Another from the Cartoon Attic: Whither Whither, or After Sex What?

 

Whither Whither, or After Sex What? Edited by Walter S. Hankel  (1930, The  Macaulay Co., NY)

 

I’ve always loved this book more for its cover than its content.  It was published just five years after the birth of The New Yorker, and a year before Thurber’s first drawing appeared in the magazine (January of 1931). That isn’t to say the book’s publisher wasn’t aware of Thurber’s art. Whither Whither’s cover gently echoes the cover of E.B. White and James Thurber’s Is Sex Necessary? published to great success a year earlier.  Wither Wither’s cover illustration was executed ever-so-slightly in the Thurber vein. The title’s type face is vaguely reminiscent of Is Sex Necessary? as is the use of the word “Sex” and the use of the title in the form of a question.  To drive home the point:  Thurber and White appear on the cover as contributors.

 

William Gropper, the illustrator, was no Johnny–come-lately to the illustration field.  By 1930 he was a well established cartoonist and illustrator.  If he was taking-off on Thurber’s style – at least for the cover piece —  he couldn’t help but reveal the discipline of his art school roots. Gropper’s work inside the book is less Thurber-like, resembling instead the simpler loose yet determined style William Steig used later in his long career.

 

It’s interesting to note that twelve of the fourteen contributors to Whither Whither were New Yorker contributors, making this book a  near de facto  New Yorker collection.

 

While Is Sex Necessary? took off (it’s still in print some 80 plus years after its first printing), The New York Times reviewer whisked Whither Whither away, saying of its essays,  “some are good, some are indifferent, and some are wearying.”

Link here for more on William Gropper

 

Fifty Years Earlier

As a cartoonist it’s (mostly) all about what’s next; this may explain why I sometimes like to take a breather and think about what was.  Still in a celebratory mode because of The New Yorker’s 86th anniversary, I went to my collection of anniversary issues and pulled out the issue from fifty years ago, dated February 18, 1961.   Thought I’d sit with it for a few moments and take a look at the cartoons.

There’s no “Table of Contents” for the issue ( the magazine didn’t add that helpful feature until the issue of March 22, 1969),  so knowing whose work appears inside will be a surprise.

William Steig’s work appears on page 14, but it’s not a cartoon, it’s an ad — an illustration for  First National City Bank.  Moving through the movie listings ( “Ben Hur,” “the Misfits,” “Exodus,” etc., etc.) and pausing to take in Otto (“The Little King”) Soglow’s wonderful “Talk of the Town” drawings, we encounter the first cartoon of the issue, and it’s by the magazine’s most prolific cartoonist, Alan Dunn (Dunn also holds the honor of being one half of the first married New Yorker cartoonist couple.  His wife was Mary Petty).   Dunn was an expert at making something out of the day’s headlines, and in this case the drawing reflects our country’s endless fascination with the Russians.

Next is a George Price drawing of a waiter holding a giant shish-kebob setting off the  restaurant’s sprinkler system.  A good solid effort by one of the masters of the Golden Age.  Richard Decker’s drawing of a doctor’s waiting room filled with self-promoting ads, including a “Specials” sign, wouldn’t be so out of place – with some tweaking — in today’s New Yorker.

A Robert Kraus is next, done in his inviting moody Dedini-esque style, and then an Ed Fisher drawing (by my calculations, the eighty-fifth of his career at The New Yorker – he eventually published just over 700).  Another Alan Dunn follows ( tied into current events, of course) and then a classic Steig husband-and-wife  domestic scene ( I can’t help but be reminded that The New Yorker is fortunate to have a contemporaneous expert at  capturing domestic scenes: Victoria Roberts). Opposite Steig’s drawing is a Steinberg,  captionless of course ( he’d given up captions long ago).  A man wearing  a helmet and shield sits on a rearing horse—they’ve just encountered a projection screen, such as the kind a family would set up to watch home movies.

A page later is a  half-page captionless Charles Addams drawing ( Addams told Dick Cavett that the captionless drawings were his favorite kind).  Turn the page and there’s a Charles Saxon ( man, did he have a smooth style) and then a Lee Lorenz ( his eighty-eighth drawing for the magazine in a career still going like gang-busters). Another page finds a Chon Day, the master of economical styling ( not counting Thurber).  Two pages later, a three-quarter beauty by Whitney Darrow, Jr.,  specifically referencing the new family at The White House; Caroline Kennedy utters the caption.

After the Darrow drawing it’s a fifty-four page wait til the next cartoon, wherein James Stevenson takes us back to a couple in ancient Rome and, shockingly(!) uses the word “orgy” in his caption.  Another twenty-nine pages zoom by before we reach the last cartoon in the issue.  By Frank Modell, it’s a bar scene, and the subject is nearly everyone’s favorite subject — a subject at which Modell excels: men and women.