From You Made It Weird, January 27, 2012, this hour and twenty minute podcast featuring Alex Gregory and Matt Diffee in conversation with Pete Holmes.
Above: “And now you must meet my bosom friend.” (rough version of the drawing published in The New Yorker, October 10, 1931)
An Arno on My Desk
Not too long ago I took an original Peter Arno drawing we own, popped it out of its frame, and placed it on my desk. My thinking was that the drawing, unadorned by glass and metal, might bring me somehow closer to Arno.
His work up close is even more graphically powerful than it appeared in the pages of The New Yorker, and that’s saying something. No one commanded the magazine’s pages like Arno: not Steinberg, not Gluyas Williams, not Addams. While Steinberg’s work played and soared and amazed, it never got right up in your face like Arno’s. Williams’ full pages were delights of subtle construction, and Addams’ draftsmanship ominously hilarious (as the veteran New Yorker cartoonist, Henry Martin, might say, “he drew funny.”) but Arno’s work overpowered, and demanded attention.
Arno drew large in a fairly small space. The 10” x 15” Bainbridge board holding this particular drawing seems barely big enough to hold his patented swooping brushstrokes. Like the man himself, the work presents itself all at once, and not, as Frank Sinatra once sang, “in a shy way.”
Obviously not pleased with the rough, Arno went on to do god-knows-how-many-more versions before deciding on the piece eventually published. The major change (improvement?) is that the two central women have become bustier, playing more obviously on the word “bosom’ in the caption. (In The New Yorker’s archives I found this drawing’s caption on a list of “Ideas which Have Been Assigned to Peter Arno.” Unfortunately, the person who wrote the caption is not identified).
Looking very close at the rough version, the pencil lines can be seen cutting beneath the brushstrokes. Arno’s brushstrokes are deceptive; they look as if he brushed with abandon; it was anything but. Each stroke was plotted in advance. And yet, we know that as he worked, he sometimes sang and tapped his feet to a personal rhythm. A man who knew exactly what he wanted to do on the page, and who had a hell of a time doing it.
For now, the 81 year old Arno drawing remains on my desk. There’s definitely a vibe surrounding it –- especially today, on what would’ve been his 108th birthday.
A few years ago I put up eight foot long by eight foot high bookshelves exclusively devoted to holding the sprawling collection of cartoon books my wife (and fellow cartoonist) Liza Donnelly, and I have collected over the years. Before the cartoon library wall of shelves went up, our cartoon collection was here and there throughout the house, in piles on various shelves. It might take twenty minutes to find a desired book, or it might never happen.
Once the shelves were up, and the shelving of books began, it became obvious that the cartoon library wouldn’t be the place to go for cartoon books in our home –- it was just another place to go.
What I didn’t realize was that I was reluctant to remove favorite cartoon collections from my work room. Most of these books have been at arm’s reach my entire cartoon working life – they had to stay put (included among the within reach books: certain titles by Thurber, Addams, Peter Arno, Steinberg, and Soglow). Our Thurber collection had to stay nearby my work room, on bookshelves in our living room. So did our small collection of graphic novels and comic book anthologies.
In the last few months I’ve taken certain books out of the cartoon library, and brought them back closer to my desk. The most recent transfer was Superman: The Complete History by Les Daniels. I love its cover – a blow up of the early Superman. One of these days Daniel’s companion volume, Batman: The Complete History will be retrieved from the library. As there’s no space left on any of the shelves in my room, it will have to rest on top of the Superman book, in a pile.
From Slate, August 24, 2011, “How Hard Is It to Get A Cartoon Into The New Yorker?” (Note: I posted a comment regarding Peter Arno on the site).
The two paperback books above were part of a series produced for our overseas service men and women during WWII. Measuring just five-and-half by four inches, they fit easily into a pocket, duffel bag or backpack.
The eagle-eyed observer will notice that Profiles From the New Yorker features E.B. White’s only New Yorker cover (published April 23, 1932). According to Brendan Gill’s Here At The New Yorker, White came up with the cover while “sick abed.” Here’s a link to an article, “Oats for a Hoppocampus” in Time magazine, the week the White cover was published.
The New Yorker’s Baedeker, with its Peter Arno cover (originally published July 19, 1930) is not to be confused with the 1947 hardcover, Our Own Baedeker, with maps and illustrations by Carl Rose.