The Monday Tilley Watch: The New Yorker Issue of January 22, 2018

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

 I enjoy the little drama of seeing the new New Yorker cover pop up on the screen early Monday morning when I go to the digital issue; sometimes there is no Monday morning  drama because the cover has been released (online) days earlier. The magazine occasionally does this with of-the-moment covers. That’s the case this week — Anthony Russo‘s “In the Hole” appeared online days ago (I continue to wonder why New Yorker covers need titles, a practice that began with Tina Brown’s second issue, October 12, 1992). The last untitled New Yorker cover, issue of October 5, 1992  was Edward Sorel‘s punk in a hansom cab — the first Tina Brown era cover:

The very next issue, October 12, 1992:

This latest issue’s cartoons start off well with Bruce Kaplan‘s Alice in Wonderland drawing. It’s graphically more complex than his usual style. The caption is excellent. Way to go.

Next up, four pages later, is a Farley Katz concert drawing. I enjoyed hovering over this drawing, looking at the details, especially the drums and drummer. Just three pages later, a couple of texting turtles via Liana Finck. For some reason — I don’t believe I’ve ever thought or said this before about any cartoon (other than one of my own) — I really wanted this drawing to be ever-so-slightly colored-in. Perhaps the largeness of the landscape surrounding the turtles reminded me of how Guy Billout handles his pages.  

Six pages later, a fun Drew Dernavich drawing of a situation almost every driver has encountered: the hunt for a space. Coupled with a long-time favorite cartoonist scenario (the person crawling along the desert) and bingo!  My only wish here would have been for the cartoon to have more breathing room around it.  On the very next page, another drawing that would’ve benefited from a little bit more space on the page (hey what can I say, in the balancing act between text and cartoons, I always notice when there’s an imbalance). In Maddie Dai‘s cartoon we return to the Sistine Chapel (where Julia Suits was not too long ago). Reminder: if you haven’t seen the Michelangelo exhibit at the Met, better hurry.

Five pages later, a splendid Edward Koren drawing. And…it’s placed beautifully on the page.  You can’t ask or more, folks.

On the very next page, a history lesson from Sara Lautman:  how did the Great Lakes come to be called the Great Lakes.  Interesting drawing —  I like the scenario Ms. Lautman’s given us. 

Three pages later, a cold & flu season contribution from P.C. Vey.  The little drawing within the drawing is very funny. The aforementioned Julia Suits has the next drawing (on the very next page after Mr. Vey’s). The drawing makes use of the “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” armature. The setting is very George Boothian.  

On the opposite page a William Haefeli drawing drawing upon the Bob Newhart showism: “Don’t go to bed mad.” Words of wisdom then and now. On the next page, a Teresa Burns Parkhurst captionless drawing (and the second cold & flu drawing in the issue).  Elevator bank drawings are not seen all that often anymore. I like that the drawing was allowed to spread across three columns, allowing us to mosey on over to the pay-off.

Five pages later, Shannon Wheeler brings a very in-the-news item on home.  This could easily have been one of those drawings that are sometimes placed below the table of contents.  Good stuff. 

Six pages later, an Ed Steed scenario ( a category within itself). Dead (?) fish, in a cage, not a tank. The use of color offsets the mystery…just a little.

Eight pages later, courtesy of Mick Stevens, an advice-seeking court jester. Don’t know if this drawing has anything to do with current domestic politics (in particular, a current politician) but it feels like it does.  On the opposite page, a Mary Lawton “meet the…” scenario. “Meet the…” drawings seem to be making a comeback. This particular one seems true-to-life (with the exception of the two hours displayed on the sign.  I’ve a feeling you could meet those people during all business hours). 

Five pages later, the last drawing of the issue (not counting the caption contest cartoons).  Tom Toro‘s penchant for detail is put to great use. Funny drawing. I wish it wasn’t slammed up against an ad though. I don’t believe the balancing act mentioned earlier (with text and cartoons) should ever include advertisements and cartoons. Cartoons hugging editorial text: yea. Cartoons hugging ads: nay.  Just sayin’. 


Update: Rea Irvin’s classic Talk of The Town masthead still missing. This is what it looks like:









The Monday Tilley Watch: The New Yorker Issue of January 15 2018; Happy 114th Birthday, Peter Arno

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

 I don’t know about you, but after I’ve looked through the cartoons of each new issue of The New Yorker I have the kind of  immediate reaction I have after sitting through a movie. As I begin walking up the aisle, the verdict is usually already in: good movie, bad movie, loved it, hated it, so-so, etc.. I looked through this latest issue of the magazine and thought: good cartoons. Good cartoons from beginning to end, with a real gem mid-way through.  

The first cartoon of the issue, William Haefeli’s on page 18 gets things going. Haefeli’s drawings never disappoint, and in this case caption and drawing are doing exactly what I hope for in every New Yorker cartoon (giving us Peter Arno’s one-two punch; in this case the one-two are so close together it’s a onetwo punch) If you have the issue in front of you (print or digital) notice the child’s body language. Mr. Haefeli has created a drawing that almost moves. 

Three pages later a drawing by Amy Hwang, who has become somewhat of a cat specialist. This is a lovely drawing, with a terrific caption. I predict it’s going to be reprinted on a lot coffee mugs and t-shirts.  

Four pages later a couple at a table by JAK (Jason Adam Katzenstein). Good caption. The woman’s expression is as the British say, “spot on.”

Five pages later a curio: a P. C. Vey  Christmassy drawing in the January 15th issue. It’s a very good drawing  replete with tree and one very large gift.  I’ll forever wonder why it wasn’t in the issue  of December 18 or the issue just after, January 1, 2018. A mystery!

Another five pages brings us to a Kim Warp drawing employing two of my favorite subjects: dinosaurs and space travel (in this case time/space travel).  Another wonderful drawing with a really good caption. 

Six pages later, the gem I spoke of earlier.  John O’Brien gives us a site (a work site) to behold —   it’s caption-less too (to me, caption-less cartoons are the most difficult to successfully achieve.  Mr. O’Brien’s batting average of success with them is crazy high). This is a high bar New Yorker drawing. And so: applause, applause.


On the very next page is a Matt Diffee cartoon.  He, like a few other cartoonists in the magazine use a box to frame their work (Jack Ziegler was King of the New Yorker boxed drawings). Mr. Diffee’s drawings are always easy on the eyes (the soft greys).  Here we have a couple of folks ice fishing. The idea centers on the use of the ice machine known as a Zamboni blended with the popular urban food truck.  As sometimes happens with drawings, I paused to consider an element (last week it was missing tent stakes). Unfortunately, this pause never fails to get in the way of the one-two punch.  Why, I thought, would a Zamboni be on an ice fishing lake?  I looked up Zambonis, and learned they are sometimes used on ice skating lakes.  But there’s no sign of skaters anywhere on Mr. Diffee’s lake. Perhaps they’re just off to the side, out of the box.  I’m fairly certain my fascination with cartoon details such as this comes out of my early cartoon education by way of New Yorker art editor, Lee Lorenz. He once returned a drawing to me and asked if I’d make the surf board in the drawing look less like a six foot cigar.  It wasn’t the most important element in the drawing, but if it appeared to be a giant cigar it would take the reader too much out of the  drawing. I guess that stuck with me — and now you’re stuck with me pointing out cartoon minutiae.

Four pages later, a Will McPhail nearly deserted beach scene. I like the caption. Mr. McPhail  shows us one of those funny umbrella tables you see in movies of places that resemble wherever this is.  What’s missing is only someone (or something) off in the distance splashing in the ocean. What can I say — I like graphic splashing. 

Three pages later, a color drawing from Seth Fleishman in a setting far far away from Mr. McPhail’s.  Subway rats playing a game.  Having just seen a photo in the Times the other day of a NYC rat dragging a moon pie, I’m wondering if NYC subway rats are now a thing.  I guess they’ve always been a thing, if you think about it.

On the page after the rats is a Roz Chast package drawing.  Ms. Chast excels at these, and this one’s right up there, laughs-wise. I haven’t examined a package of Junior Mints in a long time (not my theater go-to candy) but I do wonder if those boxes show the “Juniors” as human…probably not.  Six pages later a Brendan Loper Evel Knievel inspired drawing. We don’t see enough dare- devil drawings in the magazine. Interesting drawing. Good stuff.  

Thirteen pages later, the last drawing in the issue (not counting the Caption Contest pieces): Julia Suits provides a trope that seems to be off-again on-again in the magazine: the military officer pointing out a medal. By off-again on-again I mean we don’t see many for awhile and then they suddenly pop up like asparagus. Henry Martin did a number of these, as did a number of other colleagues.  I can’t recall ever doing one. Time to get crackin’.  


Happy 114th Birthday, Peter Arno

Strange to think of Peter Arno, whose work seems so very much alive, as born 114 years ago. All the years I worked on his biography, from 1999 through 2016, he seemed somehow on the scene, at least the New Yorker scene. In early 2016, with the book wrapping up, I paid one last Arno research visit to Yale, where he spent one year, the Fall of 1922- Spring of 1923. I went there to look for possible Arno materials in a box of Thurber’s papers; it turned out to be a fun but wild goose chase.

  Even though Arno only attended classes the one year (his father pulled the plug, financially) it was a launch pad year for his not-too-far-off entree to The New Yorker.  At Yale his cartoons became quite polished as they appeared more and more in the Record  (Arno did a few covers too). Besides drawing, Arno was fully engaged with his other love, music.

  He organized what he called an “orchestra” and found a place to play right across the street from the campus.  He mentioned playing there in a letter to his mother:

“…working in the Art School all day long and playing every evening in the Bull Dog Grille…”

 That last day I spent at Yale I took a walk along York Avenue, with the Bull Dog’s address in hand.  I came to the corner of Elm and York and could see some old buildings were right where I needed them to be, diagonally across the street. Crossing Elm I quickly spotted  #264 over one of two arched doorways on a three-story Victorian era building. The building had survived (!) but there was some kind of construction going on, with the front partially shrouded, and a dumpster parked out front.

The entrance to the Grille (it was upstairs on the third floor) was the door to the right, just behind the plywood wall behind the lone tree. I stood across the street for a bit, then crossed over to see what I could see close-up.  It was a wonderful moment thinking about the college-aged Arno heading through that door. I’d read in Dorothy Ducas’s great Arno piece in the March 1938 issue of Mademoiselle  that besides playing music upstairs Arno also drew on the walls (ala Thurber!). Standing in front of the building that day there was a lot to imagine. 

Here’s a photo I took that afternoon:

Before writing today’s piece I thought I’d use Google to see what had been done to the place a year or so later. Turns out it wasn’t construction after all — it was destruction.

Though the building is gone, those Arno moments playing music and drawing upstairs at the Bull Dog are not entirely forgotten.  Also not forgotten: the body of work Arno published in the New Yorker during his 43 years there, much of which can be found in the books below.


ps: Rea Irvin’s classic Talk masthead (shown below) still missing from the magazine. Hope it returns soon.







The Monday Tilley Watch: The New Yorker Issue of January 8, 2018

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

And off we go — a new year!  Hundreds of new cartoons to look forward to in 2018’s 47 issues (there are five double issues).  On yesterday’s Spill I showed the back flap copy from the Third New Yorker Album, published in 1930. I like it so much I’m repeating it here:

Note that the copy expresses the publisher’s pleasure if you’ve experienced any of these symptoms while looking through the cartoons: amusement, irritation, or nervousness.  I think that’s about right; the magazine’s cartoons shouldn’t be just a cozy reassuring sweater, they should — sorry — itch a little every so often. The magazine’s cartoons have long had a reputation for sometimes being annoyingly indecipherable. I think that’s mostly a myth, but what the heck — it’s a fun myth, and cartoons are in the business of being fun.  

If you substitute “The New Yorker” for “The Third New Yorker Album” in that ancient flap copy above I think you might agree that we’re still in the same boat, cartoon-appreciation-wise. At least for me, the cartoons appearing in every new issue can amuse, irritate, and/or cause some nervousness that produces that sudden clammy feeling that it’s finally happened: I’m totally out of it — the world has passed me by. Why just last night I had to Google “Backpack Kid” after Anderson Cooper mentioned him during CNN‘s live Times Square coverage. Oh, the stress.

Thankfully, it being the first day of the new year, and an enforced happy holiday, no nervousness (for me) while looking through this brand new issue. Some amusement, and some teeny tiny fun irritants here and there (technical cartoon stuff — no cause for alarm). 

But before we get to the new cartoons:  just above is Rea Irvin’s beautiful classic Talk of the Town masthead that’s been missing since last Spring (talk about yer irritants!). I hope it returns home soon.

The first cartoon (or “drawing” if you’re a New Yorker classicist) is by William Haefeli. Having selected a wine 100% based on its label just two days ago, it’s personally relatable (one of several not-so-secret ingredients making for a successful cartoon).  And of course the drawing itself is top shelf Haefeli.

Eight pages later, a Victoria Roberts cartoon. A surprise here is that Ms. Roberts has given us an outdoors scene — I’ve become accustomed to her drawings being set inside, usually in a living room. This new one is fun all around. No one else draws like Mr. Haefeli and the same is true with Ms. Roberts.

Nine pages later yet another New York City subway drawing (I’m going to predict that the fellows over on Cartoon Companion will make special note of this come Friday when they post their rated takes on the issue’s cartoons). I spent more time than usually spent looking at a cartoon when I came to Ellis Rosen‘s well-drawn drawing of an urban underground diarist. At first glance, seeing the drawing on my tablet, I wondered if that was a hot water tank behind the tent. Switching over to my computer I could see it was a trash can. 

Below left: Mr. Rosen’s trash can.  Right: a hot water tank.

In a way, I wish it had been a hot water tank as it would’ve made zero sense having it there (sometimes/most times, I love something nonsensical in the mix). I also liked that the fellow in the drawing appears to be wearing a Davey Crockett coonskin hat (but I hope it’s synthetic and that no raccoons were harmed in the making of the cartoon). By the way, you can still buy these hats.  Here’s one on Etsy.

I worry a little about Mr. Rosen’s diarist’s tent. If a subway train ever does blow into the station the tent will likely have serious stability issues as there aren’t any stakes holding it down.

Five pages later a Roz Chast cartoon. Like Ms. Roberts, Ms. Chast has gone outdoors. Bonfires bring to mind all sorts of stuff, some good (beach bonfires), some bad (book burning). As with Mr. Rosen’s drawing, I lingered on this one a bit more than usual, trying to figure out if the ring of people was made up of children, teenagers, or adults. I think all three. 

On the very next page, a Lars Kenseth Moby Dick, uh, Moby Lobster cartoon. As much as I feel for  tanked lobsters in restaurants and grocery stores, this is, like Mr. Haefeli’s work, top-shelf stuff. I’m dragging out the Spill’s graphic applause meter for this one:


Three pages later, a boxed drawing that could only be the work of Harry Bliss. Rarely do we see this much detail in a drawing (if you don’t count Mr. Haefeli’s work). What I find amusing in this drawing, with its incredible detail — especially the tree in the forefront — is that there are no footprints in the snow created by either father or daughter. Shadows by the shoes, yes…but no indication of prints. Funny. Maybe it’s a cleared dry pathway void of snow.

The next drawing, by Teresa Burns Parkhurst, is on the very next page. I could be terribly wrong about this but I don’t remember seeing too many public restroom drawings in the New Yorker. There’ve been many many drawings of private bathrooms.  Peter Arno’s so-called Man in the Shower immediately comes to mind and of course George Booth’s man in the tub series.  But a quick look through the New Yorker‘s database only turns up a few cartoons taking place in restrooms (i.e. bathrooms out of the home).  For what that’s worth! 

Sixteen pages later is a David Sipress television documentary series cartoon. Seeing this I couldn’t help but recall one done in the same school of thought published in the New Yorker 35 years ago by a then relative newcomer to the magazine (me). Coincidentally, Mr. Sipress and I share an affection for the word and number “six” in our captions: he uses it once, “…ninety-six part -documentary…” and, as you see below, I used it twice (coincidentally, and unimportantly, I was in my sixth year of contributing when the drawing below appeared in the issue of May 2, 1983). 


Five pages later an Emily Flake drawing, set outside.   A woman sits on a park bench in what appears to be sweater weather — there’s foliage on the trees (with two leaves on the ground).  California maybe?  I’m reminded of the late great Al Ross who somewhat specialized in park bench drawings. I raise my morning mug of coffee to Ms. Flake for this unexpected opportunity to mention the exceptionally talented and charming Mr. Ross.

Six pages later a Frank Cotham limo drawing. Without checking the New Yorker‘s database I think I’m on safe ground in saying that Mr. Cotham has done a good number of limo drawings (and by the way, isn’t it well past time for a Cotham anthology of cartoons?). I’m having difficulty deciphering the ears on the passenger.  Are they pointy? If they are, is that essential information?  Questions, questions…

Three pages later the last drawing of the issue (not counting the Caption Contest drawings).  This one, by Andrew Hamm is anchored by the oft-used flock ‘o’ birds scenario.  I pretty much always enjoy these drawings, whether done by Henry Martin or Lee Lorenz, etc., etc… Here we have very heavy appliances heading south…a scary proposition.

— See you next Monday.






The “Brightest and Most Malicious Drawings”: The Third New Yorker Album

An appropriate cover this New Year’s Eve as we trudge into 2018. 

By the time the Third New Yorker Album hit the shelves in 1930, the party that was the roaring twenties was over. What you see in the book are drawings from the tail end of the roar: night clubs, good times, frivolity…you know, like that.  The cover, by Peter Arno, originally appeared on the New Yorker‘s ninth issue following the stock market crash. It was Arno’s second album cover in a row, and the second time one of his full page drawings led off an album (the first time was the first album).

The Foreward, credited to The New Yorker, is full of interesting tidbits, considering the magazine was just five years old:

It is true that the working conditions of artist’s improve from year to year, and that artists get better as they get older. All of the New Yorker artists are now old. Two of them are in their late thirties, when the creative impulse either atrophies or turns a bright green…

...fifty years hence these albums will be looked at by adults as they are now looked at by children: gravely and with a wide-eyed wonder, slowly absorbing the physical details, ironical aspects, and fragmentary emotions of a past age. This is probably the true purpose of these albums. as far as they have any purpose other than adding to the artists’ royalties.

I’m not so sure about the “working conditions for artists improving from year to year” but these early albums do show certain artists getting “better” over time, whether it’s Barney Tobey, or Otto Soglow, or Alan Dunn. But maybe “getting better” isn’t right– maybe “transforming” is more accurate. From this album to the next and the next, certain styles solidify, the drawing becomes more confident, the caption writing improves; some styles change completely. And then there are those artists who are as good in this Third Album  as they will ever be.  Reginald Marsh’s work is spectacular, as is Helen Hokinson’s, Rea Irvin’s, Gluyas Williams’, and John Held’s. Arno is still in his earlier phase, as is Garrett Price, Mary Petty, and a number of others. It’s fun seeing this earlier work, knowing what’s to come — and it’s fun watching it develop from album to album.

On the back cover, this drawing by Garrett Price:

This was the second album of New Yorker cartoons I acquired (it was a gift) back in my late teenage years when I was paying a lot more attention to studying New Yorker cartoons than studying whatever one is supposed to be studying in school. This Third Album was my New Yorker cartoon primer, along with the 1925-1975 Album, the Thurber Carnival , and the highly inspirational contemporaneous cartoons in the weekly issues.

  Here’s the copy on the Third Album‘s inside front flap, and the inside back flap:

— Happy New Year to all!

The Monday Tilley Watch on Tuesday: The New Yorker Issue of January 1, 2018

This new issue of the New Yorker, dated January 1, 2018, brings the magazine ever closer to its 93rd birthday in February. The year kicks off (for the magazine) reassuringly with a George Booth cover. Here’s the magazine’s Cover Story with Mr. Booth.  Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t help but think the art contains just a bit of political satire. Could be wrong, could be wrong. 

How I wish I could report that the magazine’s first issue of the new year brought the return of Rea Irvin’s classic masthead for the Talk of The Town, but alas…it’s still a-missin’.  As a reminder, it looks exactly like this:

And now in to the magazine’s cartoons (some of them anyway). As with several weeks ago, I’m not going to go through every drawing in the issue, but just mention a few.

I note that there are 15 cartoonists represented, with one I believe  (please correct me if I’m wrong) making their debut in the magazine: Julia Bernhard. For those counting, that makes 12 new cartoonists thus far in the 8 months of Emma Allen’s watch as cartoon editor.

*A funny cowboy drawing on page 22 caught my eye — Lars Kenseth gives us brothers on the range with one just back from a Christmas visit to their mother.

Things I find amusing about this drawing:

1.The horses obviously know their way around the range — neither harness is equipped with reins. 

2.The Paul Newmanesque Butch Cassidy/Don Corleone/Michael Corleone hats the brothers are wearing.

3. The Christmas sweater worn by the brother who has just returned to work.  I wonder if their mom sent a sweater back for the other brother. 

*For a cartoon situation regularly visited by a lot of cartoonists, Frank Cotham‘s St. Peter’s Gate drawing on page 36 has a few unusual elements.  I’ve never seen St. Peter’s gate depicted like this. It looks like the gate you see on the entrance to a construction site after hours (it’s padlocked). Also, St. Peter’s book is resting on what appears to be a tv tray. 

*David Sipress‘s gladiator drawing on page 40 is a good piece of work.

*Maggie Larson‘s second aerial view drawing.  The last one reminded me a little of an Otto Soglow drawing.  This one immediately made me think of the photographer, Andre Kertesz (here is one of his many photos taken looking down on snowy ground) 

— See you next year





The New Yorker’s First Cartoon Santa Claus

You might ask yourself, as I did this Christmas morning: “When did the first Santa Claus appear in a New Yorker cartoon?” If you asked, you might’ve been tempted to guess it was sometime during the magazine’s first opportunity, in December of 1925. Wrong!  Hard to believe, but it was not until the second Christmas in the New Yorker‘s lifetime that it published a cartoon containing the jolly old fellow. There were cartoons in 1925 referencing Christmas — the earliest was in June(!) of 1925 by Al Frueh, but no Santa there — just a letter written to Santa.

No, it wasn’t until the issue of November 27, 1926 that a Santa Claus debuted in one of the magazine’s cartoons.  The cartoon was by Helen Hokinson, one of the magazine’s two stars (Peter Arno being the other. The very same issue bore Mr. Arno’s first of many covers for the magazine).

As usual with Ms. Hokinson, the drawing looks as if she dashed it off with brilliant ease. I love the little glimpse of a village. Was it a flat backdrop, or an actual small constructed set.  Santa, sitting in front of what seems to be a chimney top, or low wall,  looks weary in his debut. 

And if you were wondering when Santa made his first appearance on the magazine’s cover, it was just a few issues later, December 11, 1926, when the magazine’s go-to cover artist, Rea Irvin produced a tree bearing Santa-like ornaments.