Tina Brown: “Cartoonists were the most hostile of them all”

tina

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Bloomberg TV, this short video covering Tina Brown’s media career (thus far): “When Tina Brown Knew Newsweek Couldn’t Be Saved”  —  included is a brief mention of her first days at The New Yorker (@ 1:09) and a comment regarding the magazine’s cartoonists.

 

 

Timeline of New Yorker editors:

Harold Ross (who founded The New Yorker):  1925 – 1951

William Shawn: 1952 – 1987

Robert Gottlieb: 1987 – 1992

Tina Brown: 1992 – 1998

David Remnick: 1998 – present

 

 

The New Yorker, Baseball & the Mob: Catching Up with Michael Crawford

Crawford:jstdivorced

 

 

Michael Crawford has two cartoons in The New Yorker’s last issue of the year, but the one above really caught my eye. As I was lingering over and appreciating the drawing, I realized it was high time to check in with Michael and find out what he’s been up to, and if there was anything he’d care to say about that wonderful drawing, and maybe talk a little baseball.

 Michael Maslin: Michael, besides it being just a darn good drawing, your just divorced cartoon has an abundant amount of life and play to it.  It almost looks like it’s animated.  Did it begin less animated?  What was going through your mind when you drew it?

Michael Crawford: Thanks for the compliment, Michael. I was thinking of a weekend I spent riding a bike with a friend in San Francisco at the turn of the century.

MM: I’ve spoken with a number of people, cartoonists and non-cartoonists, who wonder about your marker style. Where did that come from? And why markers — why not wash or pencil?

MC: An architect friend of mine gave me a box one birthday. Perfect on copy paper.  Wash works better on heavyweight papers which I don’t use for cartoons.  I did No.8 pencil sketches for The New Yorker for awhile. I liked it. Kinda smeary. Might go back to it.

MM: You’ve been contributing to The New Yorker since June of 1984 – so you’re heading into your 30th year.  What was your journey to the magazine?

MC: Sold the first one in ’81 – Shawn [New Yorker Editor, William Shawn] didn’t get around to running it til ’83.  The “journey” involved a lot of baseball, writing English papers for cash for people in college, intermittent dating, valet parking and running errands for a big deal D.C. pollster, an ill-advised “teaching” stint at a derelict Vermont “academy” for Led Zeppelin zealots, A beautiful family with a wife and 2 kids at various encampments in and around Boston and a lot of illustration work for The Washington Post and a ton of Boston area publications.  It was fun.

 Eventually, started peppering The New Yorker with gags around 1975 and Whoosh! Before you knew it, it was 1981 and I had my first New Yorker check (for a grand 400 clams I think it was). Shawn ran a total of 6 between ’83 and the year he departed. Once Bob Gottlieb [Robert Gottlieb was William Shawn’s successor as editor] took over, the buy rate increased.

MM:  Shawn was tough on you.

MC: Shawn had his reasons for glacial, as we all know.  Tina  [Robert Gottlieb’s successor as New Yorker editor]was relentlessly cordial, encouraging and welcoming of spread ideas.

MM: You mentioned baseball before.  When your name comes up in conversation, the subject of baseball is never too far behind.

MC: Baseball was life for me, from the beginning. Never passionate about anything like that as a kid– just playing the game, everyday– catch, pepper, pickup games at the park, monkey in the middle in the street at dusk out in front of the house or wiffle ball in a parking lot, for awhile, bent, crumpled milk cartons serving as wiffle balls.  Eventually 3 years in little league, ‘bout the same in Babe Ruth, Made the varsity as a freshman 2d baseman in high school. 4 years against insanely good country boys’ pitching in towns like Altmar, Parish, Pulaski, N.Y.. Did I mention all-consuming!

 Whole slew of teammates, fellow players over time, coaches too who became friends.  And then poof!  My folks nixed my plans of going off to a southern school (Mississippi State, Arizona State, etc.) with great baseball programs.  But fortunately, soon enough, I was playing first base for The New Yorker small fry in Central Park in ’85 and have been there ever since. Fantasy League!

A ps:  two baseball-related stories:

Edited the first and wrote an intro to the latest edition The New Yorker Book of Baseball Cartoons. A thrill and an honor– a recap of my first exposure thru mom and dad to the game.

NYer BB Cartoons

The Olympian Roger Angell bought a version of my Bill Buckner’s 1986 World Series error painting at one of The New Yorker Gallery exhibits  curated by C.S. Ledbetter in the 1990s.

MM: There are a lot of different paths cartoonists take daily, before getting down to work. For instance, Frank Cotham told me he feeds his dog, reads the local paper, checks Facebook, then sits at his drawing table and stares out the window. What do you do before the magic begins?

MC: Just live.  I draw 24/7 wherever I am, just trying to look busy.  When I’m not painting, also, I keep notebooks which fill up with stray material from many sources which I play with near my deadline and try to write a dozen lines which might work with a dozen recent sketches for the batch.  Pretty arbitrary but amusing process fueled by caffeine and tobacco. Then I pdf to Mr. Mankoff while he’s driving to work in one of those big black cars they give to all the top comedy people.

MM; Some years back you had a gallery exhibit of paintings of mobsters [one of them: “St. Patrick’s Day” is below] .  Is that an ongoing subject?

MC: Yes.  Mafia ideas never die, so while I am consumed now with map, landscape, nude and Hopper parody paintings, I frequently go after some type of menace in a face or scene.

MM: Did you watch The Sopranos?

MC: Watched Sopranos when I could at buddies homes – didn’t have HBO. Loved watching the show with friends – except for the gruesome night Christopher sat on the dog.

84x48"

Started my Mob paintings before the series aired.  They sprang from a New Yorker assignment [via the magazine’s illustration editor] Chris Curry to sketch Vincent “the Chin” Gigante at the Federal Courthouse in Brooklyn.  A “sanity” hearing somebody was writing about.  Appalled at how shabbily dressed the Chin was. I envisioned a Mob world fastidious in its sartorial bearing – closer to Sicilian wedding day in the 20s and 30s than to everyday New Jersey leisure suits.

 MM: You’re one of the few New Yorker cartoonists living with another New Yorker cartoonist. Do you and Carolita [Johnson] ever collaborate?  Is there interaction between the two of you concerning your work? Do you look at each other’s batches, discuss work, make suggestions, take suggestions?

MC: We generally take the 5th on those questions.  Nuttin’ poisonal. Lurid details may surface in our joint, posthumous memoir.

MM: Who were the cartoonists who really shook you when you were an aspiring cartoonist? Any cartoon heroes (i.e., who inspired you?)

MC: I got a kick out of most cartoons I saw when I was young, indiscriminately.  There was no accounting for variations in “funny”. At some point certain artists became “idols” — as in: “I want to be him or her — they have a way with language and or a line I want but it’s been done — forget it” which is where the seed of your own resourcefulness is planted. Or not. Immediately appealing to me visually — cartoonists and painters — were Steinberg, Steig, George Price, Mary Petty, Peter Arno, Perry Barlow, Arthur Getz, and Edward Hopper (who has always been to me — while an astonishing painter — a sort of latent cartoonist who got on the A Train, not the D, and never got off. Thank God).


[Below: Hopper’s Woman in “Hotel Room” (1931) Gets an Upgrade No.1]

Hopper's Woman in 'Hotel Room'(1931) Gets an Upgrade No. 1 MG_1259.JPG22x30" copy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Link here to visit Michael Crawford’s website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tina Brown on The New Yorker’s Cartoonists: “Anyone Who is Funny is Miserable”

Speaking this morning at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism Publishing Course, Tina Brown, editor in chief of The Daily Beast, said that when she arrived at The New Yorker as its new editor in 1992 (replacing Robert Gottlieb), she found the magazine’s cartoonists were “the most aggressive” when it came to changes she was making at the magazine. According to Gretchen Maslin, who was in the audience, Ms. Brown went on to say of the cartoonists, “they were afraid I’d get rid of the cartoons.” When Ms. Brown became editor she opened up the graphic character of the magazine (for instance, the high profile hiring of Richard Avedon as The New Yorker’s first staff photographer). At the time a number of cartoonists saw the introduction of other graphics as less space for cartoons. Ms. Brown went on to say in her remarks this morning that the cartoonists were  “the most aggressive because they were miserable. Anyone who is funny is miserable.”

 

Timeline of New Yorker Editors:

Harold Ross:  Founder and first editor, 1925 – 1951

William Shawn: 1952 – 1987

Robert Gottlieb: 1987 – 1992

Tina Brown: 1992 – 1998

David Remnick: 1998 – present

 

 

The New Yorker’s Art Meeting: A Potted History

 

 

It’s tempting to believe that the structure of The New Yorker’s Art Department arrived fully formed in 1924 when Harold Ross, with his wife Jane Grant  began pulling together his dream magazine.  But of course, such was not the case.

 

What we know for certain is that once the first issue was out,  Ross and several of his newly hired employees began meeting every Tuesday afternoon to discuss the incoming art submissions.  The very first art meetings consisted of Ross, his Art Director, Rea Irvin, Ross’s secretary, Helen Mears, and Philip Wylie, the magazine’s first utility man.  In no short order, Ralph Ingersoll, hired in June of ’25  joined the art meeting, and later still, Katharine White (then Katharine Angell), hired in August of ’25, began sitting in.

From  James Thurber’s account in The Years With Ross we get a good idea of what took place at the meeting, which began right after lunch and ended at 6 pm:

In the center of a long table in the art meeting room a drawing board was set up to display the week’s submissions…Ross sat on the edge of a chair several feet away from the table, leaning forward, the fingers of his left hand spread upon his chest, his right hand holding a white knitting needle which he used for a pointer…Ross rarely laughed outright at anything. His face would light up, or his torso would undergo a spasm of amusement, but he was not at the art meeting for pleasure.

William Maxwell, who joined The New Yorker’s staff in 1936,  told the Paris Review in its Fall 1982 issue:

Occasionally Mrs. White would say that the picture might be saved if it had a better caption, and it would be returned to the artist or sent to E. B. White, who was a whiz at this… Rea Irvin smoked a cigar and was interested only when a drawing by Gluyas Williams appeared on the stand.

And from Dale Kramer’s Ross and The New Yorker:

When a picture amused him Irvin’s eyes brightened, he chuckled, and often, because none of the others understood art techniques, gave a little lecture.  There would be a discussion and a decision. If the decision was to buy, a price was settled on.  When a picture failed by a narrow margin the artist was given a chance to make changes and resubmit it. Irvin suggested improvements that might be made, and Wylie passed them on to the artists.

 

In a letter to Thurber biographer, Harrison Kinney, Rogers Whitaker, a New Yorker contributor from 1926 – 1981, described the scene in the magazine’s offices once the art meeting ended:

The place was especially a mess after the weekly art meeting. The artists, who waited for the verdicts, scrambled for desk space where they could retouch their cartoons and spots according to what Wylie, or Katharine Angell, told them Ross wanted done.

Wylie was one of many artist  “hand-holders” – the bridge between the editors and the artists.  Some others who held this position were Thurber (briefly, in 1927), Wolcott Gibbs, Scudder Middleton, and William Maxwell.  According to Maxwell, Katharine White’s hand-holding duties were eventually narrowed to just Hokinson and Peter Arno, the magazine’s prized artists.

Lee Lorenz wrote in his Art of The New Yorker that, in the earliest years,  the look of the magazine:

had been accomplished without either an art editor in the usual sense or the support of anything one could reasonably call an art department.

That changed in 1939 when former gagman, James Geraghty was hired.  As with so much distant New Yorker history, there’s some fuzziness concerning exactly what Geraghty was hired to do.  Geraghty, in his unpublished memoir, wrote that he took the job “without any inkling” of what was required of him. There’ve been suggestions in numerous accounts of New Yorker history, that Geraghty was hired as yet another in the lengthening line of artist hand-holders, in this case, succeeding William Maxwell, who was increasingly pre-occupied with his own writing as well as his editorial duties under Katharine White.

Geraghty, in his memoir,  recalled his first art meeting and the awkwardness of sitting next to Rea Irvin: two men seemingly sharing one (as yet unofficial, unnamed) position: Art Editor.   While E.B. White and others continued to “tinker” with captions, Geraghty began spending one day a week working exclusively on captions.   He also adopted the idea that he was the Artists’ “representative” at meetings, following Ross’s assurance  that Geraghty was being paid “to keep the damned artists happy.”

With these new components, the art meeting committee model stayed in place until the death of Ross in December of 1951.  When William Shawn officially succeeded Ross in January of 1952, he pared the meeting to two participants: Shawn, and Geraghty.

With Geraghty’s retirement in 1973, and Lee Lorenz’s  appointment as Art Editor, the art meetings continued with Lorenz and Shawn. Shawn’s successor, Robert Gottlieb and then Tina Brown, subdivided the Art Department, creating a Cartoon Editor, an Art Editor (for covers) and an Illustration Editor.  Lorenz, who was in the midst of these modern day changes,  lays them out in detail  in his Art of The New Yorker.

Today, the  Shawn model Art Meeting continues, with the current Editor, David Remnick, and the current Cartoon Editor, Bob Mankoff (and with a third editor occasionally joining the meeting) sitting down one day a week to look through the pile of drawings Mankoff has distilled from the mountain submitted to the magazine. The cartoonists no longer wait outside the Art Meeting’s door for the verdict on their work,  but I assure you: wherever they are on Thursday or Friday afternoon:  they’re waiting.