Thursday, January 24, 2019

Saber Arches: Peter Arno and Barbara Shermund

Peter Arno and Barbara Shermund were leading cartoonists of their day. Both of them honed their craft in the pages of the early New Yorker. Both excelled at depicting sexy situations. Occasionally, as it happened, they arrived at similar scenarios. What if we were to compare how two talented cartoonists, one a man and one a woman, handled a given theme?

The saber arch is a military wedding honor practiced around the world. Bride and groom walk in procession under the raised swords of soldiers. Both cartoonists present gags with a backstory in which the bride herself has a history with the soldiers. As one might expect, Arno and Shermund handle the situation quite differently.

We'll start with Peter Arno, not because he's alphabetically first, but because his cartoon appeared in print first, and by a dozen years:
"…Hello, Edmund. Hello, Warwick. Hello, Teddy. Hello, Poodgie. Hello, Kip. Hello, Freddie…"
Peter Arno

The New Yorker, July 25, 1936, page 14

Arno's New Yorker cartoon was well-known, although whether Barbara Shermund recalled it is anybody's guess. Her cartoon appeared in color on the cover of Pictorial Review, a Sunday supplement syndicated by King Features:
"Do you think it's safe? I jilted most of them!"
Barbara Shermund
Pictorial Review (Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph), June 27, 1948

A critical difference between the two gags is evident. Arno, the male cartoonist, has devised a gag in which the groom is made to feel humiliated by the suggested promiscuity of the bride. Shermund, the female cartoonist, presents a gag which emphasizes the bride's social and even physical discomfort.

Barbara Shermund's niece Amanda Gormley notes:

In Arno's illustration, the groom has clearly been cuckolded and there appears to exist, in the bride's facial expression, [her intention] that he should expect perceived behaviors going forward. The bride is unfettered. 
Conversely, Shermund's bride has "jilted" and renounced her paramours seemingly in favor of her groom. She's less responsible for her beaus' reactions because of her femininity and beauty as she now looks to her groom for protection, something he seems resigned to do.

This pair of cartoons reinforces then how important it is to hear different voices in cartooning. When we do, we are likely to get perspectives which differ from each other, and which differ from our own.

Note:  "Tell Me a Story Where the Bad Girl Wins: The Life and Art of Barbara Shermund" is now on view at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. It will remain on exhibit through March 31, 2019.

Posts on Instagram with the hashtag
#barbarashermund may be seen here.

Instagram posts hashtagged #peterarno may be found here.

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