Thanks For The High Bar, Peter Arno

An Arno anthology from 1930

From 1999 through 2016 I happily threw a good percentage of my days into digging up whatever I could about Peter Arno, who was born 115 years ago this very day. All of that hunting and gathering turned into a book (I will be forever grateful to my agent and publisher for making that happen).

One of the most helpful elements in my research was Arno’s unpublished scattershot memoir, titled I Reached For The Moon. The sixty-some pages of material is mostly disconnected pieces, a very loose attempt at a timeline, and jotted down thoughts about his work, or his parents, or television, or “names” he ran into during his adventures in the city that never sleeps. One passage of strung together thoughts stayed with me during my years writing the book and has continued to stay with me:

“What many don’t realize is that I’m primarily an artist – though I had a natural urge toward the comic from school days on.… I’ve spent hundreds of hours painting in oils and other media.  The black and white [cartoons] are a synthesis of all these efforts…To be a great cartoonist, a man should be first a first-class great artist.  He should be capable of producing a minor masterpiece in any medium.”

I suppose the passage has stuck with me because it neatly sums-up the high bar Arno demanded of himself and hoped for from his colleagues as the New Yorker was taking baby steps in its earliest days. That high bar was no small thing. Think about what people think about when they think of New Yorker cartoons. Think about the well-worn expression, The first thing people turn to in The New Yorker are the cartoons. If that is true (and I believe it has truth to it) Peter Arno deserves a Mack truck full of credit for driving the readership to the magazine and, no less a thing, driving his colleagues to excellence.

Look through any issue of The New Yorker from Arno’s run there during the magazine’s so-called Golden Age and you will see a magazine overjoyed with the cartoons it had to show the readership; cartoons played across the page; cartoons ran full page; cartoons ran in spreads that took up multiple pages; cartoonists provided the majority of cover art. Arno’s art, and Arno’s influence on the art was central to the magazine’s exuberance. He was, in the words of the New Yorker‘s founder, Harold Ross:

“The greatest artist in the world.”

“Our first pathfinder.”

“Our spark plug.”

Happy birthday, Arno — and thanks for the high bar.



The Monday Tilley Watch, The New Yorker Issue Of October 1, 2018

The Cover:  What a beauty by Marcellus Hall!  Read about it here. I was really surprised when the cover popped up on my screen this morning — was fully expecting a political cover.

The Illustrations: The New Yorker has certainly become a — if not the — mainstream magazine showcase for illustration. It’s become a blend of the best of Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, and Gourmet  (remember Gourmet? What a good looking magazine that was). The 20 illustrations in the issue, including 5 1/2 full pages, far surpass the number and space afforded the 16 cartoons. 

The Cartoons: A newbie this week: Pat Achilles. Ms. Achilles is the 6th new cartoonist introduced this year and the 18th new cartoonist to be introduced since Emma Allen was appointed cartoon editor in May of 2017.

Rea Irvin: In 1924, when the New Yorker was still in the development phase, Harold Ross, the magazine’s founder and first editor, hired Mr. Irvin as art supervisor.  We can be thankful to Mr. Irvin for a quartet of fundamental graphic elements that scream New Yorker :

1. Eustace Tilley, the magazine’s mascot.

2. The so-called Irvin Typeface (adapted, with permission from Allen Lewis).

3. The quality of the art itself, including covers, cartoons and spot drawings.

4. The Talk Of The Town masthead (shown below). 

Those four pillars of the magazine remained intact until last year when Mr. Irvin’s Talk masthead was replaced by a redraw.  Read about it here.

— See you next week.

 

 

A Hmmmmm About Spinach

The Monday Tilley Watch, which usually appears in this place at this time, will be back next Monday as we’re in the second half of the last New Yorker‘s double issue week (the issue dated July 9 & 16, 2018).  In its stead, this brief puzzlement:

A Hmmmm About Spinach

Above: Carl Rose, E.B. White, A Can of Spinach

 

In December of 2013 the Spill posted a piece about the evolution of the caption of one of the most famous New Yorker cartoons.  The piece was updated and reposted in January of this year.  Here’s a further update (following the short burst of asterisks **********) — this time there’s a curious twist:

E.B. White is remembered as author of one of the most popular cartoon captions of the magazine’s earlier days, but perhaps it might be more accurate to say he was co-author, having adapted the caption from the artist’s original submission. The published caption, as it appeared beneath Carl Rose’s drawing in the December 8, 1928 New Yorker:spinach

“It’s broccoli, dear.”

“I say it’s spinach, and I say the hell with it.”

 

The original caption, below, as submitted by Rose himself provided the framework for White’s sterling re-working. Rose’s original caption:

“Mother, if I eat my spinach, may I have some chocolate pudding?”

“No, dear, there isn’t any chocolate pudding today.”

“Well, then, the hell with the spinach.”

***********

This morning while rereading Carl Rose’s New York Times obit (June 22, 1971), I was somewhat startled to see the quote from Mr. White included in the paragraph below (I’ve bolded it).  I’d read Mr. Rose’s obit before without this quote causing a scene here.  This is why I re-read what I’ve read, and then re-re-read:

“With the December, 1928, publication of the cartoon, “spinach” took on a new, inedible meaning as a slang synonym for the distasteful. E.B. White, the man who supplied the caption, recalled in a telephone interview yesterday: “The spinach drawing came in with a caption that he (Rose) had put on it — some entirely different thing.”

Here’s the Hmmmm part: Was Mr. White’s caption an entirely different thing?  I immediately went to Scott Elledge’s wonderful biography of Mr. White hoping for clarification and/or amplification. Curiously, Mr. Elledge glides quickly over the spinach drawing, saying only: 

Soon nearly every issue of The New Yorker carried ten or twelve of his [White’s]  newsbreaks, five or six of his paragraphs of “Notes and Comment,” and one or more cartoons whose captions he had written or rewritten (Mother to child at the dinner table: “It’s broccoli, dear.” Child to mother: “I say it’s spinach and I say to hell with it.”).

From Elledge I went to The Letters of E.B White (the revised edition, published in 2006). In a letter dated April 12, 1980, White says (in part):

“The spinach cartoon was not a collaboration in the strict sense of the word…one day a Carl Rose cartoon turned up on my desk for a fix. I didn’t think much of Rose’s caption, so I wrote an entirely new one…”

And after checking several other possible sources (Kunkels’s Ross biography for one), I finally came across a letter from Harold Ross citing the “spinach” drawing (it can be found in Kunkel’s Letters From The Editor: The New Yorker’s Harold Ross).  Here, in part is his letter to a Mr. Stark, dated June 5, 1931:

The dope on the “spinach” caption is this.  Sometime, not very often but occasionally, we get a caption in the office here for a picture, rather than use the artist’s caption.  This is because we insist on the artist putting the idea into the picture rather than into the wording…Carl Rose sent that drawing in and E.B. White saw it and wrote the caption we used in the picture…I didn’t think it was anything very hot. I went away to Florida and Mrs. Katharine Angell, who subsequently became Mrs. E.B. White, and who always insisted it was hilariously funny or something, printed it. It very shortly became a by-word much to my surprise.

I return to Carl Rose.  In his one and only collection One Dozen Roses: An Album of Words and Pictures, published in 1946, Rose devotes considerable space to talking about his famous drawing:

Obviously, Rose felt it necessary to let it be known that he had a part in the caption itself.  For without his original submitted captions that included the words subsequently used in the published caption:  “spinach” and “the hell with” Mr. White would’ve been faced with a drawing of a mother and little child sitting at a table, and nothing more. Could White have come up with the published caption without seeing Rose’s captions?

It seems fair that Mr. Rose receive some credit for the published caption (much as Yoko Ono was finally granted co-credit for John Lennon’s song, Imagine). Ordinarily, gagwriters receive no credit for their work (the Spill has covered this in previous posts. Here’s one).  But as Mr. White’s contribution to the drawing became public knowledge and his authorship of the published caption undeniable, Mr. Rose’s contribution to the published caption should be accepted as well. 

I leave you with this quote from One Dozen Roses. Mr. Rose, obviously proud of his skill as both writer and artist, writes:

I did not originate every idea in this book.  Of the 115 drawings in this collection, 92 are mine, mine!

 

 

 

 

 

The New Yorker’s First Fourth

 This stunning Ilonka Karasz cover graced the New Yorker‘s first fourth of July issue. Ms. Karasz  contributed a remarkable 187 covers to the magazine; her first was on the 7th issue, April 4, 1925, her last appeared on the issue of October 22, 1973. Of note within the issue: this Helen Hokinson drawing appearing on the Talk of The Town’s lead page:

In 1925, Ms. Hokinson, newly arrived in New York (from Chicago) enrolled at Parsons School of Design. According to Liza Donnelly’s book Funny Ladies:

One day [Hokinson’s] instructor sent the students out to sketch in the streets of New York. Hokinson drew an elderly woman waving goodbye to a departing ocean liner. Upon her return to the classroom, her teacher, Howard Giles, laughed and suggested she take this and other drawings to the new magazine down the street.

This simple drawing of a woman waving immediately won over Harold Ross and Rea Irvin. Her work had an ease to it: Ross recognized the humor in her line quality, but also in what she chose to draw. Ross purchased her first submission and invited her to return every Tuesday  with more sketches for consideration.

“Better Pictures”

Never a day goes by that I don’t wonder at the trek the New Yorker cartoon has made in its ninety-three years; how it began, how it developed, and what it has become. For those with the time and energy (and either a complete collection of the magazine, access to a library with bound copies, or a subscription to the magazine allowing you access to its archives) the graphic evidence is available in the pages of the magazine’s issues, beginning with the very first in February of 1925, and carrying through to the latest issue on the newsstand and/or on whatever electronic device you use.

The how it began part is well documented, especially in Thomas Kunkel’s great biography of Harold Ross, Genius in Disguise, and in a number of other books (among them, Lee Lorenz’s Art of The New Yorker , and Ross,The New Yorker and Me,  by Jane Grant, Ross’s first wife and co-founder of the magazine; heck, I’ll throw in my Arno biography too — I spend much of it describing how the art department and the art developed). These books and others fill in the history, providing atmosphere, personalities — you know: the who, what, where, whys, and whens.

A favorite title is shown above.  Dale Kramer’s Ross and The New Yorker, published in 1951 (it had an earlier incarnation, in part, in the pages of Harper’s in 1943, with a co-author, George R. Clark). Mr. Kramer had the luxury of working in a time period when all of the major players of the magazine were around (Helen Hokinson perished in plane crash in 1949 just a couple of the years before the book came out; Ross died in the year the book was published). If you read Harrison Kinney’s The Thurber Letters, you’ll find a good deal of correspondence from Thurber to Kramer, guiding and correcting him. After reading the manuscript, Thurber told E.B. White he thought Kramer’s  writing was “undistinguished” but he didn’t “vehemently” disagree with anything in it.

What is always of interest (to me) in accounts of the magazine’s beginnings is the how the development of the New Yorker cartoon is handled. I think Kramer does a good job describing the earliest days, of what Ross was looking for, or not wanting (echoing the oft-quoted “he didn’t know what he wanted, but he knew what he didn’t want”), of Rea Irvin’s invaluable part in the art’s development.

I’m forever struck by Ross’s care for the art and artists — how important a part of the magazine it and they were to him.  In any of the books I’ve mentioned here, you’ll find a variation of the passage below laying out just how much Ross cared.  It is that care that was the foundation of the magazine’s art. That’s how this began, with great care, and an appreciation for the art, most especially the cartoons.  

Here’s Kramer on Ross and the magazine’s art:

Ross’s major contribution to “art” — the designation given to cartoons, spot drawings, illustrations, caricatures, and cover paintings — was the same curiosity and fierce demand for accuracy that was helping to bring the text into focus. He queried constantly, “Where am I in this picture?” The reader, he maintained, ought to be at a definite vantage point. He should be watching an action or overhearing a conversation.

Or Ross would ask, “Who’s talking?” Sometimes the artist was requested to open the speaker’s mouth wider. Ross was dealing, of course, with the people and the objects in the drawings, rather than craftsmanship. By demanding that the characters be plain to him, and seen from a particular vantage point, he naturally got better craftsmanship. The artists discovered, with some reluctance since they often had to do a drawing over and over again, that Ross’s demands, put into artistic sense by Irvin — along with Irvin’s own suggestions — resulted in better pictures.

To those who have admired the art of the New Yorker, “better pictures” might seem an understatement, but it’ll do just fine. Better pictures was something to shoot for, and I believe most of the devoted would agree, something attained.