Happy Birthday, Mr. Arno

Arno

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The late great New Yorker artist, Peter Arno was born 110 years ago today at home in Morningside Heights, New York.  As many regular visitors to Ink Spill know, I began a biography of Mr. Arno back in 1999.   Someday, a publisher willing, Mad At Something: The Life and Times of Peter Arno will be available to all those wishing to know a whole lot more about him.

 

Arno began contributing to The New Yorker in June of 1925 and continued contributing until his death in 1968 (his last cover for the magazine appears above). Over the past fifteen years I’ve asked New Yorker cartoonists to talk to me about Arno.  Today I’ve decided to run a handful of their responses. Some of these cartoonists were contemporaries of Arno’s, and some are in the early phase of their New Yorker cartoonist adventure.

 

 Frank Modell  began contributing cartoons to The New Yorker in 1946.  I first  interviewed Frank in February of 2000 and then again this past Fall.At 95 he is one of the two New Yorker contributors still with us who actually met Arno (Lillian Ross is the other.  Roger Angell told me he spoke with Arno on the phone, but never actually met him).

Let me tell you something about [Arno] – he was a worrier.  As good as he was, and as strong an artist as he was, surprisingly he was the most worried of all the cartoonists about his drawing.  He would call up [The New Yorker’s Art Department] and say,  ‘Did you get that drawing, the finish I sent in – did you print it yet?’  And I’d say no, then he’d say, ‘Don’t print it!  Tell Geraghty I’m doing another one – I don’t want him to print it until I do another one.’  Then he’d send in another version that didn’t look any different than the first.”

 

 

Syd Hoff, who died in 2004, began contributing to The New Yorker in 1931

“Arno belonged to the great era of Benchley, E.B. White, Perelman, etc., the era of the Great Depression and two emerging classes, upper and lower.  Arno belonged to the upper. Who’ll ever forget his Park Avenue types, on their way to a newsreel theater ‘to hiss Roosevelt’? Those bold drawings!  Nobody could imitate them.  They had to come out of the bourgeoisie!  I remember him standing outside 25 West 43rd Street!  He was big and narrow, just like his men, without [the] handlebar mustaches…”


Robert WeberIf you ask 20 cartoonists to name the top ten cartoonists to come out of the post-Harold Ross years, Robert Weber’s name will surely be on that list.  Mr. Weber’s distinctive bold effortless line is a thing to behold.  Mr. Weber will be 90 this coming April. He began contributing to The New Yorker in 1962.

“I wish I had known or even just met Arno and I regret I didn’t.  I’ve always admired his work, particularly his later work for The New Yorker.  I don’t think I ever consciously tried to emulate him, although I’ve learned a lot from his superb sense of composition and drama.  He had a marvelous ability to simplify.  He never permitted anything extraneous, and he developed a powerful style unlike anyone else.  And, of course, he was funny.  Put me down as a big fan.”

 

Alex Gregory began contributing to The New Yorker in  1999. Besides his work for the magazine he works in television and film. 

 “As far as Arno’s impact on me personally, I grew up looking enviously at his drawings in anthologies.  I would say that Arno is the New Yorker artist that I would most like to have emulated yet had the least capacity to do so.  His cartoons are like black-and-white Matisses. but in some ways even more accomplished. – they capture a person’s mood, character, and breeding with just a few thick supremely confident brush strokes.  The art direction in each panel is flawless; characters are placed perfectly, and the action is always expressive without being broad.   And as rich as each image is, he never gets bogged down in any details that could slow down the joke. His drawings appear to be done by a man who has never known a moment of fear or self-doubt in his life.   I suppose it was Arno more than any other cartoonist save Thurber that made me think of cartooning as an actual art form.”

 


Al Ross, who died in 2012, began contributing to The New Yorker in 1937.

“Arno was special.  He was special like Charles Addams was special, and Price was special.  You know what I mean?”

 

George Booth  began sharing his wonderful world of dogs, cats and characters with The New Yorker’s readership in 1969. 

 “Peter Arno’s work stands out and holds up in the test of time. His drawings and words were never timid, or just clever. They stated high quality, joy, confidence, strength, style, humor, idea, life, simplicity.  His color was right; black and white became color.  His cartoons were researched, with words well applied.  The communication was clear and timely.  He knew what he was doing.  Peter Arno was an artist worthy who gave something of value to the world.  A hero.”

 

 

Eldon Dedini,  who died in 2006, began contributing to The New Yorker in 1950.

“[Arno’s] cartoons were a major inspiration to me.  His staging of a gag was masterful in its simplicity.  No extra crap — the point -bang!  Even today when I have trouble with a drawing I ask myself ‘How would Arno do it?’ and look in collections of his for the answer…Arno is still the model for me and for any thinking cartoonist.”

 

Paul Noth  began contributing to The New Yorker in 2004.  Besides his work for the magazine he has also written for television.

“I was attracted to library books of his when I was a kid because of the sexy ladies (I was raised a strict Catholic, so actual nudity was too much for me, but cartoons like his were somehow okay).

 

Mischa Richter,  who died in 2001, began contributing to The New Yorker in 1950.

“A modern Daumier.”

 

Barbara Smaller began  contributing to The New Yorker in  1996.

  “Arno’s sophisticated bad boy sensibilities never resonated with me in the way a William Steig or George Price’s more plebian ones did.  Still there is much I admire about his drawings, particularly his wonderful deep blacks and dramatic compositions.  I also admit to enjoying the People magazine aspects of his private life;  the high highs and the satisfying low lows.  They are an object lesson to all wayward cartoonists!”

 

Henry Martin began contributing to The New Yorker in 1964

 “… Jim Geraghty bought three ideas from me for Arno in 1964 and 1965.  He was the master, but like so many of the greats the idea wells ran dry, but, lord, how they could create memorable drawings.”

 

Kim Warp began contributing to The New Yorker in 1999.

Peter Arno wasn’t the reason I became a cartoonist in particular but he was always part of the cartoon collections  that fascinated me as a child…I was impressed by the graphic power of his drawings ( although I wouldn’t have called it that at the time of course) and by the world he portrayed.  In particular I remember the “I’m checking up for the company, Madam.  Have you any of our fuller Brush men.?” Cartoon which somehow melded in my mind with his man in the shower cartoon. This was a much  more interesting world of possibility than  I was being led to believe existed by 1960s TV shows. When I think of him now I’m struck by the grown-up playfulness and joy of life his cartoons portray which contrasts with the work-obsessedness of today.  Maybe it’s just me but I don’t know too many people who have wild cocktail parties after work or fuller brush men hidden in their apartment.  Everyone is at soccer practice with the kids.”

 

 

Edward Sorel began contributing to The New Yorker in 1990.  Mr. Sorel, I believe, is the closest we’ve come to a modern day Arno. 

“It was Arno, not John Held, Jr. who was the true artist of the Jazz Age. Not only was his canvas much larger—including not only the coeds in their yellow slickers, but rich clubmen, gold-diggers, Hollywood illiterates, the unemployed, and most especially, satyrs and other pursuers of sex. And beyond his subject matter, his style of drawing, so spontaneous looking, is much more in keeping with the spirit of the roaring, anything goes, twenties, than Held’s meticulous, carefully designed cartoons. Once the Jazz Age was over, Held seemed antique, whereas Arno’s style not only kept going, but attracted several imitators.”

 

And last, but certainly not least, William Steig.  Mr. Steig, who died in 2003, began his New Yorker career in 1930.

  “I like his work.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cartoon Life 50 Years Ago: New Yorker Cartoonists’ Paperback Collections

Fradon:Breaking the Laugh BarrierBefore my recent interview with Dana Fradon, I did some research — as much as the internet allowed, which wasn’t a heck of a lot — and ran into this first collection of his from 1961. My copy arrived today — the pages yellowed and stiff, but the early ’60s humor intact (over on Mike Lynch’s site you’ll find a scan of the cover and a few cartoons from Mr. Fradon’s second paperback collection, My Son the Medicine Man). I really like these New Yorker cartoonists’  paperbacks — especially when they are original collections and not just the standard reprinting of a hardcover published a year or so earlier. There are a few posted on Ink Spill‘s From the Attic” section, including Al Ross‘s Bums vrs Billionaires. This was probably the closest thing the late Mr. Ross had to a cartoon collection (he also authored Sexcapades and Cartooning Fundamentals, but neither were purely cartoon collections).

 

 

Mischa Richter had a number of these paperbacks as well.  The Ink Spill library has just one (not included yet in the “From the Attic” section): Strictly Doctors (Pocket Books, 1963). Mr. Richter authored  at least two other mass paperbacks The Man on the Couch (Pocket Book, 1958) and Keeping Women in Line (Avon, 1954). The latter seems to be an original collection (it says so right on the cover).Richter: Keeping Women

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Whitney Darrow, Jr. paperback from the late 1940s, Hold It, Florence, is a mash-up of two Darrow collections, You’re Sitting on My Eyelashes and Please Pass the Hostess. 177-1

These little brittle gems are easy to come by online, but it’s always more fun when they show up in a used bookstore wedged between ancient Peanuts collections. There’s a wagon load of un-PC content in some of these books, but considering them as archeological dig finds, they tell us perhaps what we already knew or suspected cartoon life was like half a century ago.

 

Addendum: I did more looking online for New Yorker cartoonist paperback collections (post-war through the early 1960s) and found just one more that may or may not be an original collection: Starke Staring by Leslie Starke, published in 1955.

Starke Staring

 

 

 

Tom Cheney: Lessons from Charles Rodrigues

tom-cheney-paper-or-plastic-new-yorker-cartoon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the second installment in an Ink Spill series of cartoonists talking about the important cartoon connections in their lives.  Felipe Galindo wrote about Steinberg last week.  This week, Tom Cheney, who began contributing to The New Yorker in 1978 (one of his most famous contributions is above) writes about the late Charles Rodrigues, whose work is perhaps most associated with National Lampoon.

 

Lessons From Rodrigues

I can’t say that I’ve been influenced by just one or even many cartoonists, because all of my predecessors, as well as my peers, have taught me valuable lessons about this art over the years. There is, however, one cartoonist whom I’ve always regarded as my favorite, and whose work has always inspired me to put forth my best efforts as a cartoonist.
I discovered Charles Rodrigues’ cartoons when I was twelve years old.  I was thumbing through a copy of Cracked magazine and found a regular feature he was doing for them entitled “Shut-ups.”   I then began following his work in other magazines and discovered how versatile he was in addition to being consistently original.  I’ve always been enchanted with the way Charles draws. Take any character out of one of his cartoons, paste it to a plain white background, and you’ve got a complete,  ready-made cartoon.
I began reading National Lampoon when I was a freshman in college, and that’s where I saw the unleashed Charles Rodrigues test the subject boundaries of the single panel cartoon and the full page comic strip.  Joining him were Sam Gross, and John Caldwell.  Sam’s characters, if taken out of context, were nothing short of adorable, but he was an expert at putting them in themes and situations that would make a prison guard blush.   His amazing use of cuteness combined with shock was an explosively funny technique.  John Caldwell was just beginning to emerge as a cartoonist, but he already had a unique brand of humor that kept me rolling on the floor.  For John, the window of weirdness would open up, and he would just walk right in.   I regarded them, along with the other ‘Lampoon cartoonists, as explorers.  They were walking up to the edge and spitting over the railing.  For me, the prospect of being able to draw cartoons like that for a living began to overshadow anything that I might ever accomplish as a psychology major.  Consequently, I also took as many art courses as would fit into my schedule.
Shortly after graduating from Potsdam State College in 1976, I made the unfortunate mistake of turning my back on an acutely psychotic patient while I was working the night shift at a psychiatric facility.  He seized the opportunity to smash a chair across my back.  The following day I decided to become a professional cartoonist.  There would be no plan B.
I was discovering the New Yorker cartoonists at this time, and every single one of them had a lesson for me with each of their cartoons that appeared.  Charles Addams and George Booth taught me that you can never have too many details in a cartoon, as long as they contribute to its theme.  Lee Lorenz still dazzles me with his brilliant handling of bold lines, and how he can make a complex drawing look like it was done with a single brush stroke.  His thoughtful editing of my work during my early days at The New Yorker was immeasurably helpful in developing my drawing style.  Both Lee and Charles Saxon taught me the power of dynamics and good composition.  Arnie Levin and Charles Barsotti taught me the strength of simplicity, and how it’s possible to set off a humor “grenade” with just a few lines. Bob Mankoff, Jack Ziegler, William Hamilton, Al Ross, and Robert Weber taught me how effective it can be to match one’s drawing style to one’s particular brand of humor.  All of them were and are ingenious gag writers, and they’ve all taught me that the most important ingredient in every cartoon is a good solid idea.
Freelance cartoonists do not live by one magazine alone, and I found it necessary to keep as many magazines on my submissions list as possible, including The New Yorker.  Thus far, it’s been a 37 year journey that’s taken me from the boggy depths of Hustler to the erudite stratosphere of The New Yorker.  Along the way, I’ve frequently asked myself, “What would Charles Rodrigues do with this or that subject?”  I often relied on the most important lessons I learned from studying his work:  Details develop and enhance characters and settings.  There’s a way to draw a men’s room that will also make it smell like a men’s room.  Secondly, no subject is off limits, and the more stressful or taboo a subject is, the more explosively funny a cartoon about it can be with a carefully engineered gag.  Equally, a banal or boring subject can be easily walked out to its extreme with surprising results.  Finally, the reader’s imagination is one of the most important tools a cartoonist has, and the ability to grab it and haul it into a cartoon was one of Rodrigues’ special talents.
Often, without depicting nudity nor being the least bit graphic, and without using a single off-color word in the caption, Charles could take us into a hilarious and powerfully suggestive setting.  It brings to mind a cartoon he once did for National Lampoon.  A couple is entertaining another couple I their living room.  The lady of the house says to her husband, “Maurice, show Irene and Joe the funny trick you can do with your colostomy bag.”  The phrase, “colostomy bag” placed at the end of the caption was the perfect sucker-punch to an otherwise commonplace setting, and our imaginations can’t help but run with the possibilities of the trick “Maurice” is soon to perform.  Charles’ outstanding ability to manipulate the reader’s imagination was what I believe set him apart from many cartoonists.  That, in combination with his delightful drawing style and unique ideas always had me in awe of his work.  He was so good at what he did that he could go anywhere he wanted, with any subject, to the most extreme degree, and do it with class; simply by grabbing our imaginations and steering them into the right zone.  For me, working as a freelancer, maintaining that same versatility has been a matter of survival.
Again, I have to thank all cartoonists for being my teachers, and I especially thank Charles Rodrigues:  the cartoonist who brought us stories of a private detective in an iron lung;  the story of a man and his dead friend “Joe” who lived with him; Siamese twins who accidentally tore themselves apart, then went through the trouble of having themselves stitched back together (with one of them upside down;) and the story of a blind man who’s little friend, Deidre Callahan, was so ugly that her face was “too hideous for publication”  in her own comic strip (again grabbing at our imaginations.)  I’m forever grateful to Charles for daring to go to all of those places, and showing us how it could be done.  I’m sorry they’ve taken National Lampoon away from us, along with a throng of other magazines that used to publish adventurous cartoons.  I’m not certain, but I think Charles might agree with me that the mysterious disappearance of magazine cartoons might have something to do with all of the tattoos we’re seeing on everybody.

— Tom Cheney June 2013

 

For more information on Tom Cheney and a look at Charles Rodrigues’s work:

Link to Tom Cheney’s work for The New Yorker: The Cartoon Bank

Link to Tom Cheney’s Wikipedia page

Link to a listing of Tom Cheney’s work for Mad Magazine (Doug Gilford’s Mad Cover site)

Link to a site posting work by Charles Rodrigues

 

 

From the Attic: Cobean, Ross, and Peter Arno

Here’re three more items that will soon be added to the Attic.

 

 

Above: A Sam Cobean handkerchief. Other than Thurber I can’t think of another of the magazine’s cartoonists who was more fond of delving into the whole man/woman thing.

 

 

Below:

This Timex watch with an Al Ross drawing on its face is not very old, but it’s interesting.  Danny Shanahan donated this to the Attic a few years ago. I hadn’t opened the box in awhile and when I did, the watch was still ticking.

 

 

Below:

A box of Peter Arno cocktail napkins.  When I began working on Arno’s biography, I bought nearly everything I came across that had anything to do with Arno.

 

 

In Good Company: a look at the cartoons in Al Ross’s New Yorker debut issue

 

The news that Al Ross passed away last week got me to thinking about  his start at The New Yorker, way way back in the issue of November 27, 1937, when he was twenty-five years old. This morning I went to our cabinet full of bound New Yorkers, brought out the volume from late 1937 and began paging through the particular issue that contains Al’s inaugural drawing. It’s a wonderful snapshot of that time with an outstanding roster of cartoonists.

The issue begins with a Helen Hokinson cover,  one of those pieces capturing a moment. Beautiful. The first cartoon is by Charles Addams, done in his earlier style before his drawings became more defined. Next up is a Richard Decker drawing printed in step-ladder fashion – sitting atop two columns of type. On the opposite page, a Richard Taylor, also step-ladderish. Taylor had such an unusual style – it reminds me of P.C. Vey’s in a way. Turning the page we come to a beautiful full page by William Galbraith. On the opposite page a great spot drawing by Suzanne Suba – a Macy’s parade moment.

Next page, a Mary Petty that nearly eats up the whole page. Opposite that is a short piece by E.B.White titled “Small Thanks to You “(sorry, couldn’t avoid mentioning that). Several pages later a Syd Hoff spread along the top third of the page. Up next is one of the masters of the full page, Gluyas Williams. A few pages later the two Prices face each other: George and Garrett.

I have to take a break here just for a moment and comment on the way the make-up department handled the cartoons. With the exception of the full page cartoons, every single cartoon was awarded a unique space, meaning the shape of the cartoon is different for each cartoon. Even the cartoons that are rectangular are never the same size (the Hoff stretched out three columns wide, the Garrett Price two and a half columns wide).

Turning the page, a Robert Day cartoon (another rectangle, but nearly square). Two pages later, not a cartoon, but an Al Frueh drawing illustrating a current Broadway show.  Frueh does a terrific take on Orson Welles.  Would love to see a collection of his theater pieces in a book (there is a very nice catalog of his work, but so far, not a collection).

Two pages later we find Al Ross’s first New Yorker cartoon (caption: “Listen, Chief…”). Those familiar with Al’s later work would be hard pressed to recognize this cartoon as one of his.  It’s done in a somewhat early Addams-ish style. Across the gutter from the cartoon the name “Robert Benchley” appears at the end of his theater review.  Heady company!

A number of pages go by before we reach a fairly large and very funny Barbara Shermund cartoon.  Leafing through more pages, through the New Yorker’s holiday wrap up of children’s toys and books, we come upon a brief review of Dr. Seuss’s  And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street: “Slight but humorous. Spirited comic-strip pictures and a rhymed text show the power of exaggeration…”

And finally, a Perry Barlow cartoon to end the issue.  It’s a children’s book themed drawing running on the book review page.  If I’m not mistaken this is an unusual pairing. I’ve been under the impression for most of my life that the editors avoided tying the cartoons to the surrounding story.

Before we close the magazine, a treat near the end:  a full page ad for The 1937 New Yorker Album, published by Random House. A banner running across the page declares: “Just Published – bigger and funnier than ever.” Contributors include all the aforementioned in this post ( except Al, whose work would begin showing up in later Albums) plus, among others,  Peter Arno, James Thurber,  Rea Irvin, Gardner Rea, Otto Soglow, Alan Dunn, Barney Tobey, Alajalov,  Chon Day, Carl Rose, Whitney Darrow, Jr., and William Steig.  Wow.

 

For more on Al Ross, head on over to newyorker.com, where the magazine’s cartoon editor, Bob Mankoff, has posted this piece (it includes a good scan of Al’s first cartoon).

And for even more: Mike Lynch has posted a number of Al’s drawings on his site. (You’ll need to scroll down a ways, past all the NCS business)