A few years ago I put up eight foot long by eight foot high bookshelves exclusively devoted to holding the sprawling collection of cartoon books my wife (and fellow cartoonist) Liza Donnelly, and I have collected over the years. Before the cartoon library wall of shelves went up, our cartoon collection was here and there throughout the house, in piles on various shelves. It might take twenty minutes to find a desired book, or it might never happen.
Once the shelves were up, and the shelving of books began, it became obvious that the cartoon library wouldn’t be the place to go for cartoon books in our home –- it was just another place to go.
What I didn’t realize was that I was reluctant to remove favorite cartoon collections from my work room. Most of these books have been at arm’s reach my entire cartoon working life – they had to stay put (included among the within reach books: certain titles by Thurber, Addams, Peter Arno, Steinberg, and Soglow). Our Thurber collection had to stay nearby my work room, on bookshelves in our living room. So did our small collection of graphic novels and comic book anthologies.
In the last few months I’ve taken certain books out of the cartoon library, and brought them back closer to my desk. The most recent transfer was Superman: The Complete History by Les Daniels. I love its cover – a blow up of the early Superman. One of these days Daniel’s companion volume, Batman: The Complete History will be retrieved from the library. As there’s no space left on any of the shelves in my room, it will have to rest on top of the Superman book, in a pile.
Whither Whither, or After Sex What? Edited by Walter S. Hankel (1930, The Macaulay Co., NY)
I’ve always loved this book more for its cover than its content. It was published just five years after the birth of The New Yorker, and a year before Thurber’s first drawing appeared in the magazine (January of 1931). That isn’t to say the book’s publisher wasn’t aware of Thurber’s art. Whither Whither’s cover gently echoes the cover of E.B. White and James Thurber’s Is Sex Necessary? published to great success a year earlier. Wither Wither’s cover illustration was executed ever-so-slightly in the Thurber vein. The title’s type face is vaguely reminiscent of Is Sex Necessary? as is the use of the word “Sex” and the use of the title in the form of a question. To drive home the point: Thurber and White appear on the cover as contributors.
William Gropper, the illustrator, was no Johnny–come-lately to the illustration field. By 1930 he was a well established cartoonist and illustrator. If he was taking-off on Thurber’s style – at least for the cover piece — he couldn’t help but reveal the discipline of his art school roots. Gropper’s work inside the book is less Thurber-like, resembling instead the simpler loose yet determined style William Steig used later in his long career.
It’s interesting to note that twelve of the fourteen contributors to Whither Whither were New Yorker contributors, making this book a near de facto New Yorker collection.
While Is Sex Necessary? took off (it’s still in print some 80 plus years after its first printing), The New York Times reviewer whisked Whither Whither away, saying of its essays, “some are good, some are indifferent, and some are wearying.”
Link here for more on William Gropper
In 1943, San Francisco’s M.H. De Young Memorial Museum held an exhibit of artist’s self portraits called “Meet the Artist.” The catalog, 8 1/2″ x 7 3/4″ is a gem. Of the 188 artists represented, a number are New Yorker contributors: James Thurber, Saul Steinberg, Otto Soglow, Mischa Richter, Richard Taylor, Alajalov, Whitney Darrow, Jr., Richard Decker, Roberta MacDonald, Barbara Shermund, Reginald Marsh, Dorothy McKay, Garrett Price, Gluyas Williams, and Rea Irvin. Self portraits shown above, top to bottom: Garrett Price’s self portrait on the catalog’s cover, Richard Taylor and Mischa Richter.
Note: this catalog can be found online; numerous copies at varying prices are available on AbeBooks.com.
Continuing on from yesterday’s post on Bob Mankoff’s piece about Thurber, Mankoff links to a video snippet of Thurber’s appearance with Alastair Cooke on Omnibus. Watch here as Thurber talks about one of his most famous drawings, The Seal in the Bedroom.
Previous to the July 26, 2011 DVD release, Omnibus: American Profiles only a fragment of Thurber’s Omnibus interview has been available (as part of Adam Van Doren’s 2000 documentary, Thurber: The Life and Hard Times). Exciting times for Thurbermaniacs!