Firsts: Thurber’s First New Yorker Drawings

When you think of James Thurber’s drawings you probably think of one or two or three of his classics.  But before any of his cartoons appeared in the magazine (his first cartoon appeared in the issue of January 31, 1931), he illustrated and wrote something he called Our Pet Department.  It was, from the very first, intended to be a series; the first installment (shown above) appeared in the magazine’s fifth anniversary issue, February 22, 1930.  What’s fascinating (to me) is that the piece contains two elements that would go on to be forever associated with Thurber’s art: a dog, and a seal. 

It’s unclear when the two camps formed over whether Thurber’s art was or wasn’t art. Was it when the illustrations began appearing, or was it nearly a year later when the cartoons started turning up. Thurber’s simple line certainly wasn’t a shock. A trio of single line artists were already established at the magazine by the time Thurber’s first drawings appeared: Gardner Rea, Otto Soglow, and Gluyas Williams.  But it appeared that no little effort went into their finished pieces.

Thurber’s drawings seemed as casual as the effort he claimed to have put into them; their initial appearances in the New Yorker seemed to have dropped like graphic boulders in a placid pond. Thurber’s New Yorker colleague Wolcott Gibbs wrote (this from the Book-of-the-Month Club News, February, 1945):

“…for a good many years [Thurber’s drawings] were regarded by the rest of the staff, with the exception of E.B. White, as a hell of a way to waste good copy paper, since his usual output at a sitting was twenty or more, not to mention those he drew on the walls.”   

 New Yorker history books tell us that White was instrumental in bringing Thurber’s art to the world’s attention.  In 1962, a year after Thurber’s death, White told Thurber biographer, Harrison Kinney that “I think his art surpasses his writing” and “his drawing has a touch of genius.”

 

 

 

 

  

At the Oscars! Liza Donnelly Live-Draws From the Red Carpet; “That Special Kind of Madness”: The Seventh New Yorker Album

At The Oscars! Liza Donnelly Live-Draws From the Red Carpet

 Back for her third trip to the Academy Awards, Liza Donnelly, is live-drawing for CBS News (she’s their Resident Cartoonist). You can follow her work tonight from the Red Carpet on Instagram (lizadonnelly), Twitter (@lizadonnelly), etc., etc.

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“That Special Kind of Madness”: The Seventh New Yorker Album

The Seventh New Yorker Album, published in 1935 by Random House, features Peter Arno’s March 23, 1935 New Yorker cover as its cover (the third solo album cover for Arno, with two more to follow).  As I wrote in my Arno biography, this cover was “a quiet link between the old Arno style and what would become the new.”

The front jacket flap copy informs us that this album is a two-fer since there was not a 1934 album, and goes on to say, “Consequently, this edition not only contains more pictures by more artists, but the publishers believe that it marks a new high standard in quality for the series.”

A remarkable album in the series for one reason: it has dueling forewords: The Undertakers Garland (described as “A Dissenting Foreword By Lewis Mumford ” and Fresh Flowers (described as “A Partial Defence By One Of The Editors” ) .

Lewis Mumford, at the time the magazine’s Art Critic, didn’t sugar-coat his take on The New Yorker‘s current cartoons, writing, in part:

“…the jokes seem more interesting than the drawings; or rather, even when the drawings are most adequate, they remain a mere instrument of the idea….The comedy has that special kind of madness that springs out of  a rough day at the office and three rapid Martinis. It is titillating, but a little frothy; it tickles me but remains peripheral; it has flavor but lacks salt.”

Wolcott Gibbs, who wrote the “partial defence” was in his fifth year of acting, in his words, “as a sort of liaison officer between the editorial staff of The New Yorker and the artists who draw its pictures,”  addressed Mr. Mumford’s issues one-by-one and concluded with this “defence” of Mr. Mumford’s “three rapid Martinis” charge:

“This apparently refers to the work of a few artists whose characters belong to no particular land or time and are held to the world only lightly, by the pull of tempered gravity. They are the wilder shadows in the same wonderland that Lewis Carroll first explored, and they are valuable to this collection as lesser examples of the same universal and timeless comedy. It is, of course, important that this sort of humor, operating in its own particular vacuum, be used judiciously…”

And so, here we have, just ten years into the New Yorker‘s existence, a very public debate over what a New Yorker cartoon should be, and should not be.  If there’s a constant in this funny world of the magazine’s cartoons — now closing in on their 100th birthday —  it is that the debate has never ceased.

Here’s the list of the contributing artists in the album. 

Most of the names will be familiar to long-time New Yorker readers, with the possible exception of Eric Monroe Ward,  who is a certified member of Ink Spill’s One Club. The One Club is limited to cartoonists who have been published once and only once in the New Yorker.  This icon   identifies them on the A-Z. 

  Mr. Ward’s only appearance was in the issue of July 14, 1934. As his work likely has little opportunity to shine, I’m showing his one drawing below:

*Note: this very same issue with Mr. Ward’s drawing also contains James Thurber’s classic, “What have you done with Dr. Millmoss?”  — for me personally, a most important cartoon — actually, the most important cartoon.  Nice to run across it again in its natural habitat. 

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For more on Lewis Mumford, check out Findings and Keepings: analects for an autobiography (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975).

And for more on Wolcott Gibbs, there is Thomas Vinciguerra’s wonderful Cast of Characters: Wolcott Gibbs, E.B. White, James Thurber and the Golden Age of The New Yorker (Norton, 2016).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Long Island Connection: Wolcott Gibbs, John O’Hara, and Charles Addams

Photo, left-right: John O’Hara, Elinor & Wolcott Gibbs, Charles Addams

Here are three stellar New Yorker contributors whose private lives intertwined with their professional lives — i.e., they were friends. Curiously, or maybe not so curiously, they all at one time  called Long Island home (Gibbs on Fire Island, O’Hara in Quogue, Addams in Westhampton Beach).  Here’s a quick look at their professional intersections (not including within the pages of The New Yorker itself).  Let’s begin with Charles Addams’s wonderful cover art for Brendan Gill’s 1975 Here At The New Yorker, in which all three of these fellows appear:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top left, John O’Hara by Addams; top right: Wolcott Gibbs by Addams; bottom: Charles Addams by Addams

 

 

 

 

Gibbs wrote the Introduction to Addams’s 1947 collection, Addams and Evil. Here’s a portion of it:

“Altogether, if you have to have the dismal facts, I’m embarrassed to say that as far as I can tell he is just a hell of a nice guy, whose habits are probably a good deal less sinister than yours or, for that matter, even mine.”

 

Jonh O’Hara wrote the foreword to Addams’s 1950 collection, Monster Rally.  It reads, in part:

“Addams is a big man, about 6’1″ and around 195, a toxophilist who can handle a sixty-pound pull, but I don’t think he’d hurt a fly. I never have seen him lose his temper, although that is not to say he doesn’t get mad. He happens to be what is called easy-going, and has a decent contempt for the opinions of mankind.”

 

 

 

Addams provided the book jacket art for Gibbs on several occasions:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more on Wolcott Gibbs and his role in The New Yorker‘s Art Department, here’s an Ink Spill piece from a few years back.

For much much more on Gibbs I highly recommend Thomas Vinciguerra’s recent book, Cast Of Characters: Wolcott Gibbs, E.B. White, James Thurber and the Golden Age of The New Yorker (W.W. Norton & Co., 2015)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And as for Charles Addams, there’s no better place to go than Linda Davis’s Charles Addams: A Cartoonist’s Life (Random House, 2006)

 

 

For Addams’s work:  any of his cartoon collections will do just fine.

 

 

 

 

Mr. O’Hara has been the subject of a number of biographies. Here’s one: The Life of John O’Hara by Frank MacShane (E.P. Dutton, 1980).  There’s a mountain of work by Mr. O’Hara available and another mountain of information available online.

 

 

 

 

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Cast of Characters Cover: Thurber, St. Clair McKelway, Gibbs, Maloney & Parker; More from A Case For Pencils

Cast of CharactersIt being The New Yorker’s 90th anniversary, how fitting that the cover has been revealed for Thomas Vinciguerra’s Cast of Characters: Wolcott Gibbs, E.B. White, James Thurber, and The Golden Age of The New Yorker.

Quite a crew gathered for a book party at the Algonquin Hotel in 1938: seated, left to right, Fritz Foord (who ran Foord’s Sanitarium in Kerhonkson, NY*), Wolcott Gibbs, Frank Case (owner of The Algonquin Hotel) and Dorothy Parker; standing, Alan Campbell (Ms. Parker’s husband), St. Clair McKelway, Russell Maloney and James Thurber.

*according to a Thurber biographer, Harrison Kinney, Thurber heard that “O.Henry had used Foord’s as a drying-out place, and later psychically exhausted colleagues would periodically turn themselves in there, too.”

(W.W. Norton & Co. will publish Mr. Vinciguerra’s book in November of this year).

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Note: A Case For Pencils asked me to participate in a survey of tools of the trade.  You can see it here.

 

Books of Interest

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Following in the footsteps of The 40s: The Story of a Decade comes The 50s: The Story of a Decade (Both edited by Henry Finder, both published by Random House). No cover image available. The book will be out in September.   If the 50s is anything like the 40s, we can expect classic New Yorker fiction, nonfiction and assessments of the decade by contemporary New Yorker contributors.  Can’t wait for the other collections in what now appears to be a series, especially the The 20s and 30s.

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Coming in November by way of W.W. Norton & Company, is a must-read from  Thomas Vinciguerra:  Cast of Characters: Wolcott Gibbs, E.B. White, James Thurber and the Golden Age of The New Yorker (Cover image not available yet).  The last we heard from Mr. Vinciguerra he brought us Backward Ran Sentences: The Best of Wolcott Gibbs From The New Yorker. 

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Ink Spill will update information on these books as it becomes available