Thanks For The High Bar, Peter Arno

An Arno anthology from 1930

From 1999 through 2016 I happily threw a good percentage of my days into digging up whatever I could about Peter Arno, who was born 115 years ago this very day. All of that hunting and gathering turned into a book (I will be forever grateful to my agent and publisher for making that happen).

One of the most helpful elements in my research was Arno’s unpublished scattershot memoir, titled I Reached For The Moon. The sixty-some pages of material is mostly disconnected pieces, a very loose attempt at a timeline, and jotted down thoughts about his work, or his parents, or television, or “names” he ran into during his adventures in the city that never sleeps. One passage of strung together thoughts stayed with me during my years writing the book and has continued to stay with me:

“What many don’t realize is that I’m primarily an artist – though I had a natural urge toward the comic from school days on.… I’ve spent hundreds of hours painting in oils and other media.  The black and white [cartoons] are a synthesis of all these efforts…To be a great cartoonist, a man should be first a first-class great artist.  He should be capable of producing a minor masterpiece in any medium.”

I suppose the passage has stuck with me because it neatly sums-up the high bar Arno demanded of himself and hoped for from his colleagues as the New Yorker was taking baby steps in its earliest days. That high bar was no small thing. Think about what people think about when they think of New Yorker cartoons. Think about the well-worn expression, The first thing people turn to in The New Yorker are the cartoons. If that is true (and I believe it has truth to it) Peter Arno deserves a Mack truck full of credit for driving the readership to the magazine and, no less a thing, driving his colleagues to excellence.

Look through any issue of The New Yorker from Arno’s run there during the magazine’s so-called Golden Age and you will see a magazine overjoyed with the cartoons it had to show the readership; cartoons played across the page; cartoons ran full page; cartoons ran in spreads that took up multiple pages; cartoonists provided the majority of cover art. Arno’s art, and Arno’s influence on the art was central to the magazine’s exuberance. He was, in the words of the New Yorker‘s founder, Harold Ross:

“The greatest artist in the world.”

“Our first pathfinder.”

“Our spark plug.”

Happy birthday, Arno — and thanks for the high bar.



Peter Arno’s 115th

Curtis Arnoux Peters, Jr., later known as Peter Arno, was born one hundred and fifteen years ago this month. The Spill will celebrate with an Arno post a week in January.

Twenty-one years later, he began his four decade association with the New Yorker. We cartoonists who arrived in his wake owe him much.

Arno’s approach to his art became a blueprint of sorts for generations of New Yorker artists, defining just how much they brought to their work. The power of his art, the quality of it, led to a collective identity of excellence associated with all New Yorker cartoons. He said of his work:

“I can assure you that my effects are achieved through pain and toil, concentration, elimination, revision, nervous expenditure, great aspiration, and continuous elimination of tasteless detail — seeking for primitive quality. 

Fierce integrity in my work is ‘pursuit of truth’ … I’m far from a poetry-lover, but have been expressing poetry all my life — in rhythms, line, form, balance, good taste, harmony, and balance of black, white and gray.”

From the Afterword of my Arno bio, this snippet describing his well-deserved place at The New Yorker:

For most, if not all of The New Yorker’s golden years, a period stretching from the late 1920s through the 1950s, he was the magazine’s signature artist, as closely identified with the New Yorker as Eustace Tilley, the magazine’s ficticious top-hatted mascot.  At a time when the magazine was publishing work by James Thurber, Charles Addams, Saul Steinberg, Helen Hokinson, Gluyas Williams, Whitney Darrow Jr., Otto Soglow, George Price, and William Steig, it was Arno whom Harold Ross called “the greatest artist in the world.” Of the first seventeen New Yorker Albums of cartoons, fourteen led off with full page Arno drawings, and six of the Albums bore Arno covers (no other New Yorker artist came close). Arno’s drawings usually ran full page. His covers, brilliant as a child’s watercolor and as deceptively simple, made just over a hundred memorable appearances.

Thurber made the covers of Time and of Newsweek;  the country was smitten with Helen Hokinson’s lunch club women — but “America’s prize comic artist,” “the dean of sophisticated cartoonists,” the “top satirist of cosmopolitan life,” the one who “exemplified The New Yorker’s artistic humor for thousands here and abroad” was Arno.

For a whole lot more on Arno, you might take a look at my 2016 effort, Peter Arno: The Mad Mad World Of The New Yorker’s Greatest Cartoonist.


Bob Eckstein Is The Erma Bombeck Humor Writer Of The Month; Article Of Interest: Cartooning Thriving In Vermont; More Spills With Barbara Shermund, Cartoon Companion, Roz Chast, Arno & Company

Bob Eckstein Is The Erma Bombeck Humor Writer Of The Month

Bob Eckstein, who began contributing his cartoons to The New Yorker in 2007 has been named the Erma Bombeck Humor Writer of the Month.  Read here.  Mr. Eckstein’s most recent  books are shown above.

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Article Of Interest: Cartooning Thriving in Vermont

From the Bennington Banner, December 5, 2018, “…The Art of Cartooning Is Thriving in Vermont”— with Ed Koren and Alison Bechdel content.

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…the latest Cartoon Companion has been posted.  See what the CC boys “Max” & “Simon” have to say about the New Yorker cartoons appearing in the issue of December 10, 2018.

 

… Roz Chast’s SVA exhibit included in the New York Times “What To See in New York Galleries This Week”

 

Attempted Bloggery has even more Barbara Shermund posts. Yay!  

A New Yorker State of Mind: Reading Every Issue of The New Yorker Magazine looks very closely at the issue of November 16, 1929. Cover by Peter Arno.

 

 

 

The Tilley Watch, The New Yorker Issue Of December 3, 2018; Peter Kuper & Ricky Jay

Confused by this week’s cover?  Feel like you saw it before? Well if you were reading The New Yorker in 1927, you did see it before. 

 Below: the cover as published this week, and how it originally appeared. The 2018 cover seems to have been ever-so-slightly cropped along the left and right edges, with the artist’s signature moved closer to the red tail lights (but hey, the magazine is not the same size as it was in 1927, so…).

If you have the Complete Book Of Covers From The New Yorker you’ll notice that the thumbnail cover shown has a blue sky, with a dark to light gradation as it nears the horizon. Without the original issue in hand, it’s difficult to know which 1927 version is truer (and even then, original print covers can differ in quality, cropping and coloring).

A small miracle: it looks as if the original type face from 1927 has been retained (but the 2018 date and price are in the modernized type-face).

This is an unusual issue of the New Yorker —  its very first “Archival Issue”…there have been nods to the past before, with cartoons and covers re-run inside the magazine, but never an issue dedicated to the past.  It is not, of course, the first time the magazine has reprinted a cover as a cover.  The cover of the very first New Yorker, featuring Rea Irvin’s Eustace Tilley, was brought back, uninterrupted, for 67 years and then made some curtain calls (you can read more about that here).

The cartoons

Here are the cartoonists appearing in this special issue (A Roz Chast full page appears where the caption contest usually appears):

From the Department of Does Size Matter, I’m showing a few of the cartoons in this issue, and how they originally appeared in the magazine. Regular Spill readers may have picked up on how much importance I place on the size of the magazine’s cartoons and how they sit on the page.  Looking through this new special issue it was immediately apparent that some of the archival drawings were being run much smaller than they originally appeared. This is an excellent opportunity to compare/contrast. It’s not always the case that a cartoon run bigger is better.  Sometimes a cartoon that’s been run big really amplifies its graphic issues. But that’s not the case for any of these fabulous drawings shown below.

The first cartoon in the magazine is by Mary Petty.  On the left is the cartoon as run in this 2018 issue. On the right is how it appeared in the issue of March 12, 1932.

 

Next up, a Charles Addams classic, with the 2018 appearance on the left and on the right, its original appearance in the issue of October 29, 1960.

Below, a beauty from James Stevenson.  The 2018 appearance on the left, and the original appearance in the issue of August 16, 1976.

Below: a beautiful Nancy Fay drawing. On the left as seen in this new issue.  On the right its original appearance in the issue of October 20, 1928.

Finally, a drawing by the master, Peter Arno. The odds favor any Arno drawing run as a full page in the New Yorker, and so it was with this classic (caption by the late great idea man, Herb Valen).

The 2018 appearance on the left and the original appearance in the issue of May 10, 1947 (the 2018 credit line mistakenly attributes the drawing to the June 10, 1947 issue).

Bookkeeping: Inaccurate New Yorkery-factoids pop-up like turkey timers when I see them. This following passage in the new issue’s Comment, “The City Of Dreams” popped-up:

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The trouble is that James Thurber did not make his debut (with a short piece, “Villanelle Of Horatio Street”) until the issue of February 26, 1927.  His drawings didn’t begin appearing until January of 1931 (January 31, 1931. The caption: “Take a good look at these fellows, Tony, so you’ll remember ’em next time.”)

I admit that when I heard there was to be an archival issue of the magazine I first thought of Rea Irvin’s Talk masthead.  If ever there was a moment to return it to its natural habitat, this would be it.  But, alas, it’s still a-missin’. Here’s what it looks like (and here’s where you can read more about it):

 

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Peter Kuper & Ricky Jay

From PBS, January 21, 2015, “Comic: Waiting For Ricky Jay, by Peter Kuper”

From The New York Times, Nov. 25, 2018,  “Ricky Jay , Gifted Magician, Actor and Author, is Dead at 70”

Barbara Shermund’s Last New Yorker Cartoon

After checking in on today’s Attempted Bloggery post about Barbara Shermund (it features some of Ms. Shermund’s post-New Yorker work — the look she honed in Esquire, among other publications), I began wondering when her style shifted from what it looked like in her peak New Yorker years to the Esquire look.

A quick dig into the New Yorker archives revealed that her Esquire look was barely present as Ms. Shermund’s work ended for the magazine. You can see a little of it developing in the definition of faces, but her command of a scene, of the page, of the drawing is all intact as she ends her run of 600 cartoons (plus 8 covers) with the issue of September 16, 1944. Her last New Yorker cartoon, shown above, may not be the very best example, but it’ll do. 

To refresh my recollection of Shermund’s New Yorker career I turned to the obvious source, Liza Donnelly’s Funny Ladies (Prometheus Books, 2005). It is a must-have New Yorker cartoon history book (and I would say that even if we weren’t husband and wife).  Ms. Donnelly’s section on Ms. Shermund is fascinating reading.  According to Donnelly, Shermund began at the New Yorker doing spot illustrations, but was soon encouraged to “write lines under [her] drawings.” Her first captioned drawing appeared in June of 1925, just five months after the New Yorker began publishing. After a stuttered beginning with her next three drawings (the three appeared over eight months time), her work then exploded in numbers, seemingly appearing every other week and sometimes every week. 600 drawings in less than twenty years is quite a feat — my bad math tells me her work appeared in more than half of all the issues from 1925 through 1944. 

Her style shifted over that time as you’d find with most cartoonists styles. She settled into perfection in the 1930s and 1940s, both in her captions (she wrote all of her own captions for the majority of her New Yorker work — “I used to eat and sleep ideas”) and the drawing itself.

Fascinating to me is her relationship to gag-writing. She is quoted in Donnelly’s book as saying she really wanted help after awhile — “I would beg them to give me an idea once in awhile” —  because of the editorial demand for her work (shades of Peter Arno there).  From the school of careful what you wish for, she had this to say once she began taking ideas from a particular gag-writer:

“Well, my downfall, in respect to ideas — he kept submitting ideas and I thought it was fun not to have to worry about them.”

 In the Fall of 1944, the New Yorker suddenly ceased publishing Shermund’s drawings. Esquire, with its editorial needs so different than the New Yorker‘s  became her main stage.  As Ms. Donnelly notes:

“When [Shermund] got to Esquire, her work became transparently sexual. and her women were transformed to sweet airheads.” 

With Esquire, Shermund’s work morphed in full to the kind of drawing style you see in today’s Attempted Bloggery post.  It would take access to Esquire’s archives to witness the change.  What we see in her last year of New Yorker work are just the faintest hints of what’s to come. 

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A Reminder:  There is currently a Barbara Shermund exhibit up and running at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, “Tell Me A Story Where The Bad Girl Wins: The Life And Art Of Barbara Shermund”Details here!