Friday, June 27, 2008

Ed Arno Remembered

William Grimes has written an obituary for the late New Yorker cartoonist Ed Arno in today's New York Times.
Jud Hurd, writing for his late, lamented magazine Cartoonist PROfiles, visited Ed and his wife Rita in the early 1990s. The interview appeared in Cartoonist PROfiles #99, September 1993. Here is Jud's write up. It's so darn good that I want to pass it along intact. I am pretty sure it's © 1993 by Mr. Hurd:

One afternoon, some time ago, we had the pleasure of a long conversation with ED ARNO, cartoonist, stage designer, poster-maker, animation producer and children's book illustrator, at the home of Ed and his wife, Rita, on Long Island. Following are some of the interesting things which were revealed that day.

When Ed Arno, newly-arrived in New York City from Romania in 1965, ap­proached The New Yorker magazine, he was told, "We can't use two Arnos here". The reference, of course, was to the publication's most prestigious cartoonist, the famous Peter Arno. But, as you will soon read, that didn't stop the quiet and mod­est Ed for very long. He was used to surmounting obstacles that would liter­ally destroy a good many cartoonists.

Arno says that he grew up with humor as a child, so he began life with a goodly supply of a cartoonist's principal stock ­in-trade. An uncle of his had the knack of inventing great funny stories on-the-spot, and his arrival for a visit with the family was a highly-anticipated event. All the Arnos liked to create fun and surprises, so that Ed, who was very shy, came up with frequent ideas that made the other kids laugh at school.

He's always been able to see the humor in a situation. Here's an example of what I'm talking about: Ed was born in July, during a month when all of the other neighborhood kids were away on vaca­tions with their families. Nobody was around to be able to attend a birthday party, so Ed asked his parents not to bother to try and arrange any celebra­tions. Time passes and, from 1941 to 1944, Ed was in a labor camp operated by the Germans, digging tank-traps to hold off the Russians. Well, as Ed was leaning on his shovel one day, he told a friend that it was his birthday. The friend, who was a journalist, had a way with words, and so when the two got back to the barracks, he announced an Arno birth­day celebration to the assembled crowd. As Ed laughingly related this story to me, he added that this was the first time in his life that he'd not only had a birthday party, but one where the captive-guests couldn't have gotten out of attending, even if they'd wanted to.

Ed was born in the town of Czerno­witz, in an Austro-Hungarian area of Romania, and he particularly enjoyed telling me about the real meaning of the town's name. "If you translate the first half of the name from any Slavic tongue, and the latter half from German, you come out with BLACK JOKE!" However, Arno's black humor is gentle — far- removed from the savage, political satire prevalent in the Nazi-saturated years of Arno's young manhood.

In 1935-6 Ed studied art in Paris at L'Ecole with Paul Colin. He specialized in Stage Design, and in 1939 returned to his home town to work as a cartoonist, gra­phic and stage designer.

After he survived the 1941-44 labor camp ordeal, he became an art director and artist for children's books and maga­zines in Bucharest, and also drew cartoons for satirical magazines in Romania and the Soviet Union. Then one great day in the late 1950s, he saw a collection of New Yorker cartoons by Charles Addams, on the shelves of the USIS Library in Bucharest. These examples represented the pinnacle of cartoon achievement in Arno's mind. He admits now that he car­ried the book around with him for years after that as an inspiration and a goal. To get ahead of our story a bit, in 1969, four years after Ed and his wife Rita came to the U.S. permanently, Arno made his own debut in The New Yorker, and Charles Addams came to Ed's first one-man show at the Austrian Institute in New York. "Just having him there," says Arno, "was a thrill to me — an affirmation!"

In 1944 German troops were still in Romania, and Arno started to fight against the Nazis by doing 3-color posters such as you see here. Ed is proud of the fact that his work helped educate people on how to fight the Germans. He did a lot of cartooning very quickly and since he was paid on-the-spot, he liked the idea of getting his money also very quickly! Arno is particularly proud of the fact that in 1947 he created, with an engineering friend's help, a film in which live-action was combined with animation drawings for the first time ever in Europe. Readers of a children's magazine, for which Arno had done the cover, expressed interest in the various steps involved in doing the cover. This provided the incentive for Ed to make this film, in which he is shown at his drawing table, looking at some of his characters on the illustration board in front of him. Soon the characters begin to move around and he starts to talk with them. The cover comes alive, and in the process, the children who saw the film had their questions about the making of the cover answered. Ed did most of the artistic part of the film and the mechani­cal engineering friend handled the tech­nical part.

Arno's European art career included an amazing variety of projects. In Paris he designed and produced animated films for which Dr. Norbert Gingold, the con­ductor of symphony concerts, composed the music.

In 1957 Ed was decorated by the Romanian government for his work as an artist. When Arno came to the U.S. in 1965, he sold his first cartoon to Look magazine where Gurney Williams was Cartoon Editor. A funny incident occur­red at this time when Williams phoned the Arno home to say that the magazine had bought one of Ed's cartoons. However, he reached Ed's wife who didn't speak English very well then. The mes­sage got garbled in translation, and when Arno got home, his wife very excitedly told him that Look had lost one of his cartoons!

A happy coincidence occurred when Ed approached the New York Times which, along with The New Yorker mag­azine, was one of the two prestigious markets that he was determined to crack.

Arno first had gotten the idea to do cartoons about criminals back in his homeland, when Romania was under the thumb of the Russians. At that time, the Russians wouldn't acknowledge that there was such a thing as a criminal in the Communist system. He sympathized with most of the 'so-called' criminals, who had mostly been put in jail for small offenses not committed by themselves, but rather by the Communist government. Ed says he looked at these people through friendly glasses. Well, believe it or not, Ed was told at the Times that they'd like some spot cartoons for the Criminals-at-Large crime story department in the weekly Book Review section. This happy chore continued for about a year! As we menti­oned at the beginning of this story, The New Yorker didn't want two Arno artists in the magazine. However Ed did succeed in selling them some ideas for which Peter Arno did the drawings. Then Peter Arno died in 1968 and Lee Lorenz, whom Ed had met at Cartoonists Guild meetings, encouraged him to submit cartoons. This was 1969 and Jim Geraghty, then Art Editor of the magazine, immediately bought some Ed Arno roughs and pub­lished them, without asking for finishes. Since then there have been hundreds of Ed Arno cartoons in The New Yorker.

At this time Arno started illustrating books for the Scholastic Magazine peo­ple. His first book was The Magic Fish. The famous Arthur Rubinstein put music to it on a record, as he did with Ed's next book The Gingerbread Man.

Mrs. Arno has commented that one of the reasons that her husband was able to come from Europe and to be successful in prestigious cartoon markets in the U.S., was that he is so observant. He's lived and worked in France and Italy, as well as in eastern Europe, and in the course of these travels has become able to speak five lan­guages. And all this while, he was absorb­ing the humorous aspects of life. Of course Ed reads the newspapers and listens to the radio in order to keep his ideas up-to- date. And, very often, the bits and pieces of conversations he overhears, give him the inspiration for funny ideas. For in­stance, on one occasion, he heard his wife talking on the phone with a friend whose husband was sick. In order to make the friend feel good, Ed's wife said something like, "Oh, he only has the flu . . . that's not too serious." This inspired Arno to reproduce a similar scene in black art style. But in his cartoon, a woman is try­ing to console a friend whose husband has just died. The woman asks what illness caused the husband's death, and upon being told that it was the flu, she reassur­ingly says, "Oh, the flu . . . that's nothing!" (It wasn't as big a deal as if he'd died of cancer!)

Arno has long had the habit of writing down ideas which occur to him in his half-dreamy state as he lies in bed at night. Come morning he acts as his own censor, and often decides that nobody could understand these midnight gems. But sometimes they do bear fruit. Many of his cartoons carry no captions. To quote him, "A cartoon should be like a theater joke short and very simple. You put people to sleep when you tell a long, detailed joke." Ed sometimes makes as many as ten or fifteen versions of a car­toon before he gets it the way he wants it. Apropos of this, I've discovered, after many years of interviewing New Yorker cartoonists, that many of them follow this same pattern.

Ed has a sharp eye for the absurdities of the human condition, of politics and of everyday life. He seems to find the point in all situations, pricks the balloons of pretenses, and satirizes the short-lived fads and eternal follies of the world.

His cartoons are in numerous public and private collections.

Ed Arno London Times obit by Mark McGinnis

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