You are browsing the archive for 2021 November.

New Yorker, New Yorker, it’s a wonderful ‘toon

November 27, 2021 in Comment, General

‘I can explain the meaning of life, but not the meaning of New Yorker cartoons.’

Cartoon © Nick Newman

Why do cartoonists struggle to break America?

by Nick Newman and courtesy of The Spectator. 

Cartoons are like gossamer and one doesn’t dissect gossamer.’ So says Mr Elinoff, the fictional cartoon editor of the New Yorkerin an episode of Seinfeld, when trying to explain a cartoon to Elaine. Elaine isn’t satisfied. Mr Elinoff suggests the cartoon is a commentary on contemporary mores, a slice of life or even a pun. ‘You have no idea what this means do you?’ says Elaine. ‘No,’ he concedes.

The scene sums up the problem of understanding the New Yorker’s sometimes oblique sense of humour — and may come as a relief to the many British cartoonists who have tried and failed to break into the Big Apple’s literary bastion. It’s reassuring to think that even Americans as funny as Seinfeld can be baffled by New Yorkerjokes. Yet still the mystique survives, and most British cartoonists have had a stab at getting into the magazine, lured by its great cartoon history (James Thurber, Saul Steinberg, Charles Addams) and the money: it pays more than ten times as much for a cartoon than UK magazines.

Former (real) cartoon editor Bob Mankoff said in a Ted Talk: ‘The New Yorker occupies a very different space. It’s a space that is playful in its own way, and also purposeful, and in that space, the cartoons are different… New Yorker humour is self-reflective.’ Elsewhere, he recalled that when he was finally rewarded with a contract in 1980, the contract referred not to cartoons but to ‘idea drawings’, what Mankoff calls the ‘sine qua non ofNew Yorkercartoons’: a drawing that requires both cartoonist and reader to think. Indeed, there is Sam Gross cartoon of a landscape with a large sign reading ‘STOP AND THINK’ and a man saying: ‘It sort of makes you stop and think, doesn’t it?’

So New Yorker gags are more philosophical than their British counterparts. Here, virtually anything goes — sick jokes, coarse jokes, badly drawn jokes, puns. The New Yorkerhas a metropolitan disdain for crudity and eschews wordplay. We reckon that if bawdy humour and puns were good enough for Shakespeare, they’re good enough for us.

New Yorker cartoons also tend to be more lifestyle-oriented, and inhabit a more whimsical world of middle-class social gatherings, boardrooms, domestic relationships and navel-gazing neuroses. Some recent ones look like architectural drawings, whereas British cartoons tend to inhabit a more traditional cartoon landscape: big noses, goofy expressions, surreal situations.

Humour is, of course, a serious business, and from the outset nobody took it more seriously than the New Yorker. Its legendary founding editor Harold Ross was obsessed with perfection and detail. Thurber recounted how Ross studied a cartoon of a Model T Ford on a dusty road and demanded ‘Better dust!’ He would also scan for hidden phallic symbols and sent a photographer to the UN building to check whether a drawing of its windows was accurate. Cartoons that fell below his standards would receive a ‘Get it out of here!’

Cartoon by © The Surreal McCoy/ New Yorker

Today, aspiring New Yorker cartoonists just have to endure months of silence once their ideas are submitted. Success is greeted with a restrained ‘Okay’ from cartoon editor Emma Allen. Two British cartoonists who have enjoyed such success — following on the heels of a few UK predecessors such as Ronald Searle, H.M. Bateman, and Heath Robinson — are Will McPhail and Carol Isaacs (who draws under the pseudonym The Surreal McCoy). Both are adamant that the work they submit for the New Yorker is essentially no different from that published in British magazines.

‘My approach is more or less the same for both sides of the pond,’ says Isaacs. ‘Maybe tweaking the grammar and spelling for the Americans. I love Seinfeldand the Marx Brothers as much as I love Spike Milligan and Fawlty Towers. As they say over there, go figure.’

Cartoon by © The Surreal McCoy/ New Yorker

McPhail thinks the recent trend towards more absurd and bizarre cartoons in the magazine have helped his cause. ‘Those are the cartoons that genuinely make me laugh, the ones where I don’t know why it’s funny. I’ve always seen a lot of the humour in British cartoons like maths equations. They’re perfectly balanced and everything that is set up at the start of the equation works out correctly by the end. But I like cartoons where you can’t see “the strings”, if that makes sense.’

Is familiarity with New York essential to inhabiting the New Yorker mindset? Isaacs thinks not. ‘After all,’ she says, ‘there are many New Yorker cartoonists who’ve never set foot in New York. Their sense of humour is perhaps more about the absurd than anything else — and that knows no borders.’

McPhail confesses that he used to make pilgrimages to the New Yorker offices just to submit in person to Bob Mankoff. ‘I of course pretended that I just happened to be in New York at the time. So I do think there’s a certain amount of them needing to know you’re serious about it before they publish you, like “Wow, he’s come all the way here to get rejected in person!”’

Each week thousands of submissions are boiled down to some 50 acceptances. The closest I’ve come to making the grade is when I saw a cartoon identical to one I once drew for Private Eye(of a drunk ventriloquist in the gutter whose dummy is vomiting) on the cover of a book entitled The Rejection Collection: Cartoons You Never Saw, and Never Will See, in the New Yorker.

This article first appeared in the 20 November 2021 issue of The Spectator

Dave Brown Busts Out

November 18, 2021 in General

Oliver Preston (Cartoon Museum Chair), Dave Brown and Steve Bell at the Cartoon Museum Gillray bust unveiling. Photo © Kasia Kowalska

Dave Brown writes:

‘If Hogarth was the grandfather of the modern cartoon, You were its father…’

(David Low on James Gillray, 1943)

Gillray set the template for the modern political cartoon. His savage humour and supreme draughtsmanship making him the unrivalled visual satirist of the day. In The Plumb-Pudding in Danger he created arguably the greatest, and certainly the most pastiched, example of the form. For many contemporary political cartoonists he is a direct influence, but all cartoonists are indebted to him.

James Gillray ‘Plumb-Pudding in Danger’ 1805

Gillray stood out from his contemporaries due to his outstanding visual inventiveness, but also the sophistication and innovation of his print making technique. His prints were known and admired by Goya and David, both artists borrowing from them in compositions of their own. One German journalist claimed Gillray was ‘the foremost living artist in the whole of Europe’, while Napoleon allegedly remarked that Gillray had contributed more to his defeat than all the armies of Europe. Yet in the first anthology of his work, published three years after his death, the editor wrote, ‘It is a scandal upon all the cold-hearted scribblers in the land to allow such a genius as Gillray to go to the grave unnoticed’.

Self Portrait by James Gillray, c.1800 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Gillray’s antecedent in satirical print making, William Hogarth, is known to us from various self-portraits, a bust ‘from the life’, a statue on the facade of the Victoria and Albert Museum and a more recent life-size bronze in Chiswick High Road. William Blake, another visionary print maker and Gillray’s fellow student at the Royal Academy schools, commands both a small bas relief in St Paul’s and a large bronze bust by Epstein in Westminster Abbey. But of Gillray we have only one verified contemporary likeness, his self-portrait miniature, painted on ivory, measuring 3” x 2 1/2”. There are no statues, no blue plaque, his only memorial is the small gravestone in the churchyard of St James’s Piccadilly, which until its recent replacement was badly worn and cracked.

In the studio with the clay model. Photo © Kasia Kowalska

James Gillray is, in my opinion, not simply one of the greatest satirical cartoonist to have lived, but one of Britain’s greatest artists in any genre. His are the footsteps the rest of us walk in, the shoulders we stand on, the metaphors we still steal. He was, according to contemporary accounts a modest man, but even so a simple gravestone seems scarcely a sufficient memorial. It was for this reason I determined to create a new portrait bust of him.

My piece is closely modelled on his self-portrait. That portrait demonstrates that Gillray was a skilful and adept miniaturist, detailing the short fringe brushed forward to conceal a receding hairline, and the heavy brow and prominent lower lip noted in contemporary descriptions. So although the miniature also exhibits some stylistic traits common in neoclassical portraiture, we may assume that it is a reasonably true and honest likeness.

At the unveiling at the Cartoon Museum with the finished bronze. Photo © Kasia Kowalska

As well as following the likeness of the miniature, I also researched neoclassical portrait sculpture (particularly the work of Houdon, whose pieces often employed modern dress rather than pseudo-classical attire, and Nollekens, whose subjects included two of Gillray’s famous ‘victims’ Pitt and Fox), and have attempted to reference this, while still producing a contemporary artwork.

Cartoon by © Dave Brown for the Independent after Gillray’s ‘Plumb-Pudding in Danger’

Political satire is an essential correlative to a functioning democracy, so personally I should like to see a Gillray statue in Parliament Square (we could pull down a politician or two to make room for him!). From there he could cast a critical eye over the Lords and Commons, his etching needle poised to prick their pomposity. If someone would care to petition Parliament and raise the funds I’m certainly available to make it, but until then I offer this portrait bust…the father of political cartooning by one of its bastard offspring.

You can read a longer version of this piece in The Independent

 

Quarantoons: Cartoons From the New Normal

November 18, 2021 in General

 

PCO member James Mellor introduces his new book:

The coronavirus pandemic has caused the biggest changes to our society in my lifetime.  The changes have been extreme and have affected all aspects of how we live and work.  Importantly, the new way of living has also proved to be very funny, on occasion.  Has anyone ever experienced a seamless zoom meeting?

Cartoon published in Private Eye © James Mellor

Some of these changes to our lives may remain with us, but many will pass into memory.  Creating a compendium of my favourite cartoons documenting this time seemed like a valuable endeavour.  It’s also true that nothing better reflects my work for the past two years.  Covid-19 has dominated the news and therefore my cartoons.

I have cartooned the pandemic in a variety of different arenas.  My topical, satirical cartoons on appeared in Private Eye Magazine throughout the period.  I was also commissioned by various sectors to help them communicate with cartoons.  Amongst the projects were cartoons introducing new safety measures on public transport and a successful illustrated pitch to manufacture vaccines.  Most importantly however, were all the silly, surreal, and sometimes downright strange cartoons created to make people laugh and keep them entertained during a downright strange time.

Cartoon © James Mellor

Everyone has been through a traumatic event, whether they realise that yet or not.  Human beings are meant to be social animals (yes, even we cartoonists who work alone in studios, bunkers, and crypts).  Even for those who stayed well, the isolation and distancing will have taken its toll.  Without entertainment and light relief, I think a lot of us would have gone mad.  Humour keeps us going through adversity and the cartoons that have raised a smile and raised morale have certainly been the most important.

Cartoon © James Mellor

What’s great about compiling a new book is the opportunity to bring together cartoons from all the different areas I work in.  Hopefully there’s a nice mix of satirical and silly.  Perhaps we’re near the end of the Covid story, or perhaps this is only the end of the beginning.  Either way, this book marks the strange and unexpected ways the world has changed for us and the funny side of the new normal.  Not that the old normal was very normal either.

Cartoon © James Mellor

Quarantoons: Cartoons From A New Normal will be published in softback on 18 November, priced £14.99, and is available at Amazon, Waterstones, Blackwells, etc plus online.

 

Private Eye at 60 – First Cartoons

November 4, 2021 in General

Happy 60th birthday Private Eye! In celebration, cartoonists have been posting their first (or early) cartoons from the mag. Here’s a few of them culled from the twittersphere by PCO members starting with Clive Goddard who set the ball rolling:

© Clive Goddard

© The Surreal McCoy

© Wilbur Dawbarn

© Mike Stokoe

@ Sarah Boyce

© Steve Jones

© Guy Venables

© Royston Robertson

© Zoom Rockman

© Andrew Fraser

© Chris Williams

© Kerina Stevens

© Mark Winter

© Andrew Birch

© Glenn Marshall

© Pete Dredge

The above by Dredge wasn’t mined from social media but too good a first to leave out and from waaaaaaaay back in 1977, Issue 404.

Interesting to see how some of the styles have evolved (the only thing that’s changed with mine is the signature’s got elongated)

Has anyone got any more PE cartoon firsts they want to share with us?

There are some great videos celebrating Private Eye’s 60th Anniversary Celebration on the EyePlayer

See you back here for the 70th birthday by which time most cartoons will be produced by AI as VR holo-toons.