I had a brief relationship with Playboy –from June of 1997, when a cartoon of mine first appeared in the magazine, through September of 1999, when the magazine published my last Playboy cartoon (and sent me my last complimentary copy). I’d sold three cartoons in those three years; if my math is right, that’s an average of one cartoon a year.
My work being in Playboy came out of a personal high point in my life: meeting my-wife-to-be, Liza Donnelly at a New Yorker cartoon exhibit after-party hosted by Michelle Urry, Playboy’s cartoon editor. (I know, I know: a party for New Yorker cartoonists hosted by Playboy’s cartoon editor. Weird, right?).
Once Liza (also a New Yorker cartoonist) and I were married a few years later, my friendship (by association) with Michelle developed. When I’d see her at the Playboy holiday parties in the magazine’s building on 5th Avenue, she’d invariably say to me, with that great smile of hers, “When are you going to send me something?” You see, I was a reluctant contributor; I never felt my work was the right fit for Playboy, and thought it was a waste of everyone’s time for me to submit work. Make of that what you will.
Eventually — probably just to prove that my work wasn’t right for them — I did send Michelle some cartoons and was surprisingly rewarded with the aforementioned sales. The bought drawings came back to me with Hugh Hefner’s ok-ing mark on it (his initials I believe). Alas, I was always instructed to return Hef’s marked roughs with the finished drawings.
By the time Hef published my first cartoon, I had already been at The New Yorker twenty years; Playboy was, to me, the alternate cartoon universe, with its own cast of characters, mostly regular contributors who were often published full page, and in full color (New Yorker founder Harold Ross’s “What’s so funny about red” be damned). Even some of the single panel cartoons were in color. It was part of the Playboy cartoon signature. My three published Playboy cartoons just barely allowed me to feel a kind of attachment to what most cartoonists felt was the other big cartoon market. Leafing through the magazine I would come across plenty of my New Yorker colleagues — so many it would be pointless to name them here. I began to think that Playboy wasn’t such an alternate cartoon universe after all, but a sort of sister moon, or something. My point here is that there was always this other cartoon team, this bunch from Playboy, whose work concerned itself with life and love – just like many New Yorker cartoonists. True enough, Playboy’s cartoonists came at their subject matter more nakedly, more colorfully than the New Yorker. A crucial difference between the two magazines, cartoon-wise: New Yorker cartoons were (are) an examination of we, the people. Playboy’s cartoons were tilted more toward an examination of we, the men (no surprise here: Playboy famously bills itself as “the men’s entertainment magazine).
I say “were tilted more toward an examination of we, the men” because the newly de-nuded Playboy has dropped its cartoons (and thus dropped its cartoon team). In a letter sent early this month to its cartoonists, Playboy’s Associate Cartoon Editor (Michelle Urry died in 2006) gently but abruptly notified contributors that the magazine’s 62 year old tradition of publishing cartoons was, for all intents and purposes, no longer. Playboy lives on, but the New Yorker’s cartoon sister moon is history.