The Ink Spill Jack Ziegler Interview

jack-ziegler-1985

Jack Ziegler, recently referred to on this site as the Godfather of Contemporary New Yorker Cartoonists, has been contributing to the magazine since February of  1974.

Now in 2016 he is solidly in the K Crowd — meaning he’s published well over a thousand cartoons and one cover in The New Yorker (we’ll get to the cover later).  Considering that Jack has been the subject of former New Yorker Art Editor, Lee Lorenz’s The Essential Jack Ziegler and more recently as one of Richard Gehr’s subjects in I Only Read It For the Cartoons, I thought it would be interesting to talk about things that, for the most part, weren’t brought up in those books. I highly recommend seeking out both those titles for a full account of Jack’s personal and public shenanigans over the years.

This is Part 1 of my interview with Jack. Later in the week I’ll post Part 2, where we discuss a number of Jack’s favorite drawings, and a number of my favorite Ziegler drawings.

__________________________________________________________________________

 

I’d heard from Jack years ago that he was a CBS page during the Beatles historic Ed Sullivan debut, but what I didn’t know was that he also paged for the Jackie Gleason and Garry Moore shows. It seemed the perfect place to begin our interview.

MM: So, this inquiring mind wants to know: did you get to meet  “The Great One” (Jackie Gleason) when you were a page at CBS?

JZ: I never got to meet Gleason.  He wasn’t around all that much and when he was in the studio he was referred to as “God.”  I think we taped the show on Tuesday nights & he wouldn’t show up till sometime that afternoon so that he could watch the dress rehearsal.  That was apparently all he needed to absorb everything he needed to do onstage.  Barney Martin, who eventually played Jerry’s father on Seinfeld, was his stand-in.  It was a fat guy to fat guy transference.

As a page, or glorified usher, I did get to watch all the tapings from Studio 50, now the Ed Sullivan Theatre, at Broadway & 53rd in NYC, from the audience until the Gleason Show moved – lock, stock & barrel – to Miami.

[In Gehr’s book, Jack mentions an elevator ride with Jackie O.  I wanted details]

MM: What about the elevator ride with Jackie O.  Just the two of you?

JZ: I had sold my second book, Filthy Little Things, to Doubleday – and Jackie Kennedy happened to snag a job there around that time as an editor.  I had just dropped off a bunch of drawings for the book and then took the elevator down.  The car stopped at another floor and she got on and it was just the two of us, sans Secret Service escorts.  Then we rode that baby down another couple of floors before she hopped off, exhausted but elated (they tell me), and I stayed on till I hit the street, at which point I had a chance to exhale.

MM: Do you remember the first time walking into the New Yorker’s art department [the magazine’s offices were then located at 25 West 43rd St]  What was that like for you? Who’d you meet?

JZ:  It was a Wednesday in November of 1973.  There was to be an annual Cartoonists Guild meeting & cocktail party later and I was wearing a sports coat and a heavy sweater so that I wouldn’t have to deal with an overcoat later.  I thought I was just going to drop off my usual batch, but there was a note from Lee Lorenz included in my returns asking me to come back to chat about one of my drawings.  Oh, boy!  Natasha the receptionist opened the gates and pointed me in the direction of the Inner Sanctum.

new-yorker-hallway-25-west-43rd-st-ldLeft: the New Yorker‘s Inner Sanctum at 25 West 43rd St.

It was a warmer than usual Nov. day and I was starting to perspire in my excessive outfit.  The first person I saw in the office was Henry Martin, whom I’d already met at True magazine while on rounds.  Sam Gross was there, too; I’d met him a few weeks back at National Lampoon.  I was then introduced to the other people who were there: Dana Fradon, Donald Reilly & Charlie Sauers.  By the time I got to sit down with Lee, the perspiration had turned to flop sweat.  Lee asked if I was OK as he handed me my first OK.  Then he gave me a little pep talk and basically just said to make the drawing a little bit better.  I was a wreck, but in a good way.  When I got back down to earth, i.e., 43rd St., I headed for the nearest pay phone to break the good news to my wife.

MM:  How aware were you of the work of veteran New Yorker cartoonists who were around when you began at the magazine…for example: Frank Modell, Warren Miller, Dana Fradon, Charles Saxon, Mischa Richter and on and on.

JZ: I knew of them all.  When I was a kid, my parents subscribed to a lot of magazines, but not the New Yorker.  Fortunately, a friend of mine’s parents did, so from the late ‘40s, early ‘50s, I was a big fan.  Some neighbors down the block had a copy of the New Yorker 25th Anniversary Album, with which I was fascinated.

nyer-25th-anniversary-album  Every time I went over there, I’d head for a quiet corner with that book.  One day I asked if I could borrow it & the owner said if I could find it, I could have it.  I interpreted “have” as “keep.”  I still “have” it.  After that, I started buying the mag on my own.

MM: Let’s talk about your one and only (as of this week, anyway) New Yorker cover.  Curious as to why there wasn’t a bushel basket full of more Ziegler covers following that one.  You obviously submitted more.   Did more sell that didn’t run?

jack-ziegler-nyer-cover

JZ:  Selling that cover was very encouraging, and i submitted a lot of them, but that was the only one that got bought until 1991, when I sold a fall-themed cover.  They weren’t able to run it that year because all the fall slots had been taken, so it got pushed back to ’92.  Then editor Robert Gottlieb left and Tina Brown took over and killed everything that was scheduled to run.  It was the beginning of The Tina Years.  So – that was that.  It did eventually run inside as a full-color full-pager with the title, Fall Sweeps.  Oh, well.  But I’d love the chance to redo that one cover – ya know, just to make it right.

MM: What about the cover would you change?

JZ: I like the guy.  The bricks should’ve started higher, instead of going all the way down to the sidewalk.  I had to take 3 stabs at the sandwich board before Lee was satisfied and you can almost see that it’s pasted on.  The final (sandwich board) came out OK, though.

MM: I’m going to ask you the same question I asked Woodman [Bill Woodman, who was the subject of an Ink Spill interview in September of this year]: when you began at the New Yorker were you aware your work was quite different than what the magazine had been publishing in its previous fifty years? (Ed Koren, who preceded you in the magazine by  a dozen years would be an exception).

JZ: I had no inkling of that.  I knew that I felt that I wasn’t quite seeing the type of cartoons I wanted to see in the magazine.  They were good cartoons, but too many of them weren’t making me laugh the way they had when I was a kid.  I wanted to do drawings that were funny to me, & not necessarily to anyone else.  I was out to please myself, so I never asked: Is this a New Yorker cartoon?  Who knows?  Is this a Jack Ziegler cartoon?  Yep.

MM: I remember the first time I saw you in person – it was an enormous book fair in midtown Manhattan, circa 1979.  That cartoon anthology Animals Animals, Animals had just been published and you were on a panel with Sam Gross out there on the street (West 50 something) in front of a large crowd.  Were you comfortable being in the spotlight?

JZ: It was probably either Doubleday or Rizzoli – also could have been part of NY Book Fair that year.  Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin were also there signing books, but hadn’t appeared yet.  I kept telling people that we had them both tied up in the basement & they wouldn’t be set free until the cartoonists had sold a certain number of books.  Oddly, some people were there to buy the Gordon/Kanin book and got pissed off.  So far as spotlight goes, I was never uncomfortable.  When I was a page at CBS we used to have to be front and center to give various little speeches and instructions to our captive audiences.  I was uncomfortable with that for awhile, but quickly got over it and began to tell them silly, made-up stuff, as well as the crucial info.  When you’re signing a lot of books for a crowd and the books are being passed around from cartoonist to cartoonist, the time goes fast and you start doing riffs on the little drawings that the other cartoonists have done before the book got to you.  It was fun.

mankoff-stevens-cline-ziegler-donnelly-1984Left: Bob Mankoff, Mick Stevens, Richard Cline, Jack Ziegler, Liza Donnelly. New York, 1984.

MM: The next time I saw you was in early 1985, at The New Yorker.  William Shawn had called in a bunch of cartoonists to talk about the impending sale of the magazine to Advance Publications. Besides us “kids” sitting on a table along the back wall, I only remember Steig and Barney Tobey. What do you remember from that somewhat historic meeting?  Besides Lee Lorenz, and the aforementioned Steig and Tobey, what cartoonists do you remember being in the room? And…what do you remember how you felt being there with Shawn, in that crowd?  Had you met Shawn before?

JZ:  I had met (or rather, seen) Shawn before, usually exiting or entering his elevator and sometimes in the hallway (rare).  He gave another speech to the assembled troops several years prior to Advance’s acquisition.  It was probably late ‘70s, when a group of New Yorker employees were attempting to unionize the workers.  The unionization never happened, but as a result, we were promised health insurance and a pension plan.  Not a bad outcome at all.
I sort of remember the Advance meeting being in Lee’s office, but that’s probably incorrect – there were a lot of people there.  I noted it in my desk diary as Black Wednesday, 2/13/85.  Other than those you mentioned, also present were gagwriter and sometime cartoonist Richard McCallister, cover artist Gretchen Dow Simpson, Charles Addams, George Price, Frank Modell, Joe Farris, Roz Chast, Al Ross, Ed Frascino, George Booth, Ed Fisher, Bud Handelsman, Arnie Levin, Henry Martin, Bob Mankoff, you, and I.  I was quite impressed with Shawn’s lucid presentation of the complicated takeover process.

MM: It’s risky talking about current New Yorker cartoonists, unless you’re all nicey-nice, so I’d like to ask you to comment, however briefly you’d like, about some of our departed colleagues. Either comment on their work, or them personally, if you knew them.
> Richard McCallister
> Charles Saxon
> Steig
> Charles Barsotti
> Al Ross
> Chon Day
> William Hamilton
> George Price

JZ:  When I first moved to New Milford, CT, in 1975 I used to mail in New Yorker finishes from the local PO.  One day there was a gentleman in front of me who was also holding a manila envelope addressed to Lee Lorenz.  I tapped him on the shoulder and introduced myself, told him that he had to be either Richard McCallister or Stan Hunt (I knew that he, too, lived in the area, but had never met him).  It was McCallister.  We – my wife and I – became friends with him and his wife Alice and would occasionally socialize, at which times I would pump him with questions about the magazine and his (kind of) partnership with Peter Arno, for whom he supplied a buttload of ideas.

Bill Steig also lived in the area, about 20 miles north of us in Kent, CT.  We used to meet up by happenstance in various restaurants and would join each others’ table for the meal.  Bill was always saying that no matter how old they get, he still always worried about his kids. One day I mentioned that I would occasionally send in some resubmissions to fill out the batch if it was a particularly dry week.  He was amazed.  “You mean you can do that?,” he said.  I was stunned that in all his years with the New Yorker it had never occurred to him to do that.

I had communicated with Charley Barsotti for years prior to my moving to Lawrence, KS.  He was living only about 40 miles away in Kansas City, so it was only natural that we get together for lots of lunches & dinners – and we did that a lot, until he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and then died about a year later.  The last time I saw him was for a sun-filled patio dinner at Axois, a great restaurant a block from his house.  He was frail that evening, but still full of spunk, and I’ve never seen a nattier couple.  In comparison, I looked like a dropout in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt.  He wanted a side of potatoes with his meal, but his wife Rae told him they weren’t part of his strict diet.  He just looked at her and ordered the potatoes anyway.  He, as always, just wanted to have a good time.  He died about 2 weeks later.  And, no, it wasn’t the damn potatoes.

I still get together with Rae for the occasional meal and we talk about Charley and all the amazing work he left behind.

I would see Al Ross only occasionally at the magazine and he was always friendly and jovial.  I would see both Hamilton and Saxon at the mag, but they seemed more remote.  I never met Chon Day and only had a glimpse of Price once at the aforementioned Shawn meeting.

MM: Lee Lorenz brought you into the magazine. What was it like working with him? Did he just kind of let you do your thing once you began or was he working closely with you — a combination, perhaps?

JZ: My first meeting with Lee was when he invited me back into his office to “discuss” one of my drawings.  That was a big deal, a life-changing deal.  He gave me a few hints, very loose, very casual, about how to approach the finish.  I think I did 3 versions before it looked right to him.  After that, I sold sporadically for about 6 months before they started buying on a fairly regular basis.

Below: Mr. Ziegler’s first New Yorker drawing, published February 11, 1974

jack-ziegler-1st-new-yorker-drawing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I do remember having a hard time for some reason drawing older people – I was in my early thirties at the time and I guess I just couldn’t identify.  After several attempts with one idea, Lee gave up on me and had Whitney Darrow, Jr. do the finish. But I’ve come a long way now and drawing old codgers these days comes naturally.

“Hole: The Original Soundtrack” was a 3-page, 8-picture absurdist spread that the New Yorker bought.  Lee had spread out all the drawings on the floor of his office and we were crawling around among them trying to figure out various sizings.  Lee turned to me and mentioned what a ridiculous way this was for two grown men to be earning a living.  And it was.  He was serious about cartoons and great fun to work with.

MM: I know Charles Addams did at least two of your ideas. [Nevermore and the little mail truck…is that right?]  Were there more — and were there ideas given to anyone else other than the Whitney Darrow you mentioned?

JZ: Nope, that’s it.  Only those 3 – and they all looked great.  I couldn’t have done them better myself – I mean, the Darrow drawing I couldn’t do at all – his version is lovely.

whitney-darrow-idea-by-zieglerLeft: drawing by Whitney Darrow, idea by Jack Ziegler

MM: What did you think of Addams’ versions of your ideas?

JZ: Addams’ Nevermore drawing has a layout that closely follows my original (as I remember it – of course, I never saw it again) – there wasn’t anything much different you could have done with it.  His mail truck version is more elaborate and detailed and far, far better than mine.

MM: You began at the New Yorker with Shawn and you’ve seen Bob Gottlieb, Tina Brown and now David Remnick move into the big chair.  Have any of these changes meant some kind of change for you, your work?

JZ:  There’s always a worry when a new editor takes over, but I never had any major problems with any of them.  I didn’t have to make any adjustments, with the exception of the Gottlieb years.  For some reason, Bob G. didn’t like white space in drawings, so every square centimeter had to be filled with something, sometimes to the detriment of the drawing.  The words in a balloon caption had to rub up against the sides of that balloon.  No air allowed.  Seemed silly to me and the drawings of almost everyone suffered.

Tina Brown was different.  She was an anything-goes girl, the nuttier, the edgier, & sometimes the sexier the drawing, the better.  I submitted a rather rude cartoon, “I just did a huge one in my diaper,” a drawing for the hell of it that I knew the New Yorker would never buy.  But, to my surprise, Tina did and it made me very happy.  I love it when a surprise like that happens.

ziegler-huge-one-in

MM: So what’s the thrill, some forty-three years since you began at the magazine: is it that moment an idea works for you, the drawing itself, selling the drawing, seeing it published in The New Yorker?

JZ:  It’s always a blast when you come up with an idea that you know no one has ever come up with before.  Also, it’s fun just thumbing through a stack of old drawings and coming across something that you’ve totally forgotten about and it makes you laugh out loud.

Selling a drawing is always nice for the bottom line, but the choices of what gets bought are almost invariably a surprise.  Personal favorites rarely get chosen.  Sometimes the worst idea in the batch is bought – and then, once it’s published, it turns out to be a huge hit.  Seeing anything of one’s own in the magazine is always a thrill, no matter how many times it happens – especially if it’s sized correctly.  Judging the value of one’s own work has always been impossible.  And I’ll always have certain favorites among my thousands of children, no matter how crappy everyone else thinks they are.

MM: Not long ago someone asked me how I could come up with ideas without getting out in the world. Do you think it’s necessary to “get out in the world” for your work?

JZ: You certainly have to have some background of having been out in the world, but as far as a day-to-day thing, nah.  I have very little live contact during the week, except for dog walks and buying the newspaper.  I rely on the blank piece of paper on my clipboard to reveal the secrets within.  I had normal jobs and contacts for my ten years between college and cartooning, so I was aware of the ins and outs of daily workplace socializing, so I rely on those not-so-fond memories to get me through the batch.

MM: I know you read everyday before you begin working on drawings.  Does the reading actually translate into drawings or is it something that, let’s say, exercises the brain?

JZ: It’s more a case of getting the brain moving in the morning.  Sometimes ideas spring from that, but mostly not.  After reading, I check out the New York Times, just the first page of each section, to see if anything leaps out at me.  With all the budget cuts and downsizing of that paper over the past few years, there’s far less there, so that formerly useful tool has become kinda useless.  But I still look, just in case.  I rarely get to delve into the interior until lunchtime.

MM: Is there a certain cartoon scenario that your happiest working on/workin in? (marital situations, barbeques, the old west, business people, etc) or are you happiest with whatever you’re working on at the moment?

JZ: Whatever I’m working on at the moment, whatever ideas pop into my head, no matter the genre.  I do like drawing cowboys on horses and almost anything to do with the “Wild West,” however.  Whenever I’m stuck I invariably start drawing guys on horses, and ninety per cent of the time that leads somewhere.

MM:  I love your  drawing of the cowboy kissing the gal while covering his horse’s eyes.  It’s one of those not laugh out loud drawings (although it could be), but some other kind of humor.

j-ziegler-aug-19-1991

JZ: I really like that one too.  My memory of it is that it’s something that emerged totally out of a doodle that I just kept adding things to, including the frame.

MM: I’m not one for dissecting what’s successful, but I think of that as a very successful drawing, an evergreen. Any comment on that drawing, or evergreen drawings in general (as in: do you prefer them to topical drawings?). 

JZ:  I do like drawings where there really isn’t any joke — or kicker, as Sam Gross would say. The cannon in the bushes is like that.  I’m sure a lot of people scratched their heads over that one, but it’s just a cannon poking out of some suburban bushes and that’s all it is. There can be many interpretations.  It amuses me and I have no idea why. I far prefer these types of drawings to topical.  They have a longer shelf life, at least in my own mind.

jz-cannon

MM: The New Yorker‘s current cartoon editor, Bob Mankoff memorably said, “It’s the think, not the ink.”  Agree, disagree?

JZ: Agree.  But it’s always nice when cartoonists know how to draw so that they can give us something pleasant and fun to look at.

 

(Photo of Jack Ziegler at the very top of the piece, taken in 1985;  photo of the New Yorker‘s Inner Sanctum, taken in 1991: both courtesy of Liza Donnelly)

A Jack Ziegler selected bibliography:

ziegler4ziegler5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hamburger Madness  Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978.

Filthy Little Things    Dolphin, 1981.

Marital Blitz   Warner, 1987.

Celebrity Cartoons of the Rich and Famous   Warner, 1987.

Worst Case Scenarios    Fireside, 1990.

The Essential Jack Ziegler (Edited by Lee Lorenz)  Workman Publishing, 2000.

How’s the Squid?   Harry N. Abrams, 2004.

Olive or Twist? Harry N. Abrams, 2004.

ziegler11

ziegler13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Yorker Cartoonist Michael Crawford: An Ink Spill Appreciation

MC

 

Michael Crawford,  who began publishing his drawings in The New Yorker in 1984, passed away this past Tuesday afternoon.

The first time I laid eyes on him, thirty-two years ago, I was sitting in a street level apartment next to Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios in Greenwich Village. The apartment belonged to another New Yorker cartoonist, Richard Cline. I was waiting for Cline to finish up a phone call so we could cab uptown to the Pierre Hotel on 5th Avenue for the magazine’s annual anniversary party. Crawford suddenly came in through Klein’s Seinfeldian unlocked apartment door. More specifically, Crawford sidled in like a sand crab – looking as if he wasn’t sure he really wanted to be there or was supposed to be there. This kind of entrance became, for me, his trademark over the years: looking like he was ready to leave as soon as he entered a room.

 

In those early days of his run at The New Yorker he was struggling to catch William Shawn’s discerning eye. Crawford got his work into the magazine, but rather than getting in and advancing, he plateaued. As he told me in an interview in 2013:

 

“Shawn ran a total of 6 between ’83 and the year he departed [1987]. Once Bob Gottlieb [Robert Gottlieb was William Shawn’s successor as editor] took over, the buy rate increased.” [Shawn actually only ran a total of four in those years].

 

Crawford's 1st June 25 1984

Early Crawford seemed to owe a bit to Jack Ziegler’s work. His very first drawing in The New Yorker, in the issue of June 25, 1984, [above] reserves a Ziegleresque word for the “pow” at the end. By his third drawing he was showing us, appropriately enough, a baseball. Baseball was one of Crawford’s greatest passions. Again, from my interview with him: “Baseball was life for me, from the beginning.” He soon became a fixture on The New Yorker’s baseball team.

As Gottlieb’s editorship gave way to Tina Brown’s, Crawford thrived. He told me: “Tina was relentlessly cordial, encouraging and welcoming of spread ideas.” He contributed color work (color was no stranger to him. Like many New Yorker artists he wore two hats: cartoonist and fine artist). His good friend Danny Shanahan said of him not long ago: “Michael’s not really a cartoonist – he’s an artist.”

 

Somewhere during his middle years at the magazine his family moved from the Boston area to a house at the end of a dirt road in a burg along the Hudson — a scenic town already lousy with New Yorker cartoonists (the aforementioned Danny Shanahan, Liza Donnelly & myself). In all the years he lived here this is how many times I spotted him walking around town: 0.

 

Some short scenes from my interactions with him over the years:

 

* I met him at a local bar & grill shortly after he moved here. He came up to where I was sitting, his eyes fixed on the television screen over the bar. “Are those the Bulls?” he said. “Oh,” I thought to myself, “he likes basketball – he’s a sports guy.” Another small window to the man.

 

*I was sitting in his house once staring at a painting he’d done of a rowboat. “What’re those,” I asked, pointing to the dark areas below the boat’s seats, “cast shadows?” “Yeah,” he replied, and laughed a quick laugh – as if it accidentally escaped.

 

Some years later his life changed again and, now single, he moved into Manhattan where he eventually met a model who soon became a fellow New Yorker cartoonist, and eventually, near the very last weeks of his life, his wife. They became the fourth New Yorker married cartoonist couple (in chronological order the four couples are: Mary Petty & Alan Dunn, Liza Donnelly & myself, Emily Richards & Marshall Hopkins, Carolita Johnson & Crawford).

 

I think of Crawford’s hundreds of contributions to the New Yorker: his odd energetically layered wash or marker drawings with au courant captions; his other art: the paintings of mobsters and the Kennedy assassination. I think of his sidling in and out of parties, chin up, checking out the scene (he rode a motor scooter for a while and would show up at events holding onto his helmet, ready to bolt, and jump back on his two-wheeler and vroom into the night). In any conversation his eyes never fixed on me for more than a half-second. They were wandering around, looking here there and everywhere; he wasn’t really here with me, he was somewhere way way over there. A social attention span like mercury, unless — so I’ve heard — he was painting.

 

All these quirky observations of Crawford — they’re like slides quickly fast forwarding on an old slide projector. Here’s one final slide: many years ago, not long after Crawford moved to this town, he wrote me and said he was gathering together, on tape, versions of the song “On Broadway” … could I think of any unusual recordings?… Well, yes, I told him, I could. So I sent him a copy of The Dave Clark Five’s rendition, which caused him to smile ever so slightly.

 

…They say that I won’t last too long
On Broadway
I’ll catch a Greyhound bus for home they all say

 

Aug 6 2012 MC

 

 

Link here for Ink Spill‘s 2013 interview with Michael Crawford

Link here to a New York Times article from 2009: “Where Punchlines Pay the Rent”

Link here to Mr. Crawford’s New Yorker Contributors Page from a few years back

NOTE: There are no collections of Michael Crawford’s New Yorker cartoons.  In 2003 he edited and wrote the Introduction to The New Yorker Book of Baseball Cartoons (originally published in 2003, it was reissued in 2012).  And of course his work can be found in all the New Yorker cartoon anthologies beginning with the The New Yorker Cartoon Album 1975 – 1985.

[The cartoon above appeared in The New Yorker August 6, 2012]

Correction: In the initial post, I misstated Mr. Crawford’s age at the time of his death. According to Mr.Crawford’s wife, he was 70 years old, not 75.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Catching Up With…Roz Chast

-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roz Chast has been contributing her work to The New Yorker since 1978 when she burst on the scene in the magazine’s pages causing a mixture of excitement and in some quarters, just a little confusion.  The veteran New Yorker cartoonist, Charles Saxon, a giant in the  magazine’s ranks, queried Ms. Chast, and not in the most positive sense,  “Why do you draw the way you do?”  She responded, “Why do you draw the way you do?”

 

Since that time Ms. Chast has herself gone on to become a giant in the ranks of the magazine’s contributors. Most everyone knows what a Chast drawing looks like (and often they smile just upon hearing her name).

RC
Roz and I have known each other since the year our work first appeared in The New Yorker, Incoming Class of ’78.  I remember being introduced to her by the cartoonist, Richard Cline, in the Grand Ballroom of the Pierre Hotel, where The New Yorker once held its anniversary parties.  We email from time-to-time, and recently, I asked her if she’d let Ink Spill visitors in on what’s happening in her life these days.

 

Michael Maslin:  Roz, when we connected a few weeks ago you were making your first pickles.  It’s not at all what I imagined you would be doing that day.  I’m not sure what I imagined you’d be doing, but it wasn’t that.  What’s with the pickling? And how did it go?

 

Roz Chast: I have a couple of friends who are obsessed with pickle-making. Looking back, I think it was peer pressure. Anyway, my pickles were ok. Don’t know if I’ll do it again, though. Voice in my head right now: shut up about the pickles. [Roz’s first batch of pickles are in the photo above].

 

MM:I know you’ve returned to one of your passions: pysanka egg-decorating. I love seeing group photographs of them, as if they’re assembled for a concert or something.  When you’re decorating them, are they individuals, or do they belong to various egg families?  In other words, is there ever a story between them, or are they strangers to each other? Am I making sense?

 

imagesRC: They are both individuals and part of a group. With the pysanka dyes, each egg becomes very pretty in its own way, but when you put them all together, they become almost head-explodingly pretty.

 

MM: I know you’ve been working on a book, coming out next May, and that it’s perhaps different from previous books of yours. Can you tell us us about it?

 

51DlvVXiTiL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_RC: It’s called Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, which is what my father used to say whenever a difficult topic, like death or illness, came up.  It’s a graphic memoir and includes writing (nothing typeset), cartoons, illustrations, some of my mother’s poems, photographs, and, as they say, much, much more. The book begins when I realized I had to “step up to the plate” and deal with their increasing frailty—that none of us could continue sticking out heads in the sand– and it ends with my mother’s death.

 

MM: Let’s turn to our favorite magazine for a moment.  A good percentage of the cartoonists who began when we did, in the mid-to-late 1970s, are still contributing to the magazine. They’re (we’re) continuing a tradition of long careers for cartoonists at The New Yorker. Jack Ziegler, Mick Stevens, yourself, Liza Donnelly, Tom Cheney, and, of course, our current cartoon editor, Bob Mankoff are full participants nearly some forty years into it.  What do you make of that, if anything?

 

RC: Hasn’t it always been that way, in a way? When I started, it seemed like there were lots of older people who had been contributing for several decades.

 

MM: Has anything changed for you regarding your work…the way you work, I mean.  What’s it like for you now in 2013, going on 2014 when you sit at your drawing board? Is it any different than what it was like in say, 1982 or 1990 or 2005?

 

RC: It’s the same in a lot of ways. I still contribute a weekly “batch.” I still use a Rapidograph-type pen and draw on 9 by 12 Vellum Bristol paper. I still am happy when something makes me laugh. I no longer go in to The New Yorker in person—I send my work in via pdf, so that’s different. And of course, I’m a lot older and closer to death now than I was when I started. Let’s change the subject.

 

Click here to vist Roz Chast’s website.

Click here to see Roz’s work at The New Yorker‘s Cartoon Bank site.

 

Society of Illustrators Exhibits Work by 45 New Yorker Artists

logo

 

 

 

 

As promised a few days ago, below is a list of New Yorker artists whose work appears in an upcoming exhibit at The Society of Illustrators. The artists included span the entire history of The New Yorker, beginning with early masters, Helen Hokinson, Peter Arno and Gluyas Williams right up through many of today’s most exciting and incredibly funny contributors.

 

 

Ed Arno, Peter Arno, Charles Barsotti, David Borchart, John Caldwell, Roz Chast, Richard Cline, Joe Dator, Drew Dernavich, Matthew Diffee, Liza Donnelly, Bob Eckstein, Dana Fradon, Felipe Galindo, Sam Gross, Larry Hat, Helen Hokinson, Zachary Kanin, Nurit Karlin, Farley Katz, Robert Leighton, Bob Mankoff, Marisa Marchetto, Michael Maslin, Richard McCallister, Warren Miller, Roxie Munro, Paul Noth, John O’Brien, Danny Shanahan, Michael Shaw, Barbara Shermund, Barbara Smaller, Edward Sorel, Peter Steiner, Mick Stevens, Julia Suits, P.C.Vey, Liam Walsh, Kim Warp, Robert Weber, Christopher Weyant, Gluyas Williams, Bill Woodman, Jack Ziegler