Attempted Bloggery has been focusing on George Booth this past week (including a close look at the drawing shown here), and why not? Mr. Booth turned 90 the other day; what better time to sing his praises and talk about what he brought to the New Yorker when his work first appeared in the magazine in 1969. Mr. Booth’s style was a brand new creature, unlike anything the magazine had published before.
Booth arrived at the tail end of a decade that saw the introduction of a tidal wave of new artists appearing in The New Yorker: J.B. Handelsman in 1961, Charles Barsotti in 1962, Edward Koren in 1962, Robert Weber in 1962, Henry Martin in 1964, Donald Reilly in 1964, Edward Frascino in 1965, Mort Gerberg in 1965, Peter Porges in 1965, Ronald Searle in 1966, Dean Vietor in 1967, Rowland B. Wilson in 1961, Vahan Shirvanian in 1968, Sam Gross in 1969 and George Booth in 1969.
Looking at the dates of entry, one can see how carefully James Geraghty (the magazine’s Art Editor at the time; he was hired by Harold Ross as Art Editor in 1939) had infused the magazine with new blood. These fifteen arrivals were scattered over the course of a decade, fitting easily into (and not displacing) the existing pool of talent. In the best tradition of the magazine’s art department, they all brought something of lasting value to the magazine. Indeed, every one of them had long careers.
Mr. Booth was and is no exception. His use of reappearing characters is somewhat akin to Helen Hokinson’s so-called “lunch ladies” and Syd Hoff’s Bronx families of the the 1930s as well as George Price’s eclectic characters appearing in his drawings all through his long career. Booth, however, revisits specific characters in his work, people we’ve come to know and in situations we’ve grown to love: the man in the claw-foot bath tub, for instance, or the garage mechanics in their oily splotched coveralls, or Mawmaw, a character based on his mother. Henry Martin once said to me that certain cartoonists “draw funny” (trust me, it’s a highly complimentary remark). Booth draws funny. Before you reach the caption, the drawing itself has already begun working on you the way the very thought of Charlie Chaplin works on you. No one draws like Booth. As a beginning cartoonist I found his graphic mastery intimidating. But it was also, of course, highly educational. Look at the way he’s drawn the ceiling and the ceiling fan in the drawing accompanying this piece; the inclusion of the floor boards found behind cafe counters; the characters in wash in the background. Each one of those customers has a story. The two cooks in the foreground (Laurel & Hardy types) are perfect, most especially the smaller fellow. This is a scene out of life filtered through Booth’s comic genes. These elements of style are what Booth does best. Lee Lorenz (who succeeded James Geraghty as Art Editor in 1974) once said that the best cartoonists are the ones who bring their own world into their work. In all of his work for the magazine in all these years Booth has stayed true to his world. He is, by definition, one of the best.
All of Mr. Booth’s cartoon collections can easily be found on AbeBooks.com
A selection of both Booth’s drawings and covers (and even a few products adorned with his drawings) can be found on The New Yorker‘s Cartoon Bank site.