Monday, March 15, 2010

Remembering John Kane

Above cartoon by John Kane. Copyright © 2010 The Cartoon Bank. All rights reserved.

There is an old bit -- a comedy bit -- and I can't remember who wrote and performed it -- but, anyway, it's about being friends when you're a little boy.

With boys, if you are 6 years old and there's another 6 year old guy next door, you say, "Hey! We live next door! Let's be best friends?" And he says, "Yeah, OK," and then, from that day on, you are best friends and that's that.

The New Yorker magazine cartoonists are in that same mold. Like Derek Van Giesen, I submitted to the magazine, first by mail, and then for about 6 years, in person. The scary part of the submission process is having to sit in front of the editor and have him go through your cartoons, one by one, right in front of you. The great part of the process is going to lunch with the cartoonists. Sam Gross, early on, asked me to come along. It was the beginning of a tradition that I kept for more than half a decade.

Above: one of the cartoonist lunches from 2004. Photos courtesy of Felipe "Feggo" Galindo. Thanks, Felipe! (Correction: it's Mort Gerberg)

John Kane, who died on March 10, 2010, was part of the group. He had been cartooning full-time for less than 10 years. Before that, I know that he had a long career and had retired. I know he told me what he did. I can't remember. And there's good reason for that and not just my own faulty memory.

When John had retired, he decided that this was the time to become a full-time cartoonist -- with the lofty goal of selling to The New Yorker. So that's what he became. Within a year or so, he had made a sale. And then there were more buys.

Many times, we sat next to each other at the cartoonists' lunch. John always had news. I remember that 7 or 8 years ago, he had one of the first hand held GPS devices and was telling me about it; how he had used to locate and then bookmark a particularly elusive gravesite in Long Island.

John didn't talk much about his past. The reason is: he didn't live there. And so that's why giving an account of who he was before he became a cartoonist is not something I can write. He was more interested in the now and the future. We talked about cartoonists we admired, how we write gags, and slogging through those times of no inspiration or, worse, no sales.

John was untiringly curious and enthusiastic about the process from writing to doing the finished drawing. Sometimes I thought that this fellow, who was a generation older than me, had more energy than most cartoonists my age.

I didn't know it at the time, but John had decided that I was a cartoonist and he was a cartoonist and, therefore, we were friends. And that was that.

I moved out of NYC in 2007. Last year, a Twitter message popped up on my Tweetdeck. It was John Kane. We messaged back and forth about our impressions of Twitter and reassured each other that we were doing fine.

That was the last time I heard from him.

I mentioned fellow cartoonist Derek Van Giesen. He remembers John warmly and fondly here.

Although I don't know Derek, I feel I can call him a friend. My experience with our friend John is much the same; "Are you a fellow cartoonist? Then you are a friend."

My friend and fellow cartoonist Eli Stein sums up John's warmth with this remembrance:

"One Tuesday in the waiting room [of The New Yorker], John was passing around his copy of a hard-cover New Yorker collection of cartoons for everybody to autograph. He eventually passed it to me. I demurred, telling him that I was never actually published in The New Yorker. John’s simple response was, 'Oh, but you will be.'"


mira said...

What a lovely tribute to John. Thanks to Felipe to pointing me to your blog. I agree John was younger in spirit than most of the younger generation. He knew way more about the latest techy gadgets and iphone apps than I ever will. Even when he was sick and couldn't move his arms, he thought of gags which he farmed out to a group of us to draw. It was my honor to be John's friend.

Mike Rhode said...

Nice post on a sad topic, Mike.

BB said...

I'm a bit late to the party, but I just found out that John passed away. I worked with him for years at CDA--an ad agency in Westchester. He was one of the most talented people I've ever had the pleasure of working with. I think I still have some of his cartoons around.