Friday, January 25, 2019

Strolling by the Farm: Barbara Shermund and Peter Arno

Cartoonists Peter Arno and Barbara Shermund occasionally found themselves covering more or less the same territory. After the Second World War women gradually started wearing bikinis to the beach and adopting more revealing two-piece summer outfits. It must have been second nature for cartoonists to wonder how such daringly sophisticated summer wear would be greeted down on the farm.

This time it is Shermund who got there first. Her cover for the April 1948 Esquire contrasts not only the rural shepherd with the fashionable woman, it also juxtaposes the older male and the younger female generation. The typical young male Esquire reader would have had no trouble imagining the old man's reaction to the attractive woman walking by even if it weren't so obviously delineated on his face.

Given the prominence of Esquire's monthly covers, it would be hard to argue that Arno hadn't seen Shermund's cover illustration. Arno's editors at the New Yorker likely must have seen it as well. Arno's New Yorker cover appeared a little more than four years after Shermund's. He doubles down on the passing women but he also backs off a bit, losing the one-on-one intimacy of Shermund's encounter. The three figures seen here are not so much individual personalities as conventionalized types. The farmer is younger than Shermund's, to be sure, but it is his unexpected behavior rather than his wide-eyed smile that makes this gag memorable.

Peter Arno
The New Yorker, August 2, 1952

Amanda Gormley, Barbara Shermund's niece, responds:

In Shermund’s piece the female, strikingly reminiscent to a later photo of Marilyn Monroe, walks independently alone past all manner of living things that stop to take her in. Even the squirrel has stopped chewing on his nut.
In Arno’s cover, the male is the more central figure, clueless to his wandering thresher and the accumulating steam cloud overhead. 
Shermund’s female “owns it” while Arno’s male “is owned.” 
Two very different voices.

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.

Instagram posts hashtagged #peterarno may be seen here.

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

Back in 2011 my very first post on Peter Arno was about the sale of the original cover art seen here. I have since written more than one hundred posts about the artist.

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