Sunday, October 31, 2021

Gahan Wilson: Isaac Asimov's Sherlockian Limericks

A signed and numbered color print by Gahan Wilson (1930-2019) recently made the rounds on eBay, selling for a discounted $63.75. The seller failed to identify the subjects of the print: science fiction author Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) and the ghost of Sherlock Holmes emanating from his lit pipe. The art appeared on the cover of Asimov's Sherlockian Limericks (1978), one of the more than 500 books Asimov wrote and edited on a wide variety of subjects. The edition size of the print is 500, suggesting considerable expected demand.

Gahan Wilson
eBay listing ended August 6, 2021

Gahan Wilson
eBay item description


Thursday, October 28, 2021

Helen E. Hokinson: The Gypsy Blue-Plate Special

Does one say special blue plate or blue-plate special? I've never heard anyone say "special blue plate," but the generally scrupulous editors of The New Yorker chose this syntax for the caption of a 1934 cartoon by Helen E. Hokinson, going so far as to alter the original caption presumably written by her collaborator James Reid Parker. The cartoon depicts a matron ordering from a menu in a gypsy restaurant where meals are followed by a fortune telling. Parker's caption is written in pencil on the original art, which was sold on eBay this past August. It reads, "I'll take the gypsy blue plate special and my fortune with the apple pan dowdy." The New Yorker's published caption is, "I'll take the special gipsy blue plate and my fortune with the apple pan dowdy." Today, special blue plate sounds a bit off, but both terms were coined in the 1920s and in use in 1934. Why make the change? A search of the competing terms on the Google Books Ngram Viewer may reveal the answer. It shows the 1930s to be the only time that special blue plate was preferred over blue plate special.

"I'll take the gypsy blue plate special and my fortune with the apple pan dowdy."
Published as "I'll take the special gipsy blue plate and my fortune with the apple pan dowdy."
Original art
The New Yorker, October 6, 1934, page 76

"I'll take the gypsy blue plate special and my fortune with the apple pan dowdy."

"I'll take the gypsy blue plate special and my fortune with the apple pan dowdy."

Signature of Helen E. Hokinson

The speaker's face is the most carefully reworked part of the drawing:

Helen E. Hokinson
eBay listing ended August 1, 2021

Helen E. Hokinson
eBay item description

Helen E. Hokinson
eBay bid history
One bid in the last hour

"I'll take the gypsy blue plate special and my fortune with the apple pan dowdy."
Published as "I'll take the special gipsy blue plate and my fortune with the apple pan dowdy."
Original art
The New Yorker, October 6, 1934, page 76
Cartoon by Helen E. Hokinson

October 30, 2021 Update:  This piece was offered at auction last year by Jonah Fine Art of Holliston, the same town in which the recent eBay seller is located. The estimate was $500 to $700. The lot was passed.

Helen E. Hokinson
Jonah Fine Art
November 1, 2020


Wednesday, October 27, 2021

The CartoonStock Caption Contest #141

If over the course of two weeks I had trouble finding my way to the CartoonStock Caption Contest #141, I have no one but myself to blame. My three well-camouflaged captions are shown below. Unfortunately, when I went to submit them in the final hour of the fourteen-day contest, it became clear that the contest had prematurely ended and the next one had already begun. This is actually not the first time this has happened to me. It's what is known in the business as the price of procrastination. The excellent drawing is by David Borchart.

"Where on earth were you?"
"You never could blend in."
"Don't get lost in the crowd."


November 13, 2021 Update: The Winner


Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Sylvan Byck's Copy of Alex Atkinson and Ronald Searle's By Rocking-Chair Across America

In the late 1970s I had the good fortune to  pay a visit to King Features Syndicate in Manhattan. I remember the open floor plan allowed me to see what some of the people working at drafting tables were up to and I was truly fascinated by it. For example, letterers were sitting before me inking the word balloons of some unfamiliar comic strip originals; it turns out that not every comic artist provided all that neat lettering.

One who did, of course, was Charles M. Schulz, the reigning star of King Features. There was a shelf with a stack of original art, including what must have been about a month's run of original Peanuts strips. At the time, there was nothing in the world of newspaper comics that could have impressed me more, and that was before each strip was worth a small fortune.

The real object of my visit, though, was to meet with Sylvan Byck (1904-1982), the comic strip editor for the whole operation. I had an appointment and had brought along a portfolio of my own work, by which I mean basically a few Strathmore pads. He reacted to the pieces I brought positively and pronounced them "marketable." He was quite encouraging, and he certainly didn't have to be. I was thrilled. 

Still, I did tell him I was somewhat concerned that my drawings might be a bit derivative. He reassured me that James Montgomery Flagg had at one time considered his work too similar to that of Charles Dana Gibson, but Flagg most definitely came into his own as a fine illustrator with his own distinctive—not to mention incredibly popular—style. At our meeting I decided not to bring up my growing admiration for Ronald Searle, whose work I was already becoming quite familiar with. I figured an editor who specialized in American comic strips might not be all that familiar with or interested in the European illustration scene.

More than forty years later, I learn I was mistaken in my assumptions. An AbeBooks listing posted earlier this month by a French bookseller produces photos of Sylvan Byck's personal copy of By Rocking-Chair Across America signed by illustrator Searle and inscribed to the distinguished King Features editor himself in 1959, the year of publication. If the dust jacket's current condition is any indication, the book did not go unread.

"To Sylvan Byck  
      with best wishes
         Ronald Searle
                       NY 1959"

Alex Atkinson and Ronald Searle
AbeBooks listing accessed October 17, 2021

French to English via Google Translate

Note:  Sylvan Byck's Wikipedia page is just a click away.


Monday, October 25, 2021

My Entry in The New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest #777

It's time to "Dive! Dive! Dive!" into The New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest #777 from the issue of October 25, 2021. My caption is shown below. The drawing is by Felipe Galindo, but his military code name is Feggo.

"If the Russians couldn't find it then neither will your wife."

It turns out these captions couldn't float my boat:

"Bathtub not included."
"First tell me what sort of experience you've had with nuclear reactors."

November 7, 2021 Update:  The Finalists

November 13, 2021 Update:  I voted for the caption from Toronto.

November 21, 2021 Update:  The Winner


Saturday, October 23, 2021

License Plate on the Road to Happiness?

Sometimes one can surmise quite a lot about a driver by his car's license plate. This automobile, for example, recently spotted on the highway, no doubt belongs to a driver who is seeking euphoria.

New York State license plate


Friday, October 22, 2021

License Plate for Carrying Trick-or-Treaters?

You can always tell who might be taking a favorite holiday too seriously. Nevertheless, a license plate spotted in the city does more or less seem to be worth sharing as Halloween approaches.

New York State license plate


Thursday, October 21, 2021

Peter Kuper's Spy vs. Spy: The Top Secret Files!—Signed

Congratulations to cartoonist Peter Kuper, the 2021 recipient of the Reuben Award for the category of Magazine/Newspaper Illustration. Among his many accomplishments, Kuper has been drawing the comic strip Spy vs. Spy for Mad magazine since 1997. The series was originally created by expatriate Cuban cartoonist Antonio Prohías and first appeared in Mad #60 dated January 1961. Spy vs. Spy has been a perennial feature of Mad since the days of the Cold War. In his current interview on the Cartoon Pad podcast, Kuper reveals that he has completed what he expects is the final new strip of the decades-long run. A signed book and souvenir drawing of the two spies back to back are herein archived as they appeared not all that long ago on eBay.

Peter Kuper
eBay listing ended October 15, 2021

Peter Kuper
eBay item description

Best Newspaper/Magazine Illustration 2021 Reuben Awards