Monday, February 14, 2022

Bill Woodman 1936 - 2022


My friend, the "cartoonist's cartoonist," Bill Woodman passed away on Saturday, February 12, 2022. He was 85 years old. I received a call from his daughter, Anne, yesterday afternoon. My deep condolences to Bill's family. It was a shock.

His gag cartoons were in all of the top markets: The New Yorker, Playboy, National Lampoon and many others. Although his style looked breezy and off-the-cuff, he worked at it. 


From a 2018 Maine Comic Arts Festival gag cartooning panel:

"One of the things we talked about was not the drawing of the cartoons, but the redrawing. John Klossner and I know from visiting Bill Woodman's studio so much that Bill draws and redraws a lot. He reworks drawings. The above wordless Woodman cartoon may look easily dashed off, but it's the result of a lot of trashed previous drafts. That casual look is actually really practiced."


August 2016: Bill working in his Portland, Maine studio apartment. "I doodle everyday. It’s a disease."

Born in Bangor, Maine, upon high school graduation, he joined the Navy, serving on the USS Timmerman which patrolled the Rhine River.

From his bio:

"Upon discharge, he took the next bus to New York, knowing that that was the place to start his cartooning career. He says he didn't know how bad he was so he began submitting his work. In 1962, he sold his first cartoon to Saturday Review. He worked a variety of day jobs until making his first sale to The New Yorker in 1975 to which he has contributed to this day. In addition he has appeared in Playboy, National Lampoon, Audubon, The New York Times, Gourmet Magazine and Barron's to name a few."

He worked for years in New York City, drawing cartoons and children's books. For a while, he shared a studio with fellow New Yorker and National Lampoon cartoonist Sam Gross. 

Michael Maslin interviewed Bill in 2016:

Michael Maslin: You made your publishing debut in the pages of The Saturday Review in 1962, but  it took you a little while to break into The New Yorker – not until the end of 1975.  Were you sending work to the New Yorker all those years in between?

Bill Woodman: I was submitting pretty regularly. I had another (paying) job, you know? I was at CBS Television from 1967 to 1970. I was doing Speedball lettering charts for Nielsen Ratings. A bunch of guys were doing that. But I would cartoon at night.

MM:  You were one of the first, along with Jack Ziegler, to be brought into the magazine by Lee Lorenz (who was fairly new to the position of Art Editor, having taken over from his predecessor James Geraghty in 1973). Did it seem to you that you were part of something new at the The New Yorker – that a new kind of cartoon was being welcomed at the magazine? (the word “unconventional” comes to mind).

BW: No. Not really. I drew what would sell. (Laughs.)


One of Bill's plein air watercolors.

He returned to Maine in 2000, settling in Portland, just around the corner from the Maine Museum of Art. 


An unpublished sketch of the devil tempting Bill.

From the interview with Bill that Michael Maslin conducted:


MM: I want to ask you about your sketchbooks. Jack Ziegler has said that “[he] never had a better time looking at anything in [his] life.”

BW: At a point I was doing sketchbooks. [Now] I carry a piece of paper, folded, in my shirt pocket. I write lists. Mostly things I should do. Go to the store. Those kinds of things. Sometimes I write an idea…. Now I just doodle all over the place.



A sketch of Bill's from when we visited the Maine Mall a couple of times in 2018 and drew the people in the food court. He adds the non-sequitur word balloons later. I love these.

Covid's impact meant fewer visits with Bill, who lives about an hour away. We kept in touch with occasional phone calls and he sent me a drawing for Christmas. (Bill doesn't do email.) He had regular hospital visits to deal with cancer. He took it in stride and didn't talk about it unless you asked how he was doing. He was always up for a visit and chance to go out for breakfast and talk cartooning. I shall miss him. Bill was one of a kind.



More great Bill Woodman cartoons here.

And then there's his The Funniest Cartoon in the World.

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