John Lennon & James Thurber: A Sunnier Connection





This coming Sunday, the 8th of December, marks two anniversaries of note,  one happy and the other not at all happy. The happier one: James Thurber was born that day in 1894. The unhappy anniversary: it was on that day in 1980 that the former Beatle, John Lennon was murdered in New York City.

Other than that unfortunate intersection on the calendar, there is a much sunnier connection between these two artists & writers. Lennon’s drawings, published in 1964’s In His Own Write immediately drew comparisons to Thurber’s work. According to a Lennon biographer, Ray Coleman, Lennon at first scoffed at the suggestion, telling a BBC interviewer in 1965, who brought up book reviewers mentioning Thurber and Edward Lear (among others) as influences on Lennon’s work, “I deny it because I’m ignorant of it.”

Not too many years later, in 1971, during an appearance by Yoko Ono and Lennon on The Dick Cavett Show, Cavett brought up the subject, saying, “You know, your drawings look a little like James Thurber’s.”

In a funny moment as Lennon begins to respond to Cavett, Yoko Ono turns to Lennon and says, “His work does look a bit like yours, y’know, I think” to which Lennon replies, “Well he’s older than me, so he came first, so I look like him.”  And then he went on to say:

“I used to love his stuff when I was a kid. There were three people I was very keen on—Lewis Carroll, Thurber and an English drawer, or whatever you call him, called Ronald Searle. When I was about 11, I was turned on to those three. I think I was about 15 when I started Thurberizing the drawings.” (Another Lennon biographer, Philip Norman, credits Lennon’s Aunt Mimi with introducing her nephew to Thurber’s work).


 Note: In His Own Write and the follow-up, A Spaniard in the Works are still in print.  You can see many of the drawings in those two books by Googling: “John Lennon” +drawings    (then select “Images”)

 To see the Yoko Ono & John Lennon Cavett moment, click here.  The discussion turns to Thurber at around the 6:05 mark.






Rea Irvin’s Last New Yorker Cover

Irvin's Last






















If you read The New Yorker you are very familiar with at least one of his covers: his first one.  Mention The New Yorker and one of the images that comes to mind for most people is Eustace Tilley, the top-hatted gentleman who appeared on the magazine’s inaugural cover in 1925 and returned thereafter, mid-February, for sixty-eight straight years, to mark each of the magazine’s anniversaries (for more on what happened next with and to Tilley, you can link here to “Tilley Over Time” a piece of mine that appeared in 2008).


That first cover was by Rea Irvin, who was  hired by The New Yorker’s founder and first editor, Harold Ross, when Ross began cobbling together his urban magazine with little appeal to the little old lady in Dubuque. Irvin’s duties – he was taken on as art consultant – are chronicled in Genius in Disguise, Thomas Kunkel’s wonderful biography of Harold Ross,  as well as in The Art of The New Yorker by Lee Lorenz.  There is universal agreement among The New Yorker’s writers and artists that Irvin’s part in shaping the magazine’s art was invaluable.


Beyond his role as consultant, Irvin was a prolific cover artist and cartoonist, contributing nearly two hundred covers and a bit over 250 cartoons to the magazine. If you happen to have The Complete Book of Covers from The New Yorker (Knopf, 1989) you have the luxury of paging through the years and locating each and every Irvin cover — not at all difficult once you’re accustomed to his style.


It has been noted in numerous places, including Irvin’s New York Times obit (May 29, 1972) that once Harold Ross passed away in December of 1951, Irvin “feuded” with the magazine. Lee Lorenz, among others, has written that when William Shawn officially succeeded Ross in January of 1952, one of the first things Shawn did was encourage Irvin to retire (Shawn also undid Ross’s famous roomful of editors going over the week’s art.  Under Shawn, the art meeting became a duet: Shawn plus James Geraghty, and later, once Geraghty retired, Shawn plus Lorenz).  I suppose something could be made of the fact that the end of Irvin’s cartoon contributions coincides with the year of Ross’s death, but it’s not all that tidy a coincidence (the last Irvin cartoon was published February 10, 1951; Harold Ross died December 6, 1951). Irvin’s covers, however, continued on for another six years.  From 1952 (the beginning of the Shawn era) through 1958 (when Irvin’s last New Yorker cover appeared) there were five    a remarkable drop considering he had 20 covers in the last six years of Ross’s editorship.


Irvin’s final non-Eustace Tilley New Yorker cover appeared midway through the sleepy summer month of July, sandwiched between a July 4th cover by Abe Birnbaum and a beautiful Ilonka Karasz cover of tourists in a cathedral. The image, of a golfer and his caddy searching for a lost ball, was another New Yorker cover “moment” – one of so many great moments Irvin gave us over the years.




See more of Irvin’s art at
The New Yorker‘s Cartoon Bank









The New Yorker before Addams, Steig and Steinberg










With the release this past week of The New Yorker’s Cartoons of the Year 2013 (a relative of a long line of New Yorker Albums seen in the photo) I thought it would be fun to leaf through The New Yorker‘s very first collection, simply called The New Yorker Album. published in 1928, just three years after the magazine’s debut. For starters, I love this part of the introduction (authored by “The New Yorker”):

The New Yorker has been dealing with artists for upward of three years.  We are tired but happy.  Our artists, we feel, have been worth the trouble. They have taken the electric and protoplasmic and comic town and reduced it to page size. To be merry and wise and subtle every week is scarcely possible; but there have been good weeks.

If you substitute the “upward of three years” to “upward of eighty-eight years” the excerpt could’ve easily introduced the 2013 collection.

The very first cartoon you run into in the 1928 collection is a full page by Peter Arno.  This makes perfect sense as Arno was, just  three years into the New Yorker’s life, already its star (his co-star was Helen Hokinson).  Arno was fond of the full page cartoon, but paging through the Album, you’ll find he had plenty of company in that department. Ms. Hokinson, Rea Irvin, Gluyas Williams, George Shanks, Al Frueh, Gardner Rea, and Reginald Marsh, to name but a few, all worked well on a full page (you’ll find a number of full page cartoons in the 2013 collection, but none originally ran as such; full page cartoons in the modern New Yorker are rare, with Roz Chast’s work being one of the exceptions.

What might be remarkable to anyone looking through the 1928 Album is the absence of plenty of the marquee names we associate with the magazine’s past. Cartoonists such as  Charles Addams, William Steig, Saul Steinberg, Thurber and George Price had yet to begin contributing drawings to the magazine (Thurber had begun contributing his writing in 1927, but The New Yorker’s founder & first editor, Harold Ross, wouldn’t publish a Thurber drawing in the magazine until 1931). Addams’ work didn’t appear until 1933, Steig’s not until 1935, Steinberg’s not until 1941, George Price’s not until 1932.  The Album of 1928 was a blueprint for what was to come in later years on the magazine’s pages: a variety of styles, of cartoon worlds, beautifully co-existing.

Much as the 2013 collection is heavy on a handful of cartoonists, such was the case in 1928.  The aforementioned Hokinson, Irvin, Rea, Frueh and Arno command the most space, with plenty of full pages.  Alan Dunn and Barbara Shermund’s work is everywhere, but mostly half-page or quarter-page. Work by other familiar names (or soon to be familiar names) are sprinkled about the volume.  There’s a single Mary Petty drawing (if my counting is correct) with healthier showings by, among others, Otto Soglow, Perry Barlow, Leonard Dove, Peggy Bacon, John Held, Jr., Alajalov (still spelled “Aladjalov”), I. Klein, Carl Rose and Garrett Price (in an early style, far less fluid than his later work). There are a few spreads in the Album (unlike the spreads in the 2013 Cartoons of the Year,  which were created specifically for that publication, the 1928 spreads ran in the The New Yorker).

What struck me as I looked back and forth between the 1928 collection and the 2013 collection (much as a spectator watches the ball during a tennis match) is that here we are eighty-eight years after the magazine’s debut,  still highly entertained, and yes, sometimes still puzzled, by the very simple format Harold Ross and company fostered and nurtured: a drawing atop a caption.  Every week we continue to dive into each issue, turning the pages, eager to run into the next cartoon (and lately, the Cartoon Caption Contest cartoon).  As someone commented on this site following a post on the Cartoons of the Year, “Can’t wait for the shiny new cartoons of 2014.”   Me neither. 













Mystery New Yorker Cartoonist

mystery cartoonist




The last time I brought an unknown (to me) New Yorker cartoonist to this site, he was identified as Alfred Leete, whose cartoon appeared in the very first issue of The New Yorker.

The case of today’s mystery New Yorker cartoonist came about from my looking through the third anniversary issue of The New Yorker, dated February 25, 1928. After pausing on page 24  to admire a half-page Peter Arno cartoon I looked over to page 25 where my eyes rested on the above cartoon.  I looked at the signature,  “P. Panurge” — hmmm, the name wasn’t at all familiar. It might not even be “Panurge” (See below for a closer look at the signature).   Checked Ink Spill‘s  “New Yorker Cartoonists A – Z” (I sometimes forget I’ve already researched the more obscure cartoonists) , checked the New Yorker‘s database, checked the issue’s database  table of contents (the drawing is attributed to I. Klein.  Mr. Klein is in the issue, on page 17).  Googled  “Panurge”  and “P. Panurge”  and came up with nothing related to cartoons or a cartoonist.  I looked through a few issues surrounding the 1928 issue hoping there’d be another Panurge cartoon.  Coming up empty,  I began to wonder if P. Panurge, whoever she or he is could be the next member of Ink Spill‘s “One Club”.


So I throw it out to any cartoon detectives/historians out there: who is P. Panurge?  Any ideas please contact me.

Former New Yorker Editor, Daniel Menaker’s Memoir, “My Mistake”







My Mistake, Daniel Menaker’s latest book  continues a string of somewhat recent memoirs by former New Yorker editors (in Mr. Angell’s  case, current New Yorker editor): Alexander Chancellor’s  Some Times in America and A Life in a Year at The New Yorker (1999), Gardner Botsford’s A Life of Privilege, Mostly 2003) and Roger Angell’s Let Me Finish (2006).