The Monday Tilley Watch: The New Yorker Issue of November 6, 2017

The Monday Tilley Watch is a meandering take on the cartoons in the current issue of The New Yorker.

 I think it’s safe to say we have in our hands this week the New Yorker’s official Fall issue what with John Cuneo‘s beautiful giant leaf descending cover. 

For a change, I looked through this week’s issue (the digital issue, of course) on my laptop instead of on my tablet. It’s helpful seeing everything in an immediately readable format instead of having to zoom in, but it also removes a layer of mystery I’ve come to enjoy: seeing the cartoons small, and trying to figure out (sometimes) who did them and guessing what the caption might be. Back to the tablet next week.

Skipping through the front of the magazine, I did pause to admire the illustration on page six by Roman Muradov. It sort of has a Arthur Getz and Eugene Mihaesco mash-up feel — a 1960-ish vibe.  Nice.

Passing by the “redraw” of Rea Irvin‘s  iconic never-shoulda-been-replaced Talk of The Town masthead (above) we get to the first cartoon on page 22, a couple of beavers, courtesy of Kaamran Hafeez.  One of the beavers suffers from an age-old problem that was used to great effect on The Mary Tyler Moore Show when  newsman Ted Baxter read, on air: “I’ve just been handed a bulletin: ‘You have something on your front tooth!'” Curious about whether there was any significance to running a beaver drawing now, I consulted Wikipedia for a snap education. The entry included this:“Maintenance work on the dam and lodges is particularly heavy in autumn.”

Here’s a photo of a beaver, just because:

 Five pages later is a Zach Kanin drawing of a fitting room. I like the louvered fitting room doors, which could easily double for those steel roll-down gates you see on storefronts. Below left: Kanin louvered door.  Right: steel roll-down gate.

Eight pages later a Paul Noth mobster-tinged bar scene based on  “if a tree falls in the forest…” Nice expression on the woodsman’s face.  Good caption. Four pages later an Ed Steed drawing (i.e., dark). Shades of Charles Addams’ kids home from camp drawing

On the very next page, Julia Suits takes us out west to the reliable compound of cowboys at a campfire plus modern technology (I’ve done it myself a few times — it’s an irresistible scenario). Can’t see a cowboy campfire without thinking about Mel Brooks’ classic scene. Three pages later an interesting garage drawing by Ellis Rosen. One of our grandmasters, George Booth did a number of memorable garage drawings. Here’s one (published in the issue of December 28, 1998):

Mr. Booth has had a lot of company over the years. Mr. Ellis gives us a lovely drawing with an excellent caption. And, bonus: it sits well on the page. An Amy Kurzweil drawing is on the very next page.  A chess scenario, perfectly timed for Halloween. I like this drawing, but did find myself pondering why the chess pieces have arms. Are these actual chess pieces dressed up for Halloween, or are they people dressed up in chess pieces for Halloween who have decided to further Halloween-ize their chess costumes? So many questions…

Five pages later a Roz Chast triptych (her preferred construct in recent years). The third panel is a gem.

Six pages later, a Sara Lautman drawing leaning heavily on a pun. Five pages later, appearing just a day after International Cat Day, is an Amy Hwang cat drawing. If you want even more cartoon cat drawings, find these somewhere online or in your favorite used book store:

Five pages later, veteran Mick Stevens brings us back to much earlier times. I’m aware of the cartoon takes of Moses passing by a burning bush (hmmm, that was him, wasn’t it?) and him famously getting hold of the tablets containing the Ten Commandments. But the Biblical-era press conference is new to me.  I note that Moses looks weary.

Three pages later another cartoonist trope: the wedding scene. This one’s by Emily Flake. Understanding the definition of the word “algorithm” as used in the caption is key to understanding this drawing.  Someone should really do a book of New Yorker  dating/mating/algorithm related drawings (there was a dating cartoon in the magazine two weeks ago).

Four pages later, the last drawing in the issue (not counting the caption contest work): a banana peel domestic situation via J.A.K. (Jason Adam Katzenstein). The only thing as funny as someone slipping on a banana peel is someone getting slapped with a pie in the face. Danny Shanahan gave us both:

To see a slideshow of all the cartoons in this week’s issue, go here to the Cartoons page of newyorker.com and scroll down past the Daily Cartoon, Caption Contest to Cartoons from the Issue.

–See you next Monday

 

 

 

   

 

 

The Monday Tilley Watch: The New Yorker Issue of October 23, 2017

The Monday Tilley Watch is a meandering take on the cartoons in the current issue of The New Yorker.

This week’s cover (by R. Kikuo Johnson, who we learn from the Contributors page teaches cartooning at the Rhode Island School of Design) is of robots on their way to wherever robots go to. One has an on-the-go cup of coffee(?) while another carries an old-fashioned lunch box.  When I was a little kid, I was slightly fascinated by the lunchbox a neighbor (his name was Joe) carried to and from his factory job everyday. I sometimes wondered what was in his lunchbox and whether he had the same lunch everyday. Anyway, back to the cover. I thought seeing all the technology, it was going to be a Technology Issue, but no… it’s the Money Issue. The semi-Tilley on the Table of Contents alerts us to the theme:

Anyone who reads Ink Spill can probably guess that Tilley tampering (see yesterday’s Spill) will be duly noted here. Other examples :

Now on to the issue’s cartoons, and it doesn’t take long at all to find one. A nicely placed Tom Cheney drawing appears on page 4 directly following the end of the magazine’s Table of Contents.  I like that the magazine does this every so often and not all the time.  It’s a fun surprise.  Mr. Cheney takes one of the cartoonist’s most reliable  characters, death, to an artist’s studio. Artists studios, and artists, were very popular in years past, especially in the James Geraghty era (the New Yorker’s art editor from 1939 through 1973). Many of the best were gathered in The New Yorker Album of Art & Artists (New York Graphic Society, 1970).

There’ve been several other art-themed collections since (shown above: The New Yorker Book of Art Cartoons (Bloomberg, 2005), and The Museum of Modern Art Book of Cartoons (Museum of Modern Art, 2008 — a custom production), but the 1970 collection  is the mother ship, containing some of the most famous art cartoons in the magazine’s canon. 

Moving through the front of the magazine, I really like the beautiful photograph of a cow (in an ad for Louis Roederer) on page 15. What can I say? I love cows (to look at, admire, and occasionally pat on the head).

David Borchart has the second drawing of the issue. Age, of course, comes up most every time (heck, every time) there are Galapagos tortoises involved. Charles Addams (and there it is: an Addams reference and it’s only the second drawing of the issue) did several (I can remember three) — here’s one. Mr. Borchart delivers a caption that many can relate to, and just as many have probably heard said, or said.  As usual with his work, it’s beautifully drawn. The elder tortoises look kind’ve happy.

I don’t usually comment on the illustrations but I do really like the cup of coffee by Golden Cosmos on page 40. Six pages later we have an Amy Hwang  Jack and the Beanstalk drawing.  A more complicated drawing than we’re used to seeing from Ms. Hwang. I like the beanbag chairs — I picture them in color for some reason: left to right:  baby blue, brown, and rust colored.  Two pages later another keeper from BEK (Bruce Eric Kaplan). I’m reminded here of the late James Stevenson’s barely disguised textbook political satire.

On the very next page is a Mike Twohy cornucopia drawing. Cornucopia drawings aren’t as plentiful (haha?) as artist drawings once were, but they showed up from time-to-time, sometimes on the cover. Here’s a beauty by Arnie Levin from 1978 (and how convenient it is that it’s a baseball themed cover in this heavy-duty baseball time of year).

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Mr. Twohy’s cartoon, referring to a certain mega-online shopping site, is concerned with way more than baseballs. Eight pages later is a darkish Ed Steed drawing. His fishnet roller coaster recalls Lou Myers’s style (a snippet from a 1969 Myers United Airlines ad below left. On the right, a portion of Mr. Steed’s drawing). 

Three pages later a dog walk in the park drawing from the long-time Wildwood, New Jersey lifeguard (retd), John O’Brien. As mentioned in the last Monday Tilley Watch, Mr. O’Brien excels at captionless drawings (to my mind the hardest to do; Charles Addams told Dick Cavett captionless drawings were his personal favorites). Mr. O’Brien’s drawing is placed perfectly on the page.

Four pages later, newbie Maddie Dai returns with, yes, an Addamsy situation. If it seems like there are a lot of references to Mr. Addams in these posts it might be because his work — well over a thousand cartoons published in The New Yorker — touched on so many situations favored-by-cartoonists, especially, of course in his case, dark side situations. Of the notes I received from former New Yorker Art editor, Lee Lorenz during my years of his tenure (he was editor from 1973 – 1997;  I began receiving notes from him in 1977) at least three-quarters of them said, “Sorry — Addams already did this.” 

Three pages following Ms. Dai’s drawing is a Julia Suits be careful what you say out thereit just might get you in trouble drawing. On the very next page is an oddity that’s now appeared for the second issue in a row (wait, does that mean it’s not an oddity anymore): a collaborative drawing by Kaamran Hafeez and Al Batt. Mr. Hafeez is responsible for the drawing itself. The setting is that old New Yorker cartoon chestnut: a  business meeting.

Three pages later, a drawing by Farley Katz, a cartoonist who always shakes things up somehow.  I like the complexity of the drawing – the stethoscope connecting both doctors with the patient —  but I’m unsure who the “we” is in this case. Even on a very large screen it appears both women’s mouths are open, suggesting that they are both speaking.  Someone write in please and clarify.

Three more pages and we find Batman, beginning his memoir, recalling his childhood.  Nice drawing by Zach Kanin. I like how he’s shown us the Wayne family portrait over the mantel.  When I see a New Yorker Batman cartoon I immediately recall this 1989 classic by Danny Shanahan:

Three pages following Mr. Kanin’s Batman is the the second sidewalk Liana Finck drawing in two issues.  The beginning of a sidewalk series perhaps?  I like the little birds on the sidewalk. 

Alice Cheng, another newbie (her first New Yorker cartoon appeared in February of this year) is next with a salmon swimming upstream drawing. I love that this is here as it gives me an opportunity to recall the great 1998 Bill Woodman bears and salmon cartoon shown below.  Look at this drawing! Lovely, funny. This is what the late very great Jack Ziegler had to say about Mr. Woodman: “Bill Woodman is a great cartoonist and one of the funniest “draw-ers” of all time, right up there with George Booth.” 

 

Three pages later, a drawing of mine. I believe it’s the first time that I’ve had Uncle Sam in a New Yorker drawing.  Four pages later is a not-quite-so-empty nest drawing by another newbie, Teresa Burns Parkhurst, who made her debut this month (not counting her caption contest appearance in September). I like the framed items on the wall, including the coffee mug, or mugs(?). On the very next page is what at first appears to be a doorman at an exclusive club situation.  But as it’s a Peter Vey drawing, it’s not, of course — it’s a writer needs to escape drawing. Nice stanchions!

The next to last drawing in the issue belongs to Avi Steinberg. A man at a diner counter encounters a teeny coffee cup.  As in an earlier drawing not long ago — not by Mr. Steinberg (I don’t think), I wonder about the level of the counter top in relation to the customer.  It’s either a very low counter, or a very tall customer. One wonders too if the customer is just walking by the counter and has remarked on the little cup of coffee.  There’s no indication of seating, so he isn’t about to sit; there are, however, items on the counter indicating customers might sit.  As I’ve said before, I like imagining a backstory. Good caption.

The final drawing in the issue (not counting the caption contest drawings) is by Carolita Johnson. A fortune teller!  As with Mr. Steinberg’s drawing, there’s some kind of perspective thing going on (with the door and the room) that caught my eye. You’ll see.

 — Back next Monday

 

 

 

Avi Steinberg

Carolita Johnson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Monday Tilley Watch: The New Yorker Issue of September 11, 2017

The Monday Tilley Watch is a meandering take on the cartoons in the current issue of The New Yorker.

We’ve come to expect, in these modern New Yorker times, that the cover will likely be a graphic comment on the biggest news of the week, and so it is with this new issue, featuring Chris Ware’s reflection on Hurricane Harvey. On a week like this it’s not really a surprise what the magazine’s cover will be about — the only question is, who will have the cover. Selfishly, I would love to see what other artists had submitted (perhaps the magazine will provide a slide show?).

And now on to the issue’s cartoons. First, of course, we must page through the Goings On About Town (GOAT) section. As a sidebar, I clearly recall looking through the first copies of The New Yorker I found when I began collecting older issues (by older, I mean issues from the magazine’s earliest decades). A read through GOAT in those issues was (and can still be) a form of time travel. For instance: in the After Theater Entertainment listed in the issue of November 15, 1930 there’s this:

Grill Neptune, Hotel Pierre, 5 Ave. at 61. (Regent 5901) –- A new and unusual room for supper dancing. For the more fastidious. Must dress.

Wow, Peter Arno’s Manhattan did exist, once.

This morning, with my mission quite clear, there’s no time to pause to see what’s happening at the Metropolitan Museum, and yet, sheepishly, I do stop at the full page ad for Zabar’s. For a brief moment, I wish I was a hundred feet from the entrance to Zabar’s instead of a hundred miles away.

Onward to the Talk of The Town — there’ll be a Spill “Posted Note” one day soon about Rea Irvin’s classic masthead — and to the first cartoon ( like last week’s issue, it doesn’t take very long to come upon: page 28). The cartoon is by newish-comer Jeremy Nguyen (recently a subject of Jane Mattimoe’s Case for Pencils blog). It opens up a whole new situation for cartoonists to mine: artists in cages. Mr. Nguyen’s first cartoon appeared in the magazine February 7, 2017.

Flipping through to the next cartoon I can’t help but notice a Personal History piece by  Calvin Trillin (now in his 54th year of contributing to The New Yorker).  Note to myself: read later! Several pages later is a John McNamee Garden of Eden drawing. Mr. McNamee’s first New Yorker work appeared in June of 2016, unless the magazine’s search function is mistaken.  I’ve just realized Mr. McNamee is not on The Spill’s A-Z.  My only excuse is that his work appeared in the year when more new cartoonists appeared (16) in The New Yorker than in any other year in modern times. Things were a little nutty then. [I just added his name. Again, my apologies to Mr. McNamee].  Here’s the Case For Pencils post on him and his tools of the trade.

Seven pages later we come upon an Amy Kurzweil drawing nicely situated in the upper right hand corner of the page. Ms. Kurzweil’s graphic memoir, Flying Couch  (Black Balloon Publishing, 2016) was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice.  In this issue  she visits one of the cartoonist’s tried-and-true situations: the boardroom. I’ve scurried around my memory library for sterling boardroom cartoons and two immediately came to mind, but I’ll mention just one, by the late great Charles Saxon,  published May 25, 1981. “Of course, honesty is one of the better policies.” (also the title of a wonderful 1984 collection of his work).

Five pages later is another standard situation and character utilized by scores of cartoonists: the King on his throne (I’ve done way more than my share).  The curtains In this drawing vaguely remind me of this classic scene from Monty Python’s Holy GrailThe cartoonist, Kaamran Hafeez, first published in The New Yorker in 2010 (you can see his work on the Cartoon Bank site here). For me, Mr. Hafeez’s cartoon (both the setting and the caption itself) is, in a way, a step-child to many drawn by master cartoonist,  Dana Fradon over his long New Yorker career (Mr. Fradon, now in his 90s, is still drawing and occasionally posting the drawings on social media).

Four pages later is a well-placed Tom Chitty drawing of two businessmen. The anatomy here reminded me of those plastic cowboys from the 1950s or 1960s who were designed to sit on a plastic horse.

Mr. Chitty’s work began appearing in the magazine, October 13, 2014.

Three pages later, a Barbara Smaller back-to-school drawing sans Smaller people(!).  Ms. Smaller’s first cartoon appeared in the magazine in 1996. (Ms. Smaller’s work can be found on the Cartoon Bank site). A few pages later is a Robert Leighton drawing that takes place at some sort of event that involves a dais.  It’s fun when a cartoonist widens the scene and gives us a lot to look at. Mr. Leighton’s first drawing in the magazine: 2002. (See his work on the CB site). 

Next up is Liana Finck drawing.  I appreciate the Thurberesque framed piece Ms. Finck has placed on the wall and the electrical socket near the floor. Somewhere in my research for the Arno biography I ran across a cartoonist discussing how, in ancient times at the magazine, certain cartoonists were allowed or not allowed to show plugged-in lamps, depending on their abilities (or was it seniority?). Thanks to Thurber’s influence,  I’ve always drawn sockets and plugged in my lamps — how else would they work?  Ms. Finck’s work first appeared in February of 2013 (visit the Cartoon Bank site to see more).

After a page-and-a-half color politically-themed spread (called a”Sketchbook” on The Table of Contents) by the great Edward Sorel, we come to a Will McPhail drawing based on the ever popular Whac-A-Mole.  I did not know, until this moment that Whac-A-Mole was invented in 1975.  An unscientific survey of Whac-A-Moles images show most moles with their mouths closed.  Mr. McPhail’s mole’s mouth is open, suggesting the mole is speaking. I suppose that makes sense as the seated fellow pictured is trying to understand the mole. How I wish I knew what the mole was saying. (Link here to Mr. McPhail’s website.  His first New Yorker appearance was in 2014).

Immediately following Mr. McPhail’s mole drawing is a beautifully placed color piece by Roz Chast with a political twist.  Ms. Chast’s work first appeared in the New Yorker in 1978. Five pages later is a full page Ed Steed piece about the eclipse.  Responding to this piece just graphically, it seems like a page out of The National Lampoon (sort of a graphic mixture of Mark Marek‘s work with Randall Enos’s and Charles Rodrigues’s). Mr. Steed’s work first appeared in The New Yorker in March of 2013.  You can see more here on the Cartoon Bank site.

Five pages later is an Avi Steinberg drawing incorporating boxing and music. My personal laugh-o-meter responds well to this drawing even though the “kid” looks like he’s well past a career in boxing. Mr. Steinberg’s work first appeared in the magazine in December of 2012. His work can be found on the CB site.

In the final cartoon of the issue, not counting the Cartoon Caption Contest work on the back page, is a David Sipress drawing (first New Yorker cartoon: 1998…see his work on the CB here). Mr. Sipress mashes tennis with Shakespeare. The caption immediately  takes me away from the tennis court to the televised court of public opinion, to the  McCarthy era and to William R. Murrow’s famous use of the line.  None of that had anything to do with tennis, but then again — and here we return to Mr. Ware’s Hurricane Harvey cover — everything is political. 

 — See you next Monday.

 

 

 

Kaamran Hafeez on Using Gag Writers; Gil Roth Interviews Bob Eckstein

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Back in July of this year when I interviewed gag writer Helene Parsons, Kaamran Hafeez‘s name and work came up.  Now Mr. Hafeez has posted his thoughts on using gag writers:   “How Do You Solve a Problem Like A Gag Writer?”

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bangilGil Roth continues his string of interviews with New Yorker cartoonists. This week it’s Bob Eckstein at the microphone, talking about bookstores, honeymooning in Iceland, spending time in Sam Gross’s studio, the New Yorker, and so much more.

Listen here.

 

“Ideas For the Pictures”: Gag Writer Helene Parsons Speaks

 

Helene Parson : gag slip

 

 

 

Sitting around a dinner table last night with three other New Yorker cartoonists, I mentioned I was working on an interview with a gag writer. Although none of us were gag writers or had ever used the services of gag writers, I was aware of the novelty of the situation: three out of four of us had contributed ideas to Charles Addams. We had, if only briefly, stood in gag writers’ shoes.  

 

It comes as a surprise to many, if not most, New Yorker cartoon aficionados that some of the magazine’s storied contributors did not write some, if not all of their own work. But as long as the New Yorker has been around –- we’re now talking ninety-one years –- there have been non-cartoonists contributing ideas to cartoonists (there have also been cartoonists contributing ideas to other cartoonists). Here are just a few of the magazine’s marquee names who used gag writers: George Price, Charles Addams, and Peter Arno. Arno and Addams wrote their own ideas but as their careers skyrocketed, they found they needed some assistance to bolster their homegrown work. George Price was the rare bird who totally relied on gag writers.

 

This arrangement between artist and writer existed at The New Yorker from its inception. It was not unique to the magazine – it was in fact a common practice throughout the publishing world. But somewhere along the way at The New Yorker, the practice came to be regarded as the loony uncle no one wanted to mention.

 

Two gag writers, Herbert Valen and Richard McCallister became important New Yorker contributors — their ideas used thousands of times in the magazine. However visible their work, gag writers themselves are mostly unsung. An article by Sarah Wernick in the Smithsonian back in 1995 shed light on their world.

For me, I had no contact with gag writers other than a brief period when I first began contributing to The New Yorker.  Unsolicited envelopes crammed with index cards full of ideas began arriving in the mail (after opening the first one and discovering what it was, I left the rest unopened and returned them to sender). In more recent times I communicated with Herb Valen when I was researching my biography of Peter Arno, but I’d never met a professional gag writer until last week, when Helene Parsons walked over to me at a cartoonist event in Manhattan and introduced herself. Intrigued by her enthusiasm for discussing her work, I asked her if she’d like to be interviewed

 

Michael Maslin: When we met the other day I remember you telling me that there were now perhaps only three working gag writers in the business (including yourself, of course). Can you describe the landscape for gag writers when you began in this profession in 1997 — i.e., how many were working at it?

 

Helene Parsons: When I began writing cartoon gags back around 1995 or so I had no idea if other people wrote gags for cartoonists. I had been writing news and feature articles in high school and college and my career plan was to become a journalist.  Somehow I wound up selling print advertising for newspapers, primarily because I loved working in the newspaper environment. And, I found out I really enjoyed selling print advertising. My career plans to be a journalist went by the wayside. However, I was always interested in humor and at some point I started writing one-liners for public speakers, comedians and broadcast personalities. One day I realized that my one-liners could be illustrated and made into a cartoon. I don’t draw at all, but this realization opened up a whole new world for me. I taught myself how to write cartoon captions by studying cartoons – buying or taking out from the library every book I could find about joke writing and cartoon creation. Cartoon collections became my textbooks. Then an aunt of mine started giving me her old copies of The New Yorker, and I was on my way.

 

I didn’t know any gag writers. I didn’t know any cartoonists. We had lived in Rochester, New York, for many years. It wasn’t until we moved back home to Long Island that I began to meet people. I started by writing for several comedy services and “The Lockhorns.” I found out about the Long Island chapter of the National Cartoonists Society. That’s when I started to meet people. I still didn’t know any cartoon gag writers. Right now I’m aware of about five other gag writers who do this full time. I’m sure there are more.

 

MM: You say you don’t draw, but do you think visually when you’re writing? Do you see, in your mind’s eye, what the drawing should look like?

 

HP: I absolutely think visually when I’m writing. I’ve studied thousands of cartoons and know all the stock situations. When I send a gag to a cartoonist I include a brief description of the situation. But, I always start with the words.

 

MM: The late Herb Valen, once a contract gag writer for The New Yorker, told me he’d sit down and think, “’Well, I’m going to think for Arno.’ And then I’d say, ‘I’m going to think for Addams, and do five ideas.’” How do you work – is it at all like that? Are you thinking of a particular cartoonist’s world?

 

HP: Yes, I focus my attention on specific cartoonists and try to send them what they want. Certain cartoonists specialize in business gags. I find them very easy to write. Other cartoonists like husband/wife gags. I also find them very easy to write. However, sometimes, for inspiration, I look at old cartoons in The New Yorker and these generate new ideas, which could be sent to several people I write for.

 

MM: As you know, the idea that there are folks writing captions for established cartoonists has long been considered, by some, as the dark side of cartooning (Roz Chast famously said that using gag writers was “like cheating”). James Stevenson, the veteran New Yorker cartoonist told me that when James Geraghty, the magazine’s art editor at the time, hired him in 1956 to write ideas, Geraghty told him, “You must not tell anybody at the office or anywhere else what you do.” Yet Peter Arno openly wrote of using writers in the foreward to a 1951 collection of his work, saying, “For ideas for the pictures, new minds and fresh slants become a necessity.” Do you have thoughts as to why there’s a discrepancy: why some cartoonists are entirely open about collaborating, and others want to keep it a secret?

 

HP: Some cartoonists may think it’s cheating if they use gag writers or feel funny about the fact that they ask for help. Others don’t care and are happy to recognize their writers and praise them for their contribution.

 

MM: The New Yorker art department (such as it was) in 1925 began as a very cooperative place, with editors suggesting ideas, and moving ideas from one artist’s work to another’s, as well as buying ideas sans drawings (James Geraghty began his association with the New Yorker by sending ideas to its artists). It’s odd, isn’t it that somewhere along the way the idea of using gag writers became somewhat of a lightning rod. Cartoonists, like myself, who began in the 1970s were opposed to using gag writers, yet we’ve seen collaboration come back in the magazine’s pages, including –a first for The New Yorker — identifying both individuals who collaborated: writer as well as artist. Is this the light at the end of tunnel, recognition-wise for gag writers?

 

HP: I think we have a ways to go before gag writing for cartoonists is openly accepted. I’m proud when I say I’m a cartoon gag writer and I’d like to see gag writers get more recognition, for example, by the cartoonist openly acknowledging that he or she uses writers, or by cartoonists who use writers being more willing to put the writer’s name on the cartoon. I started a blog, “Cartoon Gag Writing – My Experience,” over a year ago, which can be found at: www.cartoongags.blogspot.com. I write about what I do and how I get my ideas. I’d also like to speak to an audience about what I do, letting people know that there are opportunities to collaborate with a cartoonist.

 

MM: You currently write ideas for, among other comic strips, “The Lockhorns,” as well as supply ideas for single panel cartoons, like “Bliss” – two very different cartoon forms: sequential and single panel. Is there one you find more difficult than the other?

 

HP: I’ve been writing ideas for single-panel cartoons exclusively up until a little over a year ago, so I’d say I’m more comfortable writing single-panel. However, the opportunity to write multiple-panel was presented to me and I had to figure out how to do it, so I did. Now I can say I write multiple-panel as well. It’s not that difficult. It’s like a little story.

 

MM: Cartoonists are always asked: which comes first, the words or the drawing.  Now in your case, as a text-driven person (to use lingo I picked up during the Tina Brown era at The New Yorker) is there a comparable question? Which comes first: a word or a phrase, a topic; do you sometimes play off of visuals, i.e., something you’ve seen out on the street? All of the above?

 

HP: For me, the idea/words come first. Absolutely. I spend a lot of time reading articles, books, magazines and jotting down phrases. Let’s say I want to write gags about cooking. I’ll go through cookbooks and write down words like, coffee cake, assemble my ingredients, light the oven, stir frequently, throw something together. I’m very accident-prone in the kitchen so I can easily write about culinary disasters. I can see the humor in trying to put a meal together. The idea always comes first. The drawing is secondary.

When I’m walking around town I’m always looking at signs (again, words) to be used in my captions. I also study published cartoons and use the setting or situation to come up with a completely new idea for a gag.

 

MM: Can you explain exactly how you work?  You have clients who need topical work, so for them you’re obviously beginning with a framework.  But do you think non-client as well?   Do you just think of ideas and suggest them to your clients? How does this all work?

 

HP: I currently write for about ten cartoonists and I have my week planned out. Most people receive gags from me on a weekly basis, some twice a month. So, I have it down to a schedule of what days I write for whom. For example, I have a couple of cartoonists I send a set number of gags to every Monday morning, via email. Then I spend the rest of the day reading Sunday’s New York Times, Barron’s, maybe the Wall Street Journal. When I read I’m always taking notes, writing down phrases and words that will be used in creating gags and cartoons. Then Tuesday is a writing day for the cartoonists I send gags to on Wednesday. Thursday and Friday I’m already writing for the people I send gags to on Friday and Monday. Besides reading the aforementioned newspapers, I also read stories on www.newyorker.com where I get new ideas, especially about the upcoming election. I also subscribe to many job boards and am constantly reading job descriptions that help me write business gags. Of course I read The New Yorker each week and Newsday everyday. I’m also a news junkie, and listen to 1010 WINS and watch local and national news on TV. I have to keep up with what’s going on in the world. And, because I’m behind the times technologically, I can write about being behind the times technologically. As far as the method, I send out gags to specific cartoonists either via email or by regular mail. The cartoonist then “holds” the gags they want to draw up and send out. The rest they return to me and I’m able to send to other people. When a cartoon is sold with my gag I’m paid. When a cartoonist is no longer circulating my gag they will return it to me to be sent elsewhere.

Hafeez

[Above: Kaamran Haafez’s New Yorker drawing based on Ms. Parson’s “gag slip” she submitted to him (shown at the top of this post)]

 

MM: Throughout the New Yorker’s history there’ve been just two acknowledged collaborations: Helen Hokinson & James Reid Parker, and Mischa Richter & Harald Bakken. Is there one cartoonist you work more closely with than all the others? In other words, are you responsible for a good percentage of any one cartoonist’s voice?

 

HP: Well, I’ve been writing for “The Lockhorns” now for almost 20 years so they’ve bought hundreds (thousands?) of my ideas. I’ve also sold a lot of gags to “Dennis the Menace,” both for the dailies and Sunday, and “Bliss.” Regarding non-syndicated cartoons, my work seems to find a home more easily in Barron’s, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker and Harvard Business Review.

 

MM: As you’ve been studying New Yorker albums of drawings, you’re aware that the king of gag writers, the late Richard McCallister also was a published cartoonist in the magazine (eighty-nine cartoons, from 1957 through 1993).  His drawing style is even more minimal than James Thurber’s, yet it works.  Even though you don’t draw, do you sometimes think, “Hmmm, maybe I’ll give it a shot?”

 

HP:I know that I have no talent for drawing cartoons and prefer to leave it to the experts!

Helene Parson's Tree

[left: A Helene Parson tree drawn for Ink Spill]

 

Holy Happenstance, Batman!

Bat light MM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In This Economy 8-4- TomTSharp-eyed New Yorker cartoon followers will notice that the magazine recently ran two Bat-Signal drawings: one by Danny Shanahan  in this most recent issue, and one last week by Ben Schwartz.  A quick glance at the magazine’s Cartoon Bank archive turned up only two previous efforts, but I have a feeling — in fact I’m almost certain — there are more. The two I found on the CB site: a Joe Dator drawing in the issue of July 23, 2012, and one by the magazine’s former Cartoon Editor, the great Lee Lorenz, in the issue of November 15, 2010.

What’s always interesting to me is when several cartoonists work on similar out-of-the ordinary themes in roughly the same time frame. I submitted the above Bat-Signal drawing this past September (it was rejected).  The caption was something like, “Oops, sorry, wrong signal.” In this case, I missed out on the publishing party but was definitely breathing the same Bat-air as my colleagues, Danny and Ben.  If any other colleagues worked on Bat-Signal drawings these past few months, let me know — I’d be happy to post them.  Let me know as well if anyone can locate more from the archives.

 Updates:

Tom Toro has sent in the above Bat/pizza-Signal drawing; he submitted it to The New Yorker in August of this year. My thanks to Tom.

Ben Schwartz noted on Facebook that our colleague, Kaamran Hafeez recently posted a Bat-Signal drawing on the magazine’s online Daily Cartoon.  You can see it here . The drawing appeared October 28, 2015.

Note: My thanks to Joe Dator for indirectly bringing it to my attention that the proper term is Bat-Signal, not Bat-lite.