Wednesday, July 18, 2018

From the Dick Buchanan Files: Gardner Rea Gag Cartoons 1938 - 1963

Once again, Dick Buchanan has braved the stacks of vintage magazines that he has in his Greenwich Village apartment to come up with a special selection of cartoons. 

Gardner Rea (1894 - 1966) was one of the original contributing cartoonists to The New Yorker magazine.

He went to high school in Columbus, where he met James Thurber. After earning a degree at Ohio State University (where he helped to found and edited The Sundial, the OSU humor magazine), Gardner Rea traveled to New York City.

He married Dorothy Julia Calkins in 1920, and the newlyweds lived in a house he designed in Brookhaven, Long Island. Brookhaven would be where they would bring up two daughters and spend the rest of their lives.

From the New York Times:

That somewhat serpentine line of his drawings, without detail, became his trademark, along with a trick of having in each picture a small shape, such as a necktie, inked in solid black. He explained the "wiggle" of his line with another gag—"Nobody will catch on when I get senile."

But Mr. Rea distinguished between verbal humor and the art of drawing. He told an interviewer in 1946 that in common with most critics, he considered "that line is the highest, most difficult form of art, and so long long as the fundamental design is there, I can't see that it makes the slightest difference, technically speaking, if the subject matter is humorous."
Here are some great samples of Gardner Rea's work. Thanks, Dick Buchanan!




1938 - 1963

    Gardner Rea was one of the most prolific cartoonists of the 20th Century. His impeccable, seemingly simple line drawings delivered countless quality gags, most of which were all his own creation. Indeed, for a time he wrote 40 gags a week, which he sold to editors.  Among the lucky New Yorker recipients of his efforts were the usual suspects--Peter Arno and Helen Hokinson.

    Hailing from Ohio, Rea was born in 1892. He was set on becoming a painter until he sold a cartoon to Life.  The rest is history.

    After graduating from Ohio State he moved to New York in 1914 to become a freelancer. He already had sales to Puck, Life and Judge and soon became one of the most popular cartoonists of the 1920’s.  He was one of the cartoonists who appeared in the first issue of The New Yorker.

   His work was found in all of the major magazines of the 20th Century—from Puck, Life and Judge to The New Yorker, Collier’s, The Saturday Evening Post, Esquire, Playboy, Look and even 1000 Jokes Magazine.

   Here, haphazardly extracted from the Cartoon Clip File, are but a few of his marvelous contributions to the world of humor during an amazing career . . .

1.  Collier’s May 28, 1938.

2.  Collier’s circa 1940’s.

3. The Saturday Evening Post April 11, 1942.

4.  American Magazine January 1944.

5.  Collier’s October 20, 1945.

 6.  Collier’s January 5, 1946.

7.  True Magazine October 1947.

8.  Collier’s May 31, 1947.

9.  Collier’s August 7, 1948.

10.  Collier’s August 7, 1948.

11.  True Magazine January 1948.

11.  Collier’s August 20, 1954.
 13.  Collier’s December 7, 1956.

14.  Look Magazine November 11, 1958.


15.  Look Magazine September 12, 1961.

16.  1000 Jokes Magazine December, 1962-February, 1963.     

Alex Jay has a wonderful piece on the life and times of Gardner Rea at Stripper's Guide.

The New York Times, 29 December 1966 obituary.

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