Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Peter Arno's Favorite Part

Harry Lee Green brings a lovely sampler of Peter Arno's amazing layout and masterful wash style from the collections SIZZLING PLATTER and HELL OF A WAY TO RUN A RAILROAD.

Some cartoonists like the beginning bit (the coming up with the idea, honing the gag) and some like the process (the sketching and layout) and some like the end (the sale). My favorite part is coming up with the gag and drawing the doodle in my sketchbook. Not so with Peter Arno.

Arno would draw and redraw his cartoons sometimes dozens of times. There is a story that cartoonist Mel Casson would tell, about visiting Mr. Arno in his penthouse apartment. I'll do my best to relate it here, from memory of him telling it some 4 or 5 years ago as part of a National Cartoonists Society Connecticut Chapter speech he gave.

So, Mel Casson and a firned went to visit the one and only famopus New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno. he had invited them to his aprtment. And it really was a penthouse apartment. The lobby elevator went up, and the doors opened onto the Arno landing, from which one could see the Arno living room and, there he was, Peter Arno himself, mixing drinks.

After sitting down, having a drink and talking shop, Arno asked, "Do you want to see my studio?" Well, of course?! Who wouldn't want to see Arno's studio!

So, Arno walked over to a door, and opened it. They walked in. Arno switched on a light. The room had curtains all around, from floor to ceiling, covering the wall, the windows. "I can't have any distractions," explained Arno. The only furniture: a large drawing board, lamp and chair. And on the drawing board, laid out in two rows, were two rows of 10 original drawings each.

There were 20 originals of the same cartoon, drawn over and over. But, coming closer, the cartoons were not the same. Each one was had a slight difference: an arm bent a different way, a head turned, one character was upstage of the other, to the right in another, etc. Each one was a fully drawn Arno original, ready for publication.

I remember Casson telling Arno how surprised he was that he (Arno) did all of this work, painstakingly laboring over the cartoon, drawing and redrawing it in so many different, subtle ways -- all in finished ink and wash. Casson suggested drawing a series of thumbnails or pencil sketches instead of going to all this time and effort.

Arno explained that this was always the way he worked: drawing many different variations of the cartoon until he was satisfied. Casson repeated that it was so much work, drawing a large size finished piece over and over and over again.

"But you don't understand," explained Arno, motioning to the 20 cartoons, "This is my favorite part."

Hat tip to Journalista! for the link.


Gregory Kogan said...

That's a great story and a great ending. Thanks for sharing.

Trade Loeffler said...

Hey Mike,
Thanks for posting this. Sometimes, when I look at artists that were/are so good, I get discouraged because it seems like I have to work at it so hard, and they're just so dang good. So it's nice to hear that even the greatest of the greats were always working really hard at their craft.

Anonymous said...

nice story!!!thanks for that....I really enjoy it.

Anonymous said...

Well, no wonder! Pick a favorite thing and do it. Duh.

Darryl Cunningham said...

A wonderful story.

Eddie Campbell said...

cutting and collecting cartoons over the years I have on more than one occasion, maybe as many as three or four, noticed alternate versions of Arno drawings. For instance, I have two different versions of 'the man in the Shower', which was used as the title and cover of one of his collections. The lady's hairstyle is different enough that he probably redrew it to update the fashion. With other cartoons there didn't seem to be a reason for the second version.