A Visit to “Jim’s Bench”
The filmmaker Sally Williams recently asked me if I’d like to meet with her at “Jim’s bench” on Central Park West and 77th Street, right across the street from the Museum of Natural History. I couldn’t possibly resist the invitation. Ms. Williams has been working on a documentary about James Stevenson for quite some time now; we’ve had numerous conversations over the years about Mr. Stevenson and, of course, The New Yorker.
Mr. Stevenson is on a long list of New Yorker cartoonists who have lived and worked in New York City (some still do) and whose work reflected their city. I think also of Steinberg and Alan Dunn as cases in point.
Sitting on this bench near where Mr. Stevenson lived I couldn’t help but imagine him experiencing the traffic, the sounds, sights, types of individuals bicycling by, walking by, running by; the dogs and dog-walkers, the flurry of activity at the museum. I could see it all in Stevenson’s style: gracefully casual, with spark. Ms. Williams confirmed that Mr. Stevenson was, like so many cartoonists, a watcher (I once likened cartoonists to sponges. Consciously or subconsciously, we take everything in).
If you find yourself near the Museum of Natural History, you might want to take a seat on Jim’s bench and spend a few moments watching Manhattan go by, Stevenson-style.
The bench is the one closest to the Humboldt Statue. It bears a small plaque:
(I’ve written about Mr. Stevenson here on the Spill a number of times. Here’s one piece which might be of interest).
Cartoon Companion Rates the Latest New Yorker Cartoons
Messrs. Max and Simon are back with thoughts & ratings on work by Frank Cotham, Carolita Johnson, Drew Dernavich, Avi Steinberg, Emily Flake, Roz Chast, Olivia de Recat, Mike Twohy, Bob Eckstein, Edward Koren, and Darrin Bell. Read it here!
Daily Cartoons this week by: Paul Noth, Mary Lawton, Kim Warp, David Sipress, and Lars Kenseth (4/5ths of the drawings were Trumpian).
And the contributing New Yorker cartoonists on Daily Shouts: P.C. Vey, Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell, Liana Finck, Emily Flake, and JAK (with Hartley Lin).
Live New Yorker Cartoons Part VI on Late Night with Seth Meyers
The New Yorker‘s editor, David Remnick returns to Late Night with Seth Meyers in the best segment yet. Cartoons by Carolita Johnson, Charlie Hankin, Will McPhail, Maddie Dai, and Ellis Rosen brought to life. See them here!
Article of Interest: A Wave of New Yorker Cartoonists
Graham Techler’s article in Paste, March 1, 2018, “The Exciting New Wave of New Yorker Cartoonists” spotlights eight cartoonists — all veteran newbies (meaning they are not among the very latest cartoonists appearing in the magazine), and a few cartoonists who’ve moved beyond the newbie classification (I’ve provided the year each began contributing to the magazine): Charlie Hankin (2013), Paul Noth (2004), Jason Adam Katzenstein (2014), Tom Toro (2010), Amy Hwang (2010), William McPhail (2014), Maddie Dai (2017), Emily Flake (2008). For what it’s worth, the eight mentioned are among the 128 cartoonists that have debuted since 2004, the year of Mr. Noth’s first New Yorker cartoon. More a New Tsunami than a New Wave.
A couple of Spill footnotes on the below segment of Mr. Techler’s piece:
“They [the cartoons] were never actually bad (I mean, come on, each era of the magazine was represented by everyone from Peter Arno to James Thurber to Bruce Eric Kaplan—legend has it that the improved quality of the cartoons in the 1940s was attributed to office boy Truman Capote throwing away the ones he didn’t like); they were just perceived as a little out of touch with what the rest of the comedy world was embracing.”
First: “…legend has it that the improved quality of the cartoons in the 1940s was attributed to office boy Truman Capote throwing away the ones he didn’t like)”:
Perhaps it’s time to retire the myth that Mr. Capote was throwing away drawings he didn’t like. Mr. Capote worked as a copy boy at the New Yorker for approximately two years in the early 1940s (he was hired sometime in 1942 and left the magazine sometime in 1944). One of his responsibilities was going through the unsolicited drawings in the slush pile looking for anything with promise. The drawings with some promise were then gone through by the art editor, James Geraghty. If he found anything worthy he’d bring it along to the art meeting. If you go to page 73 of Gerald Clarke’s biography, Capote (Simon & Schuster, 1988), you’ll hear find this passage with Mr. Capote talking about the lost drawings:
“Sometimes I would get the cartoons all messed up and confused. Then I would just throw them into one of those holes and say to myself, ‘Well, I’ll straighten that out later.’ I managed somehow to to lose about seven hundred of them that way. I didn’t deliberately destroy them, and I don’t know how I lost track of them. But I did…”
Second: “they were just perceived as a little out of touch with what the rest of the comedy world was embracing.”
I’m not exactly sure what Mr. Techler means. Which era or eras is he referring to? A specific era? All eras? When were they “perceived as a little out of touch” (and who was doing the perceiving?).
(If Mr. Techler wishes to clarify, The Spill will gladly post his remarks).
Cartoon Companion Rates Latest Cartoons
If it’s Friday (and it is), then a brand new Cartoon Companion awaits. The CC boys “Max” and “Simon” have run their trusty fine tooth combs through the cartoons in the latest New Yorker. Read it here.
The Attempted Bloggery E. Simms Campbell Fest Continues
Stephen Nadler has posted a lot of interesting pieces in the last few days, including cartoons appearing in a small promotional Esquire booklet (or sampler); a bunch of work by Dorothy McKay, and of course more work by his current fest focus: E. Simms Campbell. Go look!
Here’s Ms. McKay’s entry on the Spill‘s A-Z:
Dorothy McKay ( Self portrait above from Meet the Artist, 1943; Photo from Cartoon Humor, 1938) Born c.1904, died June, 1974 New York City. New Yorker work: 1934 -1936.
Among the magazine’s Daily cartoons this week: Kim Warp’s weary winter weather drawing; Brendan Loper’s tweeter-in-chief cartoon; Lars Kenseth’s take on this week’s unusual White House media moment, and Peter Kuper’s Trumpian map of the world.
Photos From the Kovarsky Opening at The Society of Illustrators
A packed house last night at the Society of Illustrators Opening Reception for Kovarsky’s World: Covers and Cartoons From the New Yorker. Here’s an array of photos (all by Liza Donnelly, with one exception: the photo of Liza Donnelly and her husband– that’s courtesy of Gina Kovarsky)
Above: a wall of Kovarskys.
Below: New Yorker cartoonists Liza Donnelly and Michael Maslin
Below: Sam Gross and New Yorker cartoonist Bob Eckstein
A closing thought on the exhibit, which runs til March 3 of this year:
This is a terrific show. The energy bouncing off Mr. Kovarsky’s work on the walls is inspiring. After looking at all of the covers and drawings I went back and spent more time looking at Mr. Kovarsky’s very first cartoon for the New Yorker. It was published in the issue of March 1, 1947; here’s how it appeared:
I’ve always had a special affection for first New Yorker drawings. It is, as they say, a moment. Every cartoonist remembers the details surrounding their first published drawing. The unspoken mini-drama surrounding the first is that no one knows, of course, whether there’ll be a second (see the Spill‘s One Clubbers on the A-Z). In Mr. Kovarsky’s case there was a second, and then there were hundreds more — close to 300 in fact. If that wasn’t something impressive in itself, he also contributed 40 covers. And all this work was done in the relatively short time span of twenty-two years (according to Gina Kovarsky: “In the 1970s, Kovarsky shifted his main focus from cartooning to fine art…”). It will not come as a surprise to anyone seeing this exhibit how Kovarsky accomplished so much in a mere two decades. It is as if he never set his pen or his brush down for a moment. Kovarsky’s world seemed to be abuzz 24/7. How lucky for us all.
“Not OK” Cartoonists in Westchester
From Westchester Magazine, January 12, 2018, “You Can Meet New Yorker Cartoonists…”
Here’s a capsule description from the article:
“Not OK” — Great Cartoons That Weren’t Good Enough is a collection of works by previous New Yorker-published cartoonists that fit exactly that bill. Curated by artist and Brooklynite David Ostow, this series has come to Westchester for a month-long showing following the completion of its original gallery run in Bushwick.
The Monday Tilley Watch is a meandering take on the cartoons in the current issue of The New Yorker.
I don’t know about you, but after I’ve looked through the cartoons of each new issue of The New Yorker I have the kind of immediate reaction I have after sitting through a movie. As I begin walking up the aisle, the verdict is usually already in: good movie, bad movie, loved it, hated it, so-so, etc.. I looked through this latest issue of the magazine and thought: good cartoons. Good cartoons from beginning to end, with a real gem mid-way through.
The first cartoon of the issue, William Haefeli’s on page 18 gets things going. Haefeli’s drawings never disappoint, and in this case caption and drawing are doing exactly what I hope for in every New Yorker cartoon (giving us Peter Arno’s one-two punch; in this case the one-two are so close together it’s a onetwo punch) If you have the issue in front of you (print or digital) notice the child’s body language. Mr. Haefeli has created a drawing that almost moves.
Three pages later a drawing by Amy Hwang, who has become somewhat of a cat specialist. This is a lovely drawing, with a terrific caption. I predict it’s going to be reprinted on a lot coffee mugs and t-shirts.
Four pages later a couple at a table by JAK (Jason Adam Katzenstein). Good caption. The woman’s expression is as the British say, “spot on.”
Five pages later a curio: a P. C. Vey Christmassy drawing in the January 15th issue. It’s a very good drawing replete with tree and one very large gift. I’ll forever wonder why it wasn’t in the issue of December 18 or the issue just after, January 1, 2018. A mystery!
Another five pages brings us to a Kim Warp drawing employing two of my favorite subjects: dinosaurs and space travel (in this case time/space travel). Another wonderful drawing with a really good caption.
Six pages later, the gem I spoke of earlier. John O’Brien gives us a site (a work site) to behold — it’s caption-less too (to me, caption-less cartoons are the most difficult to successfully achieve. Mr. O’Brien’s batting average of success with them is crazy high). This is a high bar New Yorker drawing. And so: applause, applause.
On the very next page is a Matt Diffee cartoon. He, like a few other cartoonists in the magazine use a box to frame their work (Jack Ziegler was King of the New Yorker boxed drawings). Mr. Diffee’s drawings are always easy on the eyes (the soft greys). Here we have a couple of folks ice fishing. The idea centers on the use of the ice machine known as a Zamboni blended with the popular urban food truck. As sometimes happens with drawings, I paused to consider an element (last week it was missing tent stakes). Unfortunately, this pause never fails to get in the way of the one-two punch. Why, I thought, would a Zamboni be on an ice fishing lake? I looked up Zambonis, and learned they are sometimes used on ice skating lakes. But there’s no sign of skaters anywhere on Mr. Diffee’s lake. Perhaps they’re just off to the side, out of the box. I’m fairly certain my fascination with cartoon details such as this comes out of my early cartoon education by way of New Yorker art editor, Lee Lorenz. He once returned a drawing to me and asked if I’d make the surf board in the drawing look less like a six foot cigar. It wasn’t the most important element in the drawing, but if it appeared to be a giant cigar it would take the reader too much out of the drawing. I guess that stuck with me — and now you’re stuck with me pointing out cartoon minutiae.
Four pages later, a Will McPhail nearly deserted beach scene. I like the caption. Mr. McPhail shows us one of those funny umbrella tables you see in movies of places that resemble wherever this is. What’s missing is only someone (or something) off in the distance splashing in the ocean. What can I say — I like graphic splashing.
Three pages later, a color drawing from Seth Fleishman in a setting far far away from Mr. McPhail’s. Subway rats playing a game. Having just seen a photo in the Times the other day of a NYC rat dragging a moon pie, I’m wondering if NYC subway rats are now a thing. I guess they’ve always been a thing, if you think about it.
On the page after the rats is a Roz Chast package drawing. Ms. Chast excels at these, and this one’s right up there, laughs-wise. I haven’t examined a package of Junior Mints in a long time (not my theater go-to candy) but I do wonder if those boxes show the “Juniors” as human…probably not. Six pages later a Brendan Loper Evel Knievel inspired drawing. We don’t see enough dare- devil drawings in the magazine. Interesting drawing. Good stuff.
Thirteen pages later, the last drawing in the issue (not counting the Caption Contest pieces): Julia Suits provides a trope that seems to be off-again on-again in the magazine: the military officer pointing out a medal. By off-again on-again I mean we don’t see many for awhile and then they suddenly pop up like asparagus. Henry Martin did a number of these, as did a number of other colleagues. I can’t recall ever doing one. Time to get crackin’.
Happy 114th Birthday, Peter Arno
Strange to think of Peter Arno, whose work seems so very much alive, as born 114 years ago. All the years I worked on his biography, from 1999 through 2016, he seemed somehow on the scene, at least the New Yorker scene. In early 2016, with the book wrapping up, I paid one last Arno research visit to Yale, where he spent one year, the Fall of 1922- Spring of 1923. I went there to look for possible Arno materials in a box of Thurber’s papers; it turned out to be a fun but wild goose chase.
Even though Arno only attended classes the one year (his father pulled the plug, financially) it was a launch pad year for his not-too-far-off entree to The New Yorker. At Yale his cartoons became quite polished as they appeared more and more in the Record (Arno did a few covers too). Besides drawing, Arno was fully engaged with his other love, music.
“…working in the Art School all day long and playing every evening in the Bull Dog Grille…”
That last day I spent at Yale I took a walk along York Avenue, with the Bull Dog’s address in hand. I came to the corner of Elm and York and could see some old buildings were right where I needed them to be, diagonally across the street. Crossing Elm I quickly spotted #264 over one of two arched doorways on a three-story Victorian era building. The building had survived (!) but there was some kind of construction going on, with the front partially shrouded, and a dumpster parked out front.
The entrance to the Grille (it was upstairs on the third floor) was the door to the right, just behind the plywood wall behind the lone tree. I stood across the street for a bit, then crossed over to see what I could see close-up. It was a wonderful moment thinking about the college-aged Arno heading through that door. I’d read in Dorothy Ducas’s great Arno piece in the March 1938 issue of Mademoiselle that besides playing music upstairs Arno also drew on the walls (ala Thurber!). Standing in front of the building that day there was a lot to imagine.
Here’s a photo I took that afternoon:
Before writing today’s piece I thought I’d use Google to see what had been done to the place a year or so later. Turns out it wasn’t construction after all — it was destruction.
Though the building is gone, those Arno moments playing music and drawing upstairs at the Bull Dog are not entirely forgotten. Also not forgotten: the body of work Arno published in the New Yorker during his 43 years there, much of which can be found in the books below.
ps: Rea Irvin’s classic Talk masthead (shown below) still missing from the magazine. Hope it returns soon.