Actually, no. Before that, there arose the idea in art director Warren Kremer‘s ever-effervescent mind:
Then, one year on…
More than two decades down the road, Marvel, since they were already borrowing Harvey’s Chamber of Chills title (did they even ask? I wonder), figured they may as well reenact one of its classic covers.
Say, what’s this about the day’s first shave? … is there shaving after death? Hassles, hassles.
Though most would nowadays call upon electric shavers or disposable plastic razors, I presume that straight razors have made a comeback among the hipster set. Still, a niche is hardly universal.
As a bonus, here’s one on the general topic by the immortal Chas Addams. It appeared in The New Yorker in 1957, then was reprinted later that year in his solo collection Nightcrawlers (Simon and Schuster). For more of that excellently-morbid Addams mirth, amble over to this earlier spotlight from our Hallowe’en Countdown’s initial edition.
« When I grow up I would like to be an artist in France. » — Keith Haring
The other day, while weighing the idea of producing this post, I asked my wife: “Is Sempé too obvious a choice?”, to which she wisely replied: “To whom?”. To add another few grammes of perspective, I’m reminded of how, a decade-or-so ago, I was helping out a friend by manning his business phones while he took a vacation. One caller identified herself as Mme Sempé. I immediately asked whether she was related to the cartoonist. She was (they’re second cousins), but rather shockingly, this was the first time anyone had ever brought up the subject with her. Okay, so not so obvious after all.
If you only know Jean-Jacques Sempé‘s work through his cover illustrations for The New Yorker, well, you’ve missed his finest. Sempé (born August 17, 1932, in Bordeaux, France) was recruited in the late 70s, in the twilight of editor William Shawn‘s tenure (1952-87) with the magazine. To be quite frank, Sempé’s New Yorker work is his weakest, comprising almost invariably mawkish scenes of the dying arts: little girls practicing scales at grand pianos, ballet rehearsals and grand operas. And the work has only grown more anachronistic and sentimental with time; I’d say he’s the least compelling cover artist currently working for the magazine, with the exception of art director Françoise Mouly‘s little chouchou, the stiff and bland Adrian Tomine, he of the lifeless line and emetic palette. Ahem.
But there was a time…
In 1968, a decade-and-a-half into Sempé’s career, ever-lucid Belgian writer and historian Jacques Sternberg perceptively summed up the artist’s appeal:
« But Sempé’s humour has earned the favour of a very wide audience. Without a doubt because he’s able to observe with a playful — but rarely sadistic — eye the drawbacks and peculiarities of our daily lives, and that his reader feels — mistakenly — reassured by this vision.
Sempé has, in fact, a way with an impressive setting, with meticulous detail, of the mise en scène that sugarcoats the bitter pill and of the lyrical flight that dampens the ferocity of the content. The miracle occurs as if by magic: Sempé, who is rather scathing, seduces rather than worries his readers. »
« … his appreciation for city life was such that when I was a little girl and we would be going on walks, he would periodically draw my attention to the colorful and interesting patterns created by garbage strewn about on the streets, or by dilapidated storefronts with their torn-off signs. » — Gina Kovarsky on her father’s perspective
Funny how history works: for every world-famous New Yorker cartoonist, there’s another who’s just about been forgotten, yet is every bit the equal of his more celebrated colleague.
Anatol Kovarsky (born in Moscow in 1919, lived and thrived to the impressive age of 97) began working for the New Yorker in 1947, who published his cartoons and cover illustrations until 1969, when the man turned his full attention to painting.
This specific piece first saw print in The New Yorker in 1956, and was collected later that year as part of the classic Kovarsky’s World (Alfred A. Knopf).
« No other state of confusion is as interesting as yours. »
By the mid-1930s, Abner Dean (1910–1982), né Abner Epstein in New York City, had reached the pinnacle of his profession, and begun to make rewarding inroads into other pursuits and endeavours. Fruitfully and prolifically published in most of the top magazines of the era (and top era for magazines), such as The New Yorker, Life, Esquire, Coronet, Time, Newsweek, Collier’s, Look, Ladies’ Home Journal and so forth, he’d also scored in the advertising field (most notably through a fifteen-year association with Aetna Insurance).
Yet he was restless; he bristled at the limitations, conventions and formulae of the era’s gag cartooning world and had something grander in mind and up his sleeve. We’ll get to that.
But first, here’s a sampling of what Abner accomplished as a commercial illustrator and cartoonist early in his career.
Incidentally, what little remains publicly known about this once-famous man is the fruit of diligent research conducted by the eclectically erudite Ken Parille. As usual, we stand on the shoulders of giants. Thank you!
In the mid-50s, New Yorker cartoonist (and children’s book author, sculptor and Orgone Box owner) William Steig (1907-2003) was called upon to throw together some illustrations for Epic Records’ “Epic in Jazz” LP series, which featured classic 30s recordings from the likes of Johnny Hodges, Chu Berry, Count Basie, Barney Bigard and Cootie Williams. One might safely opine that the good Mr. Steig outdid himself. You be the judge.
These sets were reissued over the years, often with bland photo covers (oh, the infamy!), but Sony Japan has done right by the series a few years ago, reissuing it on cd while retaining the essence of its visual allure and, in most cases, adding four tracks of the same calibre and vintage to each disc.
Did I mention that Cab Calloway and Dizzy Gillespie are also in attendance? Sorry, it must have slipped my mind, what with all the excitement and bathtub gin.
« My neighbours listen to good music whether they like it or not. » – Unknown
« I hope I will not be accused of undue vanity if I publicly thank Mr. Addams for immortalizing me in the person of the witch’s butler, to say nothing of the rather hairy gentleman whose clothes are strangely cut and who appears to subsist on a diet of bananas. »
Boris Karloff, from his foreword to the Addams collection Drawn and Quartered (Random House, 1942)
At the risk of being obvious, the ghoulish wit of Charles Addams brings us Hallowe’en on any old day of the year… but it’s no reason to take him for granted when the proper season slinks into view. Here’s a small selection of favourites. I’ve noticed that many latter-day collections have been plagued by terrible reproduction (heads should roll for that particular crime against art!), so I’ve gone back to the original collections in my library. Enjoy, fiends!
On a damp and chilly night, is there a finer way to keep warm than huddling with your beloved?
Richard Decker, (b. Philadelphia, PA, May 6, 1907, d. November 1, 1988) fruitfully spent four decades as a contract cartoonist for the New Yorker. His association with the magazine began in 1929.
Along the same ordre d’idées, here’s a bonus piece about the evocative magic of old time radio, by long-time Gasoline Alley cartoonist (and bluegrass fiddler) Jim Scancarelli (b. 1941), from the April, 1979 issue of Child Life Magazine.
Care to fully capture and bask in this delicious melancholy? Go ahead, pour yourself a snifter of your favourite poison, hunker down in your coziest chair, and enjoy an episode or three of the classic The Shadow radio show, starring Orson Welles.