The New Yorker before Addams, Steig and Steinberg

NY-albums

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the release this past week of The New Yorker’s Cartoons of the Year 2013 (a relative of a long line of New Yorker Albums seen in the photo) I thought it would be fun to leaf through The New Yorker‘s very first collection, simply called The New Yorker Album. published in 1928, just three years after the magazine’s debut. For starters, I love this part of the introduction (authored by “The New Yorker”):

The New Yorker has been dealing with artists for upward of three years.  We are tired but happy.  Our artists, we feel, have been worth the trouble. They have taken the electric and protoplasmic and comic town and reduced it to page size. To be merry and wise and subtle every week is scarcely possible; but there have been good weeks.

If you substitute the “upward of three years” to “upward of eighty-eight years” the excerpt could’ve easily introduced the 2013 collection.

The very first cartoon you run into in the 1928 collection is a full page by Peter Arno.  This makes perfect sense as Arno was, just  three years into the New Yorker’s life, already its star (his co-star was Helen Hokinson).  Arno was fond of the full page cartoon, but paging through the Album, you’ll find he had plenty of company in that department. Ms. Hokinson, Rea Irvin, Gluyas Williams, George Shanks, Al Frueh, Gardner Rea, and Reginald Marsh, to name but a few, all worked well on a full page (you’ll find a number of full page cartoons in the 2013 collection, but none originally ran as such; full page cartoons in the modern New Yorker are rare, with Roz Chast’s work being one of the exceptions.

What might be remarkable to anyone looking through the 1928 Album is the absence of plenty of the marquee names we associate with the magazine’s past. Cartoonists such as  Charles Addams, William Steig, Saul Steinberg, Thurber and George Price had yet to begin contributing drawings to the magazine (Thurber had begun contributing his writing in 1927, but The New Yorker’s founder & first editor, Harold Ross, wouldn’t publish a Thurber drawing in the magazine until 1931). Addams’ work didn’t appear until 1933, Steig’s not until 1935, Steinberg’s not until 1941, George Price’s not until 1932.  The Album of 1928 was a blueprint for what was to come in later years on the magazine’s pages: a variety of styles, of cartoon worlds, beautifully co-existing.

Much as the 2013 collection is heavy on a handful of cartoonists, such was the case in 1928.  The aforementioned Hokinson, Irvin, Rea, Frueh and Arno command the most space, with plenty of full pages.  Alan Dunn and Barbara Shermund’s work is everywhere, but mostly half-page or quarter-page. Work by other familiar names (or soon to be familiar names) are sprinkled about the volume.  There’s a single Mary Petty drawing (if my counting is correct) with healthier showings by, among others, Otto Soglow, Perry Barlow, Leonard Dove, Peggy Bacon, John Held, Jr., Alajalov (still spelled “Aladjalov”), I. Klein, Carl Rose and Garrett Price (in an early style, far less fluid than his later work). There are a few spreads in the Album (unlike the spreads in the 2013 Cartoons of the Year,  which were created specifically for that publication, the 1928 spreads ran in the The New Yorker).

What struck me as I looked back and forth between the 1928 collection and the 2013 collection (much as a spectator watches the ball during a tennis match) is that here we are eighty-eight years after the magazine’s debut,  still highly entertained, and yes, sometimes still puzzled, by the very simple format Harold Ross and company fostered and nurtured: a drawing atop a caption.  Every week we continue to dive into each issue, turning the pages, eager to run into the next cartoon (and lately, the Cartoon Caption Contest cartoon).  As someone commented on this site following a post on the Cartoons of the Year, “Can’t wait for the shiny new cartoons of 2014.”   Me neither. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

P.S. Mueller: Snatching Steinberg…and Thurber, Steig, Day, Soglow…

Continuing Ink Spill‘s series of New Yorker cartoonists talking about important cartoon connections in their lives is P.S. Mueller on discovering Steinberg’s work.  Mr. Mueller has been contributing to The New Yorker since 1998.   “1958 Zorro Meets Steinberg” and photograph courtesy of Mr. Mueller.

 

1958 Zorro Meets Steinberg
In my adult mind I think of Saul Steinberg as an artist who forged his own passport out of hell and playfully went on from there. But his complicated life and tricky dance with identity meant nothing to the six or seven year-old Zorro impersonator who long ago became fascinated with his insanely simple and perfect line drawings.
I became a Steinberg thief immediately upon encountering his drawings in my father’s mile high stack of New Yorkers and proudly remain one to this day. When no one arrested me, I kept at it, snatching a bit of Thurber, a dash of Soglow, a pixilated grin from Steig, a blank look from Chon Day, and so on, until the lot of them came to inhabit me the way swallows inhabit a barn. The ghosts of Virgil Partch and Roger Price haunt this fluttery loft as well, but I digress.
How can it be that a few line drawings glimpsed at such an early age more or less charted an entire career path for a kid in Ohio? Was it something to do with the moment of discovery rather than the discovery itself? Or kismet? Nah, I don’t buy any part of the whole kismet thing. It had to be that Rumanian cipher with the paper bag over his head who tempted me to forge my own papers with stolen ink.
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See some of Steinberg’s work for The New Yorker here.
See P.S. Mueller’s New Yorker work here.
(Left:  P.S. Mueller around the time he first encountered the work of Saul Steinberg)

Anatol Kovarsky at 94: Still Drawing After All These Years

 

 

 

 Kovarsky photo1

 

At 3 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon in late June, my wife and I, wearing our cartoonist historian hats, were welcomed into an apartment in a pre-war building along Manhattan’s west side. We made our way through a short hallway to a foyer lined with paintings.  There were paintings on the walls, and paintings lined up several feet deep along the floor.  Paintings paintings everywhere.  All of them by the New Yorker cartoonist/artist, Anatol Kovarsky.

(to the left: Kovarsky, New York City, June, 2013).

 

 

 

Kovarsky’s wife, the actress Lucille Patton, married to the artist since 1954, greeted us, and a few moments later, Kovarsky himself appeared from a back room.  He held the latest issue of The New Yorker, and was eager to talk about an illustration that caught his eye.  “This was done with a [computer] program?” he asked pointing to the piece. 

 

 

 

When Kovarsky began his publishing career at The New Yorker he was 28 years old; he is now 94.  His New Yorker work, which began with a cartoon in the issue of March 1, 1947 (cartoon below), ended with a great flourish of covers in 1969.  After 1969, Kovarsky turned to painting full time.  New Yorker readers no longer saw his work in the magazine and on its covers, but his work continued and continues on to this day.

 

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For me, it was a rather surreal moment shaking Kovarsky’s hand. I had long ago placed him in my thinking — and  rightly so– in the late Harold Ross, early William Shawn era of the magazine’s history, what some have referred to as “the Golden Age” of the magazine’s cartoons.  In 2013,  if you count the number of New Yorker Golden Age cartoonists who are still with us — those who began contributing to the magazine during the editorship of Harold Ross — you will count no further than four: Frank Modell, Dana Fradon, James Stevenson, and Anatol Kovarsky.  Meeting these artists is meeting New Yorker history. In the past two months I’ve had occasion to speak to three of these men, and all three exhibit the playfulness of spirit I’ve encountered in most every cartoonist I’ve ever met, no matter their age.

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                                       For someone who contributed hundreds of cartoons to The New Yorker it may seem odd that only one collection, Kovarsky’s World, was published (by Knopf, in 1956). images-1Kovarsky’s Kabinett der Kuriositaten, published in Germany in 1962, seems to be a paperback reprint of Kovarsky’s World.

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I had always wondered why there was no follow-up collection – a book that would have included some of his scores of covers for the magazine. When I posed that to Kovarsky, he shrugged, and said, “there were some other books” – one in particular he seemed proud of is an unpublished illustrated guide to English spelling. His work found its way into books as illustrations ( Cycles in Your Life, and a book of limericks, There Was a Young Lady Named Alice). Kovarsky’s work also made it to the Great White Way; he designed and drew the sets for the Broadway play, “The Owl and the Pussycat.”

 

 

 

I said to him that I couldn’t help but notice, looking through his New Yorker work, that the majority of drawings were uncaptioned – to my way of thinking, the most difficult kind of cartoon to do (there have been scant few masters of the form: Otto Soglow, Sam Cobean, Steinberg, Anthony Taber, Nurit Karlin, and more recently, John O’Brien). Kovarsky said, pointing to this newer work of his — a book-in-the-works of drawings accompanied by humorous rhymes — that this latest effort “made up for” the lack of words in his earlier work.  He opened the manuscript and read several of the rhymes, then his finger ran over one of the drawings, as if he was redrawing it.      Pursing the Centaur

 

 

 

 

 

His daughter, Gina, a college professor who teaches Russian literature and culture, showed us some of her father’s recent work:  drawings on newspapers, on ads, on stock market charts.Market people 2

Lucille said, “Anatol will draw on anything” as she handed us two large round cardboard platters that had come from a catered event: each were painted over by Kovarsky.  A design incorporating an elephant on one, three nudes on the other.  Later she showed us two small cardboard saucers or dessert plates, also transformed by Kovarsky into works of art.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had done my homework on Kovarsky before meeting him, looking through his entire New Yorker ouvre, and reading an extended biography from a conference volume about American cultural figures from the Russian empire.  Born in Moscow in 1919 to Jewish parents, he drew at a very young age, entertaining his classmates (behavior much in common with many cartoonists) – he drew his first political cartoon at age 9. After the Russian revolution, his family settled in Warsaw.Kovarsky studied briefly in Vienna (his father wanted him to be an economist), but then, according to his daughter, “he found a drawing master and shifted his attention exclusively to art.”  Kovarsky went on to Paris where he studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts for three years.  The war was on in Europe and in 1941 Kovarsky was able to make his way to Casablanca, where he boarded the last passenger liner leaving Morocco for the United States.   He was eager “to see,” he told me, “what the rest of the world looked like.” He arrived in America just as it entered the war.  Kovarsky told me of the circuitous route he took from the South up through the Midwest and finally to New York City.

 He enlisted in the Army, serving as a cartographer and translator; he also began contributing cartoons to Yank and the Stars and Stripes.  He returned to Europe as a soldier, at first based in London, and then landing at Normandy.  He arrived in Paris the day after it was liberated from the Nazis, and was eventually reunited with his family, who amazingly had survived.  

 Back in America following the war, he turned to the world of magazine cartoons but never away from painting.  Lucille told us that the  large studio Kovarsky once used in lower Manhattan, was divided in two: one part for doing drawings, the other for paintings.  Lucille said, “he would switch from one to the other.” (photo below: Anatol Kovarsky and Lucille Patton, in the late 1950s or early 1960s)

 Kovarskys passport

 

 

I asked Kovarsky if he was led to cartoons by the work of other cartoonists, and he replied, “No, they (the cartoons) just came out of me.”  While it’s not exactly clear how Kovarsky was introduced to The New Yorker,  Gina Kovarsky believes it was “very likely” that the enthusiasm and encouragement of the author, Herbert French, led her father to submit work to the magazine. Kovarsky had contributed illustrations for French’s 1946 book, My Yankee Paris.

 

 

 

The New Yorker immediately fell in love with his work;  Kovarsky’s  drawings averaged at least two appearances a month  (sometimes his work appeared every week of the month). His work often centered on the art world: artists in their studios, with their models and without, museum art;  foreign culture was also a theme of great interest,  specifically the Middle East.  Little of post-war American life escaped Kovarsky’s imagination.

 

 After a decade of contributing drawings to The New Yorker, his covers began to appear.  Kovarsky has said he never did more than six a year, and seeing them it is not difficult to understand why.  Many of his covers, like the paintings that surrounded us in the Kovarsky’s apartment, were energetic displays of brilliant color and action.(pictured below: A Kovarsky  painting, In The Ring, and a Kovarsky New Yorker cover)   Kovarsky:In the Ring

 

 

 

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Before our visit, Kovarsky’s daughter wrote to me of her father’s interests:

 

 

 

His eye has been attuned to beauty not only in pageantry and performance, but also at the bar and grill, the beaches of Coney Island, the boxing ring, and the supermarket.   (Indeed, his appreciation for city life was such that when I was a little girl and we would be going on walks, he would periodically draw my attention to the colorful and interesting patterns created by garbage strewn about on the streets, or by dilapidated storefronts with their torn-off signs). 

 

 

 

What he was doing was what all great cartoonists do: he was taking it all in, no matter what “it” was (Kovarsky continues to take it all in to this very day).

 

 

 

We were shown a brilliant unpublished cover sketch obviously intended for The New Yorker (it included the famous “strap” that runs along the left edge of every New Yorker cover).  It was a snapshot from Kovarsky’s eye, perhaps a combination of snapshots, with what appeared to be a throng of pedestrians on a major Manhattan avenue and  above them a collage of bright signage. An elevated train roared past above the signage and then,  the quiet grey backdrop of the city sky. We were also shown another  New Yorker cover submission with the strap section showing a commuter reading his newspaper; the cover field itself is a series of images one would see from a train or elevated subway.  It could easily be a contemporary New Yorker cover. Kovarsky Commuters

 

 

 

Gina Kovarsky has been spending her summer off from teaching cataloging her father’s work.  She has accomplished much, but there is plenty left to do.  She showed us three rooms filled – and I do mean filled — with her father’s work. Going through his drawings she found a number of folders labeled “Nyet” (Kovarsky is fluent in Russian, Polish, French, and English –  indeed, when we first arrived Gina and her father spoke to each other in Russian before switching to English). It’s a puzzle now as to whether the “Nyet” folders contain drawings rejected by The New Yorker, or whether Kovarsky pre-rejected them as not suitable for the editors.   

 

 Sitting next to Kovarsky on a living room sofa, surveying the living room walls lined with his paintings,  the hallway beyond, with paintings stored in racks, I said to Kovarsky, “You have done so much work”  to which he replied, “I am told,” he said, “that there are 600 paintings here.  I would like to do more.”

All work, published and unpublished, courtesy of Anatol Kovarsky. Photograph of Anatol Kovarsky taken in NYC, June, 2013, by Liza Donnelly. My thanks to Lucille Patton, Anatol Kovarsky, and to Gina Kovarsky for her invaluable assistance in providing images and biographical information.

Kovarsky contributed nearly 300 drawings & almost 50 covers to The New Yorker.  All of his work (drawings & covers) can be found in The Complete New Yorker, or to see just his drawings:  The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker.   Another option:  any library with a collection of bound New Yorkers.  The New Yorker’s Cartoon Bank has a few examples of Kovarsky’s work for the magazine.

Although there is no website devoted to his paintings and drawings, Gina Kovarsky has told me that a website is a priority.   

 

 

Happy Birthday, Mr. Roth

Philip Roth, who celebrates his 80th birthday today, was first published in The New Yorker the issue of March 14, 1959, with his story, “Defender of the Faith” causing an immediate stir (see the upcoming PBS American Masters profile “Philip Roth: Unmasked”  for, among so many other things,  Mr. Roth’s recollection of buying, opening up, reading and rereading his story in this particular issue — jokingly(?) saying he even read it “upside down”).

 

The issue featured a cover by the wonderful Abe Birnbaum, who contributed nine cartoons and nearly a hundred and fifty covers to The New Yorker.  His New York Times obit (June 20, 1966) contains this quote by Mr. Birnbaum: “Nothing is ugly. Everything is what it is.”

 

Brendan Gill reprinted the robin cover in his book,  Here At The New Yorker, writing of it:

 

“Nobody was satisfied with the ‘rough’ of this giant robin as it was first seen at the weekly art meeting. At the time, the background consisted merely of landscape. Geraghty [the New Yorker’s Art Editor from 1939 thru 1973] suggested the addition of birdwatchers. That simple change changed everything.”

 

When Philip Roth read, reread, and read his first New Yorker story upside down, he ran across cartoons by the following cartoonists — a roster that’s just about as good a snapshot of The New Yorker cartoon universe late 1950s as any:

William O’Brian, Frank Modell, Robert Kraus, Saul Steinberg, Everett Opie, Barney Tobey, William Steig, Ed Fisher, Robert Day (whose cartoon appeared on the first page of Roth’s story), James Stevenson, Otto Soglow, Syd Hoff, Whitney Darrow, Jr., Charles Saxon, Anatol Kovarsky, Dana Fradon, Eldon Dedini,  and Lee Lorenz

 

 

 

Bob Eckstein Talks to Ink Spill About His 3-D Thanksgiving Cartoon in this week’s New Yorker

 

 

 

There are two firsts involved in this interview.  This the first Ink Spill interview of a New Yorker cartoonist and it was prompted by what I believe to be the first 3-D cartoon in the magazine’s history.  The cartoon, appearing in this week’s issue, dated November 26, 2012, is by Bob Eckstein.  Bob has graciously consented to my prodding him with a few questions about himself, and the cartoon.

 

 Bob, would you give us a mini-history of how and when you came to be a New Yorker cartoonist?

 

 In 2007, for my birthday, Sam Gross invited me to the cartoon Tuesday lunch.  I had befriended him, and the Cartoonbank staff, as I bought a bunch of cartoons for the Intermission section of my book The History of the Snowman.  I was a fan of Sam’s (I wrote for National Lampoon while he was there), Charles Addams, and Danny Shanahan,  who all appear twice in my book, but I didn’t know about the lunch nor was I a cartoonist, per se.  I did occasionally come up with cartoons for the Village Voice, SPY and other magazines but only where I wrote humor columns and only because I would never allow outsiders to illustrate my work.  It was a condition I started at Newsday back in 1980s when I realized I needed both incomes to make enough to live on.  But I had no interest to cartoon until that lunch and at this point I did not read the NYer except when I needed a filling at the dentist.  I did enter the caption contest once, which at the time was once a year (It was a Danny Shanahan with Quasimodo as a doctor.  My, “The name rings a bell.” got runner-up.).  Only after I ran out of money to spend on the book, which probably exceeded $25,000+ in reprint and quote permission fees, did I fill two empty spaces with two of my own snowman cartoons for my “Intermission” on the nudging of my editor.

 

So, anyhoo, I enjoyed the lunch, and in retrospect being there the week that Gahan Wilson happened to show up was significant. I grew up laughing to his cartoon collections and meeting him was a big deal.  At the end of the fancy exciting lunch I asked Sam about coming back and how to get in on this “thing.”  He just said, “Come back next week with 10 sketches.” 

 

Well, I didn’t return. First, I found it too difficult to come up with that many ideas in one week.  I didn’t know what I was doing and I decided to call Danny Shanahan, who was and still is a favorite of mine and I spoken to a couple of times before but strictly for business.  I (incorrectly) felt after sending some money his way it made it somehow okay.  I told him I was contemplating gag cartooning and now looking back, I just wanted him to say, “Oh, how wonderful, you’re going to do great, welcome aboard, etc.”  Instead he basically said forgot it, it’s a very difficult profession.  That was the extent of my pep talk. 

 

Despite that warning I went in on the second week since the lunch, going into Bob Mankoff’s (the magazine’s Cartoon Editor) office after Sam, who I assume put in a good word for me to Bob.  Bob explained it wasn’t necessary to write in big letters “SKETCH” on each drawing.  Nor did the captions need to be typeset.  Each sketch had a cover sheet like they were finals ready to go to print!  Most of them were moronic and too current-eventsy to be useful, like one with a cat on American Idol. 

 

That Thursday Bob left a message on my machine to tell me which one they bought.  I told my wife the New Yorker only bought one, sorry.  When I returned the next week with the final, I apologized for the others in the first batch being so bad–I assumed that everyone every Tuesday sold a few and I was a big loser.  I simply had no idea how difficult it was to get in or how many people submitted, I just didn’t know.  I assumed they bought most cartoons, paying like $50 or so a cartoon.  But I figured things will pick up and the following week I’d sell two or three, like everyone else.  It took a couple of weeks to quickly figure things out…and that my first sale was a fluke, beginner’s luck.  It would be almost a year of coming in every week with a batch before I sold my second cartoon.  During that time I devoured every book on cartooning and went back and looked at all the NYer issues.  My style had totally changed from that first effort which now looks inept.  I was also rethinking Shanahan’s warning, kicking myself for not taking it to heart and wondering if I was throwing away my illustration and writing career (I was. I did.).

 

Your drawing, titled The First 3-D Thanksgiving, is, I believe, the first 3-D cartoon in the magazine’s history (if anyone out there finds another, please bring it to my attention).  Is it actually 3-D?  If I was wearing 3-D glasses right now, and looking at your drawing, would it be appear three-dimensional?

 

It works, but not as well as it could, but that is by design.  When I showed it to Bob Mankoff, he asked if it worked but then quickly said, “that’s not the point” as we agreed that it was more important for the joke that it was inferred it was 3-D (after Bob shot down my suggestion of placing 3-D glasses in each issue).  It is 3-D but we reeled it back.  Knowing the reader wouldn’t have glasses, I went for the most readable degree of 3-Ding the cartoon so it still looked like a cartoon and not this heavy ominous image on the page which would have distracted from the joke.

 

How did the drawing come about? Do you have a special interest in 3-D drawings, movies, etc.?

 

I do not appear regularly as a cartoonist in the magazine (something I HAVE brought up with Bob), so I try to catch Bob’s attention with ideas that get away from the usual format and Bob has been supportive and receptive to me and my experimenting; I’ve done a lot of  cartoons with spot color, cartoons that have no punch-line. I’ve shown him captions that use the F-bomb, cartoons about The New Yorker, captions in Spanish, scratch ‘n’ sniff cartoons…and this 3-D was just one I gave a try.  Bob has called my stuff “loopy” which I think is code around the office for “nice try but doesn’t work.”  I do want to get in “regular” cartoons and not become the “Weird Al” Yankovic of the NYer cartoonist pool.

 

I had done 3-D illustrations for Vibe magazine and Sport magazine over twenty years ago so it was on my radar.  I don’t have 3-D glasses in my home, which I could have used because I just saw Hugo on Netflix.  I do recommend wearing 3-D glasses to get through a family Thanksgiving dinner — you eat less with them on (“I can’t eat all that!”).

 

We should probably give a shout-out to Norman Rockwell, whose famous 1942 Saturday Evening Post “Freedom From Want”  piece is obviously referenced in your drawing.  Did you have Rockwell’s work in front of you when you were working on your finished piece?

 

I had it in front of me, and underneath me, as I did trace most of the guy in the back and then glanced over to draw the rest of the set-up.  My initial sketch had the whole family shocked at the dancing turkey but it looked too forced and too different from the Rockwell iconic piece.  I realized Rockwell had it right the first time except he forgot the glasses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s a little something extra as concerns a New Yorker cartoonist and  dimensional cartoons:

 

After seeing Bob’s 3-D drawing, I was reminded of a terrific Otto Soglow book from 1932, Everything’s Rosy.  Somewhat “naughty”  – the inside flap text suggests the book is “probably not suitable for Sunday School use…” —  it came with a “red filter” attached to the front inside cover and the following Notice and Instructions:

 

Notice

The envelope in the front of the book contains one red filter to bring out the double exposure of each picture in Everything’s Rosy….

 

Instructions For Use of Filter

Hold book in good light.

Look at each picture first with the naked eye. Then lay filter flat on page over picture and look again.

Otto Soglow’s Little King, glassed in

 

From time to time, interesting objets d’cartoon are brought to my attention.  An Ink Spill visitor recently passed along these photos of four glasses bearing Otto Soglow’s famous Little King.  Anyone interested in purchasing them may contact Darcey Bournay at bournay@gmail.com

 

note: Ink Spill is providing these images and contact information as a service to the site’s visitors and in no way benefits from the sale of the above product