Nurit Karlin 1938-2019: “I Used To Doodle, Then Something Would Be There.”

Word has reached us that the New Yorker cartoonist Nurit Karlin has passed away in Israel. Ms. Karlin’s first New Yorker cartoon ran in the issue of March 18, 1974.  At the time she was the only female cartoonist whose work was appearing in the magazine (the last before her was Mary Petty, who passed away in 1976, but whose final contribution to the magazine was in the issue of March 19, 1966). Ms. Karlin was the only female cartoonist in the pages of The New Yorker from April of 1966 through July of 1978 when Roz Chast’s first cartoon was published. Ms. Karlin went on to draw 77 cartoons for the magazine.  Her last was published October 24, 1988.

Above: Nurit Karlin’s first New Yorker drawing.

According to Liza Donnellys Funny Ladies: The New Yorker’s Greatest Women Cartoonists and Their Cartoons, Ms. Karlin, born in Jerusalem…always drew as a child…after a few years of art school (The Bezalel School of Art) she came to the United States in 1964 to study animation [at The School of Visual Arts]tg. She began working for The New York Times in the Book Review and Op-ed sections.

In 2005 she told Ms. Donnelly: “I don’t think I thought of being a cartoonist. I did these things, and The New Yorker never crossed my mind.” She called the magazine, expecting to get an appointment with [Lee] Lorenz [The New Yorker‘s art editor], but was told to drop off her work. “With me, you know, if they hadn’t taken one from the first batch, I wouldn’t have gone back.”  With that first submission, Lorenz asked to see her.  Donnelly asked Karlin how she got her ideas: “If I knew where they came from, I would be the first in line! I used to doodle, then something would be there.”

 Nurit Karlin (on the right) in Tel Aviv, June, 2017 with Liza Donnelly.  Photo by Daniel Kenet

It is quite understandable, as Ms. Donnelly wrote in Funny Ladies, that Karlin’s work was in the “same realm” as Steinberg’s. Both shared the love of the possibilities of the pen line itself. With Ms. Karlin the results were often more resolved with the one-two punch delivery of the single panel cartoon. Showing her roots in animation, she sometimes used a series of drawings to deliver the punch (I’ve always thought of Ms. Karlin on the outskirts of the school of Thurber although I have no idea if she saw her work that way. The one occasion I had to speak with her, many years ago at a Playboy cartoonist function, the subject didn’t come up).

What is certain about her work is that it was firmly in the school of visual art. If you look through her 1978 collection, No Comment, you’ll be hard pressed to find a captioned drawing  — there isn’t one.  She used words in her cartoons, but sparingly, as in the drawing below from the issue of September 4, 1978.









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