Felipe Galindo on Falling Into Steinberg’s Orbit; Rea Irvin, Costumed



    The other day I was engaged in an email exchange with long time New Yorker cartoonist Felipe Galindo (he uses the pen name “Feggo”) about Iain Topliss’s Comic Worlds of Peter Arno, William Steig, Charles Addams and Saul Steinberg; more specifically, we were discussing the section devoted to Steinberg. After Felipe explained what an impact Steinberg’s work had on him, I asked if I could reproduce what he had to say.  So here is Felipe on Steinberg:




I began to like and understand American gag cartoons when I was a young teenager back in my native Cuernavaca, Mexico. Most of what was being drawn in Mexico were political cartoons. I was in middle school then (Escuela Secundaria.) I was able to read Mad and the National Lampoon magazines in my hometown at the only store that sold American publications and Kodak cameras and film to Americans, who used to go to Cuernavaca to learn Spanish. I don’t recall seeing The New Yorker back then. My aunt worked at that store. I could spend time browsing them without being bothered. At the end I’d buy them with my savings. I loved seeing Sam Gross, Gahan Wilson, Charlie Rodrigues and my fellow ex-pat (or semi, since he was born in Spain) Aragonés’ cartoons.

The first time I heard about Steinberg was through a very famous political cartoonist named Rius (pen name of Eduardo del Rio, in Latin America is commonplace to have a nickname or a name that sounds like one), now a good amigo. He used to say that he learned to draw looking at Steinberg’s drawings in small pocket book collections of American cartoons (probably taken from the pages of the New Yorker magazine without their knowledge). For him, Steinberg’s style was very simple. “I didn’t know how to draw but I could draw cartoons like this guy”, I think in the same way you will see a Matisse painting and say “I can paint like this guy, it’s very easy!” In any case, he was influenced by him and, to a similar simple style, he added his political views and changed a whole chapter in Mexican political cartooning history and influenced a whole generation of readers and cartoonists with his controversial comics “Los Supermachos” and later “Los Agachados” drawing the ire of Mexican politicians, presidents included.

I wonder if Steinberg ever knew about this!

A few years later I went to study visual arts at The National University, mostly modern art, and that was another planet. I was more into Tony Smith, Frank Stella and Josef Albers than Diego Rivera or Frida Kahlo who were old school.

After college I tried to reconcile two worlds, humor and art. Two artists that inspired me were Magritte and Feininger. I still was not that familiar with Steinberg then. I recall going to an exhibit of his posters and prints in an American cultural center in early 1980 because a friend suggested it to me. I honestly have to say I didn’t quite get him, it just impressed me his freedom (“why is he using paper from paper bags?”). I was also busy that day with a date that preoccupied my mind with other things. I kept the small brochure (which I still have) and began to study it. 

The first time I came to NYC as a tourist in 1981, I got his book The Labyrinth and it blew my mind. I even got a poster of him at the Whitney Museum (which I also still have) and began to study him and finally “get” him. Years later in NYC I found in a flea market All in Line and The Art of Living. I devoured visually those books.


For me Steinberg was the Picasso of cartooning, breaking the old molds, and an artist walking in a high tightrope between cartooning and art and vice versa, going back and forth and staying there forever. I believe that tightrope is cartooning as art and vice versa as well.

So, that’s the tightrope I aim to walk on, the high bar to jump over, not an easy task, and not successful all the time of course. I fall from it quite often, but keep trying to walk on it over and over.

I browse now and then his books in search of visual philosophy, of challenges, to amuse myself and to find surprises. To inspire me.

I have enjoyed his exhibitions at the Museum of the City of NY and the Morgan Library, plus some exhibitions at Pace Gallery. While it didn’t necessarily lead me to do what he was doing, or to draw like he was drawing, I admire his immense creativity and am inspired looking at his work.

I also like that Steinberg created icons out of clichés and how he explored symbols through humor, something I’m very fond of doing as well.

Perhaps for Americans the cliché imagery (Uncle Sam, Lady Liberty, American Eagle, Santa, etc.) is taken for granted but for an immigrant or émigré like him, or at least to me, those images are always something new and fresh that invites me to play with.

Steinberg can be the subject of long, smart conversations. It is a fun coincidence that he and his work ended up being -like he described of making drawings for The New Yorker- “the best calisthenics one can have.”



From the fun site, Attempted Bloggery, a treat: “Rea Irvin in Costume”.

Peter Steiner’s “Hopeless But Not Serious” Returns; TCJ posts Sendak Tributes; Liza Donnelly’s Mother’s Day Forbes column

Peter Steiner’s blog, Hopeless But Not Serious is back!   See it here.


Over at The Comics Journal the tributes to Maurice Sendak are pouring in.

Sendak, who passed away this past Tuesday at age 83, contributed one cover to The New Yorker, and in the same issue (September 27, 1993) contributed a two page spread, In The Dumps, co-written/drawn with Art Spiegelman. Mr. Sendak also contributed a Storyboard to the issue of January 18, 1993.


And…check out Liza Donnelly’s Forbes column on Mother’s Day, and while you’re there, scroll down for her take on the Time Magazine cover making news.

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.