The First New Yorker Cartoon Issue…and the Last

From 1997 through 2012, the New Yorker published a “Cartoon Issue”; that there was a special issue wasn’t news — the magazine had started publishing them in its new era of ownership under Conde Nast (purists might argue that the issue of August 31, 1946 was the magazine’s first special issue. Beyond the Goings On About Town section, the entire issue was devoted to John Hersey’s Hiroshima. There were no cartoons, and no illustrations — just spot drawings).  The first Cartoon Issue came in the year of more change: the cartoon editorship passed from Lee Lorenz, who had held that position for 24 years, to one of the magazine’s cartoonists, Bob Mankoff, who had been contributing to the magazine for 20. [The Spill will take a look at the How and Why of that change in editorship in a future post].

The very first Cartoon Issue, dated December 15, 1997 was a celebratory explosion of the magazine’s signature art.  From the fold-out cover collage to the wonderful Jack Ziegler cartoon, “No comment” appearing where the “Comment” section would normally appear, it set the bar very high.  Also in this issue, the three section (originally planned as two section)  fold-out photograph of cartoonists taken by the acclaimed Arnold Newman, the mini bios of each cartoonist in the issue, Roger Angell’s Onward and Upward With the Arts piece (“Congratulations! It’s a baby”), Roz Chast’s graphic ode to Charles Addams, a double page photograph of George Price, a special feature by Richard Cline, Lee Lorenz’s “Cover Stories” …and more. 

In that first issue, the cartoons nearly took over the magazine. The majority of the pieces on the Table of Contents were cartoon-themed; 51 cartoonists were given brief bios.  In  the last Cartoon Issue,  28 cartoonists contributed and the issue’s special cartoon features were bundled together in the middle of the book, from page 60 to 76, with a smattering of single panel cartoons (16 cartoons to be exact) 5 multi-page spreads and 2 full page spreads, one of which, Joe Dator’s, “How We Do It: A Week In the Life of a New Yorker Cartoonist” is a classic piece of work.   As I wrote in 2012 when the issue appeared, “this Cartoon Issue veers from its predecessors in that its cover, cartoons and cartoon spreads are predominantly politically themed.”  

 Although all of the Cartoon Issues had elements that were exciting and fun — for instance, the Charles Barsotti cover on the second Cartoon Issue in 1998, and covers by New Yorker cartoonists such as George Booth, Ms. Chast, Harry Bliss, Edward Koren, Bruce Eric Kaplan, etc. —  that first Cartoon Issue, with its electric zeitgeist, remained the one to beat.  By October of 2011, when I mentioned to Jack Ziegler that the latest Cartoon Issue was probably due any week, he responded to me (via email) that it was “the moment we all dread.” By that time, the so-called “bookazine” Cartoons of The Year had already appeared and would shortly supplant the Cartoon Issue. On June 13, 2013, the magazine’s cartoonists received an email from the cartoon editor saying: “there definitely is not going to be a cartoon issue this year.” And that, as they say, was that.

(Below: the last Cartoon Issue, cover by Roz Chast)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And In This Corner, At 656 Pages and Weighing 9 Pounds, The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker

Wow. Seems like only a few years ago this heavyweight was published, not 14 years ago.  An undertaking so far unequaled (at least measured by heft) in the magazine’s history. The book weighs about 9 pounds and is 656 pages, with two cds containing every New Yorker cartoon in the magazine (up to that time).  A subsequent paperback edition, though 14 pages longer, isn’t as heavy, is smaller in size and contains just one cd.  There is, as Spillers know, an even lengthier New Yorker book coming at us this Fall, The New Yorker Encyclopedia of Cartoons @ 1536 pages (Simple math tells us this new one is then more than twice as long.  Wow, wow.). 

So what to make of this 2004 giant album.  There was much to like about it, and some not to like. First, the good and bad (quibbles, I call them) about the enclosed cds. 

  The 2 cds, as advertised, gave us access to the huge number of cartoons published in the magazine. The cd database was not perfect.  There were some issues with cartoons assigned to the wrong cartoonist. There were omissions as well as questionable additions (my memory is finding what we would normally call illustrations included as cartoons).  But let’s be real: in a project this enormous, no one could expect perfection, and the final product should be applauded. Those issues with the database were overshadowed by the ability to see the work, anyone’s work, with a few clicks.

The arrival the following year of The Complete New Yorker with its 8 DVD-Roms made the Complete Cartoon discs, for me, obsolete.  Why? The Complete New Yorker‘s discs allowed one to see the cartoons presented as they were published in the pages of the magazine, and not isolated on the screen. The Complete Cartoons database presented the cartoons solo, sans surrounding text — to my eyes a cold environment.  For me, seeing the cartoons the way they appeared in the magazine (their natural habitat), and how they were presented along with text and other cartoons was (and always has been) the preferred way to experience New Yorker cartoons.

The book itself: 

Picking up a 9 pound book is a commitment — it’s best looked at while it rests on a coffee table or heavy-duty plank of wood. Once anchored, the page-turning experience is highly enjoyable. The large format (11″ X 13″) allows the cartoons a lot of breathing room on the page.  A very slight quibble: the format of 4 cartoons to a page or 3 could’ve used a little shaking up. Unless I missed it, there are no drawings allowed to carry over to the opposite page, no playful use of the all that space.  True, there are full page drawings sprinkled throughout, but variety otherwise (as in the much earlier albums) would’ve added to the layout. The paper quality is just good enough to avoid seeing through to the next page. 

  There are written pieces introducing the decades (some by such marquee names as John Updike, Calvin Trillin and Roger Angell) and short unsigned essays on cartoon themes (drinking, nudity, slipper dogs and cell phones, etc.). There are also  profiles of certain cartoonists — the flap copy calls them “key cartoonists” identified with each decade.  These include Arno, Thurber, Addams, Steig, Steinberg, Booth, Ziegler, etc.. One quibble with these key cartoonist profiles: out of 10 cartoonists profiled, only one is a woman. While doing research for my biography of Peter Arno in the New Yorker‘s archives (found at the New York Public Library) I came across an in-house New Yorker document rating the golden age artists;  two cartoonists were at the very top of the list in a class by themselves above all other artists: Peter Arno and Helen Hokinson.  Ms. Hokinson is not profiled in the book.  I would argue that Barbara Shermund and Mary Petty also deserved recognition.

It’s too late now, but if they had it to do all over again, I would’ve been happier if the editors had provided us with either more profiles of “key cartoonists” and less introductory text (it is, after all, a book of cartoons and cartoonists far more than a book about cartoons) or no profiles of key cartoonists at all.  Once you begin noticing who’s not profiled (Alan Dunn, for instance — whose work is in the top five of all-time published New Yorker cartoonists along with James Stevenson; Rea Irvin, Frank Modell, Robert Weber, Whitney Darrow, Edward Koren, Lee  Lorenz, Charles Barsotti, Danny Shanahan, the aforementioned Shermund and Hokinson — just to name a few) you realize you’re only getting part of the picture.  I’d argue that after the magazine found its footing in late 1926 or early 1927, it was a team effort that ultimately made the New Yorker cartoons great, not a team carried by less than a dozen.  

Final quibble: I’ve never been fond of the mini essays on drinking, cell phones and slipper dogs etc. —  why categorize unless you’re turning out a theme cartoon book ala The New Yorker Book of Cat Cartoons.  For me, categorizing takes away the organic punch an individual cartoon delivers.  Give us ten desert island cartoons in a group and they each lose a little something.  

All in all, with the above exceptions noted, the Complete Cartoons is a major effort and a loving tribute to the magazine’s artists and their art. Let’s hope we see it equaled, if not bettered, in 2025, when the magazine turns 100 years old.

The paperback edition of The Complete Cartoons, published in 2006, gives us a few more pages and a few more years of newer cartoons (and some newer cartoonists). As mentioned earlier, it’s a lot lighter than the hardcover so you can pick it up and sit back with it. No coffee table necessary. The single DVD-Rom adds approximately 1700 cartoons. 

 

 

 

“The Brightest Thought of Many Bright Minds”: The 1940 New Yorker Album

From the inside flap copy of this album: “The brightest thought of many bright minds”…well, heck, I’m not going to argue with that. Published by Random House in 1939, and using Peter Arno’s New Yorker cover from January 1938, this is the last of the Albums produced before the Unites States entered WWII.  The cover depicts a Cafe Society moment, an Arno specialty that faded as the war years began.

 

The flap copy shown below tells the story of what to expect, cartoon quality-wise (and “Spot” drawings–wise). These are the founding mothers & fathers of the New Yorker single panel.  In just a few years, and throughout the 1940s, they’d be joined by a number of additional giants of the field, including  Steinberg, Frank Modell, Sam Cobean, Dana Fradon, Anatol Kovarsky, Roberta MacDonald, Mischa Richter, and Charles Saxon. This album also, in a way, marks the end of the earlier incarnation of the magazine’s art department and the beginning of the editorship of James Geraghty. His hiring in 1939 led to the organization of the art department into an actual department, with an editor (Geraghty) devoted to the artists (all the artists: cartoonists, cover artists, spot artists). That model stayed intact under Mr. Geraghty, and then his successor, Lee Lorenz, until Tina Brown split the art department in 1993, creating  the titles, Cartoon Editor (Mr. Lorenz’s new title), and Art Editor (Francoise Mouly was hired and given that title, with the responsibility of overseeing the cover art).  

Being a Thurberite I can’t help but mentioning that two of my all-time favorite Thurber drawings (actually, I love all of his drawings) are included in this volume:

“Ooooo, guesties!” (shown in this link, upper right of the page).

“Well, if I called the wrong number, why did you answer the phone?”

There is no introduction to this album, nor any flap copy other than that shown above. The production is top-shelf, with heavy paper and a flawless lay-out. This album is easily found on Abebooks.com for very little. The back cover, shown below, is given over to a drawing by the great Helen Hokinson.

 

50 Years Ago This Week: Peter Arno’s Last New Yorker Cartoon

Every so often the Spill likes to take a look at the last cartoon published by one of the magazine’s artists. This week it’s a drawing by Peter Arno — the cartoonist the New Yorker‘s Roger Angell called “the magazine’s first genius.”  I won’t go on and on here about why Arno is one of the magazine’s greatest — some say the greatest of the magazine’s artists, but if you want more on the subject there is a biography of him floating around (forgive me for lifting the bolded passage below from the aforementioned biography). 

(Above: Arno’s drawing as it appeared in the issue)

Sometime in the fall of 1967, Arno finished working on a full-page drawing of Pan blowing on his pipes as he frolicked through a glade.  In the forefront of the picture is a young, well-endowed woman, who says to him, “Oh, grow up!”  Brendan Gill [in his wonderful book, Here At The New Yorker] described the drawing this way:

“…in content and composition it was a characteristic piece of work…the drawing is a matter of some forty or fifty bold strokes of black against white, bound together by a gray wash; it has been built up as solidly as a fortress, though built in fun, and its dominant note is one of youthful zest.  Nobody could ever tell that it was the work of an aging man, let alone a dying one.”

“Oh, grow up!” wasn’t the last Arno published by the New Yorker.  His last cover appeared the following June, and the magazine has, from time-to-time brought out one of his older covers or drawings. But it was certainly the last published in his lifetime. The drawing appeared in the anniversary issue, dated February 24th, 1968. It would’ve been out on the newsstands a week earlier, the week of February 18.  Arno died on February 22. 

If you have access to the New Yorker‘s digital edition or happen to have a print copy, it’s certainly worth a visit to this issue — it’s a gem.  Rea Irvin’s Eustace Tilley is, of course, on the cover (and Mr. Irvin’s classic masthead for the Talk of The Town is in its place). The issue’s cartoons are by some of the greatest names on the magazine’s roster of artists (the magazine had a history of making sure the anniversary issue was loaded up with a good number of its big guns. In my Arno research I came across a note to Arno from the New Yorker‘s founder and first editor, Harold Ross expressing concern he (Ross) did not have a Arno drawing available for the upcoming anniversary issue). 

In this issue you’ll find terrific cartoons by Robert Weber, Alan Dunn, George Price, James Stevenson, William Steig, Steinberg, Richard Decker, Warren Miller, Frank Modell, Syd Hoff, Charles Addams, Whitney Darrow, Jr., Lee Lorenz, Mischa Richter, and Barney Tobey. (At this particular time the magazine’s stable of cartoonists was all male. Mary Petty’s piece appeared in 1966, and Nurit Karlin’s work did not begin appearing until 1974).

Next week, the Spill will return with its usual Monday Tilley Watch.   

 

“Not Only A Funny Book For Today, But A Funny Book for Tomorrow”: The New Yorker 1955-1965 Album: Fortieth Anniversary

The first time I saw this album I was rooting through boxes of books at a yard sale. My first thought, just seeing the cover (and before picking up the book)  was that this was a galley. The cover, mostly white and devoid of drawings except for Rea Irvin’s Eustace Tilley floating in an orange oval frame, reminded me of a New Yorkery version of the Beatles so-called White Album. The back cover, however, doesn’t continue the Beatles’ theme — as you see below it’s chock full of drawings. Captionless drawings are scattered about among the captioned (but the captions aren’t shown). So what you focus on is the art itself — the art of the drawing. And of course it’s great stuff.   

Looking at the list of contributors, one might notice that James Thurber’s name doesn’t appear.  The first time in this string of Albums that’s happened.  Thurberites will know that the master had pretty much stopped drawing by the mid 1950s. His last published drawing in his lifetime is said to have graced the Thurber cover story of TIME magazine in July 9, 1951. 

Also missing from the line-up is Rea Irvin.  Mr. Irvin’s remarkable presence as an ongoing contributor and art supervisor ended with the arrival of William Shawn as editor in early 1952 (for more on the evolution of the Art Meeting, please go to the Spill’s Posted Notes and scroll way way down to the February 18, 2012 entry: “The New Yorker’s Art Meeting: A Potted History”).   The decade of 1955-1965 saw a good number of additions to the New Yorker‘s stable of artists under the art editorship of James Geraghty: Robert Censoni (1963), Joseph Farris (1956), Robert Grossman (1962), J.B. “Bud” Handelsman (1961), Stan Hunt (1956), B. Kliban (1963), Edward Koren (1962), Fernando Krahn (1962), Lee Lorenz (1955), Henry Martin (1964), Warren Miller (1959), Robert Muccio (1964), Alphonse Normandia ((1957), Charles O’Glass (1960), Bruce Petty (1959), Donald Reilly (1964), Charles Sauers (1956), Francis Smilby (1962), James Stevenson (1956), Jack Tippet (1963), Robert Weber (1962), and Rowland Wilson (1961).  Some of these newbies only appeared once, while others went on to become core contributors.  Six of them are part of the Spill‘s K club ( a club of 23 members at present) with cartoons appearing in the magazine over a thousand times (Koren, Lorenz, Miller, Reilly, Stevenson, and Weber).

As usual with any album designed by Carmine Peppe, the layout of the book is great.  There is no introduction, just inside front flap copy that includes the quote I placed in the heading of this post. Mr. Peppe, whose sense of graphic balance is more than admirable, managed to fill the pages without crowding them.

Without counting spreads in previous albums, I feel as if this album has plenty more than usual, with Steig, Stevenson, Steinberg, and Saxon well represented.  Peter Arno also has a spread in this album, originally presented as a double page spread in the issue of September 10, 1960.

I think of this album as the linchpin connecting the founders’ era to the present.  The very next album, an anthology celebrating the magazine’s first 50 years, introduced the beginning of the modern era that included the Godfather of Contemporary New Yorker Cartoonists, Jack Ziegler

A benefit of taking another look through all of these New Yorker albums is the occasional discovery of someone somehow missed in the Spill‘s decade of cartoon detective work.  In this case, two cartoonists popped up who are not on the A-Z: Anthony Scott and Alphonse Normandia. Anthony Scott signed his drawings “Anthony” — unfortunately, he does not appear in the Complete New Yorker database and so I’m left in the dark as to the arc of his New Yorker cartoon career (anyone out there with info, please advise).  As for Mr. Normandia, his work appeared in the magazine three times, between December 28, 1957 and December 5, 1959.  I’ll be adding this info to the A-Z this afternoon.