Drawings That Went Nowhere

 I thought it might make for a nice end of week break to look at some drawings of mine from this past week that went nowhere. Every cartoonist works on drawings that go nowhere. We do it every day of every week.  It’s how we get to the drawings that do work.

Initially, with each of these shown, I had some hope they’d go someplace — it’s how every drawing begins for me — with some hope, and a lot of curiosity. I think I had in mind some vague memory of the acrobats who performed on the Ed Sullivan Show. Wouldn’t it be funny, I thought, to have a cat involved in that kind of showbiz routine?  The drawing above was fun to do, but I realized, as I was drawing the cactus plants, that it wasn’t a drawing I wanted to spend any more time on.  Usually I recognize within a few moments after the initial drawing (or caption, if the caption starts things off), whether I want to move along with that particular idea. Often that drawing dies right then and there (it’s put in my “collection” of all the other work that hasn’t worked over the years. Why I save these is a mystery to me).

The only one of these four that went beyond what you see here is the one below of the octopus being sworn in. I was briefly amused by the idea of the octopus not having a designated right hand to raise while being sworn in. Still, with a few attempts at an improved drawing (the bailiff has two neckties, with one floating off on its own), and a caption around that idea, it didn’t feel like it was going anywhere (and it wasn’t).

The drawing below is a good example of an idea based on the thinnest sliver of an idea: what would/could happen if the 3 Pigs sat down with the 3 Stooges (the soldier off to the left had nothing to do with this idea). Again, as with the cat drawing above, my curiosity waned.  As I wrote “oink oink oink” above the first pig, I realized that this was as amused as I was going to be with this situation;  there was nothing else left here of interest, so I moved on.

Below is a drawing of the sort I did in high school and college. As I drew the little guy coming out of top of the bust, the drawing seemed creepy, so I abandoned it.

So there’s a sampler of what happens on the way to a coming up with a drawing that does work — the kind that ends up being finished and submitted to The New Yorker. The ones that don’t work vastly outnumber the ones that do. And of the ones that do work — that I think work — the number of those rejected vastly outnumber the ones accepted.  Nutty right? But that’s the life.

Sidenote: these four drawings might seem to say that the drawing comes first (for me) when coming up with ideas. That’s not the case.  Words are probably the better instigators of ideas. More frequently than the drawings or words leading to an idea are just vague impulses not yet on paper that suddenly suggest I draw whatever. That’s where the fun begins.

Another Two Pages From the New Yorker Ency of Cartoons; Podcast of Interest: Liza Donnelly

Another Two Pages From the New Yorker Ency of Cartoons

Back on June 19th, The Spill had this to say about the upcoming New Yorker Encyclopedia of Cartoons:

Stylish packaging…can’t wait to see what more is inside. Especially curious to see how the two volumes incorporate the advertised 3000 cartoons (or “classic images” as the publisher calls them). Actually, since we now can see 3 classic images, curious to see how the other 2997 are incorporated. 

Well , the publisher, Blackdog & Leventhal, has just eeked out two more pages showing 4 more cartoons (by myself, Charles Barsotti, Danny Shanahan, and Gahan Wilson), These are, as you’ll see, under the “Clowns” heading (the encyclopedia is organized around subjects):

Alrighty then.  Now we’ve seen 7 of the 3000 images promised. Only 2,993 to go!


Podcast of Interest: Liza Donnelly

While live-drawing in Dublin last week (I’ve shown a few of her Dublin drawings here), Liza Donnelly sat for an interview with Roisin Ingle of The Irish Times.

Link to the Irish Times podcast.








Personal History: Going To The Window

From 1976 through early 1980 (when I moved out of Manhattan) I made a weekly trip via subway  from my apartment on West 11th Street in Greenwich Village to the New Yorker‘s offices on 25 West 43rd Street.  After a week of working mostly alone at home it was my one big foray into the real world.

Stepping from the 42nd Street subway at Bryant Park, I’d jaywalk across 42nd Street to get to the W.R.Grace building. Its north/south block-wide lobby allowed access to 43rd Street, almost directly across the street from 25 West 43rd.

After pushing through the revolving doors at 25 West 43rd Street, and following an elevator ride to the 18th floor, I’d arrive at my destination: a window.  I’d slip a 10″ x 13″ grey envelope of new drawings through the slot at the base of what appeared to be very thick glass. Behind the glass sat a receptionist. She’d take the new envelope and pass me an envelope of my work submitted (and rejected) the week before. Then I’d get back on the elevator to the main lobby, and retrace my steps home. In all of those years I never spoke to the receptionist (nor she to me), nor did I run into anyone in the hallway (I did however share a down elevator ride with Charles Addams. We didn’t speak).

The window reception was one of many of the magazine’s oddities left behind when the magazine moved south across the street in 1991.  

Below: the window.




A Foot of Rejected Cartoons

Rejection is a New Yorker cartoonist’s constant companion. We are rejected every single week we submit work to the magazine (I’ve heard tales of contributors selling up to a half-dozen drawings out of one batch, but I’ve yet to hear of a contributor selling their entire batch.  Please advise if that’s ever happened).  Example: I submit cartoons weekly to the magazine (there is no set number despite the myth you may have heard that we must, or have to send ten a week).  If I’m very very lucky, one of the submitted cartoons will be accepted. The rest, the rejects, are then added to a pile in my work room. In the photo above is the pile that’s accumulated over the past year or so. Eventually I’ll move that pile to storage where it will join its rejected friends from years/decades past. 

Some time ago — fifteen or twenty years? —  I made a stab at organizing my rejects.  I bought plastic bins that held file folders.  I labeled the folders “Dogs” “Cats” “Police” “Food” “Knights” etc., etc.. This organization came in handy when someone would ask for submissions for a collection of drawings about dogs or cats or food or whatever. As the era of themed cartoon collections cooled, I found though that it was wasted time organizing for the possibility of a request for themed cartoons. So that organizing effort ended (although the plastic bins with their folders still exist).

Many cartoonists take their rejected work and try to find a home for it elsewhere. I know of at least one cartoonist who is very successful doing just that. I used to submit rejects to other magazines back when there were a good number of publications using cartoons. Below is a page out of a ledger I briefly kept in 1977.  I quickly realized keeping track of stuff wasn’t my thing.  You see on the page below across the top of the ledger the magazines I was submitting to the summer of that year — the summer when I broke into the New Yorker:  The New Yorker, Esquire,The Saturday Evening Post, Changing Times, Quest, Dawn Dusk, Playboy, Medical Economics, New Woman, and The Ladies Home Journal. Judging my from my entries I wasn’t doing very well until August of 1977, when the New Yorker bought “Nothing will ever happen to you” — after that things started to improve (with the exceptions of The Ladies Home Journal and Medical Economics — nothing of mine ever “clicked” for them).

Over time, the number of publications using cartoons has dwindled.  Most of the action these days is online, where the pay is little-to-none.  “None” is usually disguised as “exposure” as in “we don’t pay, but your work will get plenty of exposure.”

So what to do with these weekly rejected drawings.  Over the years I’d sometimes come across one that seemed it needed a second chance, and so off it went to the New Yorker.  Sometimes a resub (as they are called by cartoonists) is accepted, and published.  I once was even asked to send in resubs. It was around the time my wife and I were expecting our first child. My then editor, Lee Lorenz  sent me a letter saying something to the effect of: “Please send in a bunch of resubs — I know you’re going to be busy for awhile.”  There have even been weeks I resubmitted a drawing that had just been rejected. My personal favorite rejected cartoon is the one below.  I did the unthinkable: convinced of its merit, I stubbornly resubmitted it the very next week after it was rejected. It was accepted (and published December 21, 1998). Hey, you never know.

Mostly though the second chance for a resub (my resubs, not other cartoonists) is its last chance — and that’s okay.  I’ve always felt these rejects were necessary to do to get to the drawing that makes it through to being accepted and published. The rejects are invaluable steps to the printed page.  I’ve realized in the past few years that I rarely, if ever, send in resubs anymore. Emma Allen, the New Yorker‘s current cartoon editor has yet to see one of my drawings submitted twice. There’s no grand plan here — it’s just how it’s working out.

Personal History: First Book

Pardon this little trip down memory lane.

  In 1975 I printed this first book of mine on a creaky noisy offset press in the basement of the Print Shop at The University of Connecticut in Storrs (the Print Shop, a little paradise on campus, is no more, torn down and replaced — a la Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” —  by a parking lot).

 Somewhere Above the Jugglers And Dogs might have been my senior project — or it may have just been something I wanted to do for fun. I’m fairly certain the hat on the cover is some kind of tribute to the hat on the ground in Thurber’s classic drawing, “What have you done with Dr. Millmoss?” — the drawing I place highest on a pedestal.  

After printing all the pages (enough for 50 copies of the book) I drove them to be bound at a printing plant in Hartford (each copy has three staples covered by protective black cloth). I remember showing the completed work to a dear friend who promptly told me he hated the title. Everyone’s a critic.

By the time I put this together I’d already been submitting work to the New Yorker for three or four years; all of it rejected by the magazine’s legendary art editor, James Geraghty. I can’t blame him one bit.  Here’s one of the drawings, Tom Inventing Spit. Not exactly the kind of thing the New Yorker was publishing in 1975 (in hindsight, I wish I’d called the book Tom Inventing Spit). 

 In the next two years, post-college, I honed the kind of work I’d included in this book and collected even more of it in another self-published book, 115 Drawings. By the time 115 Drawings was produced in early 1977, I’d abandoned drawings like this and moved on to dutifully submitting work edging closer to single panel cartoons. By then Lee Lorenz, who succeeded Geraghty, was routinely rejecting my New Yorker submissions.  He finally caved in mid-1977 when the magazine bought an idea of mine (drawn up by the great Whitney Darrow, Jr., and published in the New Yorker, December 26, 1977). As far as the New Yorker’s concerned, my words came first.