Many Moons Ago At The New Yorker

A departure this Sunday from previous Sundays in that the book above contains only New Yorker covers, and zero cartoons. However, of the thirty-six cover artists represented in the book, twenty-eight also contributed cartoons. This seemingly lop-sided representation of the magazine’s cartoonists doubling as cover artists was not at all out of the ordinary in the pre-Tina Brown days (Ms. Brown inverted the cartoonist/strictly-cover artist ratio, reducing the percentage of cartoonists on the cover to a minimum. Non-contributing cartoonists have been in a wide majority since).   

The book, published in 1984 by United Technologies Corporation, with the heavy lifting done by the National Academy of Design, is a must have for any library stocked with New Yorker collections. It’s a coffee table book that doesn’t need a coffee table (measuring 10″ x 13″, but just 160 pages).

The folks at the National Academy did a splendid job of designing the book, taking great care to present us with not only the covers as they appeared as New Yorker covers, but full page, sans New Yorker logo. The book is divided into the four seasons; the only non-seasonal cover is the magazine’s very first (by the incomparable Rea Irvin) beautifully reproduced on the page just before we enter Spring. 

The bonus material is right up front of the book.  Two introductory pieces: Brendan Gill’s “A morning light” and Charles Saxon‘s “A special moment, fleetingly observed.”

A declaration of interest from Mr. Gill:

“There is…no such thing as a New Yorker cover…If one can say there is no such thing as a New Yorker cover, one can at least say that there are three or four types of art work that appear with considerable frequency on the covers of The New Yorker: those that are purely decorative, those that are topical or seasonal, and those that contain a mild satiric swipe or possibly a small, covert joke.”

My my, how times have changed.  The are still “three or four types of art work” but covers that “contain a mildly satiric swipe” are now a thing of the past.

And from Charles Saxon, another that was then declarative:

“Artists are invited to submit their work. Nothing is assigned, nothing is directed. The work is welcomed or it is not.”

 

 

On a personal note, I was just into my seventh year as a New Yorker contributor when I received an invitation to attend the gallery exhibit of some of the covers in the book. Here’s a very short excerpt about my visit to the opening from my still in-the-works/ongoing New Yorker journal.  At the time I was living in upstate New York after having somewhat recently moved from Greenwich Village.

May 31, 1984

Perhaps missing some of Manhattan’s hubbub, I decided to attend the Seasons At the New Yorker opening at the National Academy of Design on 5th Avenue hard by Central Park — new-ish territory for me, other than my infrequent visits to the Metropolitan Museum. I was half-a-block from the party when I noticed the New Yorker writer Brendan Gill holding court out on the sidewalk. He was wearing a dark suit and looked to be holding a glass of champagne. 5th Avenue! Champagne! Brendan Gill! THE Brendan Gill — the man whose book, Here At the New Yorker helped drive me to this magazine. The idea of introducing myself to him that evening was out of the question: just to be here at this party was more than enough excitement.  

Surveying the crowd as I walked into the gallery I immediately felt out-of-place — I was dressed casually, in sneakers, jeans, a faded red shirt and a thrift shop seersucker jacket. Everyone else  was dressed, as my mother would say “to the hilt.”

After rounding the exhibition looking at the framed covers, I sat down for a moment on a circular stuffed sofa next to a very nice woman, somewhat older than me.  After some initial pleasantries, I discovered that she had been married to Robert Kraus, a former New Yorker cartoonist (and later owner and editor in chief of his own publishing house, Windmill Press, publishers of William Steig’s children’s books).

Eventually I made one more pass around the gallery space and found myself walking into the New Yorker’s art editor, Lee Lorenz and his (then) wife. I knew Lee wouldn’t know me by sight — we’d only met once before, but I thought it would be silly not to speak with my editor. As I suspected, Lee looked confused and slightly unhappy when I walked up to him, but was relieved and seemingly amused when I told him my name. Lee looked me over and said, “You look like an ice cream salesman.”  And perhaps following up on the theme, his wife said, “Oh, you’re the one who does all the ice cream cartoons.” My self-confidence at once damaged and lifted, I made small talk, then drifted back out to 5th avenue, and back upstate.

Below: From the Spill‘s files, the invitation (my friend, Jack Ziegler didn’t call me the “boy archivist” for nuthin).

 

 

 

Happy Birthday, Mr. Roth

Philip Roth, who celebrates his 80th birthday today, was first published in The New Yorker the issue of March 14, 1959, with his story, “Defender of the Faith” causing an immediate stir (see the upcoming PBS American Masters profile “Philip Roth: Unmasked”  for, among so many other things,  Mr. Roth’s recollection of buying, opening up, reading and rereading his story in this particular issue — jokingly(?) saying he even read it “upside down”).

 

The issue featured a cover by the wonderful Abe Birnbaum, who contributed nine cartoons and nearly a hundred and fifty covers to The New Yorker.  His New York Times obit (June 20, 1966) contains this quote by Mr. Birnbaum: “Nothing is ugly. Everything is what it is.”

 

Brendan Gill reprinted the robin cover in his book,  Here At The New Yorker, writing of it:

 

“Nobody was satisfied with the ‘rough’ of this giant robin as it was first seen at the weekly art meeting. At the time, the background consisted merely of landscape. Geraghty [the New Yorker’s Art Editor from 1939 thru 1973] suggested the addition of birdwatchers. That simple change changed everything.”

 

When Philip Roth read, reread, and read his first New Yorker story upside down, he ran across cartoons by the following cartoonists — a roster that’s just about as good a snapshot of The New Yorker cartoon universe late 1950s as any:

William O’Brian, Frank Modell, Robert Kraus, Saul Steinberg, Everett Opie, Barney Tobey, William Steig, Ed Fisher, Robert Day (whose cartoon appeared on the first page of Roth’s story), James Stevenson, Otto Soglow, Syd Hoff, Whitney Darrow, Jr., Charles Saxon, Anatol Kovarsky, Dana Fradon, Eldon Dedini,  and Lee Lorenz

 

 

 

Fifty Years Earlier

As a cartoonist it’s (mostly) all about what’s next; this may explain why I sometimes like to take a breather and think about what was.  Still in a celebratory mode because of The New Yorker’s 86th anniversary, I went to my collection of anniversary issues and pulled out the issue from fifty years ago, dated February 18, 1961.   Thought I’d sit with it for a few moments and take a look at the cartoons.

There’s no “Table of Contents” for the issue ( the magazine didn’t add that helpful feature until the issue of March 22, 1969),  so knowing whose work appears inside will be a surprise.

William Steig’s work appears on page 14, but it’s not a cartoon, it’s an ad — an illustration for  First National City Bank.  Moving through the movie listings ( “Ben Hur,” “the Misfits,” “Exodus,” etc., etc.) and pausing to take in Otto (“The Little King”) Soglow’s wonderful “Talk of the Town” drawings, we encounter the first cartoon of the issue, and it’s by the magazine’s most prolific cartoonist, Alan Dunn (Dunn also holds the honor of being one half of the first married New Yorker cartoonist couple.  His wife was Mary Petty).   Dunn was an expert at making something out of the day’s headlines, and in this case the drawing reflects our country’s endless fascination with the Russians.

Next is a George Price drawing of a waiter holding a giant shish-kebob setting off the  restaurant’s sprinkler system.  A good solid effort by one of the masters of the Golden Age.  Richard Decker’s drawing of a doctor’s waiting room filled with self-promoting ads, including a “Specials” sign, wouldn’t be so out of place – with some tweaking — in today’s New Yorker.

A Robert Kraus is next, done in his inviting moody Dedini-esque style, and then an Ed Fisher drawing (by my calculations, the eighty-fifth of his career at The New Yorker – he eventually published just over 700).  Another Alan Dunn follows ( tied into current events, of course) and then a classic Steig husband-and-wife  domestic scene ( I can’t help but be reminded that The New Yorker is fortunate to have a contemporaneous expert at  capturing domestic scenes: Victoria Roberts). Opposite Steig’s drawing is a Steinberg,  captionless of course ( he’d given up captions long ago).  A man wearing  a helmet and shield sits on a rearing horse—they’ve just encountered a projection screen, such as the kind a family would set up to watch home movies.

A page later is a  half-page captionless Charles Addams drawing ( Addams told Dick Cavett that the captionless drawings were his favorite kind).  Turn the page and there’s a Charles Saxon ( man, did he have a smooth style) and then a Lee Lorenz ( his eighty-eighth drawing for the magazine in a career still going like gang-busters). Another page finds a Chon Day, the master of economical styling ( not counting Thurber).  Two pages later, a three-quarter beauty by Whitney Darrow, Jr.,  specifically referencing the new family at The White House; Caroline Kennedy utters the caption.

After the Darrow drawing it’s a fifty-four page wait til the next cartoon, wherein James Stevenson takes us back to a couple in ancient Rome and, shockingly(!) uses the word “orgy” in his caption.  Another twenty-nine pages zoom by before we reach the last cartoon in the issue.  By Frank Modell, it’s a bar scene, and the subject is nearly everyone’s favorite subject — a subject at which Modell excels: men and women.