Otto Soglow’s Little King: “He just happened.”

Cartoon Monarch: Otto Soglow & The Little King (IDW Publishing, 2012)

Introduction by Ivan Brunetti

Foreward by Jared Gardner

 

 

What’s not to like about this handsome volume? If I had my way every cartoonist of note would celebrated thusly: beautifully reproduced work (both black & white and color), with a thorough and informed foreward.  Mr. Gardner takes us through Soglow’s transition from Ashcan school realist to cartoonist, with generous reproductions of the work. Also enjoyable are the reproductions of Soglow’s adwork, illustrations, and commercial products featuring the Little King.

 

Well before I became aware of The New Yorker, and its stable of artists, I was aware of Soglow’s Little King – what  postwar child reading comics and watching television wasn’t?  The simplicity of his work was immediately appealing as was the subject matter: a King who was human, not to mention comically rotund.

In The New York Times’ Soglow obituary  there’s this passage:

Asked how he happened to create “the Little King,” Mr. Soglow had very little to say. “He just happened,” and then he apologized for having nothing more dramatic to recount.

The Little King began life in The New Yorker in the issue of June 7, 1930 — a full page, no less. If you rewind to the November 14, 1925 issue of The New Yorker, you’ll discover Soglow’s first contribution to that magazine—it sits across the gutter from a drawing by Peter Arno, and believe it or not, it’s somewhat difficult to tell the styles apart.  Arno was still in his early pre-stripped down phase of drawing as was Soglow. Graphically, they make an interesting pair, both at the starting gate in the pages of The New Yorker, about to head off to their distinctly recognizable, and recognized, worlds.

(above photo: Little King toy / Ink Spill’s From the Attic section)

 

 

In Good Company: a look at the cartoons in Al Ross’s New Yorker debut issue

 

The news that Al Ross passed away last week got me to thinking about  his start at The New Yorker, way way back in the issue of November 27, 1937, when he was twenty-five years old. This morning I went to our cabinet full of bound New Yorkers, brought out the volume from late 1937 and began paging through the particular issue that contains Al’s inaugural drawing. It’s a wonderful snapshot of that time with an outstanding roster of cartoonists.

The issue begins with a Helen Hokinson cover,  one of those pieces capturing a moment. Beautiful. The first cartoon is by Charles Addams, done in his earlier style before his drawings became more defined. Next up is a Richard Decker drawing printed in step-ladder fashion – sitting atop two columns of type. On the opposite page, a Richard Taylor, also step-ladderish. Taylor had such an unusual style – it reminds me of P.C. Vey’s in a way. Turning the page we come to a beautiful full page by William Galbraith. On the opposite page a great spot drawing by Suzanne Suba – a Macy’s parade moment.

Next page, a Mary Petty that nearly eats up the whole page. Opposite that is a short piece by E.B.White titled “Small Thanks to You “(sorry, couldn’t avoid mentioning that). Several pages later a Syd Hoff spread along the top third of the page. Up next is one of the masters of the full page, Gluyas Williams. A few pages later the two Prices face each other: George and Garrett.

I have to take a break here just for a moment and comment on the way the make-up department handled the cartoons. With the exception of the full page cartoons, every single cartoon was awarded a unique space, meaning the shape of the cartoon is different for each cartoon. Even the cartoons that are rectangular are never the same size (the Hoff stretched out three columns wide, the Garrett Price two and a half columns wide).

Turning the page, a Robert Day cartoon (another rectangle, but nearly square). Two pages later, not a cartoon, but an Al Frueh drawing illustrating a current Broadway show.  Frueh does a terrific take on Orson Welles.  Would love to see a collection of his theater pieces in a book (there is a very nice catalog of his work, but so far, not a collection).

Two pages later we find Al Ross’s first New Yorker cartoon (caption: “Listen, Chief…”). Those familiar with Al’s later work would be hard pressed to recognize this cartoon as one of his.  It’s done in a somewhat early Addams-ish style. Across the gutter from the cartoon the name “Robert Benchley” appears at the end of his theater review.  Heady company!

A number of pages go by before we reach a fairly large and very funny Barbara Shermund cartoon.  Leafing through more pages, through the New Yorker’s holiday wrap up of children’s toys and books, we come upon a brief review of Dr. Seuss’s  And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street: “Slight but humorous. Spirited comic-strip pictures and a rhymed text show the power of exaggeration…”

And finally, a Perry Barlow cartoon to end the issue.  It’s a children’s book themed drawing running on the book review page.  If I’m not mistaken this is an unusual pairing. I’ve been under the impression for most of my life that the editors avoided tying the cartoons to the surrounding story.

Before we close the magazine, a treat near the end:  a full page ad for The 1937 New Yorker Album, published by Random House. A banner running across the page declares: “Just Published – bigger and funnier than ever.” Contributors include all the aforementioned in this post ( except Al, whose work would begin showing up in later Albums) plus, among others,  Peter Arno, James Thurber,  Rea Irvin, Gardner Rea, Otto Soglow, Alan Dunn, Barney Tobey, Alajalov,  Chon Day, Carl Rose, Whitney Darrow, Jr., and William Steig.  Wow.

 

For more on Al Ross, head on over to newyorker.com, where the magazine’s cartoon editor, Bob Mankoff, has posted this piece (it includes a good scan of Al’s first cartoon).

And for even more: Mike Lynch has posted a number of Al’s drawings on his site. (You’ll need to scroll down a ways, past all the NCS business)


 

 

 

Posted Note: Cartoon Library

 

A few years ago I put up eight foot long by eight foot high bookshelves exclusively devoted to holding the sprawling collection of cartoon books my wife (and fellow cartoonist) Liza Donnelly, and I have collected over the years. Before the cartoon library wall of shelves went up, our cartoon collection was here and there throughout the house, in piles on various shelves.  It might take twenty minutes to find a desired book, or it might never happen.

 

Once the shelves were up, and the shelving of books began, it became obvious that the cartoon library wouldn’t be the place to go for cartoon books in our home –- it was just another place to go.

 

What I didn’t realize was that I was reluctant to remove favorite cartoon collections from my work room. Most of these books have been at arm’s reach my entire cartoon working life – they had to stay put (included among the within reach books: certain titles by Thurber, Addams, Peter Arno, Steinberg, and Soglow).  Our Thurber collection had to stay nearby my work room, on bookshelves in our living room.  So did our small collection of graphic novels and comic book anthologies.

 

In the last few months I’ve taken certain books out of the cartoon library, and brought them back closer to my desk.  The most recent transfer was Superman: The Complete History by Les Daniels.  I love its cover – a blow up of the early Superman. One of these days Daniel’s companion volume, Batman: The Complete History will be retrieved from the library.   As there’s no space left on any of the shelves in my room, it will have to rest on top of the Superman book, in a pile.

A blast from the past: Meet the Artist

 

In 1943,  San Francisco’s M.H. De Young Memorial Museum held an exhibit of artist’s self portraits called “Meet the Artist.”  The catalog, 8 1/2″ x 7 3/4″ is a gem.  Of the 188 artists represented, a number are New Yorker contributors: James Thurber, Saul Steinberg, Otto Soglow, Mischa Richter, Richard Taylor, Alajalov, Whitney Darrow, Jr., Richard Decker, Roberta MacDonald, Barbara Shermund, Reginald Marsh, Dorothy McKay, Garrett Price,  Gluyas Williams, and Rea Irvin.  Self portraits shown above, top to bottom: Garrett Price’s self portrait on the catalog’s cover, Richard Taylor and Mischa Richter.

Note: this catalog can be found online; numerous copies at varying prices are available on AbeBooks.com.