Terribly sad news has just arrived here: the great New Yorker cartoonist, Charles Barsotti has passed away at his home in Kansas City. Mr. Barsotti, whose work was often mentioned in the same breath as Otto Soglow’s and James Thurber’s because of his spare melodic ink line, was a contributor to The New Yorker since 1962, and had been a contract artist with the magazine since 1970. His long parade of kings and tyrants, and dogs – or “pups” as he called them – began appearing regularly in the magazine in 1968, over a thousand drawings in all, and two covers, the second of which graced the magazine’s second Cartoon Issue in December of 1998. That cover featured a subject Mr. Barsotti had successfully avoided up til then: a staple of most cartoonists’ ouvres, the desert island.
Born September 28, 1933, in San Marcos, Texas, Mr. Barsotti was immediately whisked away to San Antonio, where he was raised. He contributed drawings to his school newspaper, with his early influences the popular comic strips of the day, including Lil Abner, Blondie and Prince Valiant. Later influences included the great single panel cartoonists he discovered in Look, The Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s and eventually The New Yorker. On a trip to New York in his late 20s, he made the rounds of magazines then publishing cartoons and sold one drawing to The New Yorker. That drawing, published August 25, 1962 was stylistically atypical Barsotti, more in the vein of Robert Kraus or Warren Miller, with shading and wash. He would describe his later work –- the style he stuck with the rest of his career — as “post cluttered.” It would be six years until his next drawing appeared in The New Yorker (November 23, 1968), but in that time he had provided ideas for several New Yorker cartoonists (Chon Day and William O’Brian among them) and had become, ever so briefly, cartoon editor of The Saturday Evening Post. When the Post closed down in 1969, Barsotti and another Post contributor, George Booth, were taken in at The New Yorker. Mr. Barsotti told Richard Gehr, “George was an immediate hit, but I wasn’t.”
While his career at The New Yorker was just building up steam he took a side-trip into national politics, running (unsuccessfully) for Congress in 1972, one of two New Yorker cartoonists ever to do so (John Held, Jr. ran and lost, in 1926 in Connecticut). His 1981 collection of cartoons, Kings Don’t Carry Money was favorably reviewed in The New York Times, which led off with high praise: “Thurber lives, in Kansas City under the name of Charles Barsotti.”
Besides emails, my personal interactions with Mr. Barsotti were few. The first time we met was at the Algonquin; Tina Brown had just been appointed Editor of the magazine, succeeding Robert Gottlieb, and in a gesture of good will, Ms. Brown invited a number of cartoonists to meet with her in a conference room upstairs at the Algonquin. When the meeting ended, Charley bolted out first, and headed for the steps. I was right on his heels. Charley was grumbling as he quick-stepped, not really conversing. I remember thinking, I’m running down the steps in the Algonquin right behind Charles Barsotti –- now how unlikely is that?
This past Spring, Charley contributed to a piece, The A-Ha! Moment, I edited for the New Yorker‘s website. This is what he wrote:
I start with a small stack of paper, good paper that can stand a lot of erasing because I seldom begin with a specific idea for a cartoon. Then I start drawing in pencil, drawing and erasing. Kings come and go. As do power hungry businessmen and sleazy politicians. Pups usually stay a little longer. I like pups.
Of course before all that I’m chocked with rage that the world isn’t perfect and many people are asses.
After a while if I’ve plugged away hard enough and tossed out enough ideas — Yes, there can be an A-Ha! Moment and it’s great. Sometimes that’s followed by “Where did that come from?” Waste no time with questions.
Ink it in.
A Barsotti Bibliography:
A Girl Needs A Little Action (Harper & Row, 1969)
Kings Don’t Carry Money (Dodd, Mead & Co.,1981)
Barsotti’s Texas (Texas Monthly Press, Inc., 1986)
The USA Today Cartoon Book (with Bruce Cochran and Dean Vietor). (Andrews & McMeel, 1986)
The Best of C. Barsotti (Rauette Books,(U.K.), 1989)
The Essential Charles Barsotti (Compiled and Edited by Lee Lorenz). (Workman Publishing, 1998)
From the Very Big Desk Of…Business Cartoons by New Yorker Cartoonist Charles Barsotti (Bullfinch, 2006)
They Moved My Bowl: Dog Cartoons by New Yorker Cartoonist Charles Barsotti (Little, Brown & Co., 2009)