Robert Weber 1924 – 2016: An Ink Spill Appreciation

The great cartoonist Robert Weber, a major contributor to the New Yorker for 43 years, has passed away at age 92.  Mr. Weber began his New Yorker career in 1962 and went on to contribute nearly 1500 cartoons and 11 covers. The cartoonist Jack Ziegler, a New Yorker colleague, had this to say about Mr. Weber: “One of the all-time New Yorker greats.  Gorgeous drawings.  Beautiful settings.  Elegant. ” In a telephone interview, another New Yorker colleague, George Booth, said this about Mr. Weber: “He was an outstanding artist and a keen cartoonist.  He was top of the pile.”

   

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Born April 22, 1924, in Los Angeles, Mr. Weber was perhaps one of the most unassuming cartoonists  in a sea of unassuming cartoonists at the magazine.  Although he is solidly in the top tier of most published New Yorker cartoonists, with his work in  numerous New Yorker anthologies, he never published a collection of his own work. He told Lee Lorenz (who succeeded James Geraghty,  Mr. Weber’s first Art editor at The New Yorker)  that he “wasn’t interested” in having a collection. His low profile belied the work he delivered to the magazine: assured drawings, sometimes on a grand scale, usually, but not always focused on Manhattanites and  suburban dwellers  as far north as  Westport, Connecticut. His style was bold and exceptionally focused. Yet he managed to convey an irresistible fluency.   Weber’s people stood tall (or especially squat if they were children). His captions — his writing — in true New Yorker cartoon fashion, always delivered the unexpected punch, never disappointing.

He seemed to arrive graphically fully formed at The New Yorker (his first drawing appears below). His drawings featured well-defined characters imbedded within an exuberantly sketched environment, whether it was a parking garage or the Manhattan skyline. Like fellow New Yorker artists  Charles Saxon and Peter Arno, he handled the full page with ease.  In a letter to me in 2000, discussing Arno, he wrote: “I don’t think I ever consciously tried to emulate him, although I’ve learned  a lot from his superb sense of composition and drama. He had a marvelous ability to simplify. He never permitted anything extraneous, and he developed a powerful style unlike anyone else.”  Of course, he could have been talking about himself.

robert-weber-1st-nyer-drawing-july-14-1962

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Besides Jack Ziegler and George Booth, Edward Koren, Liza Donnelly, Peter Steiner, Mort Gerberg, David Sipress , Felipe Galindo and Dana Fradon weighed in on Mr. Weber. Jack Ziegler’s first New Yorker cartoon appeared in 1974, George Booth’s in 1969, Edward Koren’s in 1962, Liza Donnelly’s in 1982,  Peter Steiner’s in 1979, Mort Gerberg’s in 1965, David Sipress’s in 1998, Felipe Galindo’s in 2002, and  Dana Fradon’s in 1948. 

Edward Koren
I did know Bob in the 70’s and 80’s–but never well. I saw him fleetingly during those days ,when Geraghty was the ringmaster for his “talent”, (as we humble laborers in the arts are referred to now,)  and presided over the  fabled Tuesday and Wednesday lunches. Like many New Yorker artists then who lived in an isolated diaspora (as, increasingly,now), those lunches provided the week’s social capital. And Bob would train in from Connecticut to show his work and then proceed , with the rest of the crew to the Blue Ribbon or the Lobster for drinks and grub and talk.–and then the train.I remember him as  sweet, shy and a wryly funny guy. Generous and amiable and, to me, appreciative and encouraging. Qualities in his work, too, as manifested in the lead drawing in the New Yorker Album, 1975-1985. It is  one of his hallmark masterworks, a commanding, full page drawing of New York’s towers , executed in Bob’s masterful  signature style– , nervous charcoal accretions of marks subtly toned and colored in black and white . The  point of view he chooses– from out in the river looking at the waterfront as if he were in a low riding boat–gives the skyscrapers an overwhelming presence in the drawing. And into this stage set, he draws, on an exaggerated , foreshortened pier, a  tiny couple and their bicycles, sharply accented by a white space he’s carved out of the grey buildings. They have taken a pause in their ride, and  she is lounging on the pier, while he is sitting on its edge, turning to her–the body language saying what he is articulating:” The thing I like about New York, Claudia, is you.”
A quiet, deeply understood , sweetly funny masterpiece—Bob  himself.
Liza Donnelly
When talking about New Yorker cartoons, and I am asked whose work I love, I always mention Bob Weber’s work. His cartoons personally speak to me in a way that is hard to describe. But I can point to the following: his line work is masterful. Weber drew in charcoal, and any artist knows how difficult that is. He once told me that he began with a blank sheet of paper and drew from the left side to the right to complete the drawing without it getting smudged. In other words, he had the image in his head and just proceeded to put it on paper.  Weber’s people are lovable in how they look and often what they say. In one drawing, he has a gorgeous drawing of NYC filling the page, skyscrapers and all;  in the foreground are two tiny figures, a man and a woman sitting on the edge of the dock. The man says, “The thing I like about New York, Claudia, is you.” Another one I love is a living room scene: man and child are about to play ball and we see a sad little dog in the corner. The woman says to the man,  “Sweetheart, could you maybe include the dog?”
Weber’s captions were always perfectly crafted to work in concert with his beautiful drawings. His cartoons are not always sweet, but they have a gentle tone to them that I liked, and they were true to Weber’s voice. Bob Weber was not unlike his drawings: tall, thin and classy; when I would run into him, he didn’t use many words, and he seemed to chose his words carefully. He was always kind to me when we would meet at parties and in The New Yorker office waiting to see the editor. If I complimented his work, he would almost dismiss it with a thank you and lowered head, as if to say I was being silly.  I will miss his quiet presence and his wonderful cartoons.
Peter Steiner
Robert Weber was, to my mind, one of the New Yorker‘s greatest artists, which (again to my mind) means they showed both exquisite draftsmanship and marvelous humor.  His gorgeous, lush drawings made you smile even before you read the caption which made you smile all over again.  His art was to combine insight into our foibles with generosity and genuine affection.  His cartoons always left me amazed.  Once at a New Yorker Christmas party I went up to him to tell him just that.  He was a shy and modest man, and  seemed mostly embarrassed by my naked admiration.  I always regretted embarrassing him.  Still, if I could, I’d do it again.
Mort Gerberg
I always thought that Bob Weber’s drawings, besides being among the most sensitive and artful among the thousands that appeared in The New Yorker, were also truly unique.
Bob drew directly, with ulta-soft, difficult-to-find Swiss charcoal sticks that were extremely responsive to his delicate touch.  He usually worked on smooth ledger paper, producing fuzzy strokes that could smudge effortlessly, to form lush, flat grays.
In fact, the soft charcoal smeared so easily that Bob would often draw his characters and backgrounds from top to bottom, starting on the left and then drawing vertical areas, moving right across the sheet, completing the picture in one sweep, to avoid re-touching any part of it.
Then he’d spray the drawing with fixative, to give it permanence. He wore a surgical mask when he sprayed and would go outside or open a window, to avoid inhaling fixative fumes.
I never knew anyone else who drew that way. And, the drawings gave his cartoons an air of innocence that made them quietly hilarious.
Also, somehow it seemed that Bob’s drawing style reflected his personality.  Soft-spoken, sensitive, generous.
I met him for the first time (he was wearing his wearing his surgical mask) at an advertising agency, where he was subletting workspace for his freelance advertising illustrations, and I was just starting to think seriously about cartooning.  I was awed. He was approachable and happy to share advice about this quirky profession, and always, in the years following, easy to talk to, and helpful in so many ways, both personal and professional.
And I still feel especially grateful and honored for his contributions to my collection, “Last Laughs.” It contains eight Weber cartoons.  Unique, classic art.  Unique, classic person.
David Sipress
I was saddened to hear that one of my cartoon heroes, Bob Weber, had died recently, at the age of ninety-two. Bob’s gorgeous, unfettered, sublimely assured drawings graced the pages of The New Yorker for more than forty years. Bob’s great talent was his ability to create convincing, knowable, complex, fully formed characters in his cartoons, and to do it with a few deft strokes of his charcoal pencil.( To read more of David’s piece link here on newyorker.com)
 Felipe Galindo
I had the honor of meeting Bob Weber at the Cartoon Lounge at the The New Yorker offices in Times Square. Very tall, quiet and an affable person. We spoke about traveling to the other side of the world (me to Bali, Thailand & Cambodia and his wife to the same places plus Myanmar). When one day I showed him my cartoons, he said: “Oh, your work might not be suitable for this magazine, you are too nice, too kind!” I took it as a compliment and as a warning as well! I consider him a fine artist who liked to draw cartoons. His style was sketchy yet elegant, balanced and bold and representative of a particular era, a classic. I also shared lunch with him and other cartoonists at Pergola’s, our regular joint to vent. I was also amazed at his resilience to continue working, despite having wrist and hand problems. He would show up quite often.
I was surprised that he stopped going to the office after one of his cartoons was criticized in the letters section for making fun of of a Polish name, the letter coming from the Polish ambassador. I think that cartoon was the last he ever published in the magazine. A casualty of the PC era? Perhaps. Or perhaps he couldn’t care less. In any case, Bob Weber knew he was already a legend.
Dana Fradon
Although I shared a New York apartment with the Webers for a couple of years — I had it on weekdays and he and his wife had it on weekends — we never really became close friends. My only thoughts about him are that I greatly admired his work. He was an exceptionally good artist and ‘idea’ man. I envied his ability to create his ideas while expending, perhaps, one-tenth the time and energy I had to spend on mine. I own several of his originals and I treasure them.
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   (photo of Robert Weber, taken on an Amtrak train heading to Washington, D.C., mid 1980s.  Courtesy of Liza Donnelly)
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More Weber (I’ll continue to add Bob Weber obits, tributes, etc. as they come in): link here to the New York Times obit; here for a newyorker.com post, and here for a ComicsDC  post.

Funny Drawings Beautifully Drawn: An Ink Spill Interview with Bill Woodman

woodman-shell-fish

 

 

I first met Bill Woodman, like I met so many New Yorker cartoonists in the late 1970s, in the Grand Ballroom of the Pierre Hotel on 5th Avenue during an anniversary party for the magazine. Those February shindigs were always done in style (a post WWII style, to be honest). A long table of food was set up near the entrance to the ballroom. Toque-wearing chefs manned the table. Off to the left was a temporary bar. The cartoonists could always be found clustered there; Jack Ziegler, the tallest among us, was the beacon we cartoonists headed towards. It was within this bar cluster I was introduced to Woodman. Not big on eye contact, he had a penchant for gazing out in the crowd, his eyes squinting, while he sputtered out a clipped sentence or two. He seemed comfortable letting the party noise do all the talking.

I was already a fan, having studied his work in the pages of The New Yorker. Woodman’s stood out for me as it seemed very much a part of the school of Thurber. That school included the likes of Dean Vietor, Arnie Levin, Charles Barsotti and George Booth. All share a line that seems effortlessly energetic, with Woodman’s line possibly tying with Vietor’s for most rambunctious. A New Yorker cartoonist colleague, Henry Martin, once said that certain cartoonists draw funny. Sam Gross speaking to me about Woodman just the other day put Woodman solidly in that category.  You look at his people, or animals and you’re more than halfway to loving the cartoon. Another New Yorker colleague, Peter Steiner, has said of Woodman’s work, “To me he’s one of the very best. Funny drawings beautifully drawn.”

I asked Jack Ziegler, the godfather of contemporary New Yorker cartoons and cartoonists, to weigh in on Woodman and here’s what he had to say:

Bill Woodman is a great cartoonist and one of the funniest “draw-ers” of all time, right up there with George Booth.  Back when we used to hang out together, he allowed me the privilege of looking over any number of the obsessive sketchbooks that were always within his easy reach, usually right there in one of the overlarge pockets  of his surplus Air Force overcoat.  They were filled with casual observations, preliminary ideas for cartoons, and reprimands to himself about why he wasn’t coming up with any good ideas on any particular day.  Each page was chock full of bits and pieces that were wry, engaging, and all just plain funny to look at.  I never had a better time looking at anything in my life.  Why The New Yorker didn’t use a ton more of his work over the years was a never-ending, mind-boggling mystery to me.

As Jack mentioned, we haven’t seen Woodman’s work in the New Yorker for over a dozen years, and more’s the pity (according to his website, he has retired).  I’m not much for ranking or categorizing cartoonists. Number of times published doesn’t necessarily translate into how brilliant one is as a cartoonist (there were one hundred and forty-five Woodman cartoons published in The New Yorker). It’s tempting though to say that Woodman’s work is right up there with Ziegler’s as part of an inspiring school of daffiness that we see still playing out in today’s New Yorker.

Looking around the internet recently I couldn’t find much about Woodman. His website offers this abbreviated bio:

Born in Bangor Maine in 1939. At the earliest possible opportunity he joined the navy and served on the SS Timmerman and in Germany. Upon discharge, he took the next bus to New York, knowing that that was the place to start his cartooning career. He says he didn’t know how bad he was so he began submitting his work.

In 1962, he sold his first cartoon to Saturday Review. He worked a variety of day jobs until making his first sale to The New Yorker in 1975 to which he has contributed to this day. In addition he has appeared in Playboy, National Lampoon, Audobon. The New York Times, Gourmet Magazine and Barrons to name a few. He has published a collection of his own work: “Fish and Moose News”

fish-moose

 

As we approach Woodman’s 80th birthday it seemed now was as good a time as any to get a few more clipped sentences out of him.

 

The following is taken from two taped interviews. A fellow cartoonist, Mike Lynch, agreed to ask Mr. Woodman my initial set of questions while visiting at Woodman’s studio in Maine [Woodman doesn’t do email]. Mike was in the company of New Yorker cartoonist John Klossner as he posed my questions.   My hearty thanks to Mike for taping and transcribing Woodman’s responses and for facilitating the interview. Following-up on that interview, I phoned Mr. Woodman and we chatted for awhile.

 

Michael Maslin: You made your publishing debut in the pages of The Saturday Review in 1962, but  it took you a little while to break into The New Yorker – not until the end of 1975.  Were you sending work to the New Yorker all those years in between?

Bill Woodman: I was submitting pretty regularly. I had another (paying) job, you know? I was at CBS Television from 1967 to 1970. I was doing Speedball lettering charts for Nielsen Ratings. A bunch of guys were doing that. But I would cartoon at night.

MM:  You were one of the first, along with Jack Ziegler, to be brought into the magazine by Lee Lorenz (who was fairly new to the position of Art Editor, having taken over from his predecessor James Geraghty in 1973). Did it seem to you that you were part of something new at the The New Yorker – that a new kind of cartoon was being welcomed at the magazine? (the word “unconventional” comes to mind).

BW: No. Not really. I drew what would sell. (Laughs.)

MM: Did you want to be a single panel cartoonist from the get go?

BW: Yes, I thought so. My parents got the Saturday Evening Post and Colliers and the newspaper. My Uncle Vinny introduced me to Addams and The New Yorker. I was about 10 or 12 years old

MM: I noticed, looking through your New Yorker work, that captionless drawings show up a lot. Your first three drawings were captionless, as are many of your classics (for example: the man reading on a hammock between two trees, the 27th Annual Hunters’ breakfast). Do you believe, as Charles Addams did, that the ideal drawing is captionless?

BW: Can be. But I wouldn’t limit it.

MM: Having been born in Bangor, Maine, it’s not surprising that hunters, bears, and of course, moose show up from time-to-time in your drawings. Are you drawing from some outdoorsy experiences in Maine, or are these situations just percolating through you because you’re a Mainer?

BW: Anything that will sell, you know? I’m trying to make a buck. But — seriously — the horrors of this world seem to dictate (that is, the news, etc.), and I’d like to lighten it up a bit.”

MM: Can you talk a little about how you became a cartoonist?  Whose work did you admire?

BW: I read all of the comic strips in the paper. So far as illustrators, I liked Remington.

MM: You’re the only cartoonist who’s ever said to me that Remington was an inspiration.

BW: Yeah, when I was a kid –- I was like twelve or thirteen years old, we had a public library there in Bangor, Maine –- and at the top of the stairs there used to be a big portrait of an Indian, and it was by Frederick Remington. I always thought it was pretty impressive.

 

remingtons-sign-of-friendship-1909Left: An early Woodman inspiration: Frederic Remington’s  “Sign of Friendship” which hung for 42 years in the Bangor Public Library.

 

 

 

 

I had an uncle who was in the antique book business, and he had a book on him –- it was dated back in the 1890s. It was all out west, cowboys, calvary, Indians, and all that stuff– pretty good.

MM: I’ve looked at some of Remington’s work and what struck me about it which seems to carry through to your work is the energy in a lot of his drawings and paintings.

BW: Yeah — it’s spontaneous stuff, when you look at it.

MM: A lot people think of your work as spontaneous.

BW: Some of it, I guess. I don’t know. Yeah, probably — it’s doodling.

MM: I don’t know if you remember this, but when Saul Steinberg died, the New York Times headline, on the front page was “Saul Steinberg, Epic Doodler, Dies at 84”

BW: Oh man – he was so clever.

MM: Was the New Yorker the object for you when you decided you wanted to be a single panel cartoonist?

BW: I was just trying to survive. I went to art school for a little bit. I was trying illustration.

MM: So the New Yorker wasn’t the goal – it just came along?

BW: Yeah, I mean when I started selling cartoons I realized, obviously, that was the epitome — the top shelf.

woodman-nov-10-1975Left: Woodman’s debut in The New Yorker, November 10, 1975.

 

MM: Did you do what a lot of people did back in the 70s, do the rounds, go to Playboy and the others.

BW: I showed up, yeah. I did that quite awhile. Probably not as much as a lot of others. But yeah, I did it diligently for awhile……hey, I enjoyed that piece you did about tracking down [James] Thurber in Mike’s [Mike Lynch] Raconteur.

MM: Oh thanks. Well, Thurber was my god.

BW: Oh yeah, I can understand that. He was a genius, whatever.

MM: When you went in to the New Yorker office back in the mid 1970s, who did you run into?

BW: All good memories. They were all there – Sam [Gross], Sidney [Harris], Peter Porges, Boris Drucker, Mort Gerberg.

cartoonists-in-princeton-1985

Bill Woodman, upper right corner,  among the cartoonists gathered for an exhibit in Princeton, NJ, November 1985. Among those pictured are (bottom row, left to right): Arnie Levin, Stuart Leeds, Henry Martin, Ed Arno (just over Henry’s shoulder), Bernie Schoenbaum, Charles Sauers. Second row, beginning with the bearded fellow.  Don Orehek, Al Ross, Mort Gerberg, Alex Noel Watson, and Lonni Sue Johnson. The very scattered back row: Sam Gross (in profile), man in profile right behind Sam:unidentified, distinguished looking fellow gazing down: unidentified, Arnold Roth (looking like he’s singing), Peter Porges (looking at Sam Gross), Boris Drucker (in profile, right behind Porges looking away from Porges.  Don’t know who the partially obscured fellow is directly behind Boris, George Booth, Michael Maslin (partially obscured), John Jonik, and Woodman.   (Photo by Cliff Moore)

 

MM: I want to ask you about your sketchbooks. Jack Ziegler has said that “[he] never had a better time looking at anything in [his] life.”

BW: At a point I was doing sketchbooks. [Now] I carry a piece of paper, folded, in my shirt pocket. I write lists. Mostly things I should do. Go to the store. Those kinds of things. Sometimes I write an idea….Now I just doodle all over the place.

MM: There are a lot of people who aspire to doodle as well as you.

BW: I doodle everyday. It’s a disease.   I keep thinking I’m gonna start up again.

MM: Well I wish you would.

BW: I gotta get back to it.

MM: Your website says you’re retired, but we also see on the site that you’re painting up a storm.  I have a hunch you still draw cartoons.  True?
BW: Yes. Sure. Me and my buddies [Lynch and Klossner] are working on some great stuff. Wish you were here! (Laughs.)

 

woodman-signature

 

Ink Spill will return with more on Bill Woodman in October when he celebrates his 80th birthday.  Again, my thanks to Mike Lynch, John Klossner, and, of course, Bill Woodman. 

To see more of  Mr. Woodman’s work, including his  plein air paintings,  please visit his website.

 

 

 

 

New Yorker Cartoonists Remember Michael Crawford

This has been an unusually tough year within this peculiar family — this family of New Yorker cartoonists. Within seven months our ranks have been thinned by four:  Frank Modell, William Hamilton, Anatol Kovarsky and now, this past week, Michael Crawford. Michael is remembered below by some of his  cartoonist colleagues. My thanks to all for their contributions.

Note: Link here to Mr. Crawford’s New York Times obit...and here for The New Yorker‘s

 

Drew Dernavich:

crawford card

I made this for Crawford hoping to give it to him this week, but it was not meant to be. It was the only thing I could think of to do. I tried to capture his somewhat bonkers art aesthetic, which I liked a lot, and I thought it might bring a smile to his face.

Take some pitches” is a piece of baseball chatter (which is somewhat amusing in the context of recreational softball, which made it funny, and of course he knew that) which Michael frequently repeated during the New Yorker softball games, which was one place where he really enjoyed himself.

 

Joe Dator:

Mr. Crawford had an absurd space-cadet sense of humor that I always admired. One of his cartoons I’ll never forget was a man walking down the street wearing a  t-shirt that said “Not A Fan Of My Ex Wife’s New Boyfriend”. It’s a simple enough joke but when you look under the hood there’s a lot going on. His logic trail must have been “t-shirts … people wear t-shirts to show what they are a fan of … other people use the passive aggressive term ‘not a fan’ … a person could wear a ‘not a fan’ t-shirt”.

It takes a very supple mind to make those kinds of mental leaps, but that’s pretty much the meaning of creativity. I always think about that cartoon and Michael’s inspiring mental acrobatics.
On a more personal note, it meant a great deal to me that I once surprised him with an off-the-cuff joke. He asked me if a marker I was using was indelible, and I said “I’ve never known it to del” and he looked at me the way you’d look at a cat that suddenly opened a can of food by itself. It has always made me feel good to remember the moment when I must have gotten within hailing distance of his unique wavelength.
Jack Ziegler:
 When visiting at Casa Crawford in Newtown, MA, sometime in the early eighties, my kids would disappear downstairs with his kids into the basement where Michael kept all sorts of found objects in boxes: old castoff bits of wood, metal, office supplies, packaging, nuts and bolts, etc.  It was a workshop dedicated to fun creativity.  I still have the piece that my daughter Jessica created down there, a combined facial portrait of my then wife & me glued down on a slab of wood, she sporting hair curlers made of wine corks and me with a beard of paper clips, both of us with a cigarette butt drooping from our single mouth.  It hangs in my living room and you can’t miss it as you come through the front door.  I always remember that visit each time I walk past it.  Now it’s a treasured Michael Memento.
Ziegler Maslin Crawford Anne[photo: In Boston, 1993 for the opening of Lines of the Times: 50 Years of Great American Cartoons at the Art Institute of Boston. Left to right: Jack Ziegler, Michael Maslin, Michael Crawford, and Anne Hall (now Anne Hall Elser), Lee Lorenz’s long-time Art Assistant  at The New Yorker. Ms. Elser’s wonderful photographs of New Yorker cartoonists, including one of Mr. Crawford in a rowboat,  can be found here].
Liza Donnelly:
I’ve  always thought that The New Yorker is a place for cartoonists who are artists.  That sounds snooty, but it’s not meant to be. People for whom drawing is their medium, but who also love to make people laugh. People who sometimes have ideas that are not just about the laugh and want to express them in a drawing.   This was the work of Michael Crawford. He made us laugh in his cartoons, but they were also little paintings that we just enjoyed looking at. He also created paintings and they were the flip of his drawings. Sometimes his paintings made us laugh.   I loved Crawford’s work, and his embodiment of all this as a person. He was a unique mixture of funny and serious, here and there, present and not present.  He was always kind and generous to me when I saw him, smiling and laughing as if to say, “isn’t this life just nuts?”  He will be sorely missed in the world, but his work remains and it will continue to make us very happy.
Robert Leighton:
The thing that stood out to me about Crawford’s cartoons was the way he depicted married life. There were no thrown toasters in his cartoons. The couples always seemed to be pre- or post-coital. (Often with equipment.) They seemed playful, happy and fulfilled. I’d like to think that this reflected the satisfaction he found in his own life.
Corey Pandolph:

I’ll never forget Michael’s advice and support when I sold my first cartoon to the New Yorker. We were walking to our regular bar after softball and he explained his view of the never-ending grind that is New Yorker cartooning, and how he had batches of cartoons all ready to go in PDF form, in case he needed to send something in last minute. I remember thinking that’s a smart idea and then I remember thinking how surreal it was that I just played softball with Michael Crawford and now he’s giving me cartoon advice at Broadway and 103rd Street.

I’ll never forget the button down shirt and red jeans he wore while diving head first into home plate.

I’ll never forget his birthday party at Fanelli’s and getting tipsy with Drew Dernavich.

I’ll never forget his little red digital camera and how quickly he could get a hipshot of a play, the bench or the team on the sly.

I’ll never forget his paintings he would post on social media. The US maps were my favorite.

I’ll never forget the white shirt he wore one of the last games of the season – It was clearly homemade with a sharpie and read simply “take some pitches”. No one really noticed it, but I did and I can still hear him yelling it to me nearly every time I was at the plate.

I’ll never forget to take some pitches.

Peter Steiner:
When Michael Crawford died, we lost an interesting and gifted artist. He did paintings and cartoons, and his works in both genres were substantial and of a piece. You could recognize his distinctive style in both kinds of work.
 On the occasion of the deaths of Frank Modell and Anatol Kovarsky, Bob Mankoff, the New Yorker cartoon editor wrote Ars longa, vita brevis. For cartoonists, especially long-lived ones like Frank Modell, who died two weeks ago, at the age of ninety-eight, or Anatol Kovarsky, who passed away last week, at ninety-seven, it’s often the other way around. That just comes with the territory. The job of the cartoonist is to connect with your time, for a time, not for all time.”
I think Mankoff is wrong about this.  Cartoons are more than current jokes with a picture attached, or at least they should be.  And while it is true that many, even most, gags grow stale with the times, the best ones don’t.  And when the drawing is interesting and masterful, it lives on and on even as the joke grows stale, just as any interesting painting or drawing or etching does, even though its topic may no longer be “relevant.”  It’s true that very few cartoons rise to that level, but I think good cartoonists aspire to that with each cartoon they make.  That aspiration was true of Crawford’s work whether he was painting or writing/drawing a cartoon.  And sometimes he hit the mark.
Mick Stevens:
I love Michael’s work. He was among the first NYer cartoonists I met when I moved to New York City. I remember him taking a photo of a few of us, all but one relative newcomers to the NYer then, in the anteroom just outside Lee Lorenz’s office. If I recall correctly after all this time, he set up the camera to shoot on a delay, giving him time to join us in the picture. The result is a photo of Jack Ziegler, Sam Gross, myself, Bob Mankoff, (long before Bob became the cartoon editor of the magazine), and Roz Chast. Michael is seen behind us, his smiling face just visible and slightly ghost-like. It seems to me he was always a little shy, always a bit on the periphery, and I only got a few chances to hang out with him over the years, but it was always a quality experience when I did. Michael lived in his own world more than some of us do, I think, and would drop into our worlds only for brief visits. In my experience, he never stuck around long enough.
Mick Steven's Crawford group photo
Tom Toro:
I have a pet theory that if all of the captions from Michael Crawford’s cartoons were put together it would create the great post-modern American novel.  He was certainly one of the cleverest humor writers to ever grace The New Yorker’s pages – sharp, off-beat, always surprising – and yet what was it that he wrote, exactly?  Not gags per se.  Not zingers.  His wit didn’t lean on outlandishness, his jokes weren’t quirky just because.  What he produced were pure Crawfordisms.  They come across as wiser than typical cartoon punchlines, somehow hinting at deeper experiences best left unspoken, like comments that tipsy adults let slip when they think the kids are asleep.  A Crawford one-liner leaves us giddy and curious.  My reaction to his work typically swings during the span of a moment from “I don’t get it” to “It gets me better than I get myself.”  As with the passing of any true original, Crawford cannot be replaced.  Let’s not even try.
Mort Gerberg:

While Michael Crawford was well-known as a wonderful cartoonist by a vast number of people, I’d guess that relatively few thought of him as a “sports guy” who was a terrific softball player.

But that’s the first association I have when I think about Michael, since he and I, beyond being cartooning colleagues, were, more importantly, teammates for over 20 years on the usually- hapless New Yorker softball team. So, in a season of about 10 games, we might have played ball together 200 times.

It’s said that shared adversity often brings people close together, and so, because the New Yorker softball team lost far more often than it won, Michael and I bonded and fretted more about our softball game than striving for OKs [an “OK” is the New Yorker‘s terminology for a bought cartoon] .

The team has been an odd assemblage that shows up in Central Park every Tuesday at 7pm in the summer months.  It’s been made up of two distinct groups: the first, very large, composed of maybe two-dozen Twenty-Something writers, fact-checkers, etc., full of enthusiasm and team spirit, many of whom, however, possessing little knowledge of the rules of the game or an ability to run, throw or hit a ball with a bat; and the second group, much smaller, comprising “the old guys,” meaning anybody over 30, who knew the game and could play it pretty well.

Michael was in the second group, along with myself, occasionally other “oldies” like Mark Singer and Rick Hertzberg and some other editors, and I guess I could safely say that until the last four or so years, Michael was an anchor of the team.

For one thing, he was a regular.  He hated missing a game and he was  missed when he did.  A passionate, baseball fan, he knew everything about the game, so he was a valuable tactician, as well as a sure-handed fielder and a dependable, long-ball hitter who would deliver a big hit to drive in a run in clutch situations.

On and off the field, he served as a coach and leader to those (and there were many) who were coming out to play for the first time.  As soon as he arrived at the field, he’d start warmups, play catch, or start batting practice.  And when the game started, he’d  stay involved in it, even when we’d find ourselves on the short end of a 19-2 score after only two innings.

But Michael made it fun.  When our less-proficient teammates would make errors in the field or strike out at the plate, Michael would still shout encouragement, cheering us all on.  Sure, he wanted to win the game, but, he would remind me, when I got upset over all the messing up, it still was just a game.

Because often 25 people came out to play 10 positions, the coach would rotate players from inning to inning so everyone got a chance to play, but Michael was always the reliable, sure-handed first baseman. Until recently, when I’ve been pitching,  I usually played second base, which meant that sometimes, after I fielded a ground ball, my throw to first might have been off line, but Michael would  grab it for the out.  If a batter hit a spinning pop fly between first and second base, I’d usually defer to Michael’s shout, “I got it!” because I felt that he would be less likely to muff the catch. And if Michael remembered an opposing batter’s previous hit, he might position our players to afford us a better defense.

Michael’s softball presence even extended outside himself.  I remember that after he’d been playing for a few years, Michael’s grown son and daughter showed up at the games — not just to watch Dad but to play themselves.  Not surprisingly, both were solid, in the field and at bat.  It was also not a surprise, after some more years, that Carolita [Johnson] also came to play.  Of course, being the free spirit she is, she participated in her own way, showing up on occasions after a photo shoot, wearing heels, and going out to play right field barefoot …very well.

It occurs to me now, that when Michael was at the softball game, he was totally in the moment, which, when I think about it, did not always seem the case.  Off the field he seemed different.  When I’d see him at normal social situations, like cartoonist gatherings, or on look days at the magazine, Michael might be operating on his own private wave length, there but, you know, not there.  But on the ball field, Michael was always present with everyone else around him.  Talking it up at first base, digging in at the plate, shouting encouragement to runners or batters if he was coaching at first or third.  And, if he wasn’t “playing” in those roles, he would be roaming around the field taking photographs.  Photos of the action.  Photos of us playing.  Photos of us  just hanging out.  Baseball photos, probably thousands of them, many of which probably wound up in his paintings and cartoons.  A seamless blending of two of Michael’s greatest passions — baseball and art.

So, a salute to a teammate, and a remembrance of a Most Valuable Player.

opening day 2014[Mr. Crawford, far left, with members of The New Yorker‘s softball team, celebrating an opening day victory]

Peter Steiner: The Ink Spill Interview

PS selfpor w:camera

I first met Peter Steiner in 1984 at an impromptu party thrown the night of The New Yorker’s annual anniversary bash (at the Pierre on the corner of 5th Avenue at 59th Street). Following the festivities in the hotel’s grand ballroom, a bunch of cartoonists made their way west to the other side of Central Park to a much smaller space: Liza Donnelly’s apartment on 79th Street. Roz Chast and her husband, New Yorker writer, Bill Franzen were there as was Richard Cline —  I believe Mick Stevens was there as well. Jack Ziegler was certainly there (he and I left the apartment at some point on a beer run, walking up to a bodega on Columbus Avenue). And Peter Steiner was there. His incisive wit was immediately evident as was his ability to stray from cartoon-talk. Less than a decade later he would go on to make New Yorker cartoon history by  authoring On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” — the most reprinted drawing in the magazine’s history. And about a decade after that he began to carve out another career, as a novelist. This was a rare pursuit for a New Yorker cartoonist.  We’ve had just a few outside-of-the-box colleagues (James Thurber of course, and the late William Hamilton was a playwright as well as a novelist.  Lou Myers did a fair share of non-cartoon writing as well).

I spoke with Peter this past week, thinking it was a perfect time to catch up with him as he ventures afield again, this time as a graphic novelist, with the publication of An Atheist in Heaven.

 

Michael Maslin: Let’s begin with the present. We’ll eventually work our way around to the past. Your fifth novel, The Capitalist was published this past February, and you’ve followed it three months later with An Atheist in Heaven. Is this an unusually productive period for you, or is this your norm?

 

Peter Steiner: Well, it actually seems like a more productive period than it was.  I finished writing The Capitalist a couple of years ago, then there was the final editing process, then it sat for a good year and half at the publisher (St. Martin’s Press) before it finally came out.  So, a while after I was finished with the book, I came on the idea of an Atheist in Heaven and started drawing.  That was in the spring of 2014.  It took me about a year to do. It’s pretty much a coincidence that they came out so close together.

 

Q: It’s not easy — nor necessary really — to pigeonhole you as a writer, a cartoonist, a painter, an editorial cartoonist, a graphic novelist (now with An Atheist in Heaven). Are any of those callings greater to you than the others or are they all relatively equal. Do you wake up each morning and think, today I’m painting? Or today I’m writing? Or today I’m working on a drawing? Where does the day’s direction come from?

 

Atheist

A:  I tend to work in one medium or another—painting, writing—for long periods.  So when I’m working on a novel, I’m not painting.  And usually I won’t paint until I’ve finished the novel.  And likewise when I’m painting, I keep painting until I feel the urge to move back to writing. That can last a year or longer.  When I’ve tried to write in the middle of painting  it throws me off, and visa versa. Cartoons, being a smaller medium (in time, not in importance), get sprinkled about as the spirit moves me.  The year I was working on An Atheist in Heaven came after the writing of The Capitalist.  And now I’m looking forward to starting to paint again. 

 

Q: Looking at the self-portrait series of paintings on your website I see seeds of the kind of drawing that fill An Atheist in Heaven. By that I mean the work seems to be cinematic. The question is: are you finding that your recent cartoons are at all influenced by the drawings in the book, i.e., are you drawing differently?

 

A:  I hadn’t thought of the interplay of painting and cartoons.  I’ve always tried to make my cartoons cinematic, if you want to call it that.  I like interesting settings with particular details, odd angles and dramatic lighting.  Since doing cartoons on my blog I’ve started using pencil for both shading and color, and that continued into my drawing of Atheist. Pencil is more painterly than water color washes; you get more texture sort of like brush strokes in a painting.  And doing color, you can mix color or lay down layers of color on top of one another with exciting effect.

 

Q: Without going into the Atheist story line too much, I have to say it pulled me in right away and then felt carried along quickly on a great ride. Is that was it was like writing it? Was it an express train kind of experience for you?

 

A:  I wrote the text for Atheist very quickly, over the course of a couple of days, without doing any drawings at all or knowing what the drawings were going to be like.  Then I set to work on the drawings, page by page without having any plan or sense how it would develop.  I drew entire pages, rather than individual panels that would need fitting together.  I had no plan, not even from one page to the next.  I drew with ink and, at the beginning, on various kinds of paper.  I also tried out different color methods.  The drawings were rough and a little crude; so was the script.  I wanted it to look handmade and unrefined.  I decided to leave some corrections visible.  The main character evolved as I went along, developing more specific facial and body features.  And the various settings evolved too, becoming more and more involved.  And, yes, it was an express train kind of experience that carried me along.  I tried to keep struggle out of it and just enjoy the experience.  And in that regard, at least, I succeeded.

 

Q: Let’s rewind a good deal to the period just before you began trying to get your drawings into the New Yorker. When was that and what were you doing at that point in your life?

page from Atheist

[Left: a page from An Atheist in Heaven]

 

A:  I sold my first cartoon to the New Yorker in 1979.  (I know that because I looked it up; I’m not good at remembering dates.)  I was living in Watkinsville, Georgia at the time and had moved there from Pennsylvania the year before.  I had just given up my professorship at Dickinson College in order to be an artist full time.  We had bought our first home, a big rambling farm house with a wonderful if delapidated barn and a lovely grove of huge pecan trees.  I was painting seriously and was submitting cartoons every week to the New Yorker.  I had been since leaving teaching, maybe even before leaving teaching.  (Again, I can’t remember exactly.)  I was drawing cartoons for the local paper, a weekly called the Oconee Enterprise for $25 each. I had sold some cartoons to the Saturday Evening Post and the Saturday Review, but the New Yorker was the big prize I was aiming for, and when I hit the bulls eye I was elated.

 

Q: Can you describe your entry into the New Yorker, both the first cartoon published, and the first time (or first few times) you traveled to Manhattan and visited the offices. Did you meet with Lee Lorenz [the magazine’s Art Editor at the time] right away; did you meet other cartoonists at the office?

 

Steiner 1st july 9 '79[left: Peter Steiner’s first New Yorker drawing, in the issue of July 9, 1979]

 

A: When I was 25 or so (about 1965), headed for grad school and about to be married, I was in New York on my way to Maine, and I stopped at the New Yorker with about 75 or eighty roughs. I had been getting cartoons in various small publications, but didn’t think of cartooning as a career or even a job. Of course there was a woman guarding the door who told me I couldn’t see the editor—was that still Geraghty? [James Geraghty was Lorenz’s predecessor as Art Editor, in that position from 1939 through 1974], but I could leave them for him to look at and pick them up the next week.  I was only there for a day, so, for whatever reason I decided not to leave them.  Who knows how it could have changed my life if I had left them.  The next time I was there was fifteen years later–1979 or 80 with at least one sale under my belt—A Swiss guy with an Alpenhorn, and some cows saying to him, “For heaven’s sake, we’re right here.”  I did meet Lee Lorenz then.  I was very reverent and awed by the whole New Yorker thing, and being let in was like arriving at Mecca.  I would come back every few months—I was living in Georgia, and over those first few times met lots of cartoonists.  I mostly remember those older cartoonists who were nice to me–Arthur Getz, Joe Mirachi, Sam Gross.  Of course I met Jack Ziegler, Mick Stevens, Bob Mankoff, Roz Chast, and then we all went for lunch at the worst restaurants in the neighborhood.  I don’t remember whether you and I met there or not [see the introduction above].

Q: I believe I’ve heard you mention (in interviews, or perhaps in earlier conversations with me) that there are certain New Yorker cartoonists that you consider (my word) exceptional. Can you mention a few, and briefly tell us why they stand out so for you?

A:  When I think of “exceptional” cartoonists, I mean my favorites, those whose work would lift my spirits.  And most of my favorites are the beautiful drawers—Gluyas Williams; Helen Hokinson; Arno, of course; Steinberg; Addams; Charles Saxon; Bob Weber; Booth.  I’m sure there are some I’ve forgotten to mention.  Their drawings are lovely to look at, each in its own way.

Q: Before I let you return to your painting, writing, and drawing, do you foresee more written work in the Atheist in Heaven vein (i.e., text and graphics)?  I’m hoping you say ‘yes’.

A:  I don’t have another drawn book in mind, but it was so interesting and amusing doing an Atheist in Heaven that I can’t imagine not doing it again.  I’ll let you know when I start something.

 

To see more of Peter Steiner’s drawings and  paintings, including more self-portraits like the one at the top of this piece, visit his website: plsteiner.com

To read more about his latest book, An Atheist in Heaven, go here.

Besides An Atheist in Heaven, Mr. Steiner has published five novels of a series, the latest being The Capitalist. In 1994 he published a collection of cartoons, I Didn’t Bite the Man, I Bit the Office.

Peter's Capitalist STEINER1photo-9

Liza Donnelly’s Illustrated Oscars Journal; a reminder: Peter Steiner Book Signing this Evening

Liza Donnelly, as previously mentioned here, attended the Oscars this year.   Here’s her illustrated journal. Ms. Donnelly was the first cartoonist granted Oscar press credentials in the event’s history.

Oscar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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And a reminder about Peter Steiner‘s event tonight:

PSteiner event 3:10:16

 

His new book, The Capitalist is out now.

Peter's Capitalist