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You mean I have to come up with a cartoon every day?

Yow! I’ve been sending ten or so ideas to the New Yorker every week since 1980.  I’m so used to the weekly routine after all this time that when I found out last week that I had been picked to do a daily cartoon for the New Yorker website I wondered if I could actually do it. Well, after my initial angst subsided I found I could and would. It’s a great change in the routine, actually, and has influenced my work habits in a good way. I discovered that perusing the web for current news and culture events to take off from had the additional benefit of producing ideas for my regular weekly batch as well.

So watch this space for the next 6 – 8 weeks to see my daily Daily Cartoon. I hope you enjoy them. Comments are welcome, pro or con.

Today’s cartoon is based on last week’s news about George Bush (Jr.)’s post-presidential foray into painting. You may have seen the examples of his art, which are mostly, if not all, portraits of world leaders past and present with whom he visited or conspired during his reign as Chief Executive. Whether intentional or not, his work didn’t flatter his subjects, including one painting of his dad, George Bush senior, and even a self-portrait. I began wondering how some of the people he painted might feel about his work and how they might express their ideas of the artist who had savaged them. The result is today’s Daily:

A Fine Mess of Music Cartoons

When I’m not doodling for the New Yorker or other fine publications everywhere, I’m playing music. I also do a semi-weekly newsletter for our band here in Saint Augustine (The Mood). For a while now, I’ve been including cartoons in the newsletter which relate to jazz and performing music in clubs, etc. I have an album of them on our Facebook Page. (So far, no-one there has decided that my drawings contain anything that conflicts with their high standards of decency.) You can see the album here. Enjoy!

Nipplegate’s Last Gasp?

Well, I think Nipplegate is over, and high time. Currently on the New Yorker website, you can hear the last gasps of it, along with some other cartoonist banter, featuring Bob Mankoff, Michael Agger, and Myself in a telephone interview recorded last week: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2012/09/out-loud-bob-mankoff.html.

Some say I should now move on to doing offensive cartoons of major religious figures, naturally with nipples exposed. That guy in France beat me to it, however. Besides which, I’d rather make people laugh than cause them to slaughter one another.

Dots!

Some of you may be aware of a recent flap over one of my New Yorker cartoons, which incited the ire of some folks over at Facebook, where the depiction of a woman’s nipples (Eve, in the garden of Eden) caused them to ban the NYer Facebook page for 24 hours. The cartoon that caused the banning showed a naked Adam and Eve, both with exposed nipples, which were represented in cartoon code by two strategically-placed dots. Dots!

(The many nipples displayed in the tree above them were apparently overlooked.)

Gosh, I feel just terrible about all this and am currently seeking therapy . It’s not going to be easy to shake my indecent urge to draw dots, but I’m trying!

 

 

Music and Art



A
lot of cartoonists seem to be drawn to making music as well as drawn to drawing. Lee Lorenz is a professional cornet-player in New York City, John O’Brien plays the banjo, and I used to see Arnold Roth in the elevator at the New Yorker carrying his sax case.

I got interested in playing also, but much later in life. I actually had a dream a long time ago in which I was playing the tenor sax just like Sonny Rollins, who I had been listening to a lot. I had a sax-player friend at the time to whom I related my dream and he suggested I borrow an old horn he had and try it out. From that day forward, I began playing nearly every day, eventually getting my own horn and taking lessons. It isn’t easy to learn an instrument after you reach a certain age (50, in my case) but I persevered and am still at it, almost 20 years later.

At first, I tried to apply the same rules (Or lack of rules) I’ve learned to use in cartooning to making music. That perseverance I mentioned before is one thing which applies to both occupations, but there are a number of differences between the two, and I had to throw out a few ideas which just don’t apply to learning and playing music. In cartooning, I have no one to answer to except my editors and my own sometimes flawed and always biased judgement. I do what I think is funny at the time I do it and send in the results every week to the magazine, where Bob and David decide whether the work is funny or not, and meets the nominal requirements for publication. It’s just me and my ideas all week long, with maybe a sale at the end of the cycle. No one tells me how to draw or what’s funny and what’s not. I’m almost totally free to create whatever I want without rules or limitations, except for the usually unspoken or unwritten law that one doesn’t copy or steal another artist’s work.

In music, especially classical and jazz, there are rules, and plenty of them. Many of them are based on the mathematics of music-making, hard and fast rules which make the music intellectually coherent. The intricacies of keys, chord-structures, rhythm, and a host of other details must be mastered before one can sucessfully make music. It’s also a collaborative art, unlike the solitary nature of cartooning, and the musicians have to communicate with each other before they can communicate with their audience. Also, when you’re up in front of an audience, you can’t erase what you’ve done, or start over. All those bad notes are out there, for all to hear and wince at. In spite of the rules and restrictions, I was surprised at first to find that musicians have no compunctions about stealing ideas from one-another. In fact, lifting someone else’s musical invention, a lick, a riff, or a phrase, is very common and even encouraged. The idea is that the music itself is the beneficiary of all this traditional lifting and swapping. Of course, there’s still room for individual expression within all the rules. In the case of what’s called “free jazz”, the kind of jazz played by Ornette Coleman and others, the object is to intentionally flaunt or ignore the traditional rules, but it’s implicit, one assumes, that you have to first know the rules well enough to break them.

Somehow, I manage to do both cartooning and music, trading off hours during the day for each, drawing in the mornings and afternoons, practicing the saxophone in between, and on weekend nights, performing in clubs here in Saint Augustine with our quartet.

(I also now find myself drawing a lot more cartoons about music and musicians. The results are documented in The New Yorker from time to time, and also on my band’s Facebook and web pages for anyone interested in looking at them.)

 

The State of Our Art

Hey. I love my iPad. I happily go about Googling, shopping, downloading new apps, listening to new music, and reading new books almost every day. Now, I even read The New Yorker and peruse the cartoons on my iPad. The problem for us artists is how the new technologies are undermining certain aspects of our profession, specifically, payment for our work.

 

The old ideas about intellectual property, copyright, and the ownership of one’s work are now in the process of disappearing. Anyone who wants to and knows how to can Google our published work and use it gratis. Some people, mostly those born in the internet age, are actually unaware the old rules, both spoken and unspoken, about artists’ ownership and control of their own work. The word “plagiarism” appears to be disappearing from people’s vocabularies. Copyrights are becoming meaningless. When a cartoon is referenced in the media, the name of the artist is often no longer mentioned, and sometimes even the name of the publication in which the drawing appeared.

 

Being a magazine cartoonist has always been an iffy job, even for those few of us fortunate enough to be regulars in The New Yorker. When I started out, there were a number of publications left which ran cartoons, but in short order, magazines began to change. Work like that of Milton Glaser and Seymour Chwast at Push Pin Studios, in the 60s and 70s, directly or indirectly influenced art directors and designers, and magazines began to adopt a different look, featuring a lot of color, photos, illustration, and airy type styles (Hello Helvetica!). More and more, art directors and designers began eliminating our funny little boxes. They were interlopers, sometimes badly drawn and almost always in plain old black and white. Each cartoon represented the style of a particular artist, all different in one way or another, and often at odds with the magazine-designer’s concept. Magazine cartoons also took up valuable real estate, which could be used for more lucrative purposes, such as advertising.  There was a brief renaissance during the 90s, when the economic bubble which was to burst a few years later was still inflating. Business magazines started running cartoons, in many cases adding color. When the bubble burst, though, our little boxes began to disappear again, with exception of The New Yorker, where cartoons have always been considered a crucial part of the magazine’s identity.

 

Other forms of cartooning were thriving, though, including animation and comic-books, which eventually made the jump to “serious” literature in the form of graphic novels. With graphic novels, the art itself often plays the major role. How the drawings appear on the page and in what order is as important as, or in some cases more important, than the story-line. Humor sometimes isn’t a factor at all, unlike magazine cartoons, in which humor is the raison d’etre. The drawing itself in a magazine cartoon can be clumsy and inept, as long as it serves the spirit of the joke. (I hasten to point out that inept or clumsy drawing isn’t a prerequisite in our cartoons, but it is permissible. The joke is the thing, whether it comes with great draftsmanship or not.) Another difference between the forms is that magazine cartoons attempt to avoid anything that might impede the delivery of the idea, like overly-long captions or fussy drawing, in order to deliver their humor as quickly as possible. The “surprise” factor is very important. Graphic novels deliver their message more slowly, in multiple panels and pages, and, as in their more literary forebears, “un-graphic”novels, being funny most often isn’t the point.

 

Magazine cartooning is still alive and well within the pages of The New Yorker and a handful of other publications, in print and on our iPads, etc. Maybe magazine cartooning will find a way to flourish with new technology, either the current versions or some other breakthrough technology soon to come.

 

Doing a batch every week has become a strong habit with me and my ilk, and I still get a lot of pleasure from the process, despite the insecurity of not knowing when or if I’ll sell a cartoon in a given week. (In fact, that may be part of the attraction, in a slightly masochistic way.) I don’t think I could stop doing what I do now, no matter what the future may hold for the profession, so I’ll probably keep drawing til I drop, as will many other artists in this slightly oddball profession.

 

A Few Words…

It’s been a long time since I last posted. During my time away from I Really Should Be Drawing, I’ve been going along as usual, drawing for The New Yorker and other places, and spending some time playing saxophone in our little jazz-band here in Saint Augustine, The Mood. (It has a blog, now, too, if you’re interested: itsamoodthing.com. I’ve managed to combine my cartooning and musical interests, lately, by drawing a lot of cartoons about music and the club scene here, and those cartoons are featured on the Mood blog).

Back here at IRSBD, I’ve started doing a feature called “The Gray Area” an example of which is below.