The Street Where They Lived

 

 

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When I moved to Manhattan in the fall of 1976, just out of college, I was on a mission to be published by The New YorkerLittle did I know when I  rented an apartment at 113 West 11th Street,  that I had moved to a street that was home, at one time or another,  to a stellar array of the magazine’s artists and writers.  

A day after getting the keys to my apartment, I was standing in the small vestibule of my new address, when a tall man with an Amish-like beard came bounding down the stairs.  He paused to ask me what I was doing there.  After I introduced myself as the new tenant moving into 3R, he stuck out his right hand and introduced himself:  “Donald Barthelme.”   I didn’t know who he was — my initial thought was that he had an interesting name and beard —  but it didn’t take long before I learned I had moved into an apartment right above one of the most acclaimed New Yorker writers of the day. In no time at all, I discovered that Grace Paley,  a good friend of Donald’s,  lived nearly just across the street, west of the public school. (I met Ms. Paley in Donald’s apartment at a holiday party when we ended up sitting side-by-side on hassocks near the fireplace).

In time, as  I began to read up on New Yorker history, 11th Street continued to pop up:

E.B. White & Katharine White lived on 37 West 11th in the mid 1940s. 

The man who invented The New Yorker, Harold Ross, moved into 52 East 11th  following his time overseas during World War 1.

Steinberg lived in the Adams Hotel on the corner of West 11th and 6th Ave in 1942 – his first residence in this country. (Donald introduced me to Steinberg in the garden behind 113 West 11th).

Peter De Vries (profiled on Ink Spill ) lived at 32 West 11th before moving up to Connecticut.

S.J. Perelman lived at 134 West 11th.

  And I learned that my hero, James Thurber,  the man responsible for my wanting to become a New Yorker cartoonist, once lived at 65 West 11th.  The address was less than a minute walk east from my building, past Ray’s Pizza,  across 6th Avenue, and just a few steps along 11th on the north side, right where the New School building now stands.

(West 13th also had a small contingent of New Yorker residents: Thurber, John Updike and E.B. White).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The New Yorker before Addams, Steig and Steinberg

NY-albums

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the release this past week of The New Yorker’s Cartoons of the Year 2013 (a relative of a long line of New Yorker Albums seen in the photo) I thought it would be fun to leaf through The New Yorker‘s very first collection, simply called The New Yorker Album. published in 1928, just three years after the magazine’s debut. For starters, I love this part of the introduction (authored by “The New Yorker”):

The New Yorker has been dealing with artists for upward of three years.  We are tired but happy.  Our artists, we feel, have been worth the trouble. They have taken the electric and protoplasmic and comic town and reduced it to page size. To be merry and wise and subtle every week is scarcely possible; but there have been good weeks.

If you substitute the “upward of three years” to “upward of eighty-eight years” the excerpt could’ve easily introduced the 2013 collection.

The very first cartoon you run into in the 1928 collection is a full page by Peter Arno.  This makes perfect sense as Arno was, just  three years into the New Yorker’s life, already its star (his co-star was Helen Hokinson).  Arno was fond of the full page cartoon, but paging through the Album, you’ll find he had plenty of company in that department. Ms. Hokinson, Rea Irvin, Gluyas Williams, George Shanks, Al Frueh, Gardner Rea, and Reginald Marsh, to name but a few, all worked well on a full page (you’ll find a number of full page cartoons in the 2013 collection, but none originally ran as such; full page cartoons in the modern New Yorker are rare, with Roz Chast’s work being one of the exceptions.

What might be remarkable to anyone looking through the 1928 Album is the absence of plenty of the marquee names we associate with the magazine’s past. Cartoonists such as  Charles Addams, William Steig, Saul Steinberg, Thurber and George Price had yet to begin contributing drawings to the magazine (Thurber had begun contributing his writing in 1927, but The New Yorker’s founder & first editor, Harold Ross, wouldn’t publish a Thurber drawing in the magazine until 1931). Addams’ work didn’t appear until 1933, Steig’s not until 1935, Steinberg’s not until 1941, George Price’s not until 1932.  The Album of 1928 was a blueprint for what was to come in later years on the magazine’s pages: a variety of styles, of cartoon worlds, beautifully co-existing.

Much as the 2013 collection is heavy on a handful of cartoonists, such was the case in 1928.  The aforementioned Hokinson, Irvin, Rea, Frueh and Arno command the most space, with plenty of full pages.  Alan Dunn and Barbara Shermund’s work is everywhere, but mostly half-page or quarter-page. Work by other familiar names (or soon to be familiar names) are sprinkled about the volume.  There’s a single Mary Petty drawing (if my counting is correct) with healthier showings by, among others, Otto Soglow, Perry Barlow, Leonard Dove, Peggy Bacon, John Held, Jr., Alajalov (still spelled “Aladjalov”), I. Klein, Carl Rose and Garrett Price (in an early style, far less fluid than his later work). There are a few spreads in the Album (unlike the spreads in the 2013 Cartoons of the Year,  which were created specifically for that publication, the 1928 spreads ran in the The New Yorker).

What struck me as I looked back and forth between the 1928 collection and the 2013 collection (much as a spectator watches the ball during a tennis match) is that here we are eighty-eight years after the magazine’s debut,  still highly entertained, and yes, sometimes still puzzled, by the very simple format Harold Ross and company fostered and nurtured: a drawing atop a caption.  Every week we continue to dive into each issue, turning the pages, eager to run into the next cartoon (and lately, the Cartoon Caption Contest cartoon).  As someone commented on this site following a post on the Cartoons of the Year, “Can’t wait for the shiny new cartoons of 2014.”   Me neither. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

Astaire Cartoonists vrs Kelly Cartoonists

 

Astaire feetKelly feet

 

 

 

 

 

Someone once said that the greatest difference between Fred Astaire’s dancing and Gene Kelly’s dancing is that you could see Gene Kelly’s sweat.  Pauline Kael, writing in The New Yorker in 1972 said, “Kelly isn’t a winged dancer; he’s a hoofer and more earthbound” which she compared to “Astaire’s grasshopper lightness.” Here are some other words you’ll run into when reading about Astaire’s dancing: effortless, graceful, floating on air.  And for Kelly: muscular, dynamic, down-to-earth.

 

I pose this simple question: is it possible to divide New Yorker cartoonists into two distinct camps: Astaire Cartoonists and Kelly Cartoonists? Are there some cartoonists whose work seems effortless, like Astaire’s?  Do others show the sweat, and muscularity of Kelly’s performances?  Well of course I think the answer is yes.  I’m not saying Astaire’s dancing was better than Kelly’s or vice-versa – I’m just saying they were different.

 

This has everything to do with what cartoons look like on the printed page or glowing screen and how a cartoonist’s work appears to the reader’s eye. Is the reader aware of the mechanics of the drawing (do you see the sweat?) or does the cartoon seem effortless?

 

I’m reminded of the story James Thurber told of the day he was sitting in his driveway in Connecticut drawing his car head on.  Al Freuh, the great New Yorker artist happened by, and seeing Thurber struggling with crosshatching and perspective, said, “Don’t bother drawing like that – if you ever got good at it, you’d be mediocre.”  (I’d put Frueh in the Astaire camp).

 

As an example of what I’m talking about, here’s my short-list of Astaire cartoonists and Kelly cartoonists:

Robert Weber definitely in Astaire camp.  Mischa Richter in the Kelly school. Thurber, Astaire; Gluyas Williams, Astaire.  Mary Petty, Kelly; and her husband, Alan Dunn: Kelly. George Price, Kelly. William Steig, Astaire. Richard Taylor, Kelly. Charles Barsotti, Astaire; Whitney Darrow, Jr., Kelly. Helen Hokinson, Astaire. Steinberg, Kelly & Astaire (yes, there are hybrids!).

 

I invite Ink Spill visitors to offer their lists; I fully expect some will completely disagree with mine – so let me have it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cat Cartoons a-plenty in the Big New Yorker Book of Cats

 

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Coming October 1st from Random House: The Big New Yorker Book of Cats ( you may remember that The Big New Yorker Book of Dogs was published almost exactly a year ago).  As you’d expect, the book boasts a huge number of cat themed cartoons and covers. Here’s a list of the cartoonists represented:

Charles Addams, Harry Bliss, George Booth, Roz Chast, Frank Cotham, Leo Cullum, Joe Dator, Eldon Dedini, Liza Donnelly, J.C. Duffy, Jules Feiffer, Ed Fisher, Ed Frascino, Alex Gregory, Sam Gross, William Hamilton, Bruce Eric Kaplan, Edward Koren, Arnie Levin, Lee Lorenz, Robert Mankoff, Henry Martin, Paul Noth, Donald Reilly, Mischa Richter, Victoria Roberts, Danny Shanahan, Bernard Schoenbaum, Edward Sorel, William Steig, Mick Stevens, Anthony Taber (represented by two multi-page spreads), Mike Twohy, Dean Vietor, Robert Weber, Christopher Weyant, Shannon Wheeler, Jack Ziegler

Cross-over cover artists (meaning those who have contributed both cartoons & covers to The New Yorker):  Charles Addams, Abe Birnbaum (his March 30, 1963 cover is of a lion), Ronald Searle, J.J. Sempe, Saul Steinberg, and Gahan Wilson

 

 

P.S. Mueller: Snatching Steinberg…and Thurber, Steig, Day, Soglow…

Continuing Ink Spill‘s series of New Yorker cartoonists talking about important cartoon connections in their lives is P.S. Mueller on discovering Steinberg’s work.  Mr. Mueller has been contributing to The New Yorker since 1998.   “1958 Zorro Meets Steinberg” and photograph courtesy of Mr. Mueller.

 

1958 Zorro Meets Steinberg
In my adult mind I think of Saul Steinberg as an artist who forged his own passport out of hell and playfully went on from there. But his complicated life and tricky dance with identity meant nothing to the six or seven year-old Zorro impersonator who long ago became fascinated with his insanely simple and perfect line drawings.
I became a Steinberg thief immediately upon encountering his drawings in my father’s mile high stack of New Yorkers and proudly remain one to this day. When no one arrested me, I kept at it, snatching a bit of Thurber, a dash of Soglow, a pixilated grin from Steig, a blank look from Chon Day, and so on, until the lot of them came to inhabit me the way swallows inhabit a barn. The ghosts of Virgil Partch and Roger Price haunt this fluttery loft as well, but I digress.
How can it be that a few line drawings glimpsed at such an early age more or less charted an entire career path for a kid in Ohio? Was it something to do with the moment of discovery rather than the discovery itself? Or kismet? Nah, I don’t buy any part of the whole kismet thing. It had to be that Rumanian cipher with the paper bag over his head who tempted me to forge my own papers with stolen ink.
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See some of Steinberg’s work for The New Yorker here.
See P.S. Mueller’s New Yorker work here.
(Left:  P.S. Mueller around the time he first encountered the work of Saul Steinberg)