Book Of Interest: I Think, Therefore I Draw

Published a couple of weeks ago, I Think, Therefore I Draw: Understanding Philosophy Through Cartoons (Penguin) includes enough New Yorker cartoons (among a number of non-New Yorker cartoons) to mention here. The New Yorker cartoonists represented (in order of their appearance): Paul Noth, John McNamee, Tom Cheney, Danny Shanahan, P.C. Vey, David Sipress, George Booth, Avi Steinberg, Amy Hwang, Leo Cullum, Mort Gerberg, P.S. Mueller, John Klossner, Aaron Bacall, Sam Gross, “Bud” Handelsman, Lee Lorenz, Michael Maslin, Jack Ziegler, Edward Koren, Matt Diffee, Eric Lewis, Edward Frascino, and Charles Barsotti.

The authors have this (in part) to say in their introduction: “Here, then, is a collection of our favorite philosophical cartoons and our annotations about what they teach us about the Big Questions in philosophy.”

You can sample the text by going to the Amazon listing and clicking on the “Look inside” feature.

 

The Monday Tilley Watch: The New Yorker Issue of January 15 2018; Happy 114th Birthday, Peter Arno

The Monday Tilley Watch is a meandering take on the cartoons in the current issue of The New Yorker.

 I don’t know about you, but after I’ve looked through the cartoons of each new issue of The New Yorker I have the kind of  immediate reaction I have after sitting through a movie. As I begin walking up the aisle, the verdict is usually already in: good movie, bad movie, loved it, hated it, so-so, etc.. I looked through this latest issue of the magazine and thought: good cartoons. Good cartoons from beginning to end, with a real gem mid-way through.  

The first cartoon of the issue, William Haefeli’s on page 18 gets things going. Haefeli’s drawings never disappoint, and in this case caption and drawing are doing exactly what I hope for in every New Yorker cartoon (giving us Peter Arno’s one-two punch; in this case the one-two are so close together it’s a onetwo punch) If you have the issue in front of you (print or digital) notice the child’s body language. Mr. Haefeli has created a drawing that almost moves. 

Three pages later a drawing by Amy Hwang, who has become somewhat of a cat specialist. This is a lovely drawing, with a terrific caption. I predict it’s going to be reprinted on a lot coffee mugs and t-shirts.  

Four pages later a couple at a table by JAK (Jason Adam Katzenstein). Good caption. The woman’s expression is as the British say, “spot on.”

Five pages later a curio: a P. C. Vey  Christmassy drawing in the January 15th issue. It’s a very good drawing  replete with tree and one very large gift.  I’ll forever wonder why it wasn’t in the issue  of December 18 or the issue just after, January 1, 2018. A mystery!

Another five pages brings us to a Kim Warp drawing employing two of my favorite subjects: dinosaurs and space travel (in this case time/space travel).  Another wonderful drawing with a really good caption. 

Six pages later, the gem I spoke of earlier.  John O’Brien gives us a site (a work site) to behold —   it’s caption-less too (to me, caption-less cartoons are the most difficult to successfully achieve.  Mr. O’Brien’s batting average of success with them is crazy high). This is a high bar New Yorker drawing. And so: applause, applause.

 

On the very next page is a Matt Diffee cartoon.  He, like a few other cartoonists in the magazine use a box to frame their work (Jack Ziegler was King of the New Yorker boxed drawings). Mr. Diffee’s drawings are always easy on the eyes (the soft greys).  Here we have a couple of folks ice fishing. The idea centers on the use of the ice machine known as a Zamboni blended with the popular urban food truck.  As sometimes happens with drawings, I paused to consider an element (last week it was missing tent stakes). Unfortunately, this pause never fails to get in the way of the one-two punch.  Why, I thought, would a Zamboni be on an ice fishing lake?  I looked up Zambonis, and learned they are sometimes used on ice skating lakes.  But there’s no sign of skaters anywhere on Mr. Diffee’s lake. Perhaps they’re just off to the side, out of the box.  I’m fairly certain my fascination with cartoon details such as this comes out of my early cartoon education by way of New Yorker art editor, Lee Lorenz. He once returned a drawing to me and asked if I’d make the surf board in the drawing look less like a six foot cigar.  It wasn’t the most important element in the drawing, but if it appeared to be a giant cigar it would take the reader too much out of the  drawing. I guess that stuck with me — and now you’re stuck with me pointing out cartoon minutiae.

Four pages later, a Will McPhail nearly deserted beach scene. I like the caption. Mr. McPhail  shows us one of those funny umbrella tables you see in movies of places that resemble wherever this is.  What’s missing is only someone (or something) off in the distance splashing in the ocean. What can I say — I like graphic splashing. 

Three pages later, a color drawing from Seth Fleishman in a setting far far away from Mr. McPhail’s.  Subway rats playing a game.  Having just seen a photo in the Times the other day of a NYC rat dragging a moon pie, I’m wondering if NYC subway rats are now a thing.  I guess they’ve always been a thing, if you think about it.

On the page after the rats is a Roz Chast package drawing.  Ms. Chast excels at these, and this one’s right up there, laughs-wise. I haven’t examined a package of Junior Mints in a long time (not my theater go-to candy) but I do wonder if those boxes show the “Juniors” as human…probably not.  Six pages later a Brendan Loper Evel Knievel inspired drawing. We don’t see enough dare- devil drawings in the magazine. Interesting drawing. Good stuff.  

Thirteen pages later, the last drawing in the issue (not counting the Caption Contest pieces): Julia Suits provides a trope that seems to be off-again on-again in the magazine: the military officer pointing out a medal. By off-again on-again I mean we don’t see many for awhile and then they suddenly pop up like asparagus. Henry Martin did a number of these, as did a number of other colleagues.  I can’t recall ever doing one. Time to get crackin’.  

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Happy 114th Birthday, Peter Arno

Strange to think of Peter Arno, whose work seems so very much alive, as born 114 years ago. All the years I worked on his biography, from 1999 through 2016, he seemed somehow on the scene, at least the New Yorker scene. In early 2016, with the book wrapping up, I paid one last Arno research visit to Yale, where he spent one year, the Fall of 1922- Spring of 1923. I went there to look for possible Arno materials in a box of Thurber’s papers; it turned out to be a fun but wild goose chase.

  Even though Arno only attended classes the one year (his father pulled the plug, financially) it was a launch pad year for his not-too-far-off entree to The New Yorker.  At Yale his cartoons became quite polished as they appeared more and more in the Record  (Arno did a few covers too). Besides drawing, Arno was fully engaged with his other love, music.

  He organized what he called an “orchestra” and found a place to play right across the street from the campus.  He mentioned playing there in a letter to his mother:

“…working in the Art School all day long and playing every evening in the Bull Dog Grille…”

 That last day I spent at Yale I took a walk along York Avenue, with the Bull Dog’s address in hand.  I came to the corner of Elm and York and could see some old buildings were right where I needed them to be, diagonally across the street. Crossing Elm I quickly spotted  #264 over one of two arched doorways on a three-story Victorian era building. The building had survived (!) but there was some kind of construction going on, with the front partially shrouded, and a dumpster parked out front.

The entrance to the Grille (it was upstairs on the third floor) was the door to the right, just behind the plywood wall behind the lone tree. I stood across the street for a bit, then crossed over to see what I could see close-up.  It was a wonderful moment thinking about the college-aged Arno heading through that door. I’d read in Dorothy Ducas’s great Arno piece in the March 1938 issue of Mademoiselle  that besides playing music upstairs Arno also drew on the walls (ala Thurber!). Standing in front of the building that day there was a lot to imagine. 

Here’s a photo I took that afternoon:

Before writing today’s piece I thought I’d use Google to see what had been done to the place a year or so later. Turns out it wasn’t construction after all — it was destruction.

Though the building is gone, those Arno moments playing music and drawing upstairs at the Bull Dog are not entirely forgotten.  Also not forgotten: the body of work Arno published in the New Yorker during his 43 years there, much of which can be found in the books below.

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ps: Rea Irvin’s classic Talk masthead (shown below) still missing from the magazine. Hope it returns soon.

  

 

 

 

 

 

Checking In: Lars Kenseth Talks About “Deodorant People” and His First New Yorker Cartoon

I won’t lie to you Spill visitors, the first time I saw a Lars Kenseth drawing in the New Yorker, I was both baffled and intrigued. No one draws like Mr. Kenseth. He is one of the newest of the newest wave of cartoonists who have broken into and onto the pages of Harold Ross’s now 92 year old weekly. Mr. Kenseth’s first drawing appeared last Fall and those that have followed have not lost their peculiarity. That’s a good thing.

Happily, I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Kenseth this past Spring when he was east.  Meeting him was in a weird way like meeting his cartoon world; cartoonists who seem like their worlds fascinate me (two of the New Yorker cartoonists he mentioned in our discussion qualify as perfect examples: Sam Gross and Charles Addams). 

With the recent publication of another Kenseth cartoon in the New Yorker it seemed like a good time to check in with him…

Michael MaslinAccording to your website bio you are a very very busy cartoonist.  So, what are you up to these days? 
 
Lars Kenseth: The project that’s giving me the most stress dreams right now is an animated show I created for Adult Swim called Chuck Deuce. It’s about this sketchy, burnout surfer from Santa Cruz who is terrorized by a bevy of weird, pervasive hallucinations. We did a pilot and it’s about to go into “testing” which means they’re going to screen it for a roomful of people in Union, New Jersey who will then decide if I should be on the TV. Fingers crossed.
 
At the same time, I’m trying to sell four other TV projects and a movie. The thing about Hollywood is… nothing is real. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told something is a sure thing only to see it fall apart. Which is why I’m always working on new material. The upside is I’m usually employed. The downside is I’m more panic attack than man. But that’s just great cartoon material.
 
On the cartoon side, I’m doing my batches every week and trying to get better. And I’m investigating other outlets to sell to — the rejects. They just hang around the house all day doing nothing. Meanwhile I’m out there busting my butt. I’ll tell ya…
 
I’ve also started writing short comedy pieces, a la Shouts & Murmurs. I’ve always loved short form stuff like that. I’m a HUGE Jack Handey fan. Anyway, it’s something I’ve always wanted to try. And I just sold one to The American Bystander! That was exciting. I love that magazine.
 
MM: You’re a west coaster, and you’re also involved in television.  Do you ever interact with other west coast New Yorker cartoonist / television colleagues such as Alex Gregory,  Bruce Kaplan, and Zach Kanin?
 
LK: I haven’t met Alex or Bruce yet. Although I would love to, I’m a giant fan of them both. I’ve met Zach Kanin once – very nice guy and also insanely busy out here. And I know Sam Marlow’s out here, too – I need to reach out to him. Sam, if you’re reading this, drop me a line.
 
Matt Diffee and I are great friends and we see each other often. We are both members of The Order Of Cornelius (the NCS – L.A. Chapter) where we do secret handshakes and wear plaid and talk about cartoons. It’s fun! Matt was a huge help as I was shaping my drawing style.
 
MMYou have one of the most unusual styles of all contemporary New Yorker cartoonists. Can you talk about your style.
 
LK: Can I just say, I LOVE hearing people try to describe the characters I draw. I’ve heard everything from deodorant roll-on people to egg people to blobs to Weebles to gel caps to jellybeans to lozenges – it’s like the way every clan of survivors in The Walking Dead has a different name for “zombies”.
 
Ever since I was a kid I’d always drawn friendly looking characters, it’s what I like to do, but when I started working in TV animation that clean, big eyed look really snaked more and more into my drawings – because if I wanted to sell an animated show it would have to look like what’s on TV. When I finally got the courage to start submitting to The New Yorker, I knew I had to switch up my style. Matt Diffee put me through a kind of cartoon boot camp – feeding me different reference material. Weird Iranian cartoons, 18th century French doodles, etc. I just took it all in and started grinding away on a new style. I started drawing these strange little characters – my lumpy guys, I called them. They were squat, blobby characters with long pointy noses, bags under their eyes and I was using a rough, glitchy line quality. I thought I found something kind of interesting.
 
Eventually I flew out to New York to meet Bob [Mankoff, the New Yorker’s cartoon editor from August 1996 – April of 2017], introduce myself and get some face-to-face feedback on my stuff. Bob liked my jokes, but he HATED my style. It was the pointy noses that really did it.
“You need to get rid of that…” he searched for a descriptor, “aviary proboscis.” I’ll never forget that – so funny. And such a Bob Mankoff thing to say. Bob was sympathetic, “I’m sure you’ve been drawing this way your whole life.” I laughed, “More like three weeks.” 
I left that initial meeting unsure of where I stood. All I knew was my style wasn’t there yet. To quote Peter Arno, “Well, back to the old drawing board.”
 
When I got back to L.A. I took a hard look at my cartoons. The thing that I realized was these characters I was drawing weren’t me. They were mean and tired looking. It didn’t fit with my jokes or my personality. What I did like was the line quality. So I kept that. But from there I went friendlier, softer and pulled back on all the extremes. And that was that. After a month I’d rehabilitated my style to something that, thankfully, has found favor at the magazine… or at least enough favor to get the occasional OK. And I love it.
 
MMI think you may have made New Yorker cartoon history by including the words “New Yorker Cartoon” within the cartoon itself, and (unless I’m wrong), it was your first New Yorker cartoon.  Can you talk about that cartoon, and about that “first” moment?  Every cartoonist remembers that moment of the first OK.  Can you share your memory? 
 
LK: What a delightful shock that was, haha. I still have to pinch myself sometimes. As far as that first cartoon goes – I can’t believe I even sold that one. The whole “creepy clown” phenomenon was so odd – and not “New Yorker” at all. But, it’s a therapist’s office scene, so that’s the tether I suppose. It’s fitting that was my first one because some of my favorite New Yorker cartoons marry the surreal with the everyday. I’m reminded of that Charles Addams cartoon where a security guard locks eyes with a minotaur in the center of a labyrinthine museum. I need to sell a minotaur cartoon.
 
I got the OK on a Friday in late October of last year. I was eating fancy burgers in this Hollywood gastropub with a friend of mine. We were wrapping up dinner and about to walk over to The Wiltern to see a heavy metal concert. I was at the urinal checking my phone – because I’m classy – and saw I got an e-mail from Bob. And there it was in the subject line, “OK”. Everything after that is a blur – really hope I zipped up before I ran out of the bathroom to tell my buddy and call my wife and parents. My mom never swears but when I told her she was talking to a New Yorker cartoonist, she came close, “Shut the front door!!” 
For a kid whose father started feeding him Charles Addams and Sam Gross cartoons at a frightfully young age, this was a landmark moment.
 
Note: I asked Mr. Kenseth if he wouldn’t mind drawing a deodorant guy for the Spill.  He happily obliged and sent what he called “a little self portrait” — it appears at the very top of the post.

 

Twohy, Eckstein & Diffee among National Cartoonist Society Nominees

ncs_chromeThe National Cartoonists Society has just announced its  2013 Divisional Nominees.  Among the categories are Editorial Cartoons, Newspaper Illustration, Feature Animation, Comic Books, and Graphic Novels. In the Magazine Gag Cartoon category, three New Yorker cartoonists fill the slate: Bob Eckstein, Matt Diffee, and long time New Yorker contributor, Mike Twohy. Bob Eckstein is also nominated in the Newspaper Illustration category. Like Mr. Eckstein, Mike Twohy is a double nominee, with his work nominated in the Online-Short Form category. See all the categories and nominees here.

The winners will be announced May 24th at the Reuben Awards dinner in San Diego.

 

You can see much of Eckstein’s, Diffee’s and Twohy’s New Yorker work at the magazine’s Cartoon Bank.

Websites:

Bob Eckstein

Matt Diffee

Mike Twohy