Hugh Hefner, cartoonist turned mogul, died yesterday in California. For quite some time his creation, Playboy Magazine was the alternate universe for a good number of New Yorker cartoonists. Beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s with other major cartoon markets folding, Playboy became the next best place for cartoonists to take their work; the decision to bring one’s cartoons there was, for most, economic, not editorial. Editorially, Playboy was definitely not the New Yorker (the best place to take one’s work) but it had in common with the New Yorker a number of elements attractive to cartoonists: the pay was good –second only to The New Yorker, and there was an orderly editorial system in place thanks to the steady presence of Michelle Urry, who presided as cartoon editor. Like the New Yorker, Playboy had a stable of cartoonists, some contracted with the magazine. As a monthly, the decision-making process wasn’t as fast-paced as the weekly New Yorker; the process further slowed by the need for all work to be approved by Mr. Hefner, the magazine’s founder and editor-in-chief, who wasn’t in the magazine’s headquarters in Manhattan, but out west, living his well- publicized Hollywood dream.
There was plenty of spill-over from the New Yorker‘s stable to Playboy‘s, especially in the back of the book, where single panel cartoons were most prominent (full color, full-page cartoons by Playboy regulars threaded through the magazine). Hefner’s tastes in cartoons bore the stamp of his younger days; much of the magazine’s anchor material (those color pages) curiously kept that Eisenhower era look and feel well beyond the 1950s.
It was headline news when Playboy briefly ceased using cartoons (and abandoned nude photographs of women) but less newsworthy when both returned. There is at this point in time no next best place for cartoonists to bring their work once it’s been rejected by The New Yorker. Several eras of cartoonists were buoyed by Hefner’s magazine, itself a curio that perhaps could only have been dreamed up by a cartoonist.