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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

The Round-up

July 1, 2014 in Events, General, Links, News

Kate Charlesworth. Photo by Kasia Kowalska

Kate Charlesworth. Photo by Kasia Kowalska

Kasia Kowalska writes:

Twelve cartoonists have been commissioned to create artwork about the First World War to accompany the BBC Radio 4 series 1914 Day by Day, in a collaboration between 14-18 NOW and the Cartoon Museum.

Margaret MacMillan, author of The War That Ended Peace, follows the events that led to the conflict in a daily broadcast at 4.55pm. The Procartoonists.org members Kate Charlesworth, above, with her artwork at the museum, Steve Bell and Ralph Steadman are involved in the project.

Quentin Blake tells Simon Schama that he is “not frightened by the word museum” in an interview for the FT about his inaugural exhibition at the new House of Illustration, in King’s Cross, London. The exhibition, called Inside Stories, runs from 2 July to 2 November and includes illustrations for children’s books as well as artwork for Candide by Voltaire. UPDATE: The BBC News website has a new feature on the House of Illustration.

From the Satirical City exhibition by Martin Rowson

From the Satirical City exhibition by Martin Rowson (click to enlarge)

PCO member Martin Rowson has an exhibition of London-themed cartoons called Satirical City at the Building Centre until 12 July. The exhibition marks the 15th anniversary of London Communications Agency and displays close to 120 cartoons, drawn over the past 15 years, and a new mural. The cartoonist talks to BBC London News about the exhibition here, and writes about it here.

Andy Murray kicked off Wimbledon by becoming a guest editor of The Beano. “This might be my greatest title yet,” he told The Guardian.

What connects Finding NemoBambi and countless other cartoons? The writer Sarah Boxer (In the Floyd Archives) asks Why are all the cartoon mothers dead? in an article published by The Atlantic.

Moose Kids Comics launched online

Moose Kids Comics is available as PDF for free

The new kids’ publication Moose Kids Comics, above, brainchild of the cartoonist Jamie Smarthas launched for free online but is on the look out for a publisher.

The BBC has a report on the elaborate appeal of William Heath Robinson. The building of a museum to house his work begins in the autumn.

Following the exodus of Spain’s top cartoonists from the satirical magazine El Jueves last month (we covered that here), a rival digital version has appeared online titled Orgullo y Satisfacción (Pride and Satisfaction). It has had 30,000 downloads since its launch a few weeks ago. The digital magazine will become a regular monthly publication from September.

The 31st Aydın Doğan International Cartoon Competition in Turkey announced its winners, with the top prize going to the Turkish cartoonist, Kürşat Zaman. More than 800 cartoonists from 70 countries took part and the panel of judges was led by the cartoonist Liza Donnelly, of The New Yorker, and included the Cartoon Museum curator Anita O’Brien.

The US cartoonist Etta Hulme has died. She was twice named best editorial cartoonist by the National Cartoonist Society and was the subject of the documentary Trailblazer: The Editorial Cartoons of Etta Hulme. And one of the most distinguished US sports cartoonists, Amadee Wohlschlaeger, has died, aged 102.

© Charles Barsotti/The New Yorker

© Charles Barsotti/The New Yorker

Finally, we remember the New Yorker cartoonist Charles Barsotti, who died on 16 June. He is fondly remembered by the magazine’s cartoon editor Bob Mankoff. And there is a selection of Barsotti cartoons on his favourite theme here.

The commercial art

January 31, 2014 in Comment, Events, News

Cartoon_Museum_Exhibition_bring_me_laughter © Jonathan Cusick @ procartoonists.org

© Jonathan Cusick @ Procartoonists.org

A collector of cartoons spoke some home truths at the recent private view of Bring Me Laughter. Kasia Kowalska writes.

In his speech opening the show, George Walker implored all those present to remember that he’s “not a Rothschild”. He was, undoubtedly, being modest as, together with his wife, Pat, he has dedicated more than 60 years to a collection that boasts drawings and cartoons by the great cartoonists of our age: Max Beerbohm, Phil May, H.M. Bateman, Heath Robinson, Ronald Searle and Trog, to name but a few.

The Queen © Jonathan Cusick @ procartoonists

© Jonathan Cusick @ Procartoonists.org

In this fine company one can also find several examples of George Walker’s own drawings and cartoons, which received a lot of attention on the night. Son of a miner, he recalls his father saying that ‘‘He thinks about nowt but actin’ and paintin'”. Although he left school at a young age to work in a local factory in Cumbria, George never let go of his passion for drawing and studied at Carlisle College of Art in his spare time.

The Walker collection includes several caricatures by PCO member Jonathan Cusick who attended the opening of the exhibition. Although Pat and George had commissioned him several times, this was the first time Jonathan had met them in person. ‘‘It’s a thrill to find my work amongst so many great names,’’ he said, selecting drawings by Heath Robinson, George Belcher and Pont as his personal highlights of the collection.

Jonathan Cusick withe George Walker and the piece that gave the exhibition its title @ Procartoonists.org

Jonathan Cusick. left. with George Walker and the piece that gave the exhibition its title. Photo ©Kasia Kowalska @ Procartoonists.org

Anita O’Brien, curator of the Cartoon Museum, said that George Walker ‘feels vindicated in the increasing attention which cartoon art has attracted in recent years: “There is some satisfaction in always having admired so-called ‘commercial’ art, for so long considered greatly inferior to ‘fine art’ and now commanding the respect that the best of it deserves.’’

Long may it continue.

Bring Me Laughter an exhibition from the private collection of George and Pat Walker is at the Cartoon Museum until 23 February.

The Round-up

March 1, 2012 in General, Links

Bloghorn: Chris Beetles show. The Illustrators at Bloghorn

© Quentin Blake – on display at Chris Beetles Gallery in St James London

London’s Chris Beetles Gallery is running an exhibition of work by William Heath Robinson and others, opening on 6th March and hosted at West House in Pinner. ‘William Heath Robinson and the Best of Contemporary Illustration’ also features work by Quentin Blake, Oliver Jeffers, Emma Chichester Clark and Michael Foreman, among others. See the Chris Beetles website for more details.

In an interesting blog post, Illustration Art looks at some of the well-known cartoonists that have managed to carve out a successful career after struggling academically. Read it here.

Gerald Scarfe was the subject of two feature interviews in national newspapers last week, with The Sun delving into his work with Pink Floyd and The Daily Mail taking a look at some of the items in his studio.

1980s documentary ‘Masters of Comic Book Art’, which features interviews with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Will Eisner among others, has been made available again via YouTube. You can watch the whole film, and read some choice quotes, over at Comics Alliance.

by Royston

101 reasons to visit Cartoon Museum

November 1, 2011 in Events

101 Cartoonists poster

An exhibition called One Hundred and One Cartoonists is at the Cartoon Museum in London from Thursday 3 November.

It features cartoons, comics and caricatures from the collection of Luke Gertler, who has been collecting original cartoon artwork for more than 50 years.

On display will be works by H.M. Bateman, Max Beerbohm, Giles, David Low, Donald McGill, Thomas Rowlandson, Ronald Searle, John Tenniel and Dudley D. Watkins, among many others.

Asked what drew him to the cartoons he chose for his collection of more than 800 images, Luke Gertler told the Cartoon Museum newsletter:

“With cartoons, it’s the picture I would buy, rather than the joke. I liked ones with people, with characters, and the style was very important to me. I preferred rather bold colour styles, firm outlines like in John Hassall, for instance. I liked also the cartoonists who drew in wonderful detail, like Thelwell and Heath Robinson.”

One Hundred and One Cartoonists runs until January 29. For more details, visit the Cartoon Museum website.

From Herriman to Holte: Another ten great cartoonists

January 19, 2011 in Comment

The cartoonist Gerald Scarfe has made a list of his ten favourite cartoonists, for the Daily Mail website. It includes some inarguable choices as well as some surprising ones.

Ronald Searle, widely regarded as Britain’s best living cartoonist, is on there. There are also choices from the worlds of fine art, such as Picasso, and film-making, which is represented by Walt Disney, more for his skill at getting great work from others than his own drawing talents.

We asked members of the Professional Cartoonists’ Organisation, which runs the Bloghorn, to name their favourite cartoonists not on the Scarfe list. It’s not a poll, or a “top ten”, just an informal list of another ten great artists, and it shows the wealth of variety and creativity to be found in the world of cartooning.

Hector Breeze cartoon

1. Hector Breeze (Born 1928). Picked by Pete Dredge: “A master of the pocket cartoon. Out of the mouths of his mundane, benign, chunkily drawn characters comes the sharpest of captions.”

Robert Crumb cartoon

2. Robert Crumb (Born 1943). Picked by Royston Robertson: “He has been satirising the way we live since the 1960s with his dense, inky, cross-hatched drawings, displaying human folly in all its gory glory. Not for nothing was he described by the art critics Robert Hughes as ‘the Bruegel of the last half of the 20th century’.”

George Grosz painting

3. George Grosz (1893-1959). Picked by Matt Buck and Andrew Birch (both blatantly ignoring the brief of people not on Scarfe’s list, Bloghorn notes!) Matt says: “Grosz drew with an unsparing eye and produced powerful reflections of what people do rather than what they say they do.” Andrew adds: “For me German Expressionism was one of the most important art movements of the 20th century, whose brutal and honest line laid the foundation for many later cartoonists like Steadman.”

Heath Robinson cartoon

4. William Heath Robinson (1872-1944). Picked by Rupert Besley: “He was an original, creating a wonderful, instantly recognisable world of his own. He satirised the growth of mechanisation, but did so in a gloriously enjoyable way that always kept the human at the centre of it all. Which other cartoonist has added his name to the language and booked his place in every dictionary?”

George Herriman cartoon

5. George Herriman (1880-1944). Picked by Wilbur Dawbarn: “From the gorgeously scratchy line work and absolute poetry of the writing in the early years, to the sheer majesty of composition in the latter years, Herriman’s Sunday Krazy Kat pages are, to my mind, some of the finest examples of comic art ever penned.”

Holte cartoon

6. Trevor Holder, aka “Holte” (Born 1941). Picked by Roger Penwill: “Glorious technique, a master of expressive line and a very funny, wicked sense of humour. Some of his cartoons are timeless classics.”

Kliban cartoon

7. Bernard Kliban (1935-1990). Picked by Chris Madden: “I came across a book by B. Kliban: Cat Dreams. I’m not sure what they’re about. I’m not even sure if they’re funny (do cartoons actually have to be funny?) But they’re brilliant. Apparently he grew to detest drawing cats in the end, but they were what everybody wanted. Beware success.”

David Law cartoon

8. David Law (1908-1971). Picked by Steve Bright: “Beautifully fluid and loose line, amazing perspectives and angles, and the master of life and motion in all that he drew. Law inspired millions of kids to pick up a pencil through his marvellous work in the Beano, Dandy and Topper.”

Phil May cartoon

9. Phil May (1864-1903). Picked by Mike Turner: “A breakthrough in culling captions down to a minimum. Great art, brilliant caricatures, sheer good humour relating to ‘the man in the street’ or the ‘man on the horse-drawn omnibus’

Bill Tidy cartoon

10. Bill Tidy (Born 1933). Picked by Bill Stott: “For his excellent gags and consummate drawing, especially in his history-based stuff.”

What do you think of the list? Got a favourite cartoonist you’d like to add to it? Let us know in the comments below.

by Royston

Cartoon exhibition: A Peep into Clubland

February 9, 2009 in General

clubland

“Very well meant” by H. M. Bateman

A Peep into Clubland: Cartoons from Private London Clubs is the title of an exhibition which runs from February 18 to May 3 at the Cartoon Museum in London.

It is billed as a rare chance to see more than a hundred works from the Athenaeum, Annabel’s, the Garrick, the MCC, Harry’s Bar, the Reform Club, the Sketch Club, Chelsea Arts Club and others.

London’s Private Clubs hold many cartoons, caricatures and prints on a wide range of subjects. They may delight and amuse their members, but they are inaccessible to everyone else, so this show offers the wider public a rare chance to enjoy them.

The show features cartoons by H. M. Bateman (above), Peter Arno, Heath Robinson, Gillray, Thomas Rowlandson, Pont and many more.

The Cartoon Museum, at 35 Little Russel Street, near the British Museum, is open Tuesday-Saturday 10.30am – 5.30pm and Sunday 12pm-5.30pm. Ticket prices: adults £4, concessions £3, students and under-18s free.

Link: The Cartoon Museum website

PCO Procartoonists – after you Mr Heath Robinson

August 16, 2007 in Comment


I’m sure some of these ideas have been seen somewhere before

PCO Procartoonists – Heath Robinson’s Helpful Solutions

July 5, 2007 in News

So nice to see that the Cartoon Museum has put on an exhibition of William Heath Robinson cartoons. There aren’t many cartoonists who achieve their own entry in the Oxford English Dictionary AND get mentioned on the Today programme, so hat’s off to CM head honchos Anita O’Brien and Oliver Preston and indeed the very late Mr Heath Robinson himself. “Heath Robinson’s Helpful Solutions” (until 7 October 2007) is the largest exhibition of William Heath Robinson’s (1872-1944) humorous drawings for 15 years. It includes over 100 original drawings and sketches. Also included in the exhibition are two three dimensional ‘Heath Robinson’ machines.