A New Yorker Cartoonist Explains How to Draw Literary Cartoons

“I enjoy poking fun at anything educated people do and civilized society perpetuates that is odd, frustrating, wacky, or hypocritical,” cartoonist Amy Kurzweil, above, recently told the New York Public Library’s Margo Moore.

Unsurprisingly, she’s been getting published in The New Yorker a lot of late.

The process for getting cartoons accepted there is the stuff of legend, though reportedly less grueling since Emma Allen, the magazine’s youngest and first-ever female cartoon editor, took over. Allen has made a point of seeking out fresh voices, and working with them to help mold their submissions into something in The New Yorker vein, rather than “this endless game of presenting work and then hearing ‘yes’ or ‘no.’”




Kurzweil has a fondness for literary themes (and the same brand of pencils that John Steinbeck, Truman Capote, and Vladimir Nabokov preferred—Blackwings—whether in her hand or, conversing with Allen on Zoom, above, in her ears.)

Getting the joke of a New Yorker cartoon often depends on getting the reference, and while both women seem tickled at the first example, Kurzweil’s mash-up of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past and the picture book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, it may go over many readers’ heads.

The thing that holds it all together?

Madeleines, of course, though outside France, not every Proust lover is able to identify an inked representation of this evocative cookie by shape.

Kurzweil states that she has never actually read the children’s book that supplies half the context.

(It’s okay. Like the idea that memories can be triggered by certain nostalgic scents, its concept is pretty easy to grasp.)

Nor has she read philosopher Derek Parfit’s whopping 1,928-page On What Matters. Her inspiration for using it in a cartoon is her personal connection to the massive, unread three-volume set in her family’s library. Because both the size and the title are part of the joke, she directs the viewer’s eye to the unwieldy tome with a light watercolor wash.

She also has a good tip for anyone drawing a library scene—go figurative, rather than literal, varying sizes and shapes until the eye is tricked into seeing what is merely suggested.

A all-too-true literary experience informs her second example at the 4:30 mark—that of a little known author giving a reading in a bookstore. Despite a preference for drawing “fleshy things like people and animals” she forgoes depicting the author or those in attendance, giving the punchline instead to the event posters in the store’s window.

As she told the NYPL’s Moore:

A cartoon is always an opportunity to showcase a contemporary phenomenon by exaggerating it or placing it in a different context.

Over the last year, a huge number of New Yorker cartoons have concerned themselves with the domestic dullness of the pandemic, but when Allen asked if she has a favorite New Yorker cartoon cliché, Kurzweil went with “the Moby Dick trope, because whales are easy to draw, and I like a good metaphor for the unattainable.”

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She most recently appeared as a French Canadian bear who travels to New York City in search of food and meaning in Greg Kotis’ short film, L’Ourse.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The History of American Newspapers Has Been Digitized: Explore 114 Years of Editor & Publisher, “the Bible of the Newspaper Industry”

If you look into the history of the American newspaper, you can’t get too deep before your inevitable encounter with Editor & Publisher. Branded as “the bible of the newspaper industry,” the trade magazine has for 120 years covered its subject from every possible angle. Though newspapers had already been published in the United States for nearly 200 years before the magazine’s founding, its run has been coeval with an especially fascinating, even dramatic period in their history. It was in the 20th century that American newspapers consolidated into the pillars of what looked, for a time, like a mighty “fourth estate”; in this century, they’ve plunged into what Editor & Publisher‘s owner Mike Blinder terms “such a crisis.”

Still, since purchasing the magazine last year, writes Internet Archive Collections Manager Marina Lewis, “Blinder and his wife, Robin, have been able to turn the operation around, doubling its revenues and tripling its audience.” He also gave the Internet Archive permission to upload and make available 114 years of Editor & Publisher issues online for free.




“Going beyond the Internet Archive’s traditional lending system ensures it can be indexed by search engines and made maximally useful to readers and researchers,” writes Lewis. “The ability to research these archived issues has been truly exciting, especially for those looking up historical documents, many with a personal or family connection.”

As the Nieman Journalism Lab’s Joshua Bendon remembers itEditor & Publisher was once “the best (and often only) place to find out about job openings at newspapers.”  With more than a century of its back issues freely available at the Internet Archive, “if you’re at all interested in the 20th-century history of the American newspaper business, you now have access to a robust new resource.” In the archive he finds documentation of “some of the century’s most interesting moments,” at least as far as that business is concerned: The New Yorker‘s 1946 publication of John Hersey’s “Hiroshima,” which it subsequently offered to conventional newspapers (“The piece runs about 30,000 words and no cutting or condensing is to be permitted”); the 1965 hiring of Ben Bradlee by The Washington Post; the 1971 debut of Doonesbury in national newspapers.

Not all of these reflect well on the U.S. newspaper industry. Benton highlights the 1981 exposure of “Jimmy’s World,” a Pulitzer-winning Post story about an eight-year-old heroin addict, as a fabrication — or a piece of “fake news,” as we might say today. That article also quotes a Boston Globe editor as saying “the public faith in the press is minimal at the moment,” a sentiment not unheard these 40 years later. The magazine was also quick to observe the emergence of other forms of media (such as a 1925 test of French inventor Édouard Belin’s experimental “television”) that would later force change upon the newspaper industry’s very nature. And if the current crisis is, as some argue, not destroying the fourth estate but returning it to its roots, there could be few better paths back to an understanding of those roots than through the Editor & Publisher archive.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

All 80 Issues of the Influential Zine Punk Planet Are Now Online & Ready for Download at the Internet Archive

Punk didn’t die, it evolved, since its inception in the 70s to the ethos of majorly influential figures like Kathleen Hanna and Ian MacKaye in the 90s, two of the most prominent faces of progressive DIY punk in the U.S. Then, as before, scenes came together around zines, sites of cultural recognition, dissemination, and recording for posterity in the archives of physical print. One zine critical to the socially conscious punk that emerged at the time, Punk Planet, has recently been digitized in all 80 issues by the Internet Archive.

Based in Chicago and founded by editor Dan Sinker (whom you may know from his presence on Twitter), Punk Planet ran from 1994 to 2007, focusing “most of its energy on looking at punk subculture,” the Internet Archive writes, “rather than punk as simply another genre of music to which teenagers listen. In addition to covering music, Punk Planet also covered visual arts and a wide variety of progressive issues—including media criticism, feminism, and labor issues.”

Punk Planet “transcended stereotypes to chronicle the progressive underground community, from thoughtful band interviews to exceptionally thorough investigative features,” wrote the A.V. Club’s Kyle Ryan in an interview with Sinker the year of the magazine’s demise.




“Over the course of 13 years, Punk Planet became heavily influential beyond the increasingly small world of independent publishing.” Arguably, that influence can be felt in online magazines like Rookie as well as music-focused stalwarts like Pitchfork, who note that Punk Planet’s “issues included interviews with Sleater-Kinney, Nick Cave, Ralph Nader, and countless other cultural icons.”

The magazine folded for the usual reasons, as Utne noted in a farewell, leaving a “gaping hole in the landscape of independent magazines…. The deck was stacked against Punk Planet, though, and the hard knocks of independent publishing finally became too much to bear.” Sinker says he saw the end as part of a bigger picture and “started looking at the larger issues that were also affecting us. Things like, ‘Hey, wow, record labels are going under because no one is paying for music!’ And, ‘Hey, look at this, people are going to these Internet sites because people can pick up a record review the same day the record came out!’”

It’s a moot point now—2020 has not made it any easier for small publications and independent musicians to survive. But the continued existence of Punk Planet online for new generations to discover promises to foster the continuity that carried the spirit of punk rock through decades of evolutionary change. Enter the Punk Planet archive here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Flair Magazine: The Short-Lived, Highly-Influential Magazine That Still Inspires Designers Today (1950)

All magazines are their editors, but Flair was more its editor than any magazine had been before — or, for that matter, than any magazine has been since. Though she came to the end of her long life in England, a country to which she had expatriated with her fourth husband, a Briton, Fleur Cowles was as American a cultural figure as they come. Born Florence Freidman in 1908, she had performed on herself an unknowable number of Gatsbyesque acts of reinvention by 1950, when she found herself in a position to launch Flair. Her taste in husbands helped, married as she then was to Gardner “Mike” Cowles Jr., publisher of Look, a popular photo journal that Fleur had helped to lift from its lowbrow origins and make respectable among that all-powerful consumer demographic, postwar American women.

The success of the reinvented Look “allowed Cowles to ask her husband for what she really wanted: the capital to start her own publication, which she called ‘a class magazine,'” writes Eye on Design’s Rachel Syme. “She was tired of spreads about the best linoleum; she wanted to do an entire issue on Paris, or hire Ernest Hemingway to write a travel essay, or commission Colette to gossip about her love affairs.”




During Flair‘s run she did all that and more, with a roster of contributors also including Salvador Dalí, Simone de Beauvoir, W. H. Auden, Gloria Swanson, Winston Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Jean Cocteau. In Flair‘s debut issue, published in February 1950, “an article on the 28-year-old Lucian Freud came liberally accompanied with reproductions of his art—the first ever to appear in America.”

So writes Vanity Fair‘s Amy Fine Collins in a profile of Clowes. “Angus Wilson and Tennessee Williams contributed short stories, Wilson’s printed on paper textured to resemble slubbed silk.” What’s more, “The Duke and Duchess of Windsor opened their home to Flair’s readers, treating them to their recondite and entertaining tips. A more futuristic approach to living was set forth in a two-page spread on Richard Kelly’s lighting design for Philip Johnson’s glass house in Connecticut.” Feature though it may have the work of an astonishingly varied group of luminaries — pulled in by Cowles’ vast and deliberately woven social net — Flair is even more respected today for each issue’s lavish, elaborate, and distinctive design.

“If a feature would be better in dimension than on flat pages, why not fold half-pages inside double-page spreads?” asks Cowles in her memoirs, quoted in Print magazine. “Why not bind it as ‘a little book’ … giving it a special focus? If a feature was better ‘translated’ on textured paper, why use shiny paper?” And “if a painting was good enough to frame, why not print it on properly heavy stock? Why not bind little accordion folders into each issue to give the feeling of something more personal to the content?” One reason is the $2.5 million (1950 dollars) that Mike Cowles estimated Flair to have cost in the year it ran before he pulled its plug.

But then, by the early 1970s even the highly profitable Look had to fold — and of the two magazines, only one has become ever more sought-after, has books published in its tribute, and still inspires designers today. To take a closer look at the magazine, see The Best of Flaira  compilation of the magazine’s best content as chosen by Fleur Cowles herself. (See a video preview of the book above.)

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

In 1896, a French Cartoonist Predicted Our Socially-Distanced Zoom Holiday Gatherings

Imagine that, this time last year, you’d heard that your family’s holiday gatherings in 2020 would happen on the internet. Even if you believed such a future would one day come, would you have credited for a moment that kind of imminence? Yet our videoconference toasts this season were predicted — even rendered in clear and reasonably accurate detail — more than 120 years ago. “My wife is visiting her aunt in Budapest, my older daughter is studying dentistry in Melbourne, my younger daughter is a mining engineer in the Urals, my son raises ostriches in Batavia, my nephew is on his plantations in Batavia,” says the caption of the 1896 cartoon above. “But this does not prevent us from celebrating Christmas on the telephonoscope.”

This panel ran in Belle Époque humor magazine Le rire (available to read at the Internet Archive), drawn by the hand and produced by the imagination of Albert Robida. A novelist as well as an artist, Robida drew acclaim in his day for the series Le Vingtième Siècle, whose stories offered visions of the technology to come in that century.




“Next to Zoom Christmas,” tweets philosophy professor Helen de Cruz, Robida also imagined a future in which this “telephonoscope” would “give us education, movies, teleconferencing.” As early as the 1860s, says the Public Domain Review, Robida had “published an illustration depicting a man watching a ‘televised’ performance of Faust from the comfort of his own home.” See image above.

Though Robida seems to have coined the word “telephonoscope,” he wasn’t the first to publish the kind of idea to which it referred. “The concept of the device first appeared not long after the telephone was patented in 1876,” writes Verity Hunt in a Literature and Science article quoted by the Public Domain Review. “The term ‘telectroscope’ was used by the French scientist and publisher Louis Figuier in L’Année Scientifique et Industrielle in 1878 to popularize the invention, which he incorrectly interpreted as real and ascribed to Alexander Graham Bell.” The goal was to “do for the eye what the telephone had done for the ear,” though it wouldn’t be fully realized for well over a century. When you raise a glass to a webcam this week, consider toasting Albert Robida, to whom the year 2021 would have sounded impossibly distant — but who has proven more prescient about it than many of us alive today.

via Helen De Cruz

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Futurist from 1901 Describes the World of 2001: Opera by Telephone, Free College & Pneumatic Tubes Aplenty

Just shy of 120 years ago, “the wisest and most careful men in our greatest institutions of science and learning” told America what would change by the far-flung dawn of 2001. C, X and Q gone from the alphabet; “Air-Ships” in the skies, strictly for military purposes (passenger traffic being handled by “fast electric ships”); strawberries as large as apples; university education “free to every man and woman”: these are just a few of the details of life in the coming 21st century. We for whom the year 2001 is now firmly in the past will get a laugh out of all this. But as with any set of predictions, amid the misses come partial hits. We don’t get our “hot and cold air from spigots,” but we do get it from air-conditioning and heating systems. We don’t send photographs across the world by telegraph, but the device we all keep in our pockets does the job well enough.

Written by a civil engineer named John Elfreth Watkins, Jr. (presumably the son of Smithsonian Curator of Mechanical Technology John Elfreth Watkins, Sr.), “What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years” ran in the December 1900 issue of that renowned futurological organ Ladies’ Home Journal. You can hear it read aloud, and see it accompanied by historical film clips, in the Voices of the Past video above.




A few years ago the piece came back into circulation on the internet (which goes unmentioned by its experts, more concerned as they were with proliferation of telephone lines and pneumatic tubes) and its predictions were put to the test. At the Saturday Evening Post, Jeff Nilsson gives Watkins (once a Post contributor himself) points for less outlandish prophecies, such as a rise in humanity’s life expectancy and average height.

Watkins describes his sources as “the most learned and conservative minds in America.” In some areas they were too conservative: they foresee “Trains One Hundred and Fifty Miles an Hour,” but as Nilsson notes, today’s “high-speed trains are traveling over 300 mph. Just not in the United States.” Americans did lose their streetcars as predicted, but not due to their replacement by subways and moving sidewalks — and what would these experts make of the streetcar’s 21st-century renaissance? When Watkins writes that “grand opera will be telephoned to private homes,” we may think of the Met’s current COVID-prompted streaming, a scenario that would have occurred to few in a world yet to experience even the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. But then, the future’s defining quality has always been its very unknowability: consider how much has come to pass since we last posted about these predictions here on Open Culture — not least the end of Ladies Home Journal itself.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Before Creating the Moomins, Tove Jansson Drew Satirical Art Mocking Hitler & Stalin

Much of the world has only recently discovered the Moomins, those lovable hippopotamus-like figures — given, it must be said, to moments of startling brusqueness and complexity — created in the 1940s by Finnish artist Tove Jansson. In forms ranging from dolls and school supplies to neck pillows and cellphone cases, they’ve lately become a full-blown craze in South Korea, where I live. Like any massively successful (and highly merchandisable) characters, the Moomins overshadow the rest of Jansson’s oeuvre. Hence exhibitions like Tove Jansson (1914-2001) at London’s Dulwich Picture Gallery, which “aims to rectify the fact that less attention has generally been paid to her range as a visual artist.”

That description comes from Simon Willis’ review of the show in the New York Review of Books. “In October 1944, Tove Jansson drew a cover for Garm, a Finnish satirical magazine, showing a brigade of Adolf Hitlers as pudgy little thieves,” Willis writes. These drawer-rifling, house-burning caricatures “were not unusual for Jansson, who had been belittling Stalin and Hitler in the magazine since the early days of World War II.” But “peeking out at the chaos from behind the magazine’s title,” there was also a “tiny pale figure with a long nose”: a proto-Moomin making an appearance the year before the publication of the first Moomin book. (And even he was forged in mockery, having first been drawn by Jansson, so the story goes, as a caricature of Immanuel Kant.)

Having started contributing to Garm, according to the official Moomin web site, “in 1929 at the young age of 15 (her mother Signe Hammarsten-Jansson had worked for the publication since it started),” she kept on doing so until the magazine folded in 1953.

“During that period she drew more than 500 caricatures, a hundred cover images and countless other illustrations for the magazine.” In them, writes Glasstire’s Caleb Mathern, “angels appear on battlefields. Reindeer prepare to rain TNT. An effete, undersized Hitler cries instead of eating slices of cake. Jansson even impugns Stalin’s manhood with an oversized scabbard/undersized sword joke.” To the young Jansson, the best part was the chance, as she later put it, “to be beastly to Stalin and Hitler.”

Even after the success of the Moomins, Jansson continued to draw on the imagery and emotions of war: “The first time we meet young Moomintroll and his Moominmamma in The Moomins and the Great Flood (1945), they are refugees, crossing a strange and threatening landscape in search of shelter. Moominpappa, meanwhile, is absent, as fathers often were during the war,” writes Aeon’s Richard W. Orange. In the next book “the world is threatened by a comet that sucks the water out of the sea, leaving an apocalyptic landscape in its wake.” With the Cold War heating up, the allegory would hardly have gone unnoticed. Like all master satirists, Jansson went on to transcend the solely topical — and indeed, so the increasingly Moomin-crazed world has demonstrated, the boundaries of time and culture.

via Aeon/Moomin

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Al Jaffee, Iconic Mad Magazine Cartoonist, Retires at Age 99 … and Leaves Behind Advice About Living the Creative Life

Apart from Alfred E. Neuman, there is no Al more closely identified with Mad magazine than Al Jaffee. Born in 1921, he was around for more than 30 years before the launch of that satirical magazine turned American cultural phenomenon — and now, at age 99, he’s on track to outlive it. Just this week, the longest-working cartoonist in history and inventor of the Fold-In announced his retirement, and “to mark his farewell,” writes the Washington Post‘s Michael Cavna, “Mad’s ‘Usual Gang of Idiots’ will salute Jaffee with a tribute issue next week. It will be the magazine’s final regular issue to offer new material, including Jaffee’s final Fold-In, 65 years after he made his Mad debut.”

Over these past six and a half decades, Jaffee has drawn praise for his wit and versatility. But all throughout his career, he’s also managed to combine those qualities with seemingly unstoppable productivity. “I am essentially a commercial artist,” Jaffee says in this brief twopart interview from OnCreativity. “I will not try to save time, ever, on my work by going through it quickly and just getting it done. I have to be as satisfied with it as the person who’s going to buy it from me.”




When an assignment comes in, he continues, “I will not deliver it until I am satisfied that I would buy it.” This requires a clear understanding of the client’s needs — “you are there to solve their problems,” he emphasizes — as well as the willingness to turn down not-quite-suitable jobs.

Of course Jaffee said all this in his younger days, back when he was only 96. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that a man in his hundredth year would decide to step back from his workaday schedule (his Fold-Ins alone number nearly 500) and focus on the projects from which commercial exigencies might have distracted him. “I do fine art for my own amusement,” he say in this interview. “We should all feel free to amuse ourselves that way and just hang everything we do up on the refrigerator.” But he also expresses the wish to “create a couple more things before I kick the bucket.” This after, as he puts it to Cavna, “living the life I wanted all along, which was to make people think and laugh.” Now Jaffee’s younger readers have the chance to think hard and laugh harder as they catch up on era upon era of his past work — not that, strictly speaking, he has any older readers.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

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