Welcome to Part 2 of Cartoon Bibles. Part one appears at The New Yorker’s website, NewYorker.com. Click here to go there.
When I asked my colleagues to name their Cartoon Bible they generously and enthusiastically replied. There were so many responses they all couldn’t fit on the magazine’s blog. So, as a bonus, you can read the bulk of them here. Enjoy!
Bruce Eric Kaplan (BEK)
When I was a kid, I was obsessed with all the New Yorker cartoon collections in my local library. I took out all of them over and over again. The one that meant the most to me and still does is “My Crowd” by Charles Addams.
I don’t know that I have a cartoon bible, but seeing “Turk,” a B. Kliban spread that appeared in the old National Lampoon really turned me on. It subsequently appeared in his collection Whack Your Porcupine, from 1977.
Mysterious, funny, & mysteriously funny. Also R. Crumb’s Head Comix, from 1968. That one opened the door to all sorts of possibilities. But the most important thing about both these guys is that they made me laugh out loud.
Felipe Galindo (Feggo)
Andre Francois’ books “The Tattooed Sailor” and “Half-Naked Knight”: they’re my Old and New Testament.
He worked captionless and exploiting the human drama with gusto! I later learned he was from Rumania, as Steinberg, and his real name was Andre Farkas! He was a regular New Yorker contributor, mostly with his covers. A great artist in many ways as he did paintings and sculptures as well.
One of my favorites is “Amphigorey” by Edward Gorey. It’s dark and weird and taught me at a young age to never talk to strangers.
The book that changed my life was James Thurber’s The Thurber Carnival.
Home sick from school one day at age 7, my mother handed me the book and some paper and a pencil. I began tracing, and soon thereafter developed my own style and never looked back. There are many cartoonists that influenced me along the way, however: Crockett Johnson, Charles Schulz, Dr. Seuss, Saul Steinberg, William Steig, Sempe. But another cartoon book does stand out in my mind. Not long after I sold my first cartoon to The New Yorker, I discovered Jack Ziegler’s Hamburger Madness. I knew Jack by then, and was fascinated by his work. I would study Hamburger Madness over and over –it showed me what a cartoon could be. It showed me the old rules were not necessarily necessary. Jack’s cartoons opened my eyes to a different approach to humor, he showed me the wonderful world of whacky.
I would have to go with a cartoon collection from around the 40’s, Colliers Collects Its Wits, which I discovered on my parent’s bookshelf when I was just old enough to read.
It was filled with work by ‘New Yorker’ cartoonists and my first introduction to artists like Charles Addams and Whitney Darrow, Jr.. Love at first sight. The book also included a section of bios and self-caricatures by the cartoonists, including some women. I had somehow had gotten the impression from 1960s TV that women could only be mothers, nurses, secretaries or teachers, so I kind of loved that too. A few years ago this book walked away at a school talk I was giving, I can only hope it’s inspiring a new cartoonist. These days I’m always looking for books that talk about cartooning in a way I hadn’t thought about, the last one that blew my mind was Aesthetics by Ivan Brunetti. In terms of having a ‘Bible’ I try to read all points of view on cartooning and on religion for that matter. As an aside, my husband just pointed out a cobweb in my studio window so guess I’m still carrying a little Charles Addams with me.
I started thinking of myself as a cartoonist pretty early on — maybe second grade or so. That, combined with my family’s penchant for garage sales, meant that by age twelve I had a lot of yellowing old cartoon collections up in my room. “The Half-Naked Knight” (Andre Francois) and “Ho Ho Hoffnung” (Gerard Hoffnung) were near the top of the stack, but the one I kept going back to (and still do) was “This Petty Pace” by Mary Petty (intro by James Thurber).
The drawings fascinated me — I didn’t realize until much later how funny the cartoons were. I promised the book (first edition, some foxing on the edges) that if I started selling to the New Yorker I would take it in to look around, and two years ago I did.
I can’t think of any other bible for me than Little Nemo’s Adventures in Slumberland, though they are completely unrelated to The New Yorker or my style.
I suppose I am more interested in seeing stuff that I can’t do, that I could never do, that I’m incapable of because of temperament, time, and artistic ability (I’m terrible at perspective! I can marvel at McCay’s perspective all day long, and have). Also, his subject matter is inspiring: socially conscious, ironic, fantastic, surreal. One of my favorite “episodes” is the one where everyone has to pay for the use of words, and only the rich can express themselves. And I do have the entire New Yorker cartoon library at the magazine to peruse when the librarians are in a good mood and are happy to let me browse. In those cases, Helen Hokinson is a favorite because she’s so subtle.
Gahan Wilson’s I Paint What I See is my Bible.
It was my first introduction to gag cartoons and created some of the best memories of my life–of my younger brother and I laughing together until we cry or have something shoot out of our noses. We were around twelve but the book still makes me laugh today. (I think I’ll bring it out for Christmas when I visit his family.)
Predictably, I have a number of New Yorker cartoon collections on hand at all times, whether I’m hard at it here in my studio or off duty and hang gliding with wolves. The cornerstone, of course, is that monster collection that Bob Mankoff put together in 2004.
I think of material from the Ross years as The Old Testament, populated by the likes of Sts. Peter (Arno), James (Thurber), George (Price), etc. I should stop here before the analogy cops impound my hang glider.
I take some small comfort upon encountering the occasional artist of yore who drew as badly as I draw today, and I marvel at the once-common practice of assigning written gags to artists, or that whole business of cartoonists, nameless here, who purchased ideas from writers or other cartoonists. But I also take far greater comfort in the discovery and rediscovery of, say, a perfect timeless silent by Chon Day, Otto Soglow, or the current reigning master John O’Brien. In my case a cartoonist’s Bible has less to do with any single influence and more to do with the possibility of a brand new hang glider.
I had three books of the Cartoon Bible. My Matthew, Mark and Luke were the paperback reprints of the first Mad comics: The Mad Reader, Mad Strikes Back and, in particular, Inside Mad.
The first of these had “Starchie,” which to me, at about age ten, might as well have been pornography–my eyes couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Mad Strikes Back had the parody of my favorite comic strip, “Pogo,” and Inside Mad had that great “Mickey Rodent.” Each of these comic strip parodies were dead-on copies of the original, while at the same time filled with all that Bill Elder and Wally Wood “chicken fat” in the background.
With these perfect models as inspiration, I grew up trying to ape every cartoonist I admired. (It took a long time before I knew that there were different brushes and pens behind these various styles.) I can’t put a number on how many times I’ve read through these books, but they are still as funny and subversive as they were, what, sixty years ago?
My cartoon bible is one I reach for in the darker moments when the muses have departed to party with Zach Kanin in the city. Turning to “Amphigory” by Edward Gorey never fails to re-ignite my spleen.
How can you not be inspired by lines that read like scripture….”E is for Earnest who choked on a peach. F is for Fanny sucked dry by a leech.” Amen!
I guess my cartoon Bible would have to be Steig’s The Lonely Ones.
It was published in 1942 and somehow found it’s way into our home. I came upon it when I was six or seven and was immediately taken by it. Many of the images are still burned into my brain. It was, I’m guessing, my first introduction to cartoons that were more than jokes. I started making cartoons not long after that.
My Cartoon Bible was actually a carefully selected stack of New Yorkers, National Lampoons, and MAD magazines that ended up being about 3 feet high.
They were issues which I felt showed some of the best work by the best cartoonists currently in the business, and I regularly consulted it to keep myself apprised as to where cartooning was going, or, where it could potentially go. I reluctantly disposed of it before moving to Hawaii in order to conserve space in our shipping container. Big mistake. There were many gems in there that I will never see again.
I feel like this is cheating for some reason, but mine would be the Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker.
I received it as a holiday present several years back, and it’s become a true gift that keeps on giving–I discover new gems each time I flip through it. When I first decided to submit to the magazine, I tried to use this collection not just as a bible, but as a textbook, too. I thought maybe I could reverse-engineer the secret formula to successful New Yorker cartoons if I studied them hard enough. No such luck, but I did inadvertently uncover the secret formula for Coca-cola and the recipe for the Colonel’s chicken in the process, so it wasn’t a total loss.
As a teenager, I was given two cartoon collections – “Cartoons Even We Wouldn’t Dare Print” from the National Lampoon (edited by Sam Gross) and “Now Look What You’ve Done” by Lee Lorenz.
(Interestingly, these were given at the same time by different people. Kind of like the cartoon angel and cartoon devil perched on my shoulder.) While I wouldn’t exactly give these Bible status, as my list of influential cartoon publications is disgustingly long, these were my first exposure to single panel gags, and the wide range of possibilities the medium could cover.
I’m not sure I’d classify this as my “Cartoon Bible,” but I think it gets to the idea that you are talking about.
Being the native Minnesotan that I am, I drew much inspiration as a kid from a local, Minneapolis cartoonist: Richard Guindon.
He created regular, usually single panel cartoons for the Minneapolis Tribune (which later became the Minneapolis Star-Tribune). His cartoons were very insightful towards the mannerisms and quirks of Minnesotans, and his drawing had a unique style that captivated me. I still go back to those cartoons and read them and get so much out of them.
As far as I know, he never had any cartoons appear in the New Yorker, but his use of the cartoon format to comment on Minnesota life is parallel to the way cartoonists comment on New York in the New Yorker.
There are three Guindon books that I know of and own, and I cherish them. Part of the appeal for me is that they reflect so much of the Minnesota experience from the 1970s and early 80s. The early years seem most about deconstructing the experience of living in the Twin Cities as a young adult. By his later Minnesota years, Guindon verged into weirder territory, almost “Far Side” in a way. I loved it all.
Suddenly sometime in the early 80s, Guindon left Minnesota and moved to Detroit. If memory serves, the Star-Tribune kept running his cartoons for awhile, but it wasn’t the same anymore. He wasn’t Minnesota’s cartoonist anymore and his work didn’t reflect our world.
I lost track of him after that. I met a guy who said he’d known Guindon (or his father had known him) and I always meant to try to track him down, but have not done so. Maybe this blog exercise will inspire me now …
When I was eight years old my parents took my brother and I on a family vacation that wasn’t the usual Port-O-Call Hotel in Ocean City NJ. (I’m from said state.) We went to Bermuda, to the Lantana Resort. It was pink and green and beautiful, but our room was really tiny and my mother asked the owner of the resort for something bigger for her, my dad, brother and I. The resort owner said there was nothing else available except a pink elephant of a house on the fringe of the resort. So, we took it. Me, armed with my sketchpad filled with my drawings of women wearing wonderful shoes I’ve drawn since I was three (my mother was the shoe designer Delman, I was inspired by her) surveyed the house. On its walls were these wonderful drawings with captions below them! It was my eureka moment: I could give voice to the women I was drawing.
“Marisa, this was James Thurber’s house. These are his cartoons.”
I studied every framed cartoon, looking at the walls as if I was in the hallowed halls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
That night, I fell asleep at 4 in the morning reading everything James Thurber: The New Yorker, his books, The White Deer, and the one book I fell in love with that would become my cartoon bible: THURBER CARNIVAL.
I woke a couple hours later, at six in the morning with the sensation of things crawling all over me. My bed was infested with red ants. It was then that I was bitten by the cartoonist bug. And I’ve loved James Thurber ever since.
This story is 100% true.
Well, there are bibles and there are bibles. I have a bunch, and I tend to prescribe them to myself when I’m feeling stuck, or blah, or just want to be amused in a certain way. “Oh, I need a dose of Kliban’s “Two Guys Fooling Around With The Moon,” today,” or, “Look at the crap you’re drawing, take two Sempe’s and call me in the morning!”
But to find the real, true scripture, I have to ask myself, what tome invokes such awe, such power, I can only unveil, reveal its majesty in LIMITED doses? Which scripture so overwhelms that it fairly glows, kind of like that thing at the end of the Steven Spielberg movie with Harrison Ford and the Nazis? And then, the answer becomes clear.
“Monster Rally,” by Charles Addams, Simon and Schuster, 1950. This wrapped copy is so sacred I dare only open it once, at the most twice, a year. But why? Here are three reasons. 1) It’s the book that got me into wanting to be a cartoonist, and not just the MAD magazine kind. My pal Scott Daube’s dad had it on his shelf — I don’t remember any other books from any adults book shelves — and every time I went to Scott’s to play, I shot straight to book and pored over its drawings, page by page. Slowly. Only after an hour or so of this could we play with Matchbox cars. 2) Just looking at it now, I can see why it appealed — it’s a kid’s book about adults. Or is it an adult’s book about kids? Everybody was just doing such horrible things to each other, in beautiful black and white paintings! So knowing, so grim, so funny. 3) I still can’t flip through it all in one sitting. It is just too awesome, in the true, non-slacker usage of the word. It invokes awe, and then some. Or, put another way, each page, each drawing, each gag is like getting hit upside the head — but in the most delightful, albeit humbling fashion. By the time I hit the cartoon of the husband being berated by his harridan wife for even botching his own suicide, (“For heaven’s sake, can’t you do anything right?,” page 36) I am out of breath, panting, begging surrender. If I can power on, I often find it impossible to carry on past page 48, the forlorn editor of Boy’s Life preparing to off himself with a slingshot. (Understand, I was an avid reader of Boy’s Life at the time I saw this, and next to seeing R. Crumb Comix on the bus to camp, this was as close to making sense of Boy Scouts as I could ever hope for.) So I still cherish this tome. Thanks for giving me this opportunity to bring it down from its altar — well, up from its bookshelf, and wash myself in its twisted, healing waters.
For me it’s William Steig’s “The Lonely Ones.”
As a visual artist, cartoonist, and musician, the book gave me the idea that a song could be a drawing. I like to think of William Steig with his ink pen and poetic reflections about life as that of a country blues singer with a shaky voice and an acoustic guitar. In each drawing, Steig expresses a universal truth. He embraces the art of subtlety to get his message across, and he does so with simple, direct, and honest strokes. It takes the combination of the drawings, which play the part of the guitar, coupled with the captions, which represent the lyrics, to make it happen. Neither the pictures or the captions could stand alone. They could, but they wouldn’t mean the same thing as they do when they work together, and wouldn’t be the visual song that they become when they do. It is that aspect of these particular drawings that I have found to be the most inspiring, and which have led me to create visual art, cartoons, and music that attempts to do the same thing, which is why I consider it a Bible. As a side note, and apropos to portraying Steig as a genuine country blueser, it is interesting to consider the fact that he sold his first cartoon to the magazine in 1930, about six years before Robert Johnson, “The King of The Delta Blues Singers,” made his first recordings.
Anything by Elmore Leonard.
Yes, I know he’s not a cartoonist. No, I’m not drunk. I love character development through dialogue. When I was drawing daily cartoon strips, I was always trying to pepper in subtle jokes based on the idea of the reader already knowing the characters so well. Elmore Leonard was the king of conjuring the most comfortable and familiar characters from thin air. Better than The Bible, even.
‘All in Line’ was my book of genesis.
My dad brought it home one day when I was 7 or 8 and it started me drawing immediately. William Steig’s ‘Male/Female’ became my new testament from the getgo. sly, loose, elegant, erotic, funny.
I probably resort to The Cartoons of Cobean most frequently.
I’m a big fan of captionless gags, of which Cobean was a master. A lot of his gags are not so much laugh-out-loud (to me) as they are witty or clever and his sense of humor has a swagger and wink to it that charms me. His style of drawing looks effortless, breezy, as though he’d just skidded his Jag to a halt in front of the house, jogged up the stairs, and dashed off his batch with a cocktail by his side. The foreword is by Charles Addams and it’s edited by Saul Steinberg; heady company!
Monster Rally, a collection of cartoons by Charles Addams would be my Cartoon Bible.
When I was a kid, my parents and I spent almost every summer in Ithaca, New York. During the day, my parents often went to lectures or concerts at Cornell University, some boring thing that was of no interest to me. Instead of dragging me along anyway, they would park me in the browsing library in the Cornell student center. This library had an entire section devoted to cartoon collections. It was there that I discovered all of Charles Addams’ books, but Monster Rally was my favorite. I looked at it obsessively every time I was there. So horribly dark, and so horribly funny.
The World of George Price: A 55-Year Retrospective.
I always loved this book when I was starting out. The characters looked like members of my family.
Michael Shaw has been contributing cartoons to The New Yorker since 1999. He is, other than Charles Barsotti, Danny Shanahan and Liza Donnelly, the most James Thurberiest person I’ve come to know in the ranks of New Yorker cartoonists. Just have a look at his website.
Realizing there were two Thurber anniversaries heading our way (November 2, the anniversary of Thurber’s death in 1961, and December 8th, his birth in 1894), I asked Michael if he’d care to do something for Ink Spill to mark one of the occasions. He chose November 2nd, and sent the following piece for us to settle into and enjoy.
Is Thurber Necessary?
Or, Why I Draw the Way I Do.
My name is Michael Shaw and I am living with Thurberitis.
Michael Maslin has asked me to gather a few thoughts on coping as a cartoonist with this affliction on the occasion of Mr. Thurber’s death. In full disclosure, I asked him. But only seven times.
For nearly a century, two distinct tensions continue to impact society. For obvious reasons I’m excluding the relentless desire to improve the French fry. The first tension is twerking. The second far more subtle and insidious tension is the continuing impact of a virus known only as “The Thurb.”
It’s an affliction rarely spoken of, even in gaglines. And on this day, nearly a half-century after James Thurber sprang off that mortal coil with the immortal final words “God bless…God damn,” cartoonists continue twerking and Thurbing with no cure in sight.
Now don’t act so surprised. A quick dive into Wiki-WTF? reveals that twerking and Thurbering, in fact, do have quite a bit in common. OK, try this at home. Just give yourself plenty of room.
Twerking: Assume a squat position. Pop your booty outward. Shake your booty back and forth. Music is optional.
Thurbering: Acquire yellow legal pad, preferably some one else’s. Dash off mindless doodle—dogs, cats, hats, men, women. Repeat ad-infinitely on note pads, menus, walls, wherever. Talent is definitely optional.
If you have hands, as most of us do, pirates may dip their hooks in ink if needed; and a booty, even the flat cowpoke variety, can both twerk and Thurb. Probably not at the same time, but if you can, that would make a pretty sweet Vine.
You may rightfully ask why, decades after the final fresh Thurber cartoon appeared in The New Yorker—The famous April 5, 1948 issue that also featured the third and final installment of A.J. Liebling’s epic essays on the world’s great fritters*—would the Thurb still torment cartoonists. Why not contract Barsotti’s Syndrome? Fewer lines and cuter puppies. If only that easy.
Curing the Thurb leaves few treatment options other than a weekly regime of submission—ten dubiously drawn cartoons inscrutably gag lined, predestined for failure. Thurberitis also spawns other similar opportunistic symptoms, perhaps the most insidious being Thurberesqueness. The symptoms? Asymptomatic. But, like obscenity, you’ll know a Thurberesque cartoon when you see it. And the best advice is just to look away.
The first cartoonist I truly admired was Stan Drake. Or more accurately, his rendering of Eve Jones, in his comic strip, The Heart of Juliet Jones.
She stole my heart. Ay, caramba! How could anyone make ink do that? Part of me wanted to be in that comic strip, stealing Eve’s heart, unleashing a cascade of consequences taking weeks to resolve.
Then came Jack “King” Kirby’s sensually charged renditions of Sue “The Invisible Girl” Storm’s massively alluring forehead. I even grew to grudgingly respect Reed Richards for this calm leadership and professorial manner. Were we really that different?
These reactions had nothing to do with my own nascent cartooning urges, but chemical reactions of my eight-year-old stormy brain fed a regular diet of Marvel Comics and the comics section of The St. Louis Post Dispatch.
Which leads me to revisit my first exposure to that most inscrutable of scribblers and a life-long struggle with the Thurb: a copy of Thurber & Company mysteriously appeared one Christmas morning. It certainly wasn’t the Daisy B.B. gun I had lusted and prayed for…I had no idea who Thurber was. I was just appalled and/or amazed these inscrutable scrawls were considered not only “real” drawings but warranted the printed page.
And the women! If you could call them that. Huge neckless, fingerless changelings—no wrists, only meat paws, chasing tiny mannish figures devoid of detail: a bow tie or fedora signaled clothing, a butt-crack nakedness. I was flummoxed!
Was I missing something? These flailing-armed harpies with Shemp Howard haircuts were women you ran from. I should have closed the book then and returned to Fantastic Four or The Heart of Juliet Jones. But too late. Some images refuse to be unseen or forgotten. The Thurb virus settled somewhere in my ganglia, lying dormant until that opportunistic moment of suppressed aesthetic awareness presented itself.
But if I am to be completely honest, trouble with women didn’t throw me into Thurber’s arms. Trouble drawing women did. As much as I wanted to be a Stan Drake or a Jack Kirby, what I managed to put on paper evidenced otherwise. But, by whatever burning force, which now I recognize as the Thurb virus, I willed my way into art school where eventually an actually naked female confronted me. My task? To draw her. A more productive use of my time would have been to attempt to remove her appendix with the vine charcoal I clutched in my trembling hand.
What I drew could not be characterized as being all that feminine—or human. But luckily, this was college, and I was a fine arts major and could seek shelter from my lack of real drawing talent by adopting new influences.
When what I next created was my homage to Rauschenberg’s erased de Kooning drawing redrawn in the de Thurber manner; I knew it was time to face the truth. “Hello, my name is Michael and I’m a Thurberphile.”
Today, with a hundred and so New Yorker cartoons in the can, where does Thurber actually fit in my own personal cartoon schema? It’s hard to say, but easy to perceive. By the time I made my first New Yorker sale, Thurberitis had reflared to the point that my roughs were returned with the simple instructions to “draw better.” Or comments like “that desk looks like it’s made out of cheese.” “We like the humor, but your drawing is too catty-wampus.” Now that I think about it, I do believe that a catty-wampus may reside in Thurber’s bestiary.
So there was only one solution—have no style. In other words, to try to not draw a cartoon when I am drawing a cartoon. It’s not easy. The Thurb still courses through my aesthetic and splenic system, but the drawing stays as neutral as possible. Deadpan, functional, Newhart-like. No visual winking allowed.
These days viewing the world from C-level, as a C-level cartoonist, and having long steeped in Mr. Thurber’s life and works, my mere cartoonist’s infatuation with Thurber pales to the mania of academic biographers and Keith Olbermann. I can absorb Thurber’s influences without being sloppy about it, except in drawing.
There have been sloppy moments. A circa 1998 weekend at The Algonquin Hotel spent searching for the room where Thurber tossed his dirty shirts into Christo-like piles didn’t summon the spirit of the Thurb, just the hotel dick. Then, a decade later, one night locked-up in the infamous attic of the Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio, induced the thrilling dream of being bit in the ass by Rex, the ghost terrier, but little other paranormal activity. In the morning, they gave me a nice cap.
* The issue referred to is a near complete fabrication by the author solely for amusement. Use this information at your own risk.
[Thurber’s last captioned cartoon appeared in The New Yorker, March 23, 1946. His last drawing (the last that was not a reprint or re-captioned or graphically rearranged) appeared as part of his series, Olden Times, in the issue of January 18, 1947] — MM
As promised a few days ago, below is a list of New Yorker artists whose work appears in an upcoming exhibit at The Society of Illustrators. The artists included span the entire history of The New Yorker, beginning with early masters, Helen Hokinson, Peter Arno and Gluyas Williams right up through many of today’s most exciting and incredibly funny contributors.
Ed Arno, Peter Arno, Charles Barsotti, David Borchart, John Caldwell, Roz Chast, Richard Cline, Joe Dator, Drew Dernavich, Matthew Diffee, Liza Donnelly, Bob Eckstein, Dana Fradon, Felipe Galindo, Sam Gross, Larry Hat, Helen Hokinson, Zachary Kanin, Nurit Karlin, Farley Katz, Robert Leighton, Bob Mankoff, Marisa Marchetto, Michael Maslin, Richard McCallister, Warren Miller, Roxie Munro, Paul Noth, John O’Brien, Danny Shanahan, Michael Shaw, Barbara Shermund, Barbara Smaller, Edward Sorel, Peter Steiner, Mick Stevens, Julia Suits, P.C.Vey, Liam Walsh, Kim Warp, Robert Weber, Christopher Weyant, Gluyas Williams, Bill Woodman, Jack Ziegler