Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Happy Birthday, Peter Arno

It would be his 115th birthday today.

Michael Maslin, who wrote the great bio of Arno (Peter Arno: The Mad, Mad World of The New Yorker's Greatest Cartoonist), weighs in and quotes many New Yorker cartoonists on the man.

Here's one of my favorite stories about Arno:

Some cartoonists like the beginning bit (the coming up with the idea, honing the gag bit I mean) 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 15 or 16 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 apartment. And it really was a penthouse apartment. The lobby elevator went up, and the doors opened onto the interior 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 exactly 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."


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.

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