James Thurber, Cartoon Critic; William Steig Drawings At Auction; Meet The Artist (1943): Gluyas Williams

James Thurber, Cartoon Critic

On a recent search through Thurber biographies in the Spill library I happened upon a Thurber letter I’d forgotten about. Written to Harold Ross, and dated October 20, 1941, it appears in the mother ship of all Thurber biographies, Harrison Kinney’s twelve hundred and thirty-eight page Thurber: His Life And Times (Henry Holt, 1995).

Thurber, unhappy his ideas supplied for the artist, Mary Petty have been rejected, takes issue with five drawings in the current issue — the issue of October 18, 1941.  After Thurber reminds Ross that this letter is not his first complaint (all Thurber quotes in this post are bolded):

You already have filed away for your autobiography some 50 or 100 blasphemous notes from me on what is the matter with the magazine.

he goes on to say:

The really great New Yorker drawings have had to do with people sitting in chairs, lying on the beach, or walking along the street.  The easy answer the art meeting always gives to the dearth of ideas like the ones I am trying to describe is that they are hard to get or that nobody sends them in anymore. It seems to me that the principle reason for this is that the artists take their cue from the type of drawing which they see constantly published in the magazine.

Here are those first three drawings, by Richard Decker, Alan Dunn, and Ned Hilton. (Mr. Decker’s caption, difficult to read in the scan, is: “Where have you been. Your plane crashed half an hour ago.”)

Thurber writes of these drawings:

Years ago I wrote a story for The New Yorker in which a woman who tried to put together a cream separator suddenly snarled at those who were looking at her and said, “Why doesn’t somebody take this god damned thing away from me?”  I want to help take the cream separators, parachutes, fire extinguishers, paint brushes and tomahawks away from four-fifths of the characters that appear in the The New Yorker idea drawings…

Thurber goes on to talk about two other drawings in the issue. Here’s Thurber on this drawing by  Leonard Dove:

It must have been six years ago you told me drawings about psychoanalysts were terribly out of date. The next week I turned in one in which the analyst says, “A moment ago, Mrs. Ridgway, you said that everybody you looked at seemed to be a rabbit. Now just what did you mean by that?”* …But you can’t publish a drawing about an analyst and a woman with the caption, “Your only trouble is, Mrs. Markham, that you’re so horribly normal.” This is one of the oldest, tritest, and most often repeated lines in the world.

And then Thurber moved on to this Chon Day drawing:

…this is such an extravagant distortion of reality, it is so far removed from what any salesman would ever say, that to be successful it has to be fantastic. But since the situation is not fantastic, it ends up simply being a bad gag…No sales man ever said to any housewife what you have him saying in the cartoon I am talking about. That is a gag man’s idea.

*Thurber didn’t quite get his own caption right. The actual caption: “You said just a moment ago that everybody you look at seems to be a rabbit.  Now just what do you mean by that, Mrs. Sprague?” It appeared in The New Yorker February 13, 1937.

______________________________________________________

William Steig Drawings At Auction

The other day it was noted here that the Swann Galleries will auction New Yorker work December 10th. Yesterday a Spill visitor sent me this listing of Steig drawings to be auctioned December 5th by Bonhams. Some beautiful work by one of The New Yorker‘s Cartoon Gods!

________________________________________________________

Meet The Artist (1943): Gluyas Williams

Speaking of NYer Cartoon Gods, here’s a self portrait of Gluyas Williams from the 1943 catalog published by the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum.

…and here’s Mr. Williams’s entry on the Spill‘s A-Z:

Gluyas Williams (above left undated; right: 1 975) Born, San Francisco, 1888. Died, Boston, Mass., 1982. One of the pillars of Harold Ross’s stable of artists, and one of Ross’s favorite cartoonists. His beautiful full page drawings were a regular feature in the magazine. Mr. Williams illustrated a number of Robert Benchley’s collections, providing the cover art as well as illustrations. New Yorker work: March 13, 1926 – Aug 25, 1951. Key collections: The Gluyas Williams Book ( Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1929), The Gluyas Williams Gallery (Harper, 1956). Website: http://www.gluyaswilliams.com/

 

 

 

Roz Chast Looks For A Pen; Tomorrow Night’s Book Signing of Interest: Marcellus Hall; Exhibit of Interest: Addams, Chon Day, Gahan Wilson, John Held Jr., Kunz, Jonik, Eckstein, Caldwell & More; Sarah Boxer in The Atlantic: “Why Is Trump So Hard to Caricature?”

Roz Chast Looks For a Pen

A fun post on Jane Mattimoe’s Case For Pencils blog: Roz Chast is asking for pen suggestions.  Read it here.

Note: Ms. Chast (along with the cover artist, Liniers, and several others) is a guest of honor at the upcoming MOCCA Festival at the Society of Illustrators. Info here.

_________________________________________________________________

Tomorrow Night’s Book Signing of Interest: Marcellus Hall

This notice from the illustrator & New Yorker cover artist, Marcellus Hall:

This Thursday I’ll be at Desert Island Comics 6:50-9pm signing and selling my debut graphic novel, KALEIDOSCOPE CITY. During the first 45 minutes or so Ambrosia Parsley will join me as I sing a few songs and Gabe Soria will interview me. Come!
Marcellus
 
THURS MAR 15
DESERT ISLAND COMICS
540 Metropolitan
Williamsburg Brooklyn NY
6:50 – 9pm
FREE
___________________________________________________________________
Exhibit of Interest: Sordoni Art Gallery At Wilkes University
 
News of an exhibit featuring a number of New Yorker contributors including Charles Addams, Chon Day, John Held, Jr. Bob Eckstein, John Caldwell, John Jonik, Anita Kunz, and Gahan Wilson.  Info here.
Below, the artists in the show:
________________________________________________________
Sarah Boxer in The Atlantic: “Why Is Trump So Hard to Caricature?”
 
A fascinating article by Ms. Boxer.  It includes a number of New Yorker artists. Read it here.

 

Interview of Interest: Chon Day

Courtesy of Mike Lynch’s blog, we are able to read what is surely an obscure interview with Chon Day that appeared in a publication from the early 1960s, Pro Cartoonist & Gagwriter

Here’s Mr. Day’s entry on the Spill’s A-Z:

Chon Day (self portrait above from Collier’s Collects Its Wits) Born April 6, 1907, Chatham , NJ. Died January 1, 2000, Rhode Island. New Yorker work: 1931 – 1998. Collection: I Could Be Dreaming (Robert M. McBride & Co., 1945). Brother Sebastian (Hanover House, 1957). 

Go here to Mr. Lynch’s blog to see the interview & more.  Mr. Day’s interview appears in two parts.

The Spill Talks Mirror Balls and Tracking Porcupines with Seth Fleishman

I took notice when Seth Fleishman’s first cartoon, uniformed cows standing over a table,  appeared in the New Yorker in the issue of April 4, 2016 (it appears below).  Sometimes a new cartoonist’s work (the drawing itself and/or the caption) will appear slightly awkward (my first New Yorker drawing fits both those categories), but Mr. Fleishman’s work seemed like it was already there, as if he’d been around for awhile.  Further Fleishman appearances in the magazine only confirmed that feeling.

So who is this guy?  He told me recently that he’s been asked several times by colleagues, “Where did you come from?”  The answer is that he was born and bred in north-western New Jersey, and by age 14 aspired to be, in his words, “either a musician, a cartoonist, or an impressionist.” Music won out for awhile.  In 2011 he launched GratefulGuitarLessons.com and three years later wrote and produced “I Don’t Look Good Naked Anymore” by the Snake Oil Willie Band. The song peaked at #2 on the Billboard Comedy chart. But before all that he submitted one batch of drawings to The New Yorker in 1994 (a drawing from that batch appears below).  None were accepted. He did not submit again until 2014.

 

In January of 2016 he sold his first drawing to the New Yorker (more on that later) and has been submitting ever since.  If you head over to the New Yorker‘s Cartoon Bank, you’ll find he has been published two dozen times as of now, an excellent batting average. I finally met Mr. Fleishman at the big George Booth opening at the Society of Illustrators, and while we chatted it occurred to me that further discussion (via email) should be Spilled.  And so…

 

Michael Maslin: I know you were too young to have frequented Studio 54, but looking at your New Yorker work, two of the two dozen published thus far are “Saturday Night Fever” related. Is there something you’d like to share with us, vis a vie your interest in  mirror balls, disco, and/or Tony Manero (John Travolta’s character in the film)?

Seth Fleishman: What a fun opening question! I love classic disco and R&B from the 70s. I love the Bee Gees. I love Barry White. When they bought the first one, I still had more disco ball ideas in me, so I submitted more. When they bought the second one, I figured I’d just keep going until they stopped buying them. There actually is a third one, but it hasn’t run yet, and it’s my favorite one of the trilogy. Hopefully it runs at some point. I confess I sent a few more after that, but sanity prevailed. I got no more OKs on the subject, and moved on. That’s why there are editors.

MM: When we first spoke you mentioned that Charles Barsotti came to mind as one New Yorker artist who, let’s say, was of importance to you before you became familiar with other New Yorker cartoonists.   Am I remembering that right? If not, please clarify.  What I’m getting around to is the question you mentioned you’ve heard before: “Where did you come from (artistically)?”  Can you talk a little about early influences (comics, cartoons, or whatever)?

SF: I was familiar with New Yorker cartoons at an early age. My mother turned me on to Booth, Thurber, Addams, plus Ronald Searle and others. I also liked the Sunday newspaper comics — Peanuts, Hagar The Horrible, Beetle Bailey, Ziggy, etc.

When I took on New Yorker cartooning, I didn’t want to be influenced. I wanted my own voice.  Bruce Eric Kaplan was an inspiration in that regard — the boldness in the originality of his visual style. The closest I came to falling under anyone’s spell was Charles Barsotti. No one would say my stuff looks like Barsotti, but there were things I saw in his work that appealed to me. It’s all so charming.

After I found my style, I began to notice and learn from cartoonists with whom I felt a connection — Otto Soglow, Chon Day, Mischa Richter, Bob Mankoff, Arnie Levin, to name a few.  I also like a lot of European cartoonists: Sempe, Bosc, Jules Stauber, Miroslav Bartak,  Pawel Kuczynski, as well as Argentinian cartoonist Guillermo Mordillo.  I’m a blind fool with broken hands compared to all of those names, but I drew inspiration from them all.

MM: As mentioned in my intro, music has loomed large in your life. I’ve found that there are at minimum, two camps of cartoonists: one camp listens to music while they work on their drawings, and the other doesn’t (a third camp blends silence with music, and a fourth camp listens to the radio…there are probably a hundred other camps).  Which camp are you in, if you are in one, and if you do listen to music while working on your batch, can you name names, or types of music you listen to.

 SF: When working on ideas, silence. When drawing, music. If not music, silence. Mostly Italian Baroque and Italian Renaissance instrumental music. Vivaldi, Marcello, Manfredini, Capirola (lute), Dalza (lute), Biber. Some Spanish Baroque vihuela music. Occasionally some Chinese guzheng. If it has words, it’s in a language I don’t speak. Russian Sacred Music, for example. There is a set called The Divine Wisdom of St. Sofia by The Choir of the Suzdal Holy Virgin’s Protecting Veil that is incredibly beautiful. 

MM: Wow. I was expecting maybe the Grateful Dead.  Interesting that if you listen to music with words, it’s in a language you don’t speak.  Is that because you don’t want to get caught up in lyrics? Or something else?

SF: Words are distracting, but if sung in a foreign language, they are effectively instrumental. Just sounds. I do love the Grateful Dead– ‘Dark Star’ is not totally out of the question. But doing all those video lessons, dissecting, demystifying, and explaining their music in granular detail has changed my relationship with them as a listener. Maybe that’s the price I pay. I love the work, but I can’t really listen to them as a regular civilian anymore. And anyway, I truly fell in love with Vivaldi once I heard his music performed by Rachel Podger. That led me into early Venetian music in general, and that’s a rabbit hole from which I have yet to emerge. I also play renaissance lute. 

MM: Looking at your work, it’s clear you’re happiest working caption-less. Are you thinking caption-less when you work, or is that just how the work turns out more often than not?

 SF: As a general rule, the less I say the better. In the words of the Psalmist, “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.”  Also, the people I draw don’t have mouths. They don’t even have chins or jaws. So it’s virtually impossible for them to say anything.  Seriously, the captionless stuff is what got the OKs. It came as a very pleasant surprise to me. I am happiest working captionless. It’s perfect. I give all the credit to Bob Mankoff. He just kept picking the captionless stuff, and a certain type at that. I learned who I am as a cartoonist by the selections he made. It is a particular way of thinking. It’s all visual. It’s a certain way of associating. And I love it.

MM: Not many of our colleagues have pursued captionless work. In modern times, John O’Brien, of course, and Nurit Karlin, Steinberg…and earlier, Otto Soglow and Sam Cobean among not too many others.  So you’re working captionless and graphically you’re using areas of black ink like nobody’s business. I’m thinking specifically of the vampire with a flashlight. Here the area of black ink is essential.  Anything you want to say about this drawing?  

SF: It was my first OK. I hadn’t yet figured out how important black was going to be for me when I drew it. About half of that batch still had greys. In some strange way, this cartoon was, if you’ll pardon the pun, a beacon for me. It heralded the importance of black. It was my first lesson learned from getting an OK. It was actually a revelation, and I committed to black then and there.

When people think of the classic New Yorker cartoon style, maybe they imagine rich, grey washes. But there have always been black and white practitioners, some of whom I’ve already mentioned — Barsotti, BEK, Soglow, etc. I think it works well for those who fall on the more abstract, iconographic end of the drawing spectrum. There are a few other things I hadn’t figured out yet that make the drawing less than ideal, but it was my first sale so who cares? 

  MM:Emily Flake told the Spill she bakes pies and has spent time at a firing range.  Is there something in your week that takes you outside of your work space? Something away from thinking about cartoons/music?

SF: Here’s something interesting — my wife Cheryl and I are fairly adept at porcupine tracking. They are present in our area, and we go out on weekends looking for them, and we often find them. If I had a spirit animal, it would be the porcupine. 

Below: The cartoonist and his wife tracking porcupines

During the week, my only purely social interaction is a weekly breakfast at the Branchville Grille with a regular group of friends. Branchville is a sleepy little town. One of our group is a beautiful 85-year-old gentleman named Sandy, who was a corpsman in the Marine Corps in Korea. It’s really something to be around special people like that. Other than that, during the week it’s work, work, work.

MM: And once you’ve tracked the porcupines, then what?

SF: Cheryl is a nature photographer, so she’ll take pictures [an example is below]. Other than that, we just observe and spend a little time with them. I’m not ashamed to say Cheryl and I both consider porcupines and many other creatures to be our friends. As far as we’re concerned, when we’re out in the woods or wetlands, we’re spending time with friends.

MM: If there’s a typical beginning to your work day (work on drawings that is) what is that day like? (Jack Ziegler told me he would begin his work day by sitting with the New York Times, then head off to his drawing board.  Danny Shanahan mostly begins by writing ideas down. Others just start drawing).  

SF:I work on ideas in the early morning, while my mind is still groggy. If the ideas are flowing, I keep at it until it peters out. If nothing’s shaking, I don’t press it. I give it a little time, then move on. I’m not constantly thinking about ideas. I used to do that, but I don’t anymore. Once the coffee has kicked in, I can start drawing.

MM: Your work is also appearing in Esquire these days. And, unless I’m mistaken, it utilizes color.   Is working for Esquire different than working for The New Yorker?  

SF: It’s very different. Esquire is filled with graphic design. Using color helps the drawings pop in that environment. It also fits the vibrant spirit of the magazine. Esquire has a distinct aesthetic. I try to visually and topically compliment that. Three of my cartoons appear per issue (monthly), linked by a theme, under the heading “Spot On by Seth Fleishman.” The November issue was “Spot On: Cinema.”  Each cartoon was a riff on a classic cinematic moment. That adds a layer of difficulty for me creatively, but it’s a fun challenge.

Below: a recent Fleishman Esquire cartoon

MM: Many cartoonists have something else going on with their work besides submitting to The New Yorker and whatever other publications they contribute to.  Some do children’s books, or they work on graphic novels, or mass media projects (television)… anything like that going on with you? 

SF: Not at the moment. Which is fine! I have plenty to do.

— I asked Mr. Fleishman if he would send an example of what his work looks like before it’s in the finished state you see published, and he sent this delightful sketch.

MM: Even more than mirror balls, I see that chickens show up a lot in your New Yorker drawings. Care to comment? 

SF: I have a simple rule: when in doubt, draw chickens. I’m typically an idea-first guy, but I’ll use other methods if necessary. One such method is to just start drawing without thinking. Trouble is, when I do that, nine times out of ten I draw a chicken! I’ve had many, many chicken drawings rejected. I don’t care. Have some more chickens! 

I live in a somewhat rural area. We still have working farms around here. I relate to animals. Chickens are humble, awkward looking little creatures. They have a certain charm to them. They are easy to draw. Who can explain it? I just like chickens. 

 

 

Latest New Yorker Cartoons Dissected; George Booth New Yorker Original Cover Art; Blog of Note… A New Yorker State of Mind: Carolita Johnson’s “This Is The Hand”; Cartoons From The Saturday Evening Post; PR: Blitt, Chast

The Cartoon Companion guys, Max & Simon, are back with their customary dissections of the latest New Yorker cartoons.  Read it all here.

______________________________________________________________

George Booth New Yorker Original Cover Art

Above is the published Booth cover from February 4, 1974.  To see the original art visit Attempted Bloggery

Don’t forget! An exhibit of Mr. Booth’s work just opened yesterday at the Society of Illustrators (the opening reception is tomorrow night).   _________________________________________________________________

Blog of Interest: A New Yorker State of Mind

It’s always a treat to get away from 2017 for awhile and visit A New Yorker State of Mind.  This latest post explores the September 1, 1928 issue, featuring a cover by the one of the magazine’s first stars, Helen Hokinson. See the piece here. 

__________________________________________________________________

Carolita Johnson’s “This Is The Hand”

From newyorker.com‘s Culture Desk October 26, 201 , Carolita Johnson’s “This Is The Hand: A Response To Recent News”

_____________________________________________________________

Cartoons From The Saturday Evening Post

News to me until this morning: The Saturday Evening Post has a cartoon archive of sorts;  unfortunately it’s not a database of all its cartoons — it’s selective and thematic — with just a handful of cartoons per theme.  You’ll see some New Yorker cartoonists (I ran across a number by Chon Day and at least one by Tom Cheney). Link here

_______________________________________________________________

Note: this new feature on the Spill allows for the opportunity to list items previously lost in the sauce. 

…Barry Blitt’s next stop on his book tour promoting the just released Blitt takes him tonight to Harvard Bookstore. On Sunday he’ll be at Politics & Prose in D.C. Details here.

…a New York magazine piece posted today: “What Roz Chast Can’t Live Without”