In preparation for the upcoming MoCCA Fest panel, Mort Gerberg and Friends, celebrating Mr. Gerberg’s essential On the Scene: A 50-Year Cartoon Chronicle (Fantagraphics), I’ve been looking at a lot of Mr. Gerberg’s drawings, as well as his 1983 Cartooning: The Art and The Business. Admittedly not one for process books (i.e., “how-to”) I was quite surprised to discover in the very first chapter of The Art and The Business a wonderful first hand account by Mr. Gerberg of what it was like for cartoonists making the rounds of magazines in New York City back in the early 1960s. I’ve shown just the first page of Chapter One’s twenty-three pages (want to continue reading? You can easily find the book online). This is probably the most extensive account I’ve read about the “look day” of long long ago (so long ago that it is no longer Always Wednesdays, at least at The New Yorker, where it’s been Always Tuesdays for several decades). Even though Mr. Gerberg references The Saturday Evening Post on the first page, any cartoonist who went in to the New Yorker for “look day” will recognize the sign-in sheet tradition.
An interesting cover this week, reminiscent of Arthur Getz‘s great city landscapes: a dark city view with a small area of bright lights slicing through. That contrast of dark with dramatic light was close to a Getzian specialty (similar scenes were also beautifully painted by a number of other New Yorker artists through the years). If you can, get hold of The Complete Book of Covers From The New Yorker (Knopf, 1989) — you won’t regret it.
On page 59, another cartoonist’s New Yorker debut: Karl Stevens.
Mr. Lin and Mr. Stevens are the first new New Yorker cartoonists of 2019, and the 25th and 26th new cartoonists making their debut in the magazine since Emma Allen became the New Yorker‘s cartoon editor in May of 2017.
…before I turn out the lights on this post, let us not forget that Rea Irvin’s beautiful Talk masthead (below) is still in storage. Read all about it here.
Attempted Bloggery, a Spill go-to website has begun spotlighting some interesting George Price work, including the oddity above. See it all here.
George Price’s entry on the Spill‘s A-Z:
George Price (above) Born in Coytesville, New Jersey, June 9, 1901. Died January 12, 1995, Engelwood, New Jersey. New Yorker work: 1929 – 1991. Lee Lorenz, the New Yorker’s former Art/Cartoon editor, called Price one of the magazine’s great stylists (along with Peter Arno, Helen Hokinson, James Thurber, and William Steig). Of the many Price collections here are two favorites: Browse At Your Own Risk (1977), and The World of George Price: A 55-Year Retrospective (1988)
Below: I’ve always loved the cover of Price’s 1963 collection, My Dear 500 Friends.
From 1999 through 2016 I happily threw a good percentage of my days into digging up whatever I could about Peter Arno, who was born 115 years ago this very day. All of that hunting and gathering turned into a book (I will be forever grateful to my agent and publisher for making that happen).
One of the most helpful elements in my research was Arno’s unpublished scattershot memoir, titled I Reached For The Moon. The sixty-some pages of material is mostly disconnected pieces, a very loose attempt at a timeline, and jotted down thoughts about his work, or his parents, or television, or “names” he ran into during his adventures in the city that never sleeps. One passage of strung together thoughts stayed with me during my years writing the book and has continued to stay with me:
“What many don’t realize is that I’m primarily an artist – though I had a natural urge toward the comic from school days on.… I’ve spent hundreds of hours painting in oils and other media. The black and white [cartoons] are a synthesis of all these efforts…To be a great cartoonist, a man should be first a first-class great artist. He should be capable of producing a minor masterpiece in any medium.”
I suppose the passage has stuck with me because it neatly sums-up the high bar Arno demanded of himself and hoped for from his colleagues as the New Yorker was taking baby steps in its earliest days. That high bar was no small thing. Think about what people think about when they think of New Yorker cartoons. Think about the well-worn expression, The first thing people turn to in The New Yorker are the cartoons. If that is true (and I believe it has truth to it) Peter Arno deserves a Mack truck full of credit for driving the readership to the magazine and, no less a thing, driving his colleagues to excellence.
Look through any issue of The New Yorker from Arno’s run there during the magazine’s so-called Golden Age and you will see a magazine overjoyed with the cartoons it had to show the readership; cartoons played across the page; cartoons ran full page; cartoons ran in spreads that took up multiple pages; cartoonists provided the majority of cover art. Arno’s art, and Arno’s influence on the art was central to the magazine’s exuberance. He was, in the words of the New Yorker‘s founder, Harold Ross:
“The greatest artist in the world.”
“Our first pathfinder.”
“Our spark plug.”
Happy birthday, Arno — and thanks for the high bar.
There are probably as many different work habits among New Yorker cartoonists as there are New Yorker cartoonists. I’ve heard of colleagues who are nine-to-fivers, and those who’ve worked the night shift. There was even a rumor of a colleague, now long gone, who did his batch of cartoons on the train as he headed down from Connecticut to see the New Yorker‘s art editor. As there’s no clock to punch, we are left to working out/on our own schedule. Joe Dator‘s hysterical “How We Do It” published in TheNew Yorker Cartoon Issue of 2012 (September 24th to be exact) is the last word on the idealized life of cartoonists working for the magazine.
My own work habits migrated with the years, from childhood, passing the hours drawing in front of the television, to working during high school study halls (yes, that’s right, instead of studying) to working at any convenient time in college between all those required courses, to post-college when staying up all night resulted in a whole lot of drawing but few usable ideas. Post-college, living in Manhattan, inspired perhaps by my perceived notion of the work habits of my downstairs neighbor, the writer Donald Barthelme, I began an attempt at regular hours — vaguely bracketed by late morning and late afternoon. Years later, out of the city and with a family, the unthinkable happened: working very early in the morning for a defined amount of time (my wife and I split our work days: I worked in the morning while she was with our kids, and she worked in the afternoon while I was with the kids). Once the kids grew up and flew the nest, the entire day was wide open again, but the morning hours remained (and remain) as the best use of time. In the past decade, the mid-to-late afternoon around 4 o’clock — what William Shawn called the hour of hope — has become an opportune time to wait for the cartoon gods to toss me an idea or two.
Through all this time shifting, from childhood home through the home where our kids grew up, from working defined times to undefined, from working through the night to working early in the day to working whenever, there has remained a constant: making myself available, Rapidograph and paper at the ready, with the intention that something might happen.