Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Happy Birthday, Peter Arno

It would be his 110th birthday today.

Michael Maslin, who has a bio of Arno in the works, weighs in and quotes many New Yorker cartoonists on the man.

Here's one of my favorite stories about Arno: "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 10 or 11 years ago as part of a National Cartoonists Society Connecticut Chapter speech he gave.

So, Mel Casson and a friend went to visit the one and only famous 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 twenty original drawings.

These 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 inked 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."


vwstieber said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
vwstieber said...

It just now occurred to me (after years of seeing Arno's work), that he shares some stylistic similarities with Manfred Schmidt, the German artist who created detective Nick Knatterton, the facial expression and angular body positions, particularly. And the eyes, especially the eyes!

(comment reposted with correction)