Jerry Dumas Profiled; Peter Steiner’s “Hopeless But Not Serious” Returns; Gerberg Talks Cartoons

dumasFrom The Comics Journal, January 6, 2017, “Jerry Dumas, Cartoonist and Poet” — Mr. Dumas, who died this past November, is profiled by a comics writer, R.C. Harvey.

Ink Spill’s notice of Jerry Dumas’s passing.

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Peter Steiner, author of the classic New Yorker cartoon, “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog”  has a new post on his Hopeless but not Serious site.  Go see.

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the-art-in-cartooningMort Gerberg will give a talk, “The Magazine Cartoon: Telling a Story in Only One Panel” at the New School in late February.

Left: The Art of Cartooning, published by Scribner in 1975, edited by Ron Wolin, Mr. Gerberg, and the late New Yorker cartoonist, Ed Fisher.

See Ink Spill‘s notice of Ed Fisher’s passing here.

Newest Addition to Ink Spill’s Library: Comically Correct

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Courtesy of Danny Shanahan, this promotional booklet (offered with new New Yorker subscriptions?) from 1995 has been added to Ink Spill‘s Library. Of the many promo booklets produced by The New Yorker I’d never seen this one until today. Shown are the cover, the introductory page and the list of cartoonists whose work is within (yes, Bruce Eric Kaplan’s middle name is spelled wrong).

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Robert Weber 1924 – 2016: An Ink Spill Appreciation

The great cartoonist Robert Weber, a major contributor to the New Yorker for 43 years, has passed away at age 92.  Mr. Weber began his New Yorker career in 1962 and went on to contribute nearly 1500 cartoons and 11 covers. The cartoonist Jack Ziegler, a New Yorker colleague, had this to say about Mr. Weber: “One of the all-time New Yorker greats.  Gorgeous drawings.  Beautiful settings.  Elegant. ” In a telephone interview, another New Yorker colleague, George Booth, said this about Mr. Weber: “He was an outstanding artist and a keen cartoonist.  He was top of the pile.”

   

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Born April 22, 1924, in Los Angeles, Mr. Weber was perhaps one of the most unassuming cartoonists  in a sea of unassuming cartoonists at the magazine.  Although he is solidly in the top tier of most published New Yorker cartoonists, with his work in  numerous New Yorker anthologies, he never published a collection of his own work. He told Lee Lorenz (who succeeded James Geraghty,  Mr. Weber’s first Art editor at The New Yorker)  that he “wasn’t interested” in having a collection. His low profile belied the work he delivered to the magazine: assured drawings, sometimes on a grand scale, usually, but not always focused on Manhattanites and  suburban dwellers  as far north as  Westport, Connecticut. His style was bold and exceptionally focused. Yet he managed to convey an irresistible fluency.   Weber’s people stood tall (or especially squat if they were children). His captions — his writing — in true New Yorker cartoon fashion, always delivered the unexpected punch, never disappointing.

He seemed to arrive graphically fully formed at The New Yorker (his first drawing appears below). His drawings featured well-defined characters imbedded within an exuberantly sketched environment, whether it was a parking garage or the Manhattan skyline. Like fellow New Yorker artists  Charles Saxon and Peter Arno, he handled the full page with ease.  In a letter to me in 2000, discussing Arno, he wrote: “I don’t think I ever consciously tried to emulate him, although I’ve learned  a lot from his superb sense of composition and drama. He had a marvelous ability to simplify. He never permitted anything extraneous, and he developed a powerful style unlike anyone else.”  Of course, he could have been talking about himself.

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Besides Jack Ziegler and George Booth, Edward Koren, Liza Donnelly, Peter Steiner, Mort Gerberg, David Sipress , Felipe Galindo and Dana Fradon weighed in on Mr. Weber. Jack Ziegler’s first New Yorker cartoon appeared in 1974, George Booth’s in 1969, Edward Koren’s in 1962, Liza Donnelly’s in 1982,  Peter Steiner’s in 1979, Mort Gerberg’s in 1965, David Sipress’s in 1998, Felipe Galindo’s in 2002, and  Dana Fradon’s in 1948. 

Edward Koren
I did know Bob in the 70’s and 80’s–but never well. I saw him fleetingly during those days ,when Geraghty was the ringmaster for his “talent”, (as we humble laborers in the arts are referred to now,)  and presided over the  fabled Tuesday and Wednesday lunches. Like many New Yorker artists then who lived in an isolated diaspora (as, increasingly,now), those lunches provided the week’s social capital. And Bob would train in from Connecticut to show his work and then proceed , with the rest of the crew to the Blue Ribbon or the Lobster for drinks and grub and talk.–and then the train.I remember him as  sweet, shy and a wryly funny guy. Generous and amiable and, to me, appreciative and encouraging. Qualities in his work, too, as manifested in the lead drawing in the New Yorker Album, 1975-1985. It is  one of his hallmark masterworks, a commanding, full page drawing of New York’s towers , executed in Bob’s masterful  signature style– , nervous charcoal accretions of marks subtly toned and colored in black and white . The  point of view he chooses– from out in the river looking at the waterfront as if he were in a low riding boat–gives the skyscrapers an overwhelming presence in the drawing. And into this stage set, he draws, on an exaggerated , foreshortened pier, a  tiny couple and their bicycles, sharply accented by a white space he’s carved out of the grey buildings. They have taken a pause in their ride, and  she is lounging on the pier, while he is sitting on its edge, turning to her–the body language saying what he is articulating:” The thing I like about New York, Claudia, is you.”
A quiet, deeply understood , sweetly funny masterpiece—Bob  himself.
Liza Donnelly
When talking about New Yorker cartoons, and I am asked whose work I love, I always mention Bob Weber’s work. His cartoons personally speak to me in a way that is hard to describe. But I can point to the following: his line work is masterful. Weber drew in charcoal, and any artist knows how difficult that is. He once told me that he began with a blank sheet of paper and drew from the left side to the right to complete the drawing without it getting smudged. In other words, he had the image in his head and just proceeded to put it on paper.  Weber’s people are lovable in how they look and often what they say. In one drawing, he has a gorgeous drawing of NYC filling the page, skyscrapers and all;  in the foreground are two tiny figures, a man and a woman sitting on the edge of the dock. The man says, “The thing I like about New York, Claudia, is you.” Another one I love is a living room scene: man and child are about to play ball and we see a sad little dog in the corner. The woman says to the man,  “Sweetheart, could you maybe include the dog?”
Weber’s captions were always perfectly crafted to work in concert with his beautiful drawings. His cartoons are not always sweet, but they have a gentle tone to them that I liked, and they were true to Weber’s voice. Bob Weber was not unlike his drawings: tall, thin and classy; when I would run into him, he didn’t use many words, and he seemed to chose his words carefully. He was always kind to me when we would meet at parties and in The New Yorker office waiting to see the editor. If I complimented his work, he would almost dismiss it with a thank you and lowered head, as if to say I was being silly.  I will miss his quiet presence and his wonderful cartoons.
Peter Steiner
Robert Weber was, to my mind, one of the New Yorker‘s greatest artists, which (again to my mind) means they showed both exquisite draftsmanship and marvelous humor.  His gorgeous, lush drawings made you smile even before you read the caption which made you smile all over again.  His art was to combine insight into our foibles with generosity and genuine affection.  His cartoons always left me amazed.  Once at a New Yorker Christmas party I went up to him to tell him just that.  He was a shy and modest man, and  seemed mostly embarrassed by my naked admiration.  I always regretted embarrassing him.  Still, if I could, I’d do it again.
Mort Gerberg
I always thought that Bob Weber’s drawings, besides being among the most sensitive and artful among the thousands that appeared in The New Yorker, were also truly unique.
Bob drew directly, with ulta-soft, difficult-to-find Swiss charcoal sticks that were extremely responsive to his delicate touch.  He usually worked on smooth ledger paper, producing fuzzy strokes that could smudge effortlessly, to form lush, flat grays.
In fact, the soft charcoal smeared so easily that Bob would often draw his characters and backgrounds from top to bottom, starting on the left and then drawing vertical areas, moving right across the sheet, completing the picture in one sweep, to avoid re-touching any part of it.
Then he’d spray the drawing with fixative, to give it permanence. He wore a surgical mask when he sprayed and would go outside or open a window, to avoid inhaling fixative fumes.
I never knew anyone else who drew that way. And, the drawings gave his cartoons an air of innocence that made them quietly hilarious.
Also, somehow it seemed that Bob’s drawing style reflected his personality.  Soft-spoken, sensitive, generous.
I met him for the first time (he was wearing his wearing his surgical mask) at an advertising agency, where he was subletting workspace for his freelance advertising illustrations, and I was just starting to think seriously about cartooning.  I was awed. He was approachable and happy to share advice about this quirky profession, and always, in the years following, easy to talk to, and helpful in so many ways, both personal and professional.
And I still feel especially grateful and honored for his contributions to my collection, “Last Laughs.” It contains eight Weber cartoons.  Unique, classic art.  Unique, classic person.
David Sipress
I was saddened to hear that one of my cartoon heroes, Bob Weber, had died recently, at the age of ninety-two. Bob’s gorgeous, unfettered, sublimely assured drawings graced the pages of The New Yorker for more than forty years. Bob’s great talent was his ability to create convincing, knowable, complex, fully formed characters in his cartoons, and to do it with a few deft strokes of his charcoal pencil.( To read more of David’s piece link here on newyorker.com)
 Felipe Galindo
I had the honor of meeting Bob Weber at the Cartoon Lounge at the The New Yorker offices in Times Square. Very tall, quiet and an affable person. We spoke about traveling to the other side of the world (me to Bali, Thailand & Cambodia and his wife to the same places plus Myanmar). When one day I showed him my cartoons, he said: “Oh, your work might not be suitable for this magazine, you are too nice, too kind!” I took it as a compliment and as a warning as well! I consider him a fine artist who liked to draw cartoons. His style was sketchy yet elegant, balanced and bold and representative of a particular era, a classic. I also shared lunch with him and other cartoonists at Pergola’s, our regular joint to vent. I was also amazed at his resilience to continue working, despite having wrist and hand problems. He would show up quite often.
I was surprised that he stopped going to the office after one of his cartoons was criticized in the letters section for making fun of of a Polish name, the letter coming from the Polish ambassador. I think that cartoon was the last he ever published in the magazine. A casualty of the PC era? Perhaps. Or perhaps he couldn’t care less. In any case, Bob Weber knew he was already a legend.
Dana Fradon
Although I shared a New York apartment with the Webers for a couple of years — I had it on weekdays and he and his wife had it on weekends — we never really became close friends. My only thoughts about him are that I greatly admired his work. He was an exceptionally good artist and ‘idea’ man. I envied his ability to create his ideas while expending, perhaps, one-tenth the time and energy I had to spend on mine. I own several of his originals and I treasure them.
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   (photo of Robert Weber, taken on an Amtrak train heading to Washington, D.C., mid 1980s.  Courtesy of Liza Donnelly)
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More Weber (I’ll continue to add Bob Weber obits, tributes, etc. as they come in): link here to the New York Times obit; here for a newyorker.com post, and here for a ComicsDC  post.

Funny Drawings Beautifully Drawn: An Ink Spill Interview with Bill Woodman

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I first met Bill Woodman, like I met so many New Yorker cartoonists in the late 1970s, in the Grand Ballroom of the Pierre Hotel on 5th Avenue during an anniversary party for the magazine. Those February shindigs were always done in style (a post WWII style, to be honest). A long table of food was set up near the entrance to the ballroom. Toque-wearing chefs manned the table. Off to the left was a temporary bar. The cartoonists could always be found clustered there; Jack Ziegler, the tallest among us, was the beacon we cartoonists headed towards. It was within this bar cluster I was introduced to Woodman. Not big on eye contact, he had a penchant for gazing out in the crowd, his eyes squinting, while he sputtered out a clipped sentence or two. He seemed comfortable letting the party noise do all the talking.

I was already a fan, having studied his work in the pages of The New Yorker. Woodman’s stood out for me as it seemed very much a part of the school of Thurber. That school included the likes of Dean Vietor, Arnie Levin, Charles Barsotti and George Booth. All share a line that seems effortlessly energetic, with Woodman’s line possibly tying with Vietor’s for most rambunctious. A New Yorker cartoonist colleague, Henry Martin, once said that certain cartoonists draw funny. Sam Gross speaking to me about Woodman just the other day put Woodman solidly in that category.  You look at his people, or animals and you’re more than halfway to loving the cartoon. Another New Yorker colleague, Peter Steiner, has said of Woodman’s work, “To me he’s one of the very best. Funny drawings beautifully drawn.”

I asked Jack Ziegler, the godfather of contemporary New Yorker cartoons and cartoonists, to weigh in on Woodman and here’s what he had to say:

Bill Woodman is a great cartoonist and one of the funniest “draw-ers” of all time, right up there with George Booth.  Back when we used to hang out together, he allowed me the privilege of looking over any number of the obsessive sketchbooks that were always within his easy reach, usually right there in one of the overlarge pockets  of his surplus Air Force overcoat.  They were filled with casual observations, preliminary ideas for cartoons, and reprimands to himself about why he wasn’t coming up with any good ideas on any particular day.  Each page was chock full of bits and pieces that were wry, engaging, and all just plain funny to look at.  I never had a better time looking at anything in my life.  Why The New Yorker didn’t use a ton more of his work over the years was a never-ending, mind-boggling mystery to me.

As Jack mentioned, we haven’t seen Woodman’s work in the New Yorker for over a dozen years, and more’s the pity (according to his website, he has retired).  I’m not much for ranking or categorizing cartoonists. Number of times published doesn’t necessarily translate into how brilliant one is as a cartoonist (there were one hundred and forty-five Woodman cartoons published in The New Yorker). It’s tempting though to say that Woodman’s work is right up there with Ziegler’s as part of an inspiring school of daffiness that we see still playing out in today’s New Yorker.

Looking around the internet recently I couldn’t find much about Woodman. His website offers this abbreviated bio:

Born in Bangor Maine in 1939. At the earliest possible opportunity he joined the navy and served on the SS Timmerman and in Germany. Upon discharge, he took the next bus to New York, knowing that that was the place to start his cartooning career. He says he didn’t know how bad he was so he began submitting his work.

In 1962, he sold his first cartoon to Saturday Review. He worked a variety of day jobs until making his first sale to The New Yorker in 1975 to which he has contributed to this day. In addition he has appeared in Playboy, National Lampoon, Audobon. The New York Times, Gourmet Magazine and Barrons to name a few. He has published a collection of his own work: “Fish and Moose News”

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As we approach Woodman’s 80th birthday it seemed now was as good a time as any to get a few more clipped sentences out of him.

 

The following is taken from two taped interviews. A fellow cartoonist, Mike Lynch, agreed to ask Mr. Woodman my initial set of questions while visiting at Woodman’s studio in Maine [Woodman doesn’t do email]. Mike was in the company of New Yorker cartoonist John Klossner as he posed my questions.   My hearty thanks to Mike for taping and transcribing Woodman’s responses and for facilitating the interview. Following-up on that interview, I phoned Mr. Woodman and we chatted for awhile.

 

Michael Maslin: You made your publishing debut in the pages of The Saturday Review in 1962, but  it took you a little while to break into The New Yorker – not until the end of 1975.  Were you sending work to the New Yorker all those years in between?

Bill Woodman: I was submitting pretty regularly. I had another (paying) job, you know? I was at CBS Television from 1967 to 1970. I was doing Speedball lettering charts for Nielsen Ratings. A bunch of guys were doing that. But I would cartoon at night.

MM:  You were one of the first, along with Jack Ziegler, to be brought into the magazine by Lee Lorenz (who was fairly new to the position of Art Editor, having taken over from his predecessor James Geraghty in 1973). Did it seem to you that you were part of something new at the The New Yorker – that a new kind of cartoon was being welcomed at the magazine? (the word “unconventional” comes to mind).

BW: No. Not really. I drew what would sell. (Laughs.)

MM: Did you want to be a single panel cartoonist from the get go?

BW: Yes, I thought so. My parents got the Saturday Evening Post and Colliers and the newspaper. My Uncle Vinny introduced me to Addams and The New Yorker. I was about 10 or 12 years old

MM: I noticed, looking through your New Yorker work, that captionless drawings show up a lot. Your first three drawings were captionless, as are many of your classics (for example: the man reading on a hammock between two trees, the 27th Annual Hunters’ breakfast). Do you believe, as Charles Addams did, that the ideal drawing is captionless?

BW: Can be. But I wouldn’t limit it.

MM: Having been born in Bangor, Maine, it’s not surprising that hunters, bears, and of course, moose show up from time-to-time in your drawings. Are you drawing from some outdoorsy experiences in Maine, or are these situations just percolating through you because you’re a Mainer?

BW: Anything that will sell, you know? I’m trying to make a buck. But — seriously — the horrors of this world seem to dictate (that is, the news, etc.), and I’d like to lighten it up a bit.”

MM: Can you talk a little about how you became a cartoonist?  Whose work did you admire?

BW: I read all of the comic strips in the paper. So far as illustrators, I liked Remington.

MM: You’re the only cartoonist who’s ever said to me that Remington was an inspiration.

BW: Yeah, when I was a kid –- I was like twelve or thirteen years old, we had a public library there in Bangor, Maine –- and at the top of the stairs there used to be a big portrait of an Indian, and it was by Frederick Remington. I always thought it was pretty impressive.

 

remingtons-sign-of-friendship-1909Left: An early Woodman inspiration: Frederic Remington’s  “Sign of Friendship” which hung for 42 years in the Bangor Public Library.

 

 

 

 

I had an uncle who was in the antique book business, and he had a book on him –- it was dated back in the 1890s. It was all out west, cowboys, calvary, Indians, and all that stuff– pretty good.

MM: I’ve looked at some of Remington’s work and what struck me about it which seems to carry through to your work is the energy in a lot of his drawings and paintings.

BW: Yeah — it’s spontaneous stuff, when you look at it.

MM: A lot people think of your work as spontaneous.

BW: Some of it, I guess. I don’t know. Yeah, probably — it’s doodling.

MM: I don’t know if you remember this, but when Saul Steinberg died, the New York Times headline, on the front page was “Saul Steinberg, Epic Doodler, Dies at 84”

BW: Oh man – he was so clever.

MM: Was the New Yorker the object for you when you decided you wanted to be a single panel cartoonist?

BW: I was just trying to survive. I went to art school for a little bit. I was trying illustration.

MM: So the New Yorker wasn’t the goal – it just came along?

BW: Yeah, I mean when I started selling cartoons I realized, obviously, that was the epitome — the top shelf.

woodman-nov-10-1975Left: Woodman’s debut in The New Yorker, November 10, 1975.

 

MM: Did you do what a lot of people did back in the 70s, do the rounds, go to Playboy and the others.

BW: I showed up, yeah. I did that quite awhile. Probably not as much as a lot of others. But yeah, I did it diligently for awhile……hey, I enjoyed that piece you did about tracking down [James] Thurber in Mike’s [Mike Lynch] Raconteur.

MM: Oh thanks. Well, Thurber was my god.

BW: Oh yeah, I can understand that. He was a genius, whatever.

MM: When you went in to the New Yorker office back in the mid 1970s, who did you run into?

BW: All good memories. They were all there – Sam [Gross], Sidney [Harris], Peter Porges, Boris Drucker, Mort Gerberg.

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Bill Woodman, upper right corner,  among the cartoonists gathered for an exhibit in Princeton, NJ, November 1985. Among those pictured are (bottom row, left to right): Arnie Levin, Stuart Leeds, Henry Martin, Ed Arno (just over Henry’s shoulder), Bernie Schoenbaum, Charles Sauers. Second row, beginning with the bearded fellow.  Don Orehek, Al Ross, Mort Gerberg, Alex Noel Watson, and Lonni Sue Johnson. The very scattered back row: Sam Gross (in profile), man in profile right behind Sam:unidentified, distinguished looking fellow gazing down: unidentified, Arnold Roth (looking like he’s singing), Peter Porges (looking at Sam Gross), Boris Drucker (in profile, right behind Porges looking away from Porges.  Don’t know who the partially obscured fellow is directly behind Boris, George Booth, Michael Maslin (partially obscured), John Jonik, and Woodman.   (Photo by Cliff Moore)

 

MM: I want to ask you about your sketchbooks. Jack Ziegler has said that “[he] never had a better time looking at anything in [his] life.”

BW: At a point I was doing sketchbooks. [Now] I carry a piece of paper, folded, in my shirt pocket. I write lists. Mostly things I should do. Go to the store. Those kinds of things. Sometimes I write an idea….Now I just doodle all over the place.

MM: There are a lot of people who aspire to doodle as well as you.

BW: I doodle everyday. It’s a disease.   I keep thinking I’m gonna start up again.

MM: Well I wish you would.

BW: I gotta get back to it.

MM: Your website says you’re retired, but we also see on the site that you’re painting up a storm.  I have a hunch you still draw cartoons.  True?
BW: Yes. Sure. Me and my buddies [Lynch and Klossner] are working on some great stuff. Wish you were here! (Laughs.)

 

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Ink Spill will return with more on Bill Woodman in October when he celebrates his 80th birthday.  Again, my thanks to Mike Lynch, John Klossner, and, of course, Bill Woodman. 

To see more of  Mr. Woodman’s work, including his  plein air paintings,  please visit his website.