Thurber Thursday: The Tome; Today’s Daily Cartoonist & Cartoon

There are two fave Thurber biographies in this house: Burton Bernstein’s Thurber: A Biography, and Harrison Kinney’s James Thurber: His Life And Times. I like to think of them as perfect bookends to any Thurber collection.

Bernstein’s (left), at 532 pages is the quick read; Kinney’s is 1,238. I think of the two books as I think of my two favorite Beatle biographies: Shout, by Philip Norman (c.400 pages), and Tune In by Mark Lewisohn (c.900 pages).  If you want a great read, well written, but don’t want to submerge, then it’s Norman’s Beatle book. If you want to go deep and stay there, it’s Lewisohn’s. Same applies to Bernstein and Kinney.

Both these books have appeared in paperback and are easily found.  I just may go back to Kinney’s right after I finish re-reading Tune In.

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Today’s Daily Cartoonist & Cartoon

Video conference hell from Lisa Rothstein, who began contributing to The New Yorker in August of 2019.

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.

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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!

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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/

 

 

 

Firsts: Thurber’s First New Yorker Drawings

When you think of James Thurber’s drawings you probably think of one or two or three of his classics.  But before any of his cartoons appeared in the magazine (his first cartoon appeared in the issue of January 31, 1931), he illustrated and wrote something he called Our Pet Department.  It was, from the very first, intended to be a series; the first installment (shown above) appeared in the magazine’s fifth anniversary issue, February 22, 1930.  What’s fascinating (to me) is that the piece contains two elements that would go on to be forever associated with Thurber’s art: a dog, and a seal. 

It’s unclear when the two camps formed over whether Thurber’s art was or wasn’t art. Was it when the illustrations began appearing, or was it nearly a year later when the cartoons started turning up. Thurber’s simple line certainly wasn’t a shock. A trio of single line artists were already established at the magazine by the time Thurber’s first drawings appeared: Gardner Rea, Otto Soglow, and Gluyas Williams.  But it appeared that no little effort went into their finished pieces.

Thurber’s drawings seemed as casual as the effort he claimed to have put into them; their initial appearances in the New Yorker seemed to have dropped like graphic boulders in a placid pond. Thurber’s New Yorker colleague Wolcott Gibbs wrote (this from the Book-of-the-Month Club News, February, 1945):

“…for a good many years [Thurber’s drawings] were regarded by the rest of the staff, with the exception of E.B. White, as a hell of a way to waste good copy paper, since his usual output at a sitting was twenty or more, not to mention those he drew on the walls.”   

 New Yorker history books tell us that White was instrumental in bringing Thurber’s art to the world’s attention.  In 1962, a year after Thurber’s death, White told Thurber biographer, Harrison Kinney that “I think his art surpasses his writing” and “his drawing has a touch of genius.”

 

 

 

 

  

Fave Bookstore Find of the Day; Nice Price At a Price

Fave Bookstore Find of the Day

The other day while browsing around my favorite used bookstore, Rodgers Book Barn, with two New Yorker pals (John Cuneo and Danny Shanahan) the above book caught my eye because of the Thurber drawing.  My eyes widened when I realized I had never seen this particular book before (or had I?).  It turned out to be a British revised edition of How To Raise A Dog In the City and In The Suburbs, published by Simon & Schuster in 1938. This new found edition, retitled, The Town Dog: Education Breeding, Grooming, Health, Love-Life,  was published by Harvill Press in 1954.  Below is the US second printing of How To Raise A Dog…(this dust jacket was screen-grabbed, as my copy lacks one).  Thurberites will recognize one of the co-authors, Ann Honeycutt, for whom Thurber famously carried a torch. See either Burton Bernstein’s bio Thurber, or Harrison Kinney’s Thurber: His Life and Times for a whole lot more on that subject.

Thurber’s drawings in the book (any edition published in any country) are really fun. They’re Thurber dog drawings — how could they not be fun!

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A Nice (George) Price At A Price

Stephen Nadler, over at Attempted Bloggery has posted the particulars for something you don’t see up for auction all that much: an original George Price drawing, with color. Go here to see all the scans and read all about it.

 

“The Place Was Especially A Mess After The Weekly Art Meetings”

 

 

… “The artists, who waited for the verdicts, scrambled for desk space where they could retouch their cartoons and spots according to what Wylie, or Katharine Angell, told them what Ross wanted.”*

 

— So said New Yorker editor and writer Rogers Whitaker to Thurber biographer, Harrison Kinney. He was describing a wonderfully fun and exciting time and place: The New Yorker in its infancy, ninety some years ago.

 

What’s changed since then?  Well, the cartoonists no longer wait in the office to hear the verdict for that week’s submissions (email now alerts them to a sale, and more often, rejection). However, many cartoonists still head to the New Yorker every week to sit across from the cartoon editor. It’s a chance to connect with the editor, to get feedback, to discuss that week’s submissions.  It’s also a chance to socialize with colleagues.  Cartoonists, as has been said many times, are mostly solitary creatures, whiling away at their drawing boards or tablets without the company of other humans.

 

Using the clues of the personalities Mr. Whitaker mentioned we know that the artists (cartoonists for the most part with some cover artists tossed in) began showing up at the New Yorker from the very first days of the magazine. What we don’t know is exactly when the cartoonists began showing up to see the Art Editor — a ritual that began sometime during James Geraghty’s tenure as the magazine’s first Art Editor.

 

Rea Irvin, the New Yorker‘s Art Supervisor did not meet the artists flooding into the office. So who actually saw the artists coming in? It was, in the very beginning, Ross’s secretary, Helen Mears, who was soon fired and replaced by a young man named Philip Wylie. He was the unofficially titled artists “hand-holder” — the link between the editorial staff and the cartoonists.   Most importantly to The New Yorker‘s history, and to its success, Wylie is the person who, while looking through twenty-one year old Peter Arno’s portfolio one day in 1925  happened to spot a drawing Arno hadn’t intended to show: a sketch  of “two old bats about to charge obliviously into a trap — made by the rise of a sidewalk elevator. It [the drawing] greatly amused me.”   The  “two old bats” came to be called The Whoops Sisters, and also came to be credited as very likely rescuing The New Yorker from an early demise.  This moment was one of the so-called “happy accidents” that saved the New Yorker and propelled it forward. And it could have only happened because Arno came into the office and sat down with Wylie.

 

We know that upon James Geraghty’s appointment as Art Editor in 1939 he began working closely with the magazine’s staff cartoonists on Look Day (Tuesdays back then, and for many years after. Wednesdays now).  What has always endeared me to the editor/artist dance at the magazine is that editorial prompts are not directives — they are suggestions.  This practice continued on during Lee Lorenz’s twenty-four years as art editor after he succeeded Geraghty, and it continues right up to today.

 

Mr. Lorenz ran a very tight ship in those twenty-four years; artists had to be invited in to the office on Look Day.  Even some long-time contributors did not receive the coveted invitation.  They had to drop off their work at the receptionist’s glassed-in cubicle at the end of the hallway near the elevators. To be invited back was well-earned. And what you found once you were buzzed through the hallway door and then walked down the dog-legged hallway to the Art Department was a small cream-colored waiting room filled with cartoonists whose names would most likely be as familiar as the names of your family members. Their work, of course, would be familiar as well. The days of artists messing up the office were in the rear view mirror.  Some of the cartoonists actually had “studios” in the building (Charles Addams, Frank Modell, James Stevenson, Edward Koren among them).  Mr. Lorenz had an editorial light touch when working with artists — a shade lighter than Geraghty’s, or so I’ve been told; like Geraghty, Lorenz’s advice was succinct, and spot-on.

 

When Bob Mankoff succeeded Mr. Lorenz, he instituted what he called an “open door” policy,  saying, “I’ll see anyone.”  And in they came. To be sure, it created a different climate in what is called the cartoonists lounge.  Lots of new faces, many unpublished in The New Yorker, or anywhere, mingled with veteran contributors such as Sam Gross, George Booth, and Mort Gerberg. The scene wasn’t messy, as in the old days, but it was lively (they’ve had to be “hushed” on more than one occasion.  Dana Fradon, recalling the pre-Mankoff days, told Ink Spill: “Once, when someone down the hall voiced an official complaint about ‘noise’ coming from the cartoonists waiting room, Ed Fisher and I went out into the hall and sang, in close harmony, ‘The Beer-Barrel Polka’. “Roll out the barrel…”).

 

It was recently announced that a New Yorker editor, Emma Allen would replace Mr. Mankoff in May. A Cartoon Department email soon followed announcing that Mr. Mankoff would not see cartoonists on Look Day in these last weeks of his editorship.  How eerily quiet it will be around the cartoon lounge on Wednesday mornings!  I imagine that come May, the non-existent doors to the cartoon department will swing open again (there are waist-high partitions everywhere now, and just a few doors) and the cartoonists will flood in, as lively and boisterous as they’ve been for over ninety years.

 

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*A Who’s Who of those mentioned above

Emma Allen:  Ms. Allen has worked as an editor of Talk of The Town, a writer, and editor of Daily Shouts, and as of May this year, The New Yorker‘s Cartoon Editor.

Ed Fisher: Mr. Fisher’s first cartoon appeared in The New Yorker October 27, 1951; he went on to contribute over 700 cartoons. He died in 2013.

Dan Fradon:  Mr. Fradon, whose first cartoon appeared in The New Yorker, May 1, 1948,  is the doyen of the magazine’s artists. He has published well over a thousand cartoons in the magazine.

James Geraghty: a former gag-writer, hired in 1939, he became the magazine’s first Art Editor.  Before Geraghty, there was no one single person at the magazine dedicated to overseeing all the art (Harold Ross was the overseer of everything in his magazine).  Ross’s successor, William Shawn said of Geraghty: “Along with Harold Ross…he set set the magazine’s comic art on its course and he helped determine the direction in which the comic art would go and is still going.”  Mr. Geraghty was the art editor from 1939 through 1973. He died in 1983.

Rea Irvin: Mr. Irvin is a huge part of the New Yorker’s DNA as he’s responsible for the New Yorker‘s first cover (featuring the fellow referred to as Eustace Tilley); Mr. Irvin adapted the typeface that we now call the Irvin typeface; he contributed a record number of New Yorker covers, and last but not least, he helped “educate” Harold Ross, art-wise. He died in 1972.

Harrison Kinney: A reporter for The New Yorker from 1949-1954; his massive biography of James Thurber: His Life & Times was published in 1995.

Lee Lorenz: Geraghty’s successor as Art Editor (and later, under Tina Brown’s editorship, as Cartoon Editor).   He began as editor in 1973, handing over the reigns to Bob Mankoff in 1997. Mr. Lorenz is also one of, if not the most prolific New Yorker cartoonists. He is also the author of numerous books about New Yorker cartoonists, including the must-read history, The Art of The New Yorker:1925- 1995.

Bob Mankoff: Mr. Mankoff, also a cartoonist for the magazine, has been its cartoon editor for over nineteen years.  His memoir, How About Never — Is Never Good For You?: My Life In Cartoons was published in 2014.

Helen Mears: Harold Ross’s first secretary and the first person delegated to be a go-between the editorial department and the artists. She was fired by Philip Wylie on orders from Harold Ross. Mr. Wylie then assumed Ms. Mears duties.

Harold Ross: The founder and first editor of The New Yorker. There are three biographies of Mr. Ross. Thomas Kunkel’s biography Genius in Disguise is essential reading. Mr. Ross died in 1951.

William Shawn: Appointed in January of 1952 as Harold Ross’s successor. He remained editor until 1987. He died in 1992.

Rogers E. M. Whitaker: hired in 1926 he headed the checking department and later the make-up department.  Mr. Whitaker went on to become an editor and contributor to the New Yorker, working under various names:  “E.M. Frimbo”  (“The World’s Greatest Railroad Buff”) for pieces chronicling his journeys on the nations railways; “J.W.L.” for his pieces about Ivy League football; “The Old Curmudgeon” when he wrote for The Talk of The Town.   Mr. Whitaker died in 1981.

Katharine White: Hired in August of 1925, Ms. White (then Angell) was the magazine’s first Fiction Editor.  According to the New York Times: she…”exerted a profoundly creative influence on contemporary American literature…having transformed The New Yorker from a humor magazine into the purveyor of much of the best writing in the country.” Before James Geraghty consolidated the Art Department, the art was under the umbrella of the Fiction Department.  Lee Lorenz has written of her that “she was a powerful voice in the selection of the magazine’s art.” She died in 1977.  Linda Davis’s biography, Onward & Upward: A Biography of Katharine S. White is essential reading.

Philip Wylie: “The New Yorker‘s first bona fide applicant” was the magazine’s second artist hand holder.  He attended hundreds of the magazine’s first art meetings.  His short stint at The New Yorker was followed by a long and successful career as a writer including the best-selling Generation of Vipers.  He died in 1971