dynamics of cubicles and hallways. No really, most of the cartoons I do aren’t really about business. They just happen to be people in an office situationalthough, I suppose, some of them are about business but only because when I start to draw some guy, a lot of times I put a tie on him which suggests to me that he’s probably in an office setting. So I draw an office around him along with other people in work attire. Then the conversation tends to be about the office stuff, which, if things go according to plan, is funny.
MM: You seem such a creature of New York City. Whether that’s true or not, do you feel as if the city has crept into your cartoon being?
PV: Oddly enough we did move to Brimfield, Massachusetts more or less for about a year. We lived in the middle of the woods and I took the cat out for walks on a leash. (The life expectancy for an outdoor cat who came from an apartment in the city was about three and a half minutes.) I did a fair number of leash jokes sometimes with trees in the background but the leashes were always attached to dogs and the trees were in a small plot of land surrounded by concrete. So to answer your question, I don’t know.
MM: What’s it like walking a cat on a leash?
PV: At first it was scary. He really didn’t like it. But then after a while he seemed to get used to it or maybe he was ignoring it, becoming very interested in chewing on plants and rubbing against the earth. One day he was so happy to be out there he plopped himself down on the dirt and gravel of the driveway and rolled around basking in the sun. Suddenly the harness gave way but he didn’t even notice. I was terrified he’d see his chance and run away into the mouth of a coyote or a fisher cat. But he stayed right there while I fastened the strap again. I was always concerned that one of the neighbors might see me and use it as a constant source of amusement.
MM: I wonder: Do you imagine you’d be the same cartoonist if you lived in, oh, I don’t know… Indiana?
PV: Most of the cartoons I do aren’t necessarily about New York but they do take place in New York. If I draw a living room the building outside the window could be the building outside the window of my living room. But then the building across the street was torn down a few years ago and the building that replaced it looks nothing like a building I’d like to draw, so I don’t.
Books by Peter Vey include Cats Are People Too, How to Be Your Cat’s Best Friend, If Cats Could Talk, and Bad Business: A Rescue Package for the Recession-Weary
His work has appeared in numerous cartoon anthologies and in publications including Barron’s, The Harvard Business Review, National Lampoon, Playboy, The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times
To see P.C. Vey’s New Yorker work click here.
To visit P.C. Vey’s website, click here.
Welcome to Part 2 of Cartoon Bibles. Part one appears at The New Yorker’s website, NewYorker.com. Click here to go there.
When I asked my colleagues to name their Cartoon Bible they generously and enthusiastically replied. There were so many responses they all couldn’t fit on the magazine’s blog. So, as a bonus, you can read the bulk of them here. Enjoy!
Bruce Eric Kaplan (BEK)
When I was a kid, I was obsessed with all the New Yorker cartoon collections in my local library. I took out all of them over and over again. The one that meant the most to me and still does is “My Crowd” by Charles Addams.
I don’t know that I have a cartoon bible, but seeing “Turk,” a B. Kliban spread that appeared in the old National Lampoon really turned me on. It subsequently appeared in his collection Whack Your Porcupine, from 1977.
Mysterious, funny, & mysteriously funny. Also R. Crumb’s Head Comix, from 1968. That one opened the door to all sorts of possibilities. But the most important thing about both these guys is that they made me laugh out loud.
Felipe Galindo (Feggo)
Andre Francois’ books “The Tattooed Sailor” and “Half-Naked Knight”: they’re my Old and New Testament.
He worked captionless and exploiting the human drama with gusto! I later learned he was from Rumania, as Steinberg, and his real name was Andre Farkas! He was a regular New Yorker contributor, mostly with his covers. A great artist in many ways as he did paintings and sculptures as well.
One of my favorites is “Amphigorey” by Edward Gorey. It’s dark and weird and taught me at a young age to never talk to strangers.
The book that changed my life was James Thurber’s The Thurber Carnival.
Home sick from school one day at age 7, my mother handed me the book and some paper and a pencil. I began tracing, and soon thereafter developed my own style and never looked back. There are many cartoonists that influenced me along the way, however: Crockett Johnson, Charles Schulz, Dr. Seuss, Saul Steinberg, William Steig, Sempe. But another cartoon book does stand out in my mind. Not long after I sold my first cartoon to The New Yorker, I discovered Jack Ziegler’s Hamburger Madness. I knew Jack by then, and was fascinated by his work. I would study Hamburger Madness over and over –it showed me what a cartoon could be. It showed me the old rules were not necessarily necessary. Jack’s cartoons opened my eyes to a different approach to humor, he showed me the wonderful world of whacky.
I would have to go with a cartoon collection from around the 40’s, Colliers Collects Its Wits, which I discovered on my parent’s bookshelf when I was just old enough to read.
It was filled with work by ‘New Yorker’ cartoonists and my first introduction to artists like Charles Addams and Whitney Darrow, Jr.. Love at first sight. The book also included a section of bios and self-caricatures by the cartoonists, including some women. I had somehow had gotten the impression from 1960s TV that women could only be mothers, nurses, secretaries or teachers, so I kind of loved that too. A few years ago this book walked away at a school talk I was giving, I can only hope it’s inspiring a new cartoonist. These days I’m always looking for books that talk about cartooning in a way I hadn’t thought about, the last one that blew my mind was Aesthetics by Ivan Brunetti. In terms of having a ‘Bible’ I try to read all points of view on cartooning and on religion for that matter. As an aside, my husband just pointed out a cobweb in my studio window so guess I’m still carrying a little Charles Addams with me.
I started thinking of myself as a cartoonist pretty early on — maybe second grade or so. That, combined with my family’s penchant for garage sales, meant that by age twelve I had a lot of yellowing old cartoon collections up in my room. “The Half-Naked Knight” (Andre Francois) and “Ho Ho Hoffnung” (Gerard Hoffnung) were near the top of the stack, but the one I kept going back to (and still do) was “This Petty Pace” by Mary Petty (intro by James Thurber).
The drawings fascinated me — I didn’t realize until much later how funny the cartoons were. I promised the book (first edition, some foxing on the edges) that if I started selling to the New Yorker I would take it in to look around, and two years ago I did.
I can’t think of any other bible for me than Little Nemo’s Adventures in Slumberland, though they are completely unrelated to The New Yorker or my style.
I suppose I am more interested in seeing stuff that I can’t do, that I could never do, that I’m incapable of because of temperament, time, and artistic ability (I’m terrible at perspective! I can marvel at McCay’s perspective all day long, and have). Also, his subject matter is inspiring: socially conscious, ironic, fantastic, surreal. One of my favorite “episodes” is the one where everyone has to pay for the use of words, and only the rich can express themselves. And I do have the entire New Yorker cartoon library at the magazine to peruse when the librarians are in a good mood and are happy to let me browse. In those cases, Helen Hokinson is a favorite because she’s so subtle.
Gahan Wilson’s I Paint What I See is my Bible.
It was my first introduction to gag cartoons and created some of the best memories of my life–of my younger brother and I laughing together until we cry or have something shoot out of our noses. We were around twelve but the book still makes me laugh today. (I think I’ll bring it out for Christmas when I visit his family.)
Predictably, I have a number of New Yorker cartoon collections on hand at all times, whether I’m hard at it here in my studio or off duty and hang gliding with wolves. The cornerstone, of course, is that monster collection that Bob Mankoff put together in 2004.
I think of material from the Ross years as The Old Testament, populated by the likes of Sts. Peter (Arno), James (Thurber), George (Price), etc. I should stop here before the analogy cops impound my hang glider.
I take some small comfort upon encountering the occasional artist of yore who drew as badly as I draw today, and I marvel at the once-common practice of assigning written gags to artists, or that whole business of cartoonists, nameless here, who purchased ideas from writers or other cartoonists. But I also take far greater comfort in the discovery and rediscovery of, say, a perfect timeless silent by Chon Day, Otto Soglow, or the current reigning master John O’Brien. In my case a cartoonist’s Bible has less to do with any single influence and more to do with the possibility of a brand new hang glider.
I had three books of the Cartoon Bible. My Matthew, Mark and Luke were the paperback reprints of the first Mad comics: The Mad Reader, Mad Strikes Back and, in particular, Inside Mad.
The first of these had “Starchie,” which to me, at about age ten, might as well have been pornography–my eyes couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Mad Strikes Back had the parody of my favorite comic strip, “Pogo,” and Inside Mad had that great “Mickey Rodent.” Each of these comic strip parodies were dead-on copies of the original, while at the same time filled with all that Bill Elder and Wally Wood “chicken fat” in the background.
With these perfect models as inspiration, I grew up trying to ape every cartoonist I admired. (It took a long time before I knew that there were different brushes and pens behind these various styles.) I can’t put a number on how many times I’ve read through these books, but they are still as funny and subversive as they were, what, sixty years ago?
My cartoon bible is one I reach for in the darker moments when the muses have departed to party with Zach Kanin in the city. Turning to “Amphigory” by Edward Gorey never fails to re-ignite my spleen.
How can you not be inspired by lines that read like scripture….”E is for Earnest who choked on a peach. F is for Fanny sucked dry by a leech.” Amen!
I guess my cartoon Bible would have to be Steig’s The Lonely Ones.
It was published in 1942 and somehow found it’s way into our home. I came upon it when I was six or seven and was immediately taken by it. Many of the images are still burned into my brain. It was, I’m guessing, my first introduction to cartoons that were more than jokes. I started making cartoons not long after that.
My Cartoon Bible was actually a carefully selected stack of New Yorkers, National Lampoons, and MAD magazines that ended up being about 3 feet high.
They were issues which I felt showed some of the best work by the best cartoonists currently in the business, and I regularly consulted it to keep myself apprised as to where cartooning was going, or, where it could potentially go. I reluctantly disposed of it before moving to Hawaii in order to conserve space in our shipping container. Big mistake. There were many gems in there that I will never see again.
I feel like this is cheating for some reason, but mine would be the Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker.
I received it as a holiday present several years back, and it’s become a true gift that keeps on giving–I discover new gems each time I flip through it. When I first decided to submit to the magazine, I tried to use this collection not just as a bible, but as a textbook, too. I thought maybe I could reverse-engineer the secret formula to successful New Yorker cartoons if I studied them hard enough. No such luck, but I did inadvertently uncover the secret formula for Coca-cola and the recipe for the Colonel’s chicken in the process, so it wasn’t a total loss.
As a teenager, I was given two cartoon collections – “Cartoons Even We Wouldn’t Dare Print” from the National Lampoon (edited by Sam Gross) and “Now Look What You’ve Done” by Lee Lorenz.
(Interestingly, these were given at the same time by different people. Kind of like the cartoon angel and cartoon devil perched on my shoulder.) While I wouldn’t exactly give these Bible status, as my list of influential cartoon publications is disgustingly long, these were my first exposure to single panel gags, and the wide range of possibilities the medium could cover.
I’m not sure I’d classify this as my “Cartoon Bible,” but I think it gets to the idea that you are talking about.
Being the native Minnesotan that I am, I drew much inspiration as a kid from a local, Minneapolis cartoonist: Richard Guindon.
He created regular, usually single panel cartoons for the Minneapolis Tribune (which later became the Minneapolis Star-Tribune). His cartoons were very insightful towards the mannerisms and quirks of Minnesotans, and his drawing had a unique style that captivated me. I still go back to those cartoons and read them and get so much out of them.
As far as I know, he never had any cartoons appear in the New Yorker, but his use of the cartoon format to comment on Minnesota life is parallel to the way cartoonists comment on New York in the New Yorker.
There are three Guindon books that I know of and own, and I cherish them. Part of the appeal for me is that they reflect so much of the Minnesota experience from the 1970s and early 80s. The early years seem most about deconstructing the experience of living in the Twin Cities as a young adult. By his later Minnesota years, Guindon verged into weirder territory, almost “Far Side” in a way. I loved it all.
Suddenly sometime in the early 80s, Guindon left Minnesota and moved to Detroit. If memory serves, the Star-Tribune kept running his cartoons for awhile, but it wasn’t the same anymore. He wasn’t Minnesota’s cartoonist anymore and his work didn’t reflect our world.
I lost track of him after that. I met a guy who said he’d known Guindon (or his father had known him) and I always meant to try to track him down, but have not done so. Maybe this blog exercise will inspire me now …
When I was eight years old my parents took my brother and I on a family vacation that wasn’t the usual Port-O-Call Hotel in Ocean City NJ. (I’m from said state.) We went to Bermuda, to the Lantana Resort. It was pink and green and beautiful, but our room was really tiny and my mother asked the owner of the resort for something bigger for her, my dad, brother and I. The resort owner said there was nothing else available except a pink elephant of a house on the fringe of the resort. So, we took it. Me, armed with my sketchpad filled with my drawings of women wearing wonderful shoes I’ve drawn since I was three (my mother was the shoe designer Delman, I was inspired by her) surveyed the house. On its walls were these wonderful drawings with captions below them! It was my eureka moment: I could give voice to the women I was drawing.
“Marisa, this was James Thurber’s house. These are his cartoons.”
I studied every framed cartoon, looking at the walls as if I was in the hallowed halls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
That night, I fell asleep at 4 in the morning reading everything James Thurber: The New Yorker, his books, The White Deer, and the one book I fell in love with that would become my cartoon bible: THURBER CARNIVAL.
I woke a couple hours later, at six in the morning with the sensation of things crawling all over me. My bed was infested with red ants. It was then that I was bitten by the cartoonist bug. And I’ve loved James Thurber ever since.
This story is 100% true.
Well, there are bibles and there are bibles. I have a bunch, and I tend to prescribe them to myself when I’m feeling stuck, or blah, or just want to be amused in a certain way. “Oh, I need a dose of Kliban’s “Two Guys Fooling Around With The Moon,” today,” or, “Look at the crap you’re drawing, take two Sempe’s and call me in the morning!”
But to find the real, true scripture, I have to ask myself, what tome invokes such awe, such power, I can only unveil, reveal its majesty in LIMITED doses? Which scripture so overwhelms that it fairly glows, kind of like that thing at the end of the Steven Spielberg movie with Harrison Ford and the Nazis? And then, the answer becomes clear.
“Monster Rally,” by Charles Addams, Simon and Schuster, 1950. This wrapped copy is so sacred I dare only open it once, at the most twice, a year. But why? Here are three reasons. 1) It’s the book that got me into wanting to be a cartoonist, and not just the MAD magazine kind. My pal Scott Daube’s dad had it on his shelf — I don’t remember any other books from any adults book shelves — and every time I went to Scott’s to play, I shot straight to book and pored over its drawings, page by page. Slowly. Only after an hour or so of this could we play with Matchbox cars. 2) Just looking at it now, I can see why it appealed — it’s a kid’s book about adults. Or is it an adult’s book about kids? Everybody was just doing such horrible things to each other, in beautiful black and white paintings! So knowing, so grim, so funny. 3) I still can’t flip through it all in one sitting. It is just too awesome, in the true, non-slacker usage of the word. It invokes awe, and then some. Or, put another way, each page, each drawing, each gag is like getting hit upside the head — but in the most delightful, albeit humbling fashion. By the time I hit the cartoon of the husband being berated by his harridan wife for even botching his own suicide, (“For heaven’s sake, can’t you do anything right?,” page 36) I am out of breath, panting, begging surrender. If I can power on, I often find it impossible to carry on past page 48, the forlorn editor of Boy’s Life preparing to off himself with a slingshot. (Understand, I was an avid reader of Boy’s Life at the time I saw this, and next to seeing R. Crumb Comix on the bus to camp, this was as close to making sense of Boy Scouts as I could ever hope for.) So I still cherish this tome. Thanks for giving me this opportunity to bring it down from its altar — well, up from its bookshelf, and wash myself in its twisted, healing waters.
For me it’s William Steig’s “The Lonely Ones.”
As a visual artist, cartoonist, and musician, the book gave me the idea that a song could be a drawing. I like to think of William Steig with his ink pen and poetic reflections about life as that of a country blues singer with a shaky voice and an acoustic guitar. In each drawing, Steig expresses a universal truth. He embraces the art of subtlety to get his message across, and he does so with simple, direct, and honest strokes. It takes the combination of the drawings, which play the part of the guitar, coupled with the captions, which represent the lyrics, to make it happen. Neither the pictures or the captions could stand alone. They could, but they wouldn’t mean the same thing as they do when they work together, and wouldn’t be the visual song that they become when they do. It is that aspect of these particular drawings that I have found to be the most inspiring, and which have led me to create visual art, cartoons, and music that attempts to do the same thing, which is why I consider it a Bible. As a side note, and apropos to portraying Steig as a genuine country blueser, it is interesting to consider the fact that he sold his first cartoon to the magazine in 1930, about six years before Robert Johnson, “The King of The Delta Blues Singers,” made his first recordings.
Anything by Elmore Leonard.
Yes, I know he’s not a cartoonist. No, I’m not drunk. I love character development through dialogue. When I was drawing daily cartoon strips, I was always trying to pepper in subtle jokes based on the idea of the reader already knowing the characters so well. Elmore Leonard was the king of conjuring the most comfortable and familiar characters from thin air. Better than The Bible, even.
‘All in Line’ was my book of genesis.
My dad brought it home one day when I was 7 or 8 and it started me drawing immediately. William Steig’s ‘Male/Female’ became my new testament from the getgo. sly, loose, elegant, erotic, funny.
I probably resort to The Cartoons of Cobean most frequently.
I’m a big fan of captionless gags, of which Cobean was a master. A lot of his gags are not so much laugh-out-loud (to me) as they are witty or clever and his sense of humor has a swagger and wink to it that charms me. His style of drawing looks effortless, breezy, as though he’d just skidded his Jag to a halt in front of the house, jogged up the stairs, and dashed off his batch with a cocktail by his side. The foreword is by Charles Addams and it’s edited by Saul Steinberg; heady company!
Monster Rally, a collection of cartoons by Charles Addams would be my Cartoon Bible.
When I was a kid, my parents and I spent almost every summer in Ithaca, New York. During the day, my parents often went to lectures or concerts at Cornell University, some boring thing that was of no interest to me. Instead of dragging me along anyway, they would park me in the browsing library in the Cornell student center. This library had an entire section devoted to cartoon collections. It was there that I discovered all of Charles Addams’ books, but Monster Rally was my favorite. I looked at it obsessively every time I was there. So horribly dark, and so horribly funny.
The World of George Price: A 55-Year Retrospective.
I always loved this book when I was starting out. The characters looked like members of my family.
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.
(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.
FC: The 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.