BBC: Bert & Ernie New Yorker Cover & The Power of Cartoons: Bob Mankoff on Favorite Cartoons, Pt.2; Book of Interest: American Cornball

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From BBC News Magazine, July 19, 2013, “A Point of View: Bert, Ernie and the power of cartoons”

 

 

 

 

 

 

And…

 

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From New Yorker Cartoon Editor, Bob Mankoff’s newyorker.com blog, here’s part 2 of his look into favorite cartoons.  This time Mr. Mankoff begins to roll out favorites as suggested by visitors to the site.  Work shown includes cartoons by George Price, Peter Arno, Shel Silverstein (whose work never appeared in The New Yorker), and Charles Addams.

 

And…

 

 

 

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Now here’s a book worth waiting for: American Cornball: A Laffopedic Guide to the Formerly Funny (Harper, 2014) by Christopher Miller.  Originally slated to be out now, it’s been rescheduled for February of next year.  I asked Mr. Miller to describe the book:

 

It is an encyclopedia of old humor, with roughly 200 entries on things that used to strike people as funny–things like anvils, back-seat drivers, castor oil, dish-washing husbands, efficiency experts, flappers, gold diggers, hangovers, icemen, just-marrieds, kissing booths, ladies’ clubs, mothers-in-law, next-door neighbors, old maids, pie fights, rolling pins, stenographers, traveling salesmen, ulcers, women drivers, and yes men.

The focus is American humor in the first 2/3 of the 20th century, as expressed in books, movies, cartoons, comic strips, sit-coms, radio programs, etc. I talk a lot about New Yorker cartoonists like Charles Addams (especially in the entry on Spouse-Killing), Helen Hokinson (Ladies’ Clubs), Peter Arno (Gold diggers), and Richard Taylor (Drunks and Drunkenness).

 

Note: Mr. Miller has a Facebook page devoted to the book, with a number of images posted, including work by Charles Addams, Syd Hoff, and Sam Cobean

 

 

Peter Steiner on the 20th Anniversary of “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

 

 

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On this day twenty years ago,  Peter Steiner’s “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” was published in The New Yorker.  The cartoon went on to become the most reprinted New Yorker cartoon in modern times, and according to The New Yorker’s Cartoon Bank,  it continues to this day to be the magazine’s #1 reprinted cartoon.  Ink Spill caught up with Mr. Steiner the other day as he was heading out the door.  He was kind enough to pause and respond to this brief flurry of questions.

 

 

 

Michael Maslin: It’s been twenty years since “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” was published in The New Yorker. The popularity of that drawing has moved you into the rarefied company of New Yorker cartoonists who have drawn an instantly recognizable cartoon. I think of Charles Addams famous skier who has managed to ski around both sides of a pine tree , or Thurber’s Seal in the Bedroom, Arno’s “Well, back to the old drawing board” or Bob Mankoff’s “No, Thursday’s out. How about never –is never good for you?”

What, if anything, does that mean to you, and what do you feel about the drawing now?

 Peter Steiner: If a couple of journalists hadn’t contacted me about the anniversary, I wouldn’t have known it was coming.  One contacted me, or tried to, by way of my Facebook page which I never visit, so I missed seeing his effort for a good month.  It’s kind of amusing that I did this “seminal” cartoon about the internet and am so inept at making use of it.

 I’m of course pleased to be in such lofty company as Arno, Thurber, Addams, etc.,  but that still seems to me like an accidental thing.  The cartoon owes its popularity to its coincidental arrival with a burgeoning interest in the internet.  I still don’t think of it as a great cartoon or even one of my best, although people are always telling me it is.  That’s probably evidence of my biggest failing as a cartoonist:  I could dream them up and draw them but I couldn’t tell if they were any good.  Having said that though, when I consider the body of my work I am proud of the quality of the ideas and the drawing.

 When I look at the cartoon now, it’s like it has taken on a life of its own.  I don’t feel much of a connection to it.  And my drawing has developed since then, so it’s not how I would draw it now.

 MM: How would you draw it now? And at the risk of pushing my luck, want to take a crack at it?

 PS: I’d make the drawing looser, the lines surer, everything a little less tidy.  I’ll pass on drawing it again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author’s Progress Report: Thomas Vinciguerra on his Cast of Characters: Wolcott Gibbs, E.B. White, James Thurber, and the Golden Age of the New Yorker

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(above: foreground: Fritz Foord, Wolcott Gibbs, Frank Case (owner of the Algonquin Hotel) and Dorothy Parker. Standing, left to right: Alan Campbell, St. Clair McKelway, Russell Maloney and James Thurber.

 

An Ink Spill Exclusive:

Wolcott Gibbs and Co. in Upcoming Group Portrait

There’ve been a handful of New Yorker-centered books in recent years that have caused the house lights here to blink in excitement and anticipation.  The Linda Davis biography of Charles Addams, James Stevenson’s lovely book on Frank Modell, and Deirde Bair’s biography of Saul Steinberg.  Now another is added to that short list.  Last August, Publisher’s Weekly announced that W.W. Norton would be publishing Cast of Characters: Wolcott Gibbs, E.B. White, James Thurber and the Golden Age of The New Yorker, by Thomas Vinciguerra in the spring of 2015, coinciding with the magazine’s 90th anniversary. Since then, little has been heard from Vinciguerra. But some delicate arm-twisting elicited an update and overview from the harried author.

 

“After months of plowing through The New Yorker records at the main branch of the New York Public Library, I can safely say that I should be able to wrap up my primary digging there by the end of the summer,” Vinciguerra says. “I’ll soon be off to a few other archival collections and conducting some interviews. But happily, I’ve been working on this book in one form or another for so long that much of my research is already done.”

Thereby hangs a tale. In the fall of 2005 Vinciguerra began investigating the life of Gibbs (1902-1958), who in more than 30 years at The New Yorker contributed countless comic sketches, parodies, profiles, short stories, “Talk” and “Comment” pieces and, notably, a pungent theatre column for approximately two decades. “I was appalled that this incredibly productive, versatile, indispensable contributor had been largely forgotten to history,” he recalls. “But for five years, nobody wanted a biography about him. Their attitude was, ‘Wolcott Gibbs? Who’s he?’ Then, in 2010 I got lucky. Bloomsbury had published A Reporter at Wit’s End, a collection of the journalism of Gibbs’s colleague and friend St. Clair McKelway, and I found they were looking to do a follow-up. So in 2011 they came out with my anthology Backward Ran Sentences: The Best of Wolcott Gibbs From The New Yorker.

Backward Ran Sentences (its title derives from the famous 1936 Gibbs profile of Henry Luce, which spoofed many aspects of Time magazine, notably its weirdly inverted narrative structure) was a minor success and reawakened some interest in Gibbs. Jonathan Yardley of The Washington Post named it one of his best books of the year and even Time declaimed puckishly, “Forward run to this Wolcott Gibbs anthology.” Still, there was no interest in a full-length account of Gibbs’s life.

“Finally,” says Vinciguerra, “I got in touch with my old friend John Glusman, editor-in-chief at Norton. He suggested a book about Gibbs and his circle, shamelessly playing up The New Yorker angle and such giants as White and Thurber, to elicit as much interest as possible. Proceeding from the principle that half a loaf is better than you know what, I gratefully accepted.”

The volume will be neither a history of The New Yorker nor a conventional biography, but rather a group portrait of a certain collection of writers, editors, artists, entertainers and other personalities placed against the backdrop of the magazine, with Gibbs as a focal point. “The best comparison I can make is to Poets in Their Youth,” Vinciguerra says, “in which Eileen Simpson chronicled the lives and times of a whole bunch of interconnected persons—Robert Lowell, Jean Stafford, R.P. Blackmur, Delmore Schwartz, Randall Jarrell—with her husband, John Berryman, as a connecting link.”

It’s an unconventional approach, and Vinciguerra is finding that he has his work cut out for him. “This is unlike anything I’ve done before,” says the author, a founding editor of The Week magazine and a contributor to various sections of The New York Times for almost 20 years. “And I’m afraid that I’m going to disappoint some people. When Brendan Gill came out with a new edition of Here at The New Yorker, he explained that the book wasn’t an official account of life at the magazine; it was an account of his life at the magazine. Similarly, Cast of Characters will concern itself almost exclusively with Gibbs and the people who were part of his orbit.

“Fortunately, Gibbs wasn’t merely a writer but a major New Yorker editor as well. And unlike White and Thurber, with whom he was always mentioned in the same breath, he never formally left the staff. So he was absolutely an ongoing, sometimes omniscient, presence. At the same time, there were many big names that weren’t in his crowd. You’re not really going to see anything here about folks like Joe Mitchell, Jean Stafford, Dorothy Parker, Richard Rovere, Saul Steinberg, or S.J. Perelman. A.J. Liebling, Robert Benchley and Peter Arno, among others, will enter only fleetingly.

“At the same time, there will be new information about hitherto elusive figures who Gibbs did interact with, like St. Clair McKelway, Russell Maloney, Gus Lobrano, John Mosher, Hobie Weekes, and Freddie Packard. It goes without saying that along with White and Thurber, Harold Ross and Katharine White will loom large. So, too, will Gibbs’s close friends Charles Addams and John O’Hara, and his literary enemy Alexander Woollcott. And I’m paying special attention to the two worlds that Gibbs really made his own—Broadway and Fire Island.

“I’m tempted to spill even more, but I do have a deadline.”

 

Some links of interest:

From newyorker.com, October 11, 2011, an interview with Jon Michaud of The New Yorker: “Q&A: Thomas Vinciguerra on Wolcott Gibbs”

From The Committee Room, December 12, 2012, this interview:  “TCR Recommends — “Backward Ran Sentences: The Best of Wolcott Gibbs by Thomas Vinciguerra”

From The Washington Post, December 9, 2011, “Year-end Picks”

From Time, October 25, 2011, “Backward Ran Sentences: The Best of Wolcott Gibbs from The New Yorker”

And…

Mr. Vinciguerra has been kind enough to pass along to this address examples of some of the treasure he has discovered while digging through the New Yorker’s archives in the New York Public Library.  From what I’ve been seeing, there is no doubt “Cast of Characters” will be in a league with “Genius in Disguise”  Thomas Kunkel’s spectacular biography of Harold Ross.  Come 2015, we are in for a treat.

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Cheney: Lessons from Charles Rodrigues

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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

 

 

Peter De Vries, Cartoon Doctor

 

 

 

Occasionally, Ink Spill takes a look at New Yorker contributors who weren’t cartoonists but whose work at the magazine was so intertwined with cartoons and/or cartoonists that it would be just plain silly not to look at them.  Peter De Vries,  a New Yorker staffer from 1944 through 1986, fits the bill perfectly.

 

De Vries, who died in 1993, moved from his hometown, Chicago, to the east coast and The New Yorker via James Thurber, who highly recommended De Vries to the magazine’s founder and editor, Harold Ross.

 

Hired to work part-time in the magazine’s poetry department, De Vries wrote for Notes and Comment, as well as contributing fiction.  After asking the magazine’s Art Editor, James Geraghty if there was anything he could do in the Art Department, De Vries was taken in as a “cartoon doctor” in 1947,  fixing captions, helping to develop ideas, and sometimes coming up with his own. Unless my computations are wrong, no other New Yorker editor had as  long an association with the magazine’s cartoons as De Vries: thirty-nine years.

 

In various interviews over the years, he seemed reticent to discuss his duties concerning cartoons. Ben Yagoda, who interviewed him for The New York Times in 1983, reported that De Vries couldn’t recall any original cartoon ideas he came up with, except one: a drawing by Richard Decker that appeared in July 21, 1945. Yagoda surmised that “DeVries  hesitancy to discuss his work in the Art Department may spring from a desire to uphold the myth that cartoonists’ works are never altered.”  That myth is worth exploring at another time, but perhaps it was less an allegiance to the myth and more of a De Vries personality trait. Former New Yorker Art/Cartoon Editor, Lee Lorenz, who was recently interviewed for this piece, described De Vries as “very quiet – sort of shy.” In a 1956 interview with The New York Times, De Vries described himself as “‘utility man in the Art Deaprtment,’ while others around the place describe him as a force in the Bull Pen.”

 

Frank Modell, now age 95, and the New Yorker’s eldest cartoonist,  was good friends with De Vries,  interacting with him weekly at the magazine’s office during the time Modell was Geraghty’s assistant in the 1940s.  Modell told me recently, “De Vries was an amazingly good humored guy.” Distilling De Vries’ work with cartoons, Modell said,  “he made [captions] a little more clear.”

 

When Lorenz succeeded James Geraghty as Art Editor in 1973, a sea-change was underway at the Art Department.  Idea men (there were no idea women) who had supplied some of the great New Yorker cartoonists with a steady stream of excellent work, were facing a new wave of cartoonists who were in the mold of Thurber – an artist who wrote all of his own ideas  — and not George Price, a cartoonist who relied completely on ideamen.

Lorenz, reflecting on that time, and the waning of idea men:

Of course there was a long tradition there of people who just did the ideas and the artists who just did the drawings, but we’d gotten past that by that point. Artists did their own stuff. If he [De Vries] came up with a good one I’d certainly take it  back to the artist, and they’d have the final word –- it was their caption.

 I’ve thought about it a lot — there’s a big difference between writing humor and captioning a cartoon. There’s a special skill to writing captions.  He was a funny writer, but when he tried to change a caption, it got longer, it got more convoluted.”

 Asked to describe his working relationship with De Vries, Lorenz said:

“We were friendly, but I hardly ever saw him. He kept pretty much to himself there.  The stuff [sheets of paper bearing copies of approved cartoons for that week] would be shipped out to his office at some point during the week and he’d go through it.   He didn’t come to the art department.  All this stuff would be passed around in a box – a regular wooden box. It would go down to his office and he would go through it and make notes and eventually it would come back to me. But I don’t remember we discussed much of this face to face.  We weren’t avoiding each other —  that was just the kind of relationship we had.

If cartoon aficionados have one reason to hold De Vries in high regard it would certainly be for the part he played in developing one of Charles Addams most enduring cartoons (and a captionless one at that). In the fall of 1946, James Geraghty, in need of a Christmas cover, invited  De Vries over to his Connecticut home to sit out on the front lawn and brainstorm. The result was the classic Addams  cartoon that appeared in the December 21, 1946 New Yorker:  three members of the so-called Addams Family, four stories up, about to pour boiling oil on the carolers below. Although Geraghty and De Vries conceived of it as a cover, Harold Ross nixed the idea and ran it inside as a full page cartoon.

De Vries, a prolific novelist, did not shy away from using his New Yorker Art Department experience in his popular 1954 book, The Tunnel of Love.  It’s the story, in a nutshell, of a fellow named Dick, who is Cartoon Editor of  The Townsman, a New Yorker-like magazine,  and  another fellow, Augie, who’s a third-rate cartoonist and first rate idea man.

Below:  De Vries first book, published in 1940, cover by Charles Addams

 

Special thanks to Lee Lorenz and Frank Modell for their assistance with this piece. Lee Lorenz interviewed April 9, 2013; Frank Modell interviewed April 11, 2013