Saturday, May 31, 2014

My Entry in the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest #429

Here is my entry in the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest #429 from May 26, 2014. The drawing is by Harry Bliss. The caption was composed by me, with a little help from Stephen Sondheim.

"No, not that 'A Little Night Music.'"

June 2, 2014 Update:  The Finalists

June 23, 2014 Update:  Winning Caption

Note:  Last week's New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest #428 featured an invisible man visiting as a houseguest. I just couldn't see that. Actually, judging from the captions of the finalists, it seems doubtful he was an invisible man at all, but I certainly didn't know that.

I had better luck with the Moment Cartoon Caption Contest for January/February 2014, garnering my first winning caption ever! I have a long list of reasons why my caption shouldn't have won, but win it did and I'm not going to fight it.

You certainly won't want to miss my older posts about cartoonist Harry Bliss.

I just realized I've never written any posts about Stephen Sondheim. I hope someone out there is filling the void.

If you like gags like this one based on distortions of scale, you might try these on for size.


Friday, May 30, 2014

Constantin Alajálov for Paramount

In 1931, Constantin Alajálov illustrated this print advertisement for Paramount Pictures Short Subjects. His smartly-dressed upscale couple is rendered as slightly angular and impossibly chic. Alajálov's advertising art necessarily lacks the incisive social commentary of his magazine covers, but it remains accomplished and appealing.

Constantin Alajálov, Advertisement, Paramount Pictures Short Subjects, 1931

Note:  There's a lot more art by Constantin Alajálov. Take a look.

I also have quite a few more posts on advertising. Take a look and maybe buy a little something for yourself.


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Constantin Alajálov: Sweet Temptation

The Saturday Evening Post reproduced a number of its covers as posters. A group of seven such posters with artwork by Constantin Alajálov was sold at Swann Galleries in February 2013. The magazine cover of March 12, 1949 pokes fun at the extreme difficulty of eating moderately amidst plenty, even more of a problem today than it was then.

Constantin Alajálov, Poster, The Saturday Evening Post, March 12, 1949

Note:  While you're here, why not partake of a few more morsels of Mr. Alajálov's artwork?

There's more on the Saturday Evening Post's covers as well.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Constantin Alajálov: Years of Preparation

Illustrator Constantin Alajálov created the Saturday Evening Post's unusual fold-out cover of October 1, 1960. It consists of ten panels, nine of which form the part of the cover visible on the newsstand and the tenth of which is the full-page fold-out. In the first nine panels, we follow a young girl chronologically through piano, ballet, and tennis lessons; college and comportment training; the study of art as well as higher mathematics; and finally graduation and marriage. All of this leads to the final page showing the adult woman now overwhelmed with the burdens of homemaking and childrearing. The momentarily-neglected child is actually shown in an extremely dangerous and therefore unfunny situation, but it is the perplexed mother who is clearly meant to be the focus of the last panel. She is no doubt asking herself what it was all for. That's actually a pretty devastating question to be pondering on what is intended as a humorous magazine cover.

Constantin Alajálov, The Saturday Evening Post, October 1, 1960

Note:  Did you know I have other blog posts about the art of Constantin Alajálov? I'll bet you did.

Enjoy other posts about the Saturday Evening Post.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Dinner Party Conversation: Constantin Alajálov New Yorker Cover Art

Born in Rostov, Russia in 1900, Constantin Alajálov landed in New York in 1923, and became a U.S. citizen in 1926. By 1939, when this New Yorker cover was published, he seemed to have enough of a command of English to satirize affected dinner party conversation. The seated guests are having a "perfectly grand time," to use one of the illustration's own lines, surrounded by a miasma of pretentious phrases. But are the words actually Alajálov's or did he have assistance from the magazine's editorial department?

Constantin Alajálov, Original cover art, The New Yorker, January 7, 1939
Reproduced in Illustration #23, page 72
Constantin Alajálov, The New Yorker, January 7, 1939

Note:  I've been admiring the art of Constantin Alajálov here for about six weeks now and still my little survey is not quite ready to draw to a close.

Some of my favorite blog posts feature original New Yorker cover art. I don't see how anyone can get enough of this.


Monday, May 26, 2014

Constantin Alajálov ALS

Amazon offers an autograph letter signed (ALS) from Constantin Alajálov. It dates from December 20, 1975 when the artist was 75 years of age. It is written in green ink. The scan is really inadequate, but at least it is readable. The letter's contents are interesting, even tantalizing:

Dec. 20- '75

Dear Mr. Tomajan,

Many thanks for your letter of Decem. 8th & for the suggestion in it about a book of my work.

At present I have no plans, nor ideas, nor inclinations to do anything about it, but, just the same, I want to thank you for the flattering idea.

Sincerely Yours,

Constantin Alajálov

With most of his life's work behind him, this should have been the time for Alajálov to cement his reputation as a great illustrator through retrospective exhibitions or books surveying his life's work. He demurs politely, but my guess is that the lack of interest is not on his part.

Autograph Letter Signed from Constantin Alajálov, December 20, 1975

Another example of Alajálov's use of green ink can be seen in a Cézanne book from his personal library where he inscribed his name.
Constantin Alajálov's copy of Cézanne:  Paintings, Watercolors & Drawings (Chicago, 1952) with his name inscribed in green ink.

June 6, 2014 Update:  The ALS by Constantin Alajálov has been sold. I am pleased to report that the buyer is an avid reader of this blog.

Note:  My survey of the work of Constantin Alajálov continues long beyond its expected duration, whatever that may have been. It should be obvious by now that I can keep doing this indefinitely, but I promise I won't.

You might want to take a look at other examples of autograph letters signed on this blog. There are few pursuits more delectable than reading other people's mail.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Blogging Milestone: 400,000 Page Views

Today this blog has reached 400,000 pageviews. Or is it page views? Blogger's spell-check function objects to pageviews as a single word:

Yet Blogger's very own charts refer to them as pageviews. Apparently the graphics department doesn't have spell-check:

Attempted Bloggery All-Time Page Views by Country, May 24, 2014

What's this?  On yesterday's blog ranking of all-time page views by country, it's apparent that Ukraine recently has muscled in to the top ten, mirroring, I suspect, the blog's surprising popularity in Russia. From seemingly out of nowhere, Ukraine is now tied with China! Say what you will about Vladimir Putin, he's been good to this blog. My suspicion, totally self-serving, is that those developed nations that don't read my blog are subject to internet censorship. Those areas of Ukraine illegally co-opted by Russia may have incidentally gained a novel degree of internet freedom which China for the most part lacks. Now which nation, Ukraine or China, will pull ahead? Here are the early returns:
Attempted Bloggery All-Time Page Views by Country, May 25, 2014


Constantin Alajálov's Cinderella

Constantin Alajálov's illustrations for Alice Duer Miller's verse retelling of Cinderella (1943) were featured in Life magazine's issue of September 13, 1943. Life reported that Alajálov had considered a modern setting for his illustrations, but that proved unworkable. Instead he set his illustrations in the 1850's which is still a couple of centuries later than Charles Perrault's original version. Seven years after this book was published, Walt Disney was to release an animated feature of the fairy tale which was to become a classic in its own right.

Parts of the book now appear on It is especially good to see a few of the illustrations alongside the verses.

The Life magazine article appeared a couple of months before the book's release.
Life, September 13, 1943

Life, September 13, 1943

The shoe fits! Note also the ugliest evil stepfamily ever:

Note:  I have an earlier post about Cinderella's slipper in the Disney version.

There's a lot more to read about Constantin Alajálov as well.


Saturday, May 24, 2014

My Entry in the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest #428

Here is my entry in the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest #428 for May 19, 2014. The cartoon is by Frank Cotham. You know who wrote the caption.

"Are you sober enough to drive him back to the N.S.A?"

Here are a few other captions I wasn't especially pleased with:
"A makeover might help you too."
"You shouldn't have hit the delete key."
"You should give it a try.  It would hide your beer belly."

May 26, 2014 Update:  The Finalists

June 16, 2014 Update:  Winning Caption

Note:  Last week I thought I came up with a palatable enough caption for Benjamin Schwartz's take on the Zombie Apocalypse, but as they say it was no amuse-bouche.

The New Yorker's Cartoon Caption Contest remains way out of my league, but I did just have a winning caption in Moment magazine's contest, my first ever. Let me tell you all about it.

Do you need some appropriate reading for your Memorial Day weekend? This would be the ideal time to read my blog posts about the First World War, the Second World War, or the Vietnam War. Enjoy, but please don't call it edutainment.


Friday, May 23, 2014

Constantin Alajálov's "Male & Female" for Reader's Digest

A series of illustrations and sketches by Constantin Alajálov for Reader's Digest was offered in 2008 by iGavel Auctions. Individual pieces of artwork bears titles such as "Hidden Beliefs of Women" and "The Fun of Being a Woman." One might be called "Male & Female," or this could be the title of the whole series. This lot did not find a buyer at $1050 which included the buyer's premium.

Note:  I sure hope you haven't missed any of my blog posts on the art of Constantin Alajálov.

Perhaps you'd like to know the story of how I won my very first cartoon caption contest for Moment magazine after a year of attempts. Well, first I whined that Bob Mankoff didn't choose my best caption. Then I complained that my caption was longer and much more ungainly than the two others I was competing with. Then I moaned that any of Moment's readers old enough to get my reference wouldn't be able to manage the online voting. And that's how you win a caption contest!

Happy Memorial Day Weekend. It's a perfect time to read my blog posts about the First World War. Blog posts about World War II may be enjoyed as well.

I even have one post about the Vietnam War. Sorry, nothing yet about the Korean War.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Constantin Alajálov: Employment Prospects for the Graduate

The uncertain job outlook for the college graduate could be anxiety-provoking in any era, but it was particularly so during the Great Depression. Constantin Alajálov's 1935 New Yorker cover evokes the new graduate's exaggerated hopes for brilliant success on the one hand versus the fear of fruitless low-wage toil on the other. Alajálov manages to mine humor from every scenario. Each of the young man's prospects features some sort of work, which means the most feared and least humorous outcome--unemployment--doesn't really come into play here.

Constantin Alajálov, The New Yorker, May 22, 1935

Note:  Careful readers may have noticed that I've gone overboard a bit with posts about the art of Constantin Alajálov recently. Careless readers may have noticed as well.

On Tuesday I learned that I won my first cartoon caption contest in Moment magazine. I plan to keep mentioning it.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Constantin Alajálov's Garden Statue

Constantin Alajálov's oil on masonite painting of a garden statue is currently being offered on eBay. It shows off Alajálov's formidable painting technique, here somewhat Impressionistic. Possibly this work was exhibited in the artist's lifetime. It's a colorful, sun-dappled image which enhances our understanding of this artist's abilities, but I still prefer the sophisticated humor of his commercial illustrations.

Constantin Alajálov, Painting of a garden statue, oil on masonite

Constantin Alajálov, Detail of garden statue, oil on masonite

Constantin Alajálov, Detail of garden statue, oil on masonite

Constantin Alajálov, Detail of garden statue, oil on masonite

Constantin Alajálov's oil signature

Note:  My new surefire conversation-starter is "Did you know I am the latest winner in the Moment magazine Cartoon Caption Contest?" This replaces "What do you think about gum disease?" and is markedly more useful in polite society. Now I can expect to receive many more invitations to dinner parties this summer.

Another good opener is "What can I tell you about Constantin Alajálov?" Everything I know is already on the blog.