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inkwell.vue.479 : Richard Gehr, "I Only Read it For the Cartoons"
permalink #0 of 101: Julie Sherman (julieswn) Tue 20 Jan 15 12:49
    
This week we welcome Richard Gehr, author of "I Only Read It for the
Cartoons: The New Yorker's Most Brilliantly Twisted Artists"

Richard Gehr has been an editor at the Los Angeles Reader Spin
magazine, and MTV Interactive. His writing appears in Rolling Stone,
The Comics Journal, Spin, and elsewhere. He co-authored The Phish
Book with the popular Vermont quartet and Amazon/New Harvest
published I Only Read It for the Cartoons: The New Yorker's Most
Brilliantly Twisted Artists in October 2014. Gehr resides, as a
David Sipress cartoon once put it, in "the Brooklyn arrondissement."

Interviewing Richard will be our own Ed Ward, <captward>:

Ed Ward has been involved with magazines -- as a staffer,
contributor, and founder -- since he was 18, which was when he
joined the staff of Crawdaddy! magazine in New York. Since then,
he's written for just about every American music magazine (including
Rolling Stone, Creem, and No Depression) and several in Britain,
Germany, and Japan. He's served on the staff of Rolling Stone, City
Magazine (San Francisco), Creem, and Checkpoint (in Berlin), and as
editor-in-chief of Metropolis (successor to Checkpoint) and b
(successor to Metropolis). He's also contributed to newspapers
(Austin American-Statesman, New York Times, Wall St. Journal) and
various books. His radio career includes 30 years as "rock and roll
historian" for Fresh Air with Terry Gross on NPR, as well as several
years at JazzRadio Berlin hosting a popular show in English. He's
currently writing a social history of post-war popular music, Rock
And Roll Part One, for Flatiron Books, to be published in Fall 2016.
He would like it noted that most of the magazines mentioned above no
longer publish, and none of them had cartoons. Coincidence?

Welcome Richard and Ed!
  
inkwell.vue.479 : Richard Gehr, "I Only Read it For the Cartoons"
permalink #1 of 101: Ed Ward (captward) Wed 21 Jan 15 11:15
    
Hi, Richard, and hi, everybody. 

New Yorker cartoonists are rock stars in their field, and it's
really about the highest you can go in a genre that used to be a lot
more widespread than it is now. Of course, magazines are no longer
as plentiful, but nobody has cartoonists like the New Yorker. 

I remember my first contact with them, in fact: the parents of my
best friend when I was a little kid got the magazine, and had
collections of cartoons from it that we'd sit and pore over. They
also had one pinned up somewhere visible, showing a couple leaving a
party, she looking kind of grumpy and saying "Why do you always have
to announce that you're a Democrat and cause those long silences?"
Having sat through enough of my dad's tirades about Roosevelt, I
knew what that was about. 

So Richard, how did you get interested in this particular subject --
enough to do a book on it?
  
inkwell.vue.479 : Richard Gehr, "I Only Read it For the Cartoons"
permalink #2 of 101: Richard Gehr (richardgehr) Thu 22 Jan 15 10:57
    
Hello, Ed and everyone else in the virtual house. As a longtime, if
lapsed, Well member, this is a pleasant return.

Like you, Ed, I'd been a huge fan of the magazine's cartoons since I
was a kid growing up in Portland, OR. 

But a few years ago, a friend of mine named Dan Nadel became
co-editor of the excellent Comics Journal (tcj.com). He asked me if
I'd like to do anything for them and, without even really thinking
about it, I blurted, "New Yorker cartoonists!" I think in the back
of my mind I was recalling that the great cartoonist Leo Cullum had
died recently, and it turned out there wasn't a lot of information
about his life and times out there. It occurred to me that the
legacies of some of the country's finest popular artists might be in
danger of slipping away. So I decided to start writing up long
Q&A's, beginning with the oldest of the magazine's cartoonists, and
started publishing them as a column called "Know Your New Yorker
Cartoonists" (yes, I am a Stephen Colbert fan). The first three I
spoke with – Sam Gross, Gahan Wilson, and former art editor Lee
Lorenz – were so fascinating that I suspected there might be a book
in them thar interviews. And indeed there was. 
  
inkwell.vue.479 : Richard Gehr, "I Only Read it For the Cartoons"
permalink #3 of 101: Richard Gehr (richardgehr) Thu 22 Jan 15 11:00
    
Running off now to catch "Comics at Columbia: Past, Present,
Future," an exhibit stuff from Columbia U's fairly new comics
archive. Supposed to be some great Charles Saxon art there. I will
report back.

http://heymancenter.org/events/comics-at-columbia-past-present-future/
  
inkwell.vue.479 : Richard Gehr, "I Only Read it For the Cartoons"
permalink #4 of 101: Ed Ward (captward) Thu 22 Jan 15 11:43
    
Oh, man, that does look good. 

How much do you know about the history of the one-panel gag cartoon,
like the one the New Yorker runs? There are political and
Punch-style one-panel cartoons with loads of speech balloons that go
back to the 18th century, but it strikes me that this particular
format is a creation of the 20th century. I know it goes back before
the New Yorker started publishing, but maybe not too much before
that. 
  
inkwell.vue.479 : Richard Gehr, "I Only Read it For the Cartoons"
permalink #5 of 101: leaves me king of meh (marvy) Fri 23 Jan 15 05:03
    
Hi Richard, great to see you back here. I'm about halfway through the book,
and am loving it. Loved in particular reading about Roz Chast. Such a huge
fan, yet chary of ever seeing or more particularly, hearing her. I always
hear a specific voice in my head as I read her work; hearing her actual
voice might ruin everything. Lovely to be able to attach my voice for her to
actual quotations.
  
inkwell.vue.479 : Richard Gehr, "I Only Read it For the Cartoons"
permalink #6 of 101: Richard Gehr (richardgehr) Fri 23 Jan 15 11:06
    
The Columbia show was great. Karen Green, who was hired to curate
rare books and manuscripts, took it upon herself a couple of years
ago to start a comics archive. (It's all illustrated manuscripts at
the end of the day, I suppose.) And she's acquired some interesting
collections from people like comics historian Larry Tye, Richard and
Wendy Pini's Elfquest stuff, and New Yorker cartoonist Charles
Saxon's papers. It was just the tip of the iceberg but pretty
exciting. The show ends today, unfortunately. 

The history of the single-panel gag cartoon is in its essence a
process of reduction. You could go back to hieroglyphs and the
aforementioned illuminated manuscripts. But as you said, Ed, its
primarily a distillation of the satirical-cartoon tradition that
developed in eighteenth-century England with Thomas Rowlandson,
George Cruikshank, and William Hogarth. (Benjamin Franklin was the
first political cartoonist in the USA.) The French picked up the
ball in the nineteenth century, with Honoré Daumier's caustic
caricatures starting a tradition that extends to Charlie Hebdo. 

Speech balloons gave way to captions along the way. And within a few
years of its 1925 launch, The New Yorker began paring down the
multi-line "He:"/"She:" captions you'd see in Punch to a single
line. Cartoons at TNY were actually known early on as "idea
drawings," a new style entirely. Although it would still be a few
years before two-line dialogue captions disappeared entirely. After
all, even possibly the most famous TNY cartoon of all time, Carl
Rose's 1928 masterpiece, was a two-liner:

"It's broccoli, dear."
"I say it's spinach, and I say the hell with it."
  
inkwell.vue.479 : Richard Gehr, "I Only Read it For the Cartoons"
permalink #7 of 101: Richard Gehr (richardgehr) Fri 23 Jan 15 11:11
    
Roz Chast is amazing, <marvy>. Unlike some cartoonists, she looks
and sounds *exactly* like the characters in her work. She's as
neurotic, anxious, and as perceptively funny as her work. This has
been an amazing year for her, too, having won a couple of
prestigious awards and being the first graphic novelist to be
nominated for a National Book Award and all. Last month I asked her
to join me at a college event I'd been invited to moderate. I
received a response from her new speaking agent informing me that
Ms. Chast's standard speaking fee was now, ahem, $15,000. 
  
inkwell.vue.479 : Richard Gehr, "I Only Read it For the Cartoons"
permalink #8 of 101: Ed Ward (captward) Fri 23 Jan 15 11:49
    
Well, too bad for you, but maybe your speaking fee will go up now
that this book is out. 

Why is it that, even back in the days when more magazines (ie
Saturday Evening Post, Look, and many more specialized magazines)
featured single panel cartoons, the New Yorker's were always just a
touch better? It might have been paying more, but I suspect there's
more to it than that. 
  
inkwell.vue.479 : Richard Gehr, "I Only Read it For the Cartoons"
permalink #9 of 101: Ed Ward (captward) Fri 23 Jan 15 13:22
    
I should also mention that if you want to comment or ask Richard a
question, you should send an e-mail to inkwell at well dot com or
you can tweet it by sending it to @TheWell.
  
inkwell.vue.479 : Richard Gehr, "I Only Read it For the Cartoons"
permalink #10 of 101: Cliff Dweller (robinsline) Fri 23 Jan 15 13:52
    
I'm another one who grew up with The New Yorker, always starting
with the cartoons. Now I don't allow myself to look ahead, but like
to come upon them as I read. It was news to me that cartooning at
TNY started out with writers, whose ideas were farmed out to the
cartoonists for illustration. Drawing and thinking up "gags" seem
like quite different skills, and successful cartoonists are rare
birds with both talents. Did earlier cartoonists ever submit the
whole concept, or were they really illustrators?
  
inkwell.vue.479 : Richard Gehr, "I Only Read it For the Cartoons"
permalink #11 of 101: Richard Gehr (richardgehr) Fri 23 Jan 15 14:50
    
Ed, I'd attribute TNY's higher quality first to founding genius
Harold Ross and then to its earliest art/cartoon editors: James
Geraghty and Lee Loren. But you could also  probably throw the
influence of James Thurber, E. B. White, Katherine Angell, and other
writers and editors in there as well. But it was Ross who hired them
– along with Peter Arno, Charles Addams, Helen Hokinson, etc. – in
the first place and set the standard for what the magazine became. 

You could find cartoons in other magazines, of course. But Colliers,
the Saturday Evening Post, and other general-interest mags just
didn't have the same level of irony-tinged sophistication as The New
Yorker. I mean, TNY was the only magazine that subtly mocked its
(presumed) readership, which was a genius move.
  
inkwell.vue.479 : Richard Gehr, "I Only Read it For the Cartoons"
permalink #12 of 101: Richard Gehr (richardgehr) Fri 23 Jan 15 14:57
    
Yes, <robinsline>, it's fascinating to imagine a small cabal of
"idea men" (or "gag men") whose only job was to feed jokes to
cartoonists like Arno, Addams, Hokinson, George Price, and many
others. Price was apparently unique in being the only artist to
*never* write his own material; although what he did with other
guys' jokes was genius. The most prolific idea man was Richard
McCallister, who supplied literally thousands of gags to Chon Day,
Mischa Richter, Perry Barlow, and others. In my book, Sam Gross
tells the amazing story of hearing about a Charles Addams original
cartoon being sold for $15,000 – of a joke Gross wrote! 
The idea man deal was phased out around the end of James Geraghty's
time as art editor. Lorenz says that he thought matching up writers
with artists made the job twice as hard as letting one person do
both. 
  
inkwell.vue.479 : Richard Gehr, "I Only Read it For the Cartoons"
permalink #13 of 101: Scott Underwood (esau) Fri 23 Jan 15 15:12
    
> possibly the most famous TNY cartoon of all time, Carl
 Rose's 1928 masterpiece ["I say it's spinach..."]

I read a brief history of that cartoon, and apparently E.B. White gets the
credit for the line after Rose's original was rejected. I was surprised
to learn Irving Berlin wrote a song on it, "I Say It's Spinach," and
the line showed up in a pre-Three Stooges short with Shemp Howard I saw.

This page might interest some:
<http://www.compedit.com/nygraphics.htm>
  
inkwell.vue.479 : Richard Gehr, "I Only Read it For the Cartoons"
permalink #14 of 101: Evelyn Pine (evy) Sat 24 Jan 15 12:55
    
This may be the goofiest question asked recently, but how come some weeks
every NY cartoon makes me laugh out loud -- and other weeks not so much.  Is
it the cartoons or is it me? Also, sometimes I feel they're thematic -- when
it's not a thematic issue -- is that just me finding links where none really
exist?
  
inkwell.vue.479 : Richard Gehr, "I Only Read it For the Cartoons"
permalink #15 of 101: David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Sat 24 Jan 15 12:59
    
I was also quite surprised about the whole writer-cartoonist
relationship. In my naive mind I had always imagined the cartoonists
as solo geniuses.

Your quote from Dan Piraro, I think, encapsulates why I thought that
- he says "If you take almost any single-panel gag and spell it out
long form ... the joke is completely ruined."

It seems like that would also work in reverse, that it would be hard
to convey the joke from writer to cartoonist in a way that would
make it work. And yet clearly it worked well for many years. What
are your thoughts about how they made that work? 
  
inkwell.vue.479 : Richard Gehr, "I Only Read it For the Cartoons"
permalink #16 of 101: Richard Gehr (richardgehr) Sat 24 Jan 15 17:40
    
Scott: Lee Lorenz credits E. B. White's editing of all The New
Yorker's cartoon captions with their eventual distillation down to a
single line. White also wrote the magazine's one-line "snappers"
that used to punctuate Talk of the Town. 

I've never seen any of the copy the idea writers produced to sell
their gags to the editors. But: I just learned that the New York
Public Library has many boxes full of Richard McCAllister's papers,
and I intend to poke through 'em at some point. I actually don't
think it would be really that hard to set up a gag, David. What
intrigues me more are the personal elaborations that Arno, Addams,
Price, etc. added to the gags to make them their own. 

In "The Art of The New Yorker," Lorenz admits to being baffled (at
least from our current POV) by how Arno, Hokinson, Richard Taylor,
etc. "could have been so dependent on others for their material."
Price famous
  
inkwell.vue.479 : Richard Gehr, "I Only Read it For the Cartoons"
permalink #17 of 101: Richard Gehr (richardgehr) Sat 24 Jan 15 17:45
    
>>How come some weeks every NY cartoon makes me laugh out loud --
and other weeks not so much."

Blood sugar? Alcohol level? I know what you mean, Evelyn. Especially
in recent years, I'll go through an entire issue and not laugh once.
A lot of the gags just seem overly, I don't know, *gaggy* to me.
Sometimes the mix is just off and there'll seem to be a
preponderance of certain kinds of cartoon – puns, sit-com jokes, bad
drawings – that don't particularly appeal to me. 

But then I'll stumble across the latest Edward Steed – and all will
be right with the world.
  
inkwell.vue.479 : Richard Gehr, "I Only Read it For the Cartoons"
permalink #18 of 101: Ed Ward (captward) Sat 24 Jan 15 18:54
    
Yeah, where'd *he* come from?

A couple of years ago, Matthew Diffee came to SXSW to deliver a
truly awful talk on finding inspiration, during which he mentioned
that he has to produce a cartoon a day, of which 99% are, of course,
rejected. (I assume he just does a rough and a caption, given how
complex his style is). Is this some kind of initiation rite or
something? Because it seems unlikely to me that they'd keep you
doing that for years on end. 
  
inkwell.vue.479 : Richard Gehr, "I Only Read it For the Cartoons"
permalink #19 of 101: Ed Ward (captward) Sat 24 Jan 15 18:55
    
(You also seem to have started a thought in #16 that didn't get
finished.)
  
inkwell.vue.479 : Richard Gehr, "I Only Read it For the Cartoons"
permalink #20 of 101: Scott Underwood (esau) Sat 24 Jan 15 22:01
    
> A lot of the gags just seem overly, I don't know, *gaggy* to me.

I had a piece on McSweeney's on that theme:
<http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/in-progress-ideas-for-new-yorker-
cartoons>
  
inkwell.vue.479 : Richard Gehr, "I Only Read it For the Cartoons"
permalink #21 of 101: Richard Gehr (richardgehr) Sun 25 Jan 15 09:08
    
>>I had a piece on McSweeney's on that theme:

Wow! You're good. Can you draw? No. 4 sounds like something Charles
Barsotti would have done.
  
inkwell.vue.479 : Richard Gehr, "I Only Read it For the Cartoons"
permalink #22 of 101: Richard Gehr (richardgehr) Sun 25 Jan 15 09:12
    
My unfinished thought in #16 was something about George Price's sole
idea  that became drawing. It was a Santa Claus cover. 

Ed, I think you might be less hard on Diffee if you realized that he
probably produces 400-500 roughs a year. That's hella ideas. It took
George Fucking Booth TEN YEARS of almost weekly submissions before
he sold a cartoon to the magazine. And he worked out OK in the end.
Yeah, it's all about rejection in the end. Which is why I think
Diffee's Rejection Collections are kind of brilliant.
  
inkwell.vue.479 : Richard Gehr, "I Only Read it For the Cartoons"
permalink #23 of 101: Scott Underwood (esau) Sun 25 Jan 15 11:01
    
Diffee's got such a unique aesthetic. Are many artists asked to simplify or
otherwise alter their drawing style in order to fit in better?wq
  
inkwell.vue.479 : Richard Gehr, "I Only Read it For the Cartoons"
permalink #24 of 101: Ed Ward (captward) Mon 26 Jan 15 11:03
    
By the way, if you haven't got the book, today only, Amazon's
offering the Kindle edition for $1.99:

<http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/ref=pe_170810_131768560_pe_row1_b3/?ASIN=B00M
4IUBH8>

Regular list price is only $4.00. Did you have any say in that,
Richard? Seems mighy low.
  
inkwell.vue.479 : Richard Gehr, "I Only Read it For the Cartoons"
permalink #25 of 101: Ed Ward (captward) Mon 26 Jan 15 13:02
    
And the tale of another, very persistent, New Yorker cartoonist:

<http://www.npr.org/2015/01/25/379787274/howd-a-cartoonist-sell-his-first-drawi
ng-it-only-took-610-tries?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campai
gn=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20150125>
  

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