About Thurber

My my my, there certainly are a lot of books about my cartoonist hero,  James Thurber. I thought it would be fun to show the ones in the Spill‘s library, but ran into two more while checking online for any current titles I’d missed ( #11, listed below, is out just this month…are there even more? Let me know). Three of the books below have been indispensable to me: Burton Bernstein’s biography,  Bowden’s bibliography, and Harrison Kinney’s massive biography.  I bought Mr. Bernstein’s biography while in college along with Brendan Gill’s Here At the New Yorker.  Those two books (along with The Thurber Carnival) were my rocket fuel to Manhattan and to the pages of the New Yorker.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(pictured at the top of the post: a Thurber eraser)

 

1. James Morsberger.  James Thurber. Twaynes United States Authors Series, 1964.

2. Edwin T. Bowden.  James Thurber: A Bibliography. Ohio State University Press,  1968.

3. Richard C. Tobias. The Art of James Thurber. Ohio University Press, 1969.

4. Charles S. Holmes.  The Clocks of Columbus. Athenium, 1972.

5. Burton Bernstein. Thurber.  Dodd, Mead, 1975.

6. Robert Emmet Long.  James Thurber.  Continuum, 1988.

7. Thomas Fensch (Ed.). Conversations With James Thurber. University Press of Mississippi, 1989.

8. Neil A. Grauer.  Remember Laughter: A Life of James Thurber. University of Nebraska Press, 1994.

9. Harrison Kinney.  James Thurber: His Life and Times. Henry Holt, 1995.

10. Alan Vanneman.  James Thurber: A Readers Guide. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015.

11. Bob Hunter.  Thurberville. Trillium, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

R.C. Harvey’s Trip Down Mankoff Lane

From The Comics Journal, March 27, 2017, “A Look Back at 20 Years of Mankoff’s New Yorker” — R.C. Harvey takes a look at Bob Mankoff’s not-quite 20 year term (August of 1997 – April of 2017) as The New Yorker‘s cartoon editor in this longish piece that covers much ground found in Mankoff’s memoir, How About Never — Is Never Good For You: My Life in Cartoons (Henry Holt, 2014), as well as the very current events surrounding Mr. Mankoff’s imminent departure.

There are a few things in Mr. Harvey’s piece I’m going to quibble with. I’ve reproduced them here, bolded and italicized.

New Yorker cartoons are topical (and always have been) but not as front-page topical as newspaper editorial cartoons. For decades, thanks to the magazine’s founder’s Puritan bent, sex was taboo as a subject for cartoons.

New Yorker cartoons can be topical, but they are not always topical, and they have not always been topical, nor are they all topical now.  For instance,  these two drawings, perhaps two of the most famous in the magazine’s canon: James Thurber’s so-called Seal in the Bedroom, and Charles Addams famous skier who has somehow managed to ski through a pine tree.  If there’s something topical about them, I don’t see it.

As for sex as a taboo, well what are we talking about here exactly?  Barbara Shermund’s and Peter Arno’s work mined the subject of sex in the New Yorker for decades on end.  Mr. Arno, of course, made quite a nice career out of providing the New Yorker‘s readership with sex-based drawings.

By the time Lorenz was cartoon editor, cartoonists were expected to both write and draw their cartoons. (In fact, to reveal an undisguised bias of mine, true cartooning, blending words and picture, can most happily take place in a cartoonist’s mind, not a writer’s. Which may account for the typically inert comedy that prevailed at The New Yorker for so many of its first decades. And, even—inevitably—into current decades.)

Not really sure where  “by the time Lorenz was cartoon editor, cartoonists were expected to both write and draw their cartoons” comes from. It is simply not the case.  As one who was brought into The New Yorker by Mr. Lorenz, the subject of what was expected never came up. The word “expect” just isn’t part of the New Yorker cartoonist/editor language. Forty years later, I can say that the subject never came up with Mr. Lorenz, or his successor.

As for “…the typically inert comedy that prevailed at The New Yorker for so many of its first decades” Mr. Harvey has a right to his opinion, of course, but “inert” is not a word I’d apply to the earliest New Yorker cartoons. In fact, if you look through the magazine’s first three decades  what you will see is plenty of cartoon movement across the page and within the cartoons themselves. Take a look at the work of Reginald Marsh, or Thurber, or Barlow, or Hoff or Johan Bull (I could go on listing names, but you get the point).   Mr. Bull was a frequent contributor in the magazine’s earliest days –his lovely drawings  were barely kept within the borders of the page. And Mr. Marsh’s drawings were electric.  There was a graphic  playfulness to much of the work then; it subsided, appropriately enough, with the advent of the second world war.  If you want to go looking for inert drawings, you’ll find them easily enough and in every issue, but I would say they did not prevail — they were a bit of balance, some down-time Harold Ross so wisely provided his readers.

Video of Interest: John Updike & New Yorker Cartoons; From Ink Spill’s Archives: Art of The New Yorker Ephemera

 

The late John Updike (he died in 2009) wrote almost as much about the magazine’s cartoons and cartoonists as any New Yorker contributor outside of the Art/Cartoon Department [see below].  Here we have a chance to see him for five and-a-half minutes,  up close with some of the magazine’s most iconic drawings, including James Thurber’s Seal in the Bedroom, Charles Addams’s skier and Peter Arno’s “Well, back to the old drawing board.”  The video comes out of WGBH’s archive (that’s the Boston public television station). My guess is that Updike was visiting the traveling exhibit of art tied into the New Yorker‘s 60th anniversary in 1985.   Here’s the link.  Enjoy!

A Selected List of Updike on New Yorker Cartoons and Cartoonists:

Introduction to Christmas at The New Yorker: Stories, Poems, Humor, and Art (2003)

Thurber’s Art — a contribution to Cartoon America: Comic Art in the Library of Congress (2006)

A Tribute to Saul Steinberg for The New York Review of Books (1999).

Introduction to The World of William Steig, edited by Lee Lorenz (1998)

Introduction to a section (“The Fourth Decade: 1955- 1964”) of The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker (2004)

Introduction to Poor Arnold’s Almanac (1998) *the “Arnold” is Arnold Roth

Note for an Exhibit of New Yorker cartoons at The Art Institute of Boston (1993)

Review of  Steinberg’s The Discovery of America (in The New York Review of Books, 1992)

 

Some ephemera from the exhibit:

When the show ran its course, the art was returned to the contributing artists.  With the art, the Nicholls Gallery included the slip of paper you see below (Barbara Nicholls curated the exhibit). We can see that the exhibit Updike likely visited was at The Boston Athenaeum:

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the opening night in New York (at The New York Public Library, not The Yorker Public Library as it’s spelled on the Nicholls sheet. The New Yorker did have then, and continues to have now, its own library, but it’s not generally open to the public), attendees were offered a swag bag on the way out of the exhibit. The bag contained a brochure, a large Charles Addams poster as well as a copy of The New Yorker Cartoon Album 1975-1985, and a packet of postcards, all shown below except for the poster, which is too big for my scanner — the image is the same as you see on the bag and postcard):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Yorker Cartoonist Extraordinaire, James Stevenson, Has Died

 

Ink Spill has learned  this morning that James Stevenson, who contributed to The New Yorker for nearly half a century and was the very definition of a New Yorker cartoonist, has died. The news was conveyed by his wife, Josephine Merck.

 

Photo: James Stevenson in the 1960s

 

Mr. Stevenson, born in New York City in 1929, found his way to The New Yorker in 1947. “I was not hired on merit,” Mr. Stevenson wrote in The Life, Loves and Laughs of Frank Modell — “My mother was  a friend of the Fiction Editor, William Maxwell.” He worked for that summer as an office boy, and a part-time supplier of cartoon ideas.  Nine years later he was hired by the Art Editor, James Geraghty, as a full-time ideaman.  Mr. Stevenson recalled that Mr. Geraghty turned to him after the hiring handshake and said, “You must not tell anybody at the office or anywhere else what you do.”

 

 

 

 

Stevenson’s own drawings were eventually  published in the magazine beginning in March of 1956 (his first appears here).  He went on to become one of scant few New Yorker contributors who could say they had contributed written pieces in the magazine as well as covers, cartoons, and illustrations, or spot drawings. James Thurber, Lou Myers and Peter Arno come to mind as the only other members of that club. I once mentioned to Mr. Stevenson how energetic he seemed, considering the amount and variety of his contributions to The New Yorker.  He replied, “I had to be energetic — I had a large family.”  In a career at the magazine that lasted 47 years, he published nearly 80 covers.  His astounding  number of cartoons –1,987 — places him, according to Ink Spill’s calculations, in the top five contributing artists in the magazine’s history (the other four being William Steig, Lee Lorenz, Alan Dunn, and Helen Hokinson).

 

Below: a Stevenson cartoon from The New Yorker, June 11, 1999

For me, as a kid just out of college beginning at The New Yorker, Mr. Stevenson’s work and the work of his colleagues, was my real education. I noted immediately that Stevenson’s world was inhabited by drawings that connected to the very moment. His seemingly effortless line flowed buoyantly across the page, welcoming us in, and then, as the best cartoons do, surprising us with a caption we never saw coming; in those pre-social media days, Stevenson expertly distilled and commented on a news item or cultural event as quickly as a cartoonist working for a weekly publication could possibly manage. It’s difficult enough for any cartoonist to successfully do that kind of drawing on any given week, but Stevenson’s gift allowed us to laugh out loud (or on the inside) nearly 2000 times, almost weekly, for close to half a century.

In 2013 Mr. Stevenson published a book about his best friend, and New Yorker colleague, Frank Modell.  Mr. Stevenson is shown here, to the left, with Mr, Modell in a photo taken in the mid-to-late 1970s or early 1980s.

Below: one of my all-time favorite Stevenson covers.  The best New Yorker artists share with us a moment.  This moment has stuck with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On a personal note: I had an opportunity to meet Mr. Stevenson within the first few years of my time at The New Yorker, in February of 1980.  Standing in a circle of cartoonists at the magazine’s annual  anniversary party in the grand ballroom of The Pierre, Mr. Stevenson was directly across from me. But instead of reaching out my hand and introducing myself, I kept mum;  he was, after all, one of the magazine’s biggest stars. It took more than thirty years for us to finally connect, first on the telephone and later in person. Our first meeting, via a telephone call (he graciously agreed to speak with me about his early days at The New Yorker) was filled with good cheer and plenty of laughs — it was as if we’d known each other for years.

 

 

Here’s Ink Spill’s New Yorker Cartoonists A-Z entry for Mr. Stevenson:

James Stevenson Born, NYC, 1929.  NYer work: March 10, 1956 -.   Stevenson interned as an office boy at The New Yorker in the mid 1940s when he began  supplying ideas for other NYer artists. Nine years later he was hired a full-time ideaman, given an office at the magazine and instructed not to tell anyone what he did. He eventually began publishing his own cartoons and covers as well as a ground-breaking Talk of the Town pieces (ground breaking in that the pieces were illustrated). His contributions to the magazine number over 2000.   Key collections: Sorry Lady — This Beach is Private! ( MacMillan, 1963), Let’s Boogie ( Dodd, Mead, 1978).  Stevenson has long been a children’s book author, with roughly one hundred titles to his credit.  He is a frequent contributor to the Op-Ed page of The New York Times, under the heading Lost and Found New York. Stevenson’s recent book, published in 2013, The Life, Loves and Laughs of Frank Modell, is essential.

Cartoonist David Sipress on Staying Sane in Trumpland; Attempted Bloggery Looks at Tomato Juice Ads by Thurber, Arno, Steig, Hoff, and Soglow; Cartoon Companion Rates the New Yorker’s Latest Cartoons; Preview: New Yorker’s 92nd Anniversary Issue Cover

 

Post of Interest:  David Sipress’s  Cultural Comment on newyorker.com, February 3, 2017 “How To Stay Sane As A Cartoonist in Trumpland”

See Mr. Sipress’s New Yorker work here on the magazine’s Cartoon Bank site.

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Attempted Bloggery updates a post looking into Libby Tomato Juice ads featuring some of the all-time great New Yorker cartoonists. See it all here!

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Cartoon Companion has returned with a look at the latest New Yorker cartoons (the February 6 2017 issue).  Read it here.

 

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The New Yorker has posted a preview of its upcoming anniversary issue.  Eustace Tilley fans, who look forward to seeing the magazine’s mascot every mid-February on the cover will have to wait another year (if not longer, judging by the last six years). The post also includes a slide show of the non-classic Eustace covers.

For those keeping track, Rea Irvin‘s  cover has not been on an anniversary issue since 2011.

 

Need more Tilley?  Here’s  “Tilley Over Time”  — a piece of mine that ran on the New Yorker‘s website in 2008.

And here’s Rea Irvin’s entry on Ink Spill‘s   “New Yorker Cartoonists A-Z “:

Rea Irvin  (pictured above. Self portrait above from Meet the Artist) *Born, San Francisco, 1881; died in the Virgin Islands,1972. Irvin was the cover artist for the New Yorker’s first issue, February 21, 1925.  He was the magazine’s  first art editor, holding the position from 1925 until 1939 when James Geraghty assumed the title. Irvin became art director and remained in that position until William Shawn succeeded Harold Ross. Irvin’s last original work for the magazine was the magazine’s cover of July 12, 1958. The February 21, 1925 Eustace Tilley cover had been reproduced every year on the magazine’s anniversary until 1994, when R. Crumb’s Tilley-inspired cover appeared. Tilley has since reappeared, with other artists substituting from time-to-time.

 

 

 

Book of Interest: Thurberville

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming in April of this year,  Thurberville, by Bob Hunter.  From the publisher(Trillium):

James Thurber’s Columbus was not today’s Columbus—or even yesterday’s. It was a Columbus he both knew and created, a place perched on the fringe of reality and the fringe of his imagination. It is the place Bob Hunter revisits in Thurberville, a book where the author separates truth from fiction and identifies what parts of the famous humorist’s hometown of 180,000 exist in the burgeoning metro area of more than two million today. 

Cartoonists Gather for The New Yorker’s Holiday Party

new-yorker-holiday

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once or twice a year New Yorker cartoonists gather to do something other than show their work.  Yesterday was one of those days — the annual holiday party (which includes all of the editorial staff, not just the artists). In years past the party has been mostly out-of house; this year it was in-house. Too-many-to-count boxes of pizza were spread out on long tables. Bottles of wine and large bottles (jugs?) of beer were here and there on other tables in a hallway and adjoining conference room. The place was packed.  The magazine’s editor, David Remnick was spotted wending his way through the throng, slice of pizza in hand.

A small framed copy of the cover of the magazine’s first issue hung in one of the hallways as well as a number of blow-ups of New Yorker covers. A good number of cartoons  lined the walls (some framed, some greatly enlarged). Was happy to see that Peter Arno’s “Well, back to the old drawing board!” continues to reside among the framed pieces. I paused to spend some time with the  wonderful  Thurber drawings, lovingly installed in these new digs.

Among the cartoonists present were Sam Gross, Joe Dator, Christopher Weyant, Robert Leighton, Liza Donnelly, Emily Flake, Edward Steed, Corey Pandolf, Bob Eckstein, Amy Hwang, Harry Bliss, Jason Adam Katzenstein, John O’Brien, Felipe Galindo (aka feggo), Drew Dernavich, Ben Schwartz, David Borchart, Mort Gerberg, and David Sipress.

A splendid time was had by all!

 

A Perfect Cartoon

Below is a short piece I wrote back in December of 2011 (it originally appeared on the New Yorker’s website).  I’m posting it here in honor of James Thurber, who was born this day in 1894.

 

“What Have You Done with Dr. Millmoss?” changed my life. It was the first Thurber drawing I ever saw and the first New Yorker cartoon that ever meant anything to me. It would be easy to say the seal drawing—Thurber’s most popular—is perfection itself, and in so many ways it is, but I’d go with Millmoss.

The woman is classic Thurber, but look closely at the hippopotamus: at its eye and its eyebrow, at the curve of the mouth. What is that expression? There’s no answer. And so you look again, and again. I’ve been looking for thirty-five years.

The caption is short and uncomplicated, and Thurber didn’t try for a “funny” name for the doctor. And other than his name, all that’s left of Dr. Millmoss is the pipe, the shoe, and the hat. Try covering them up with your finger. The drawing works O.K. without them, but with them it’s a masterpiece.

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