Today’s pub day for Everyone’s A Critic (Princeton Architectural Press), the second in what will be a series of cartoon anthologies edited by Bob Eckstein, New Yorker cartoonist, best-selling author, and world’s leading snowman expert.
Here at the Spill, the arrival of a cartoon collection is always cause for a cartoonist hoo-rah. This second book in the series features thirty-seven cartoonists, thirty-five of them New Yorker cartoonists (including this cartoonist, and the late great Jack Ziegler, whose “Critic” multi-panel drawing appears here). As with the first book in the series, The Ultimate Cartoon Book of Book Cartoons, Everyone’s A Critic is hardcover with the drawings printed on heavy stock (so no annoying bleed through images). An introduction by Mr. Eckstein is bookended by contributors bios. The cover drawing is by one of The New Yorker‘s modern masters, Danny Shanahan.
Over the course of a few days last week Mr. Eckstein and I had the following email exchange about his new book.
Michael Maslin: I’m holding in my hand your latest cartoon anthology, Everyone’s A Critic. Size-wise it’s similar to the fleet of New Yorker anthologies that have come out over the years (The New Yorker Book of Cat Cartoons, The New Yorker Book of Dog Cartoons, and the like). Were those New Yorker anthologies a kind of inspiration for this series of yours? If not, what was the inspiration?
Bob Eckstein: There are more cartoonists and cartoons than ever, and quite frankly too many to support in shrinking real estate for the work, in part to do with the departure of Harvard Business Review, MAD magazine, Barron’s and many others. And right now I’m not going to concede that the internet is infinite space and exposure because that’s just fragmented eyeballs. Part of a successful cartoon (or article or illustration) is it has to be seen, right? And that’s certainly Problem #1 in our field. So creating the book was creating a new, admittedly tiny, space.
The New Yorker anthologies of the past have nothing to do with this series, per se. The selection process is totally different. But the packaging, the size, the quality of the binding, etc., was 1) dictated by current market concerns (the books you referenced are mostly two decades ago, on a different playing field, publishing-wise) and 2) based on my first goal when I do any book—what would I want to buy? Am I getting my money’s worth?
Now, I do realize that the New Yorker itself has EVERYTHING to do with these books. They made the single gag cartoon an art form that didn’t exist before. And plus I’m indebted and grateful to the magazine for any leverage I had. The publisher, Princeton Architectural Press, liked my cartoons and liked my track record in book sales. That all goes back to the New Yorker and it happened in a very short time (I started gag cartooning in 2007 and began writing for them shortly afterwards). But I didn’t use the specific New Yorker BOOKS of yesteryear as a template in any way except to make sure we (the editor and I) avoided any blatant similarities. Unavoidable would be that we used many cartoonists who have appeared in the New Yorker because the ultimate criteria for inclusion into the books was it’s a very funny cartoon. But to address your question specifically about size, that was decided by what size the cartoons liked best, what was too big for production costs, bookshelf space, shipping weight, gravitas to be competitive in the Gift book arena and other sales factors I took into account with my marketing team.
The inspiration for the series was independent bookstores. I wanted to create a thank you card to them for making my World’s Greatest Bookstores a bestseller (which they made happen) and also they asked me what was next. So what better than to do a fun light book about them, again. I thought I could tap into a resource I had. I personally knew and became friends with the funniest cartoonists in the world. The book would at the same time pay small tribute to them for the inspiration they gave me. Again, this is not like the New Yorker and not an open call but a pet project where I would have to be asking favors of the contributors yet I wanted to have fun doing this. Everyone in the book I sincerely like. So after that initial group, a core group of friends who could arguably be placed in the category of world’s greatest cartoonists—almost all the contributors in the book have been published over a 1,000 times in different publications!—work was chosen by merit alone. I had thousands of submissions to choose from and I did my best to pick the funniest. I admittedly have more in the book than I deserve. But I didn’t pick my own cartoons, my editor did.
MM: Here’s a nuts and bolts question. You decide you want to do this second book, and the publisher agrees to do it, then what? What’s your decision-making process at that point? Do you send out a mass email?
BE: Yep, a mass email. I begged the contributors to be a part of it. I know collectively they and the publisher did a great job on the first book and wanted to keep it going. Only one or two people declined. I’m doing the third book now and again only one or two people didn’t reply that they were willing to be on board.
When I met with the editors and publisher the first time we both knew that a goal would be to produce more than one book. It was understood. It’s the new landscape of publishing. Very few successful authors are one and out. You must produce a series, a following. Each book theoretically supports the other. Unfortunately, the working business model is all about exposure. And I’m doing everything I can to get momentum. Book trailers, making trades with magazines for ad space, special promotions with bookstores (placing them within cartoons)…oh, anything to get the word out. I believe in these books. I believe in books. I have given this a lot of thought: that it took man 4,500 years before he produced books. One hundred years to devise the gag cartoon. I’m not onboard for phasing out either and want to do my part keeping the art form going. Cartoons in magazines, great. Cartoons in physical hardcover books, even better. I like giving cartoons the weight they deserve.
MM: Looking through the book — looking through any cartoon collection — it’s always the drawings that make me pause that I’ll remember days, weeks, sometimes years later. In this case, let’s talk about a few of many that caught my attention:
Sam Gross‘s “What riles me is that he got a genius grant and I didn’t.” Absolutely love this drawing. Of course Sam’s a cartoon god, so it isn’t surprising that he’s struck gold (again). How was it selecting drawings from Sam?
BE: I was just trying to give this kid a break.
Actually, for those who don’t know, Sam just celebrated his 50th anniversary of being in the New Yorker. Probably working for them earlier, when he sold jokes to Charles Addams. Yeah, great drawing, nice caption. Coincidentally, he summed up the whole psychological make-up of a good chunk of cartoonists in this one cartoon. Anyhoo, I picked this cartoon along with six other Sam Gross cartoons on one of my visits to his studio on the Upper East Side. For the first book we went through together almost 800 prospective cartoons he had on books and bookstores. He has over 30,000 cartoons total. But no bed, couch or a place to relax in that apartment. Just a place for coming up with ideas and cranking out cartoons. I wish I had his engine for work.
I learned a lot from him since I started gag cartooning in ’07. Never would have started if he didn’t dare me to try––we met not through cartooning but from using him in my first book about the history of snowmen. Don’t think I would have even done these books if not for him. I would have quit cartooning years ago if not for his encouragement. When I see him, I always blame him for being in this mess.
Photo Bob Eckstein, on the left, in work mode with Sam Gross
MM: Michael Shaw‘s drawings have always fascinated me. Perhaps it’s the bit of Thurber DNA I see in his work. His drawing “Minimalism folks. Nothing to see here” just seems to work every which way. Was this a shoe-in drawing?
BE: Yeah, he’s got a little Thurberism with his drawings but his lines underneath are laugh out loud funny. He is, I think, one of the most underrated living cartoonists there is. Although he often has a cartoon in any Top Ten Cartoons of All Time lists. This is a very good cartoon but typical for him. He often shares with me his weekly batch, now being sent over the airwaves from Green Bay. Which is a real shame because I’m convinced if we lived in the same town we would work on pitching TV shows together or something. That, and if I could understand what he says. I have to look up half the words he uses. I don’t want to call him genius because he may read this but he is smarter than the average bear. I actually think I’m a good editor for him because when if his cartoons miss, it’s because they go over everyone’s head. Being an idiot, I’m a good test for comprehensibility.
MM: . Speaking of minimalism, Liana Finck‘s Swim Critic drawing looks great on the page. Any thoughts on her work, or this particular drawing?
BE: It’s good to see Liana’s work given a full page and see the lines bigger. Liana is one of the few new people in the book, because one motive for the book was to share work not always readily seen nowadays from artists with a deep backlog. But I made an exception for Liana (and Ed Steed) who are now both already accomplished and blazing a trail for a new wave of cartoonists––creating cartoons that are confessional vignettes. I see that as the new agenda across a bunch of disciplines from podcasts (like Allison Rosen’s My New Best Friend; as I’m answering this question I learned that Liana was just her guest –- a weird triangle I’m compelled to point out: Ms. Rosen was my old editor at Time Out NY and Adam Carolla’s ex-cohost. I did a New Yorker cartoon with Mr. Carolla. It’s goes further than that but I’ll stop)…I forgot where I was…yes, to Presidential debates. Candidates have to share a confessional response to keep up in this age of full disclosure.
I actually think Liana does it better than a number of stand-ups and is a true pioneer like comedian Maria Bradford, although Liana would probably not appreciate me bestowing these accolades on her. She’s too modest and hasn’t changed much from when I first met her and had yet to be published. Her style was different and I remember her telling me that each time she did a cartoon she wasn’t sure what style to use. Well, she not only found her voice but she’s the voice for the generation her work resonates with. I look forward to seeing her soon at the Miami Book Fair. We’re going to be in conversation together, each talking our new books. Her new book is a survey of her beloved Instagram output called Excuse Me: Cartoons, Complaints, and Note to Self.
MM: Alex Gregory‘s “You’re right. Things are funnier in threes” is such a great drawing. Anything to add here about Alex’s work, and/or this particular drawing?
BE: Alex is the consummate cartoonist. I’m not even sure what that means, but it sounds good. This is maybe my favorite all-time cartoon. In my brain, which, granted, is like a pea rattling in a soda can, there’s a part reserved for a handful of cartoons that I wish I had thought up first.This cartoon is one of them. At the risk of being totally wrong, I think Alex’s style is so simple so that it allows the idea and caption to be as unobstructed as possible since they are so strong.This cartoon helped me decide that the next book could have three themes: love, marriage and divorce.
Above: the Everyone’s A Critic contributors.
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