From Madison.com, February 17, 2012, “On the Aisle: Cartoonist Ivan Brunetti at the Chazen” — a post concerning Brunetti’s appearance (with Chris Ware and Lynda Barry) this past Wednesday at the Madison, Wisconsin Chazen Museum of Art.
Of all the duties Wolcott Gibbs attended to during his thirty-one years at The New Yorker (and his duties were many: editor, writer, theater critic), his relationship to the magazine’s cartoonists (or “artists” as the magazine calls them) is probably the least examined.
When Gibbs began at The New Yorker, working under Katharine Angell (later, after marrying E.B. White, Katharine White), one of his duties was “seeing artists” — that is, he acted as the buffer between the editors and the artists, delivering the bad news or good news to cartoonists about work submitted; if the news was good, Gibbs would relay instructions, if any, from the editors as to how to make the bought work work for publication in The New Yorker.
As his stock rose at the magazine, Gibbs went on to sit side-by-side in the weekly Tuesday afternoon Art Meetings with Katharine White, Harold Ross, and Rea Irvin. Gibbs’ affinity with the magazine’s art went public in 1935 when he contributed a rebuttal, of sorts, to New Yorker Art Critic, Lewis Mumford, who had issues with the work presented in the New Yorker’s Seventh Album. Here’s how Gibbs, in his piece titled “Fresh Flowers” responded to Mumford’s quibble that the Album contained too much work that came out of “that special kind of temporary madness that springs out of a tough day at the office and three rapid Martinis.” :
This apparently refers to the work of a few artists characters whose characters belong to no particular land or time, and are held to the world itself only lightly, by the pull of a tempered gravity. They are the wilder shadows in the same wonderland that Lewis Carroll first explored, and are valuable to this collection as lesser examples of the same universal and timeless quality.
While continuing at the Art Meetings as an editor, Gibbs eventually passed his “seeing artists” job to a new-comer, William Maxwell, who told The Paris Review in 1985:
A great deal of what was put before the art meeting was extremely unfunny. Gibbs was repelled by the whole idea of grown men using their minds in this way and seldom said anything.
Sitting in the Art Meetings, examining thousands upon thousands of “extremely unfunny” cartoons is one thing, but enjoying the work of masters of the form is very much another. It comes as no surprise then that for a quartet of New Yorker cartoonists, Gibbs was the go-to man for introducing collections of their work to the public. He wrote the Foreward to William Steig’s 1942 collection, The Lonely Ones; the Foreward to George Price’s 1943 collection, Who’s In Charge Here?, and the Preface to Alan Dunn’s 1956 collection, Should It Gurgle?
In the Foreward to Charles Addams’ 1947 collection, Addams & Evil, Gibbs wrote of the two camps of cartoons thriving in the magazine’s pages:
New Yorker cartoons can be roughly divided into two classifications, which, back in the days when I was the most insanely miscast of an almost endless procession of art editors, were conveniently designated as “straight” and “nutty.”
Addams in turn provided three covers for Gibbs’ own work:
More in Sorrow (1958), Season in the Sun (1946), and Season in the Sun (the Play, in 1950).
And way back in 1937, Rea Irvin, who, we can’t be reminded enough, shaped and guided the magazine’s art in its infancy, provided the cover and illustrations for Gibbs’ first collection of his New Yorker pieces, Bed of Neuroses.
With The New Yorker’s 87th birthday just around the corner (the very first issue was dated February 21, 1925) I thought it would be fun to muse about the magazine’s present cartoon universe.
What New Yorker cartoonists do so well and have done so well over eight decades is knee-jerk to their time. The New Yorker’s hands-off system, begun by its founder, Harold Ross, of encouraging contributing cartoonists to explore their creative bent, wherever it may lead them, remains very much in place to this day. This was a spectacular editorial decision, providing a home for those (of us) who have trouble taking direction, but no trouble at all staring into space or messing around on paper awaiting the pulsating light bulb of inspiration to strike. It’s a freedom that’s produced tens of thousands of great cartoons and scores of great cartoonists, from Addams to Ziegler. I’d venture to say — without the research to back it up — that the magazine’s current crop of cartoonists, more than any in the past, has taken this freedom and run like hell with it, graphically and otherwise.
Part of the genius of Harold Ross, was his decision to encourage his artists to run amuck creatively, insuring that the magazine does not hand the readership formula. As each issue arrives (either in our mailbox or electronically), I, like many of the magazine’s million other readers, look at the cartoons first. The 87th anniversary issue, now in hand, with its fuzzy “loading” Eustace Tilley cover, was no exception; the excitement of flipping through looking at the cartoons came not from what was expected, but, as always, from the unexpected.
From NY1, February 2012, this must see video: “One On 1 Profile: Award-Winning Cartoonist, Political Satirist Edward Sorel Documents American Culture Through The Covers of Prominent Magazines”
From NYC-ARTs: The Complete Guide, “Selected Shorts: Roz Chast Presents ‘What I Hate dfrom A – Z'” at Symphony Space, February 8, 2012. Details here.
From Wickedlocal, February 3, 2012, “Profile: Chatham artist Bob Staake”
From Sixtynine degrees, February 2012, “Paul Wood exhibition!”
From Playbill.com, February 5, 2012, “On the Record: A Thurber Carnival and ‘David Merrick Presents Hits From His Broadway Hits'” — this review of the recently released on disc soundtrack to the Broadway production of A Thurber Carnival
And for those with some spare change, there’s this Thurber original currently on Ebay.
Speaking of Ebay, there’s also a Dorothy McKay being auctioned (although the listing says it’s a New Yorker drawing, it does not appear in the magazine’s database)
Book of Interest: from Abrams ComicArts, The Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist by Alvin Buenaventura due April 1, 2012.
Bob Eckstein will be roving around Manhattan tomorrow, drawing and commenting for The New York Times as he tailgates at various locales. By going to this link you can follow his exploits.