Catching Up With…Roz Chast

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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.

 

Liza Donnelly on Women on Men

Women On Men COVER FINAL

 

 

Liza Donnelly, the long time New Yorker cartoonist recently spoke with me, her husband, about her forthcoming book, Women On Men, and her recent trip to France, where she was invited to participate in  the Forum d’Avigon.

Michael Maslin:  Women On Men is your sixteenth book.  How does this one differ from your last book, When Do They Serve the Wine?

Liza Donnelly: It’s bigger and better!  Women On Men is a collection of my cartoons that I have drawn over the course of my 30 plus year career as a cartoonist.  A fair portion of what I draw is women speaking and making light of our world — snarky women who care.  I gathered the best of that type of cartoon that I do, and so Women On Men is about women being funny, and affectionately making fun of men. Like my previous book, Women On Men has my writing as well; but there’s more of it, and it’s grittier.  I like using that word.  Also, the writing in this new book is done all in my handwriting. Since this is an ebook, I wanted to give it a hand-done feel.

MM: Looking over the previous fifteen books, you’ve had what some might call — and some have called —  a checkered career.  There’re seven childrens books (all for Scholastic), a history of The New Yorker’s women cartoonists (Funny Ladies), a couple of anthologies, a compilation, a semi-autobiographical collection, and Cartoon Marriage, a collection we co-authored.  How did all this happen?

LD:  It’s all a blur. I just follow my instincts and keep pushing. The children’s books came out of an interest in doing a wordless book for little kids, and ended up being a series, with minimal words. The history about women cartoonists came about because I really wanted to understand why there are so few women in cartooning. So I researched The New Yorker‘s archives for over a year and discovered many wonderful cartoonists (The New Yorker had a women cartoonist in their first issue in 1925).  The “semi-autobiographical book” I assume you mean When Do They Serve The Wine?  The idea for that came about because I was teaching Women’s Studies at Vassar College (using cartoons in my class to illustrate points, of course), and came to the realization that the generations of women were not talking to each other.  So all the stupid things I have gone through in my life as a woman, if I could share with women just starting out as women in their 20’s–it might make their life a little easier.  And I could learn from them. So that book is about women navigating society and the pressures of life each decade they live, from birth to 60s (I’m not there yet!). You and I did Cartoon Marriage because we knew how much humorous material there is in marriage.

MM: Of all your books, Women On Men seems to come closest to a true collection of cartoons. Do you think of it that way?

LD:  I guess so, yes.  Primarily because most of the cartoons were not drawn for the collection, but gathered from my career (some are brand new, however).   And a good number of these were published in The New Yorker. The only thing that makes it not a true collection is that I draw a lot of cartoons about all kinds of subjects, not just women. Maybe someday I can collect it all in one spot.

MM: It also differs from all your previous books in that it’s an e-book. Knowing it would be published in that form — did that change the way you approached working on it?

LD: The only thing from the start that I thought might be interesting for an ebook is having handwritten copy for the text. That way it has a just-done, sketchbook feel.  The publication date is more fluid because buying an ebook is not tied to publisher-determined seasons, bookstore schedules, etc, as traditional publishers have usually worked.  Other than that, it wasn’t really any different.

 

MM:  Along with your work here at home you have a great interest in international cartoonists (including running a  website, World Ink, devoted to their work). You just got back from France. Tell us a little about what you did there.

LD: I have had an interest in international cartoons since I was in high school when I lived in Rome with my family. But I love international political art, it’s so powerful and in recent years I have met many cartoonist from around the world because of my being a part of Cartooning For Peace. Also, I am now a cultural envoy for the US State Department and have traveled to Israel, Palestine and Macedonia.  In France, I was invited to participate in the Forum d’Avigon, a think-tank about culture. I gave a short speech during a panel discussion of Culture and Peace; and along with five other cartoonists, we drew our impressions of the debates. They put our drawings on the wall immediately–it was fun and challenging.

MM:  I know you’ve several more books on the way.  What can you tell us about them?

LD: The next book I am working on is due in 2014, but will be published in 2015 by Holiday House, and it is a children’s book!  I am happy to be back in this world of writing and drawing for children, and will be doing two for them in the coming few years. The first one is called The Rainbow, and contrary to the title, is not about  same-sex marriage.  But it is about inter-species friendships.  Beyond that, I am working on another adult book, tentatively titled Kooky.

MM: A final question: you’ve been contributing to The New Yorker for over thirty years — a  career that spans four editors: William Shawn, Robert Gottlieb, Tina Brown and, currently, David Remnick.  What’s the best part of working for the magazine?

LD:  When I began at The New Yorker in 1979 (when they bought my first cartoon), I felt that it was a place where one could be creative and say something simultaneously.  This is still true, and I am proud to work there.

 

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 Click here for more information on how to obtain a copy Ms. Donnelly’s new book, Women on Men

Click here to see Ms. Donnelly’s recent post on forbes.com, where she begins a series of interviews with women in humor

To see Ms. Donnelly’s New Yorker work click here.

Click here to visit her website,  lizadonnelly.com

Harold Ross’s Last Cartoonist: Dana Fradon

Fradon:Antic

 

 

By the late 1940s, Harold Ross, The New Yorker’s legendary founder and first editor, had assembled either by happy accident or design (depending on which version of the magazine’s history you want to believe) a stable of magazine cartoonists unrivaled in American publishing.  Some have called that era of the magazine’s cartoons its Golden Age.  The guiding forces of the New Yorker‘s art (besides Harold Ross, of course) were Rea Irvin (who is most known for creating The New Yorker’s signature mascot,  the top-hatted Eustace Tilley) and the magazine’s first Art Editor, James Geraghty,  a former gagman who began working  at the magazine in 1939 and retired in 1973.

 

As mentioned on this site this past summer in a profile of Anatol Kovarsky, there are just four surviving New Yorker cartoonists from the Ross era: Frank Modell, James Stevenson, Anatol Kovarsky and Dana Fradon. Mr. Fradon was the last cartoonist contracted by Mr. Ross, who died in December of 1951.

 

Fradon’s first New Yorker cartoon (below), published May 1, 1948, launched a career that spanned half a century; he went on to contribute nearly fourteen hundred more cartoons, placing him in the stratosphere of such other New Yorker artists as William Steig, Alan Dunn, Robert Weber, Warren Miller, Helen Hokinson, Lee Lorenz, Mischa Richter, Robert Day, and the aforementioned, James Stevenson and Frank Modell.

 

Fradon:1st

 

A native of Chicago, Fradon studied at the Art Institute there, and later, following service in the army during WWII, he studied at The Art Students League in New York. Fellow classmates included future New Yorker colleagues, Joseph Mirachi, Herbert Goldberg, and James Mulligan.

 

In a recent phone and email conversation with Mr. Fradon, who is now 91, we covered a lot of territory, from his beginnings at the New Yorker all the way up to today and whether he’s still thinking up ideas for cartoons.

 

Beginning our conversation, I asked Mr. Fradon if he had any thoughts as to why the Art Students League turned out so many New Yorker cartoonists.

 

“It’s a great school, it’s in New York, it’s cheap, and there were no marks given or attendance taken; a future cartoonists paradise.”

 

Michael Maslin: What brought you to The New Yorker—was it that that was the place to go?

 

Dana Fradon: No, I didn’t know anything about The New Yorker.  My sister married Albert Hubbell and then I heard about The New Yorker [Mr. Hubbell was a jack-of-almost-all trades at The New Yorker, contributing fiction as well as pieces for the Talk of The Town.  He was, briefly, The New Yorker’s Art Editor during WWII when James Geraghty left for service.  He was also a cover artist and contributor of “spot” drawings as well as an in-house idea man, creating captions for cartoonists, including, among others, Mary Petty] I admired Albert and I admired some of the things he pointed out [in the magazine]. I decided that’s where I would channel my work.

 

I did the first cartoon that Geraghty took notice of when I was still in the service. Apparently, when Geraghty showed my work to Ross, he threw Geraghty out of the office.  Geraghty said to me later, with that nice little grin he had that he [Geraghty] didn’t think what I sent in was that bad. It was a panel gag—I still remember it—it was rejected,  but nevertheless Geraghty said, “Keep coming.”

 

MM: I noticed that your first five cartoons in the magazine were captionless—was that happenstance, or was that something you were doing a lot of?

 

DF: I guess that’s what I thought Geraghty thought was funny. In the beginning I had the idea that he was buying only stuff of mine that was rather topical. And I thought that was a restriction—that I could not do the ordinary funny gag—that they were just going to want politically topical stuff. And I thought that would limit me. I didn’t know that it would become, in a sense, my hallmark. I thought at first it was a sign of failure—that I couldn’t do the straight old cartoon. But of course I did end up doing those kinds of cartoons as well.

 

MM: In the beginning you had almost two different styles. You had a heavier style and a looser style.

 

DF: I think the thicker lines came after about five years, ten years—that was still early in a career that spanned 50 years. I went to a felt tip marker that was heavier; I look back at those drawings and I really like them better than some of the thinner line drawings I did later in life. It was not a conscious change—it was a change in paper, and what kind of pen I used.

 

MM: You were trying to find your way?

 

DF: Absolutely. I was trying to find my way for about thirty years.

 

MM: Let’s talk about Geraghty. Obviously he was a huge part of your career.

 

DF: He was a huge part of The New Yorker magazine.  His taste was what guided the magazine—in cartooning and in those days, all the artwork. He bought the spots and the covers. He’s best described by something which has become reasonably common knowledge. He said it to me originally about making a drawing beautiful. He said, “Make it beautiful, Dana. Make it beautiful.”  And very often he would OK a drawing—the final OK would either be Ross’s or Shawn’s—or he would bring to their attention cartoons which were borderline funny but would make magnificent drawings.

 

It was Geraghty’s belief that New Yorker cartoons provoked a chuckle (not laughter) and, of course, much thought. He once went through an act with me imitating a commuter on the New Haven R.R., city bound, opening and skimming through his recently arrived New Yorker. I can imitate every one of Jim’s marvelous gestures and soft grunts (chuckles) to a tee.

 

MM: And the “magnificent drawings” bought—would they be tinkered with?

 

DF: Towards the end under Lee [Lee Lorenz, James Geraghty’s successor as Art Editor], maybe because I was more experienced, there was not much tinkering. But yes, in the beginning there was tinkering down to the last finger. You couldn’t even distinguish where the fingers were [on] my early rough drawings.

 

MM: Did you ever meet Harold Ross?

 

DF: Never met Ross, but nodded to him dozens of times. My only close experience with Ross was at one of the first huge parties the New Yorker threw at the old Ritz-Carleton. Geraghty gave my then wife [the cartoonist, Ramona Fradon] and I an invitation. My wife said, “Fasten your eyes at the guy at the next table.” It was Ross.  So I fastened my eyes on him, and he looked at me like I was a freeloader or something. Everything I know about Ross I heard from Albert [Hubbell]. Albert was the be-all and end-all if you wanted a connection with Ross—he had it and he had total recall.

 

I can’t tell you much about Ross except that I accepted from the beginning that he had impeccable taste.  That was the greatest period of drawing, if not ideas: Arno, and those other guys—Whitney Darrow, Robert Day—all brilliant.

 

MM: I have a list of names I want to run by you, but first, before I forget, I want to ask you if you ever provided ideas for Peter Arno, or anyone else?

 

DF: Yes, Arno, one or two, and for Charlie Addams, half a dozen to a dozen—he was another wonderful artist. You might say Geraghty would look at me and say, “This needs a better artist.” But then it got to where he would give me a trade. He’d say “This would be better if George Price did it.” And he’d give me a simple idea. [Mr. Fradon recalled one idea given to Addams, of Martians coming to the door on Halloween.  It ran in The New Yorker November 1, 1952]

 

MM: When I was researching the Arno biography at the New York Public Library, and looking through The New Yorker’s archives there, I found a lot of interaction, a lot of back and forth—idea-wise—between artists.

 

Fradon:Modell kids

 

DF: When I first started working there—it might’ve been about the tenth cartoon I did—it was a couple of kids watching television, a close-up on the kids. Geraghty didn’t like the faces on the kids.  I couldn’t do kids; now I can, but then I couldn’t at least not on the New Yorker level. Frank did one of the faces on one of my drawings on one of my kids. He [Frank] was sitting out there in the office and Geraghty said, “Just a second” and took the drawing out and Frank did the face and they bought it [the cartoon appears above].

 

MM: We do that around here sometimes.  Liza [Donnelly] will ask me for some help on perspective and I’ll ask her to help me with cats. We have cats here, but that doesn’t help me—I still can’t draw them.

 

DF: Well, certain poses, they’re [cats] hard to draw. You know, Ramona used to do all my horses. It wasn’t until I started doing kids books, and I was divorced, that I learned to do my version of the horse, which is more like a merry-go-round horse. I learned to draw them out of necessity because Ramona wasn’t there to draw them for me. There are a couple of my New Yorker cartoons with horses in them, and she drew the horses.

 

MM: There’s one I have here on my desk…you have an invading army…

 

DF: Is it “Beware of dogs?”

 

 

MM: Yes, yes.

 

DF: She didn’t do the finish, I inked them—but she drew the horses.

 

MM: As long as we’re talking about specific drawings, there’s one I thought would make a good title and cover drawing for a collection: “The gods are antic tonight.”

 

DF: That drawing has a story behind it. Lee put the word “antic” in there. I had the “gods are something-or-other” and I believe he changed it to antic. He asked me, of course, if it was ok.  I didn’t get the fine difference between what I had and he had, but apparently the antic thing was pretty cute, and he knew what he was doing.  “Antic” was not in my vocabulary.

 

 

MM: Can you list for me some of the cartoonists you knew back in those early days. Let’s begin with Arno.

 

DF: Never met Arno, never saw Arno but always felt his presence. Knew fairly well: Sam Cobean, the magazine’s other genius; Charlie Addams, Richard Decker, Frank Modell, Whitney Darrow, Mischa Richter, Bill Steig, Dick Taylor, Barney Tobey and many more. I met, casually, Saul Steinberg (I suppose he’s another genius), Robert Day, Chon Day, Alan Dunn and Mary Petty.

 

MM: Did you know Stan Hunt?

 

DF: A nice gentle soul.

 

MM: James Mulligan?

 

DF: He was left-handed, but because of several car accidents, had to learn to draw with his right hand. His last few hundred cartoons were drawn with his right hand.

 

MM: Rea Irvin?

 

DF: Rea Irvin lived in Newtown [Connecticut] for several years. A really sweet guy. Worked with drawing board held in his lap in a, literally, closet-size studio in a large, beautiful colonial. Actually, HE is the genius of The New Yorker. Did the first cover, designed its typeface, and designed the headings, I think, of the various regular columns. Based on his drawing and the variety and depth of his drawing…he’s the number one guy that everyone always forgets about. Rea just seemed like Major Hoople…“woof woof woof”  while he talked, to clear his throat.

 

MM: Speaking of covers…I couldn’t help but notice there was never a Fradon New Yorker cover.

 

DF: I submitted one cover and after about the tenth time of correcting it and fixing it, I gave it up and went back to doing something I knew better: doing cartoons and ideas. I was doing well on the cartoons and beginning to move into kid’s books, where I got all that color out of my system. I never pursued it. The one I did try lent itself mostly to design—there was nothing funny about it.

 

MM: What about Richard Taylor—you mentioned you knew him.

 

images

DF: Dick Taylor was a lovely man, and sort of a comic on his own.  He had a unique way of drawing. There’ve been Whitney Darrow look-alikes and Bob Weber look-alikes, and dozens of Cobean look-alikes, and Arno look-alikes; when I say look-alikes, they’re not as good—there was a guy who did a lot of ads—nothing but ads—he was a pale version of Arno. I’ve never even seen a pale version of Dick Taylor.

 

MM: His work—his people were too different weren’t they?  With those giant eyes…

 

DF: And the way he did his washes too. Layers and layers before he got the tone, without it going dead. Whereas most of us…I strive to splash it on as best I can.

 

MM: I loved watching the progression of your drawings from the very first ones to where they became very loose. The energy there—your heads would almost be disconnected from the bodies. I could see you were having a really great time doing these.

 

DF: That, and a little bit of writing is the only thing that absorbed me. And playing baseball.

 

MM: How did you work? Did you go to your desk in the morning, five days a week?

 

DF: Yeah, five or six days a week, I made it a point. The first thing I’d do—the first three hours in the morning, when you’re freshest—is think of ideas. I’d just think of ideas five days a week and come up with twenty or twenty-five of them and then let Geraghty comb through and pick out what he thought was funny.

 

The routine for thinking of ideas—you may feel the same way—I have no formula for thinking of an idea. It’s more of free association. You start out with a subject, and you may not end up with that subject.

 

MM: And you write everything down, right, because these things can float away.

 

DF: I had a big pad of paper, 14” x 17” bond paper; I’d make little notes and sketches and see where they’d lead me. Once, when I was giving a talk I said the important thing of thinking of ideas is knowing when to pounce. You kick ideas around in your subconscious and then this one is a straggler and you pounce on it because it seems funny.  And that’s the one you draw up. I drew up a lot of rejections too of course [laughing].

 

Geraghty used to tell new cartoonists—and some of the established ones as well—about how he’d be at a party and someone would tell him a funny story and then say, “Why don’t you make a cartoon out of it?”  He’d turn to them and say, “That’s not a cartoon, that’s a short story.” There’s a hell of a big difference.  You know, they’ll start by saying, “There’re ten thousand people in a living room…” Well, who the hell is going to draw ten thousand people in a living room!?

 

MM: One of the things that fascinated me about Arno’s life was that his career spanned enough time at the magazine, 1925 through 1968 to see a change in the use of ideamen. He began using his own ideas but then shifted into using ideamen in the 1930s and beyond.  Many of his contemporaries used ideamen as well (not all of them did, but a majority). By the time your era came along, late 1940s, early 1950s, your crowd, or most of you, were doing your own ideas. That just sort of happened? Or did someone encourage you?

 

DF: Yeah, it just sort of happened, but it’s also something I think subconsciously that Geraghty was striving for. He probably thought it was taking too much time or thought or energy putting cartoonists together with ideas. If you could do it in one step, that was helpful…it became a real badge of courage to do your own ideas, your own drawings.

 

DF: One person who did his own ideas—I don’t know if you remember him, was Herbert Goldberg.

 

MM: I know his work from the albums, The New Yorker anniversary albums. I’m a sucker for those collections.

 

DF: You live in the world of cartoons.

 

MM: Yes.

 

DF: Well that’s one thing I’ve never have done and I’ve always been sorry for it. I’m not really a cartoonist.  I’m a misplaced baseball player or something like that. But I look at [cartoonist] Orlando Busino and I’m just so envious of people who can get into that. When I drew I was in the world, but I wasn’t really there. I wish I could’ve appreciated who I was.

 

MM: Do you still take a crack at cartoons every once in awhile?

 

DF: For a time, when I thought of a good idea that I thought would go in today’s New Yorker, I stifled it. And then I said to myself: well don’t do that anymore, write ‘em down—so I write them down on a scrap of paper and throw them into a pile.

 

 

Dana Fradon’s books include:

Breaking the Laugh Barrier (Dell, 1961)

My Son the Medicine Man (Avon, 1964)

Insincerely Yours (Dutton, 1978)

Sir Dana: A Knight, As Told by His Trusty Armor (Dutton, 1988)

Harold the Herald (Dutton, 1990)

The King’s Fool: A Book About Medieval and Renaissance Fools (Dutton, 1993)

To see some of Dana Fradon’s New Yorker work, link here to the New Yorker’s Cartoon Bank.

 

 

Tina Brown on The New Yorker’s Cartoonists: “Anyone Who is Funny is Miserable”

Speaking this morning at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism Publishing Course, Tina Brown, editor in chief of The Daily Beast, said that when she arrived at The New Yorker as its new editor in 1992 (replacing Robert Gottlieb), she found the magazine’s cartoonists were “the most aggressive” when it came to changes she was making at the magazine. According to Gretchen Maslin, who was in the audience, Ms. Brown went on to say of the cartoonists, “they were afraid I’d get rid of the cartoons.” When Ms. Brown became editor she opened up the graphic character of the magazine (for instance, the high profile hiring of Richard Avedon as The New Yorker’s first staff photographer). At the time a number of cartoonists saw the introduction of other graphics as less space for cartoons. Ms. Brown went on to say in her remarks this morning that the cartoonists were  “the most aggressive because they were miserable. Anyone who is funny is miserable.”

 

Timeline of New Yorker Editors:

Harold Ross:  Founder and first editor, 1925 – 1951

William Shawn: 1952 – 1987

Robert Gottlieb: 1987 – 1992

Tina Brown: 1992 – 1998

David Remnick: 1998 – present

 

 

Peter Steiner on the 20th Anniversary of “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

 

 

dog-on-the-internet-by-peter-steiner

 

On this day twenty years ago,  Peter Steiner’s “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” was published in The New Yorker.  The cartoon went on to become the most reprinted New Yorker cartoon in modern times, and according to The New Yorker’s Cartoon Bank,  it continues to this day to be the magazine’s #1 reprinted cartoon.  Ink Spill caught up with Mr. Steiner the other day as he was heading out the door.  He was kind enough to pause and respond to this brief flurry of questions.

 

 

 

Michael Maslin: It’s been twenty years since “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” was published in The New Yorker. The popularity of that drawing has moved you into the rarefied company of New Yorker cartoonists who have drawn an instantly recognizable cartoon. I think of Charles Addams famous skier who has managed to ski around both sides of a pine tree , or Thurber’s Seal in the Bedroom, Arno’s “Well, back to the old drawing board” or Bob Mankoff’s “No, Thursday’s out. How about never –is never good for you?”

What, if anything, does that mean to you, and what do you feel about the drawing now?

 Peter Steiner: If a couple of journalists hadn’t contacted me about the anniversary, I wouldn’t have known it was coming.  One contacted me, or tried to, by way of my Facebook page which I never visit, so I missed seeing his effort for a good month.  It’s kind of amusing that I did this “seminal” cartoon about the internet and am so inept at making use of it.

 I’m of course pleased to be in such lofty company as Arno, Thurber, Addams, etc.,  but that still seems to me like an accidental thing.  The cartoon owes its popularity to its coincidental arrival with a burgeoning interest in the internet.  I still don’t think of it as a great cartoon or even one of my best, although people are always telling me it is.  That’s probably evidence of my biggest failing as a cartoonist:  I could dream them up and draw them but I couldn’t tell if they were any good.  Having said that though, when I consider the body of my work I am proud of the quality of the ideas and the drawing.

 When I look at the cartoon now, it’s like it has taken on a life of its own.  I don’t feel much of a connection to it.  And my drawing has developed since then, so it’s not how I would draw it now.

 MM: How would you draw it now? And at the risk of pushing my luck, want to take a crack at it?

 PS: I’d make the drawing looser, the lines surer, everything a little less tidy.  I’ll pass on drawing it again.