I am a certifiable nut when it comes to New Yorker cartoons.
While I read my Dad's collection of Peanuts books when I was young, I probably can only quote you vague paraphrases of the strips. I do remember vividly the impressions Snoopy used to do where he looked like Beethoven and others and I remember "weed claustrophobia" and "the vulture" and "the Python". I specifically remember the punchline "You've made him very happy, Charlie Brown" as Snoopy slithers off into the grass after choking the life out of Charlie Brown's ankle. But that's about it. I loved the strip as a whole - I just couldn't always remember it when I wasn't looking at it.
Not so for New Yorker cartoons. My grandparents were dedicated readers of the mag and that meant it was always lying around when we visited. I read the cartoons voraciously. There were so many great cartoonists who had work there but, for me, the holy trinity of NYer cartoonists was: Charles Addams, George Price, and George Booth.
To be fair, Addams got the lion's share of my attention because, in addition to seeing his work in the magazine, my father had all the book collections. I can not only quote for you the punchlines of over 100 Addams toons, I can describe the drawing of each of them for you as well.
But right up there with him were Price and Booth. I think one of the things that appealed to me most was the way in which each of them depicted squalor. Price with his impossibly straight lines that might fool the reader into thinking they were looking at something high class while really the characters were like something out of "Roseanne". Booth with his jagged lines and chicken toed dogs and cats that were either scratching themselves, licking themselves, having a fit, or just staring at the wall.
I am actually in possession of about 40 years of NYer magazines. When my grandparents died in 1987 their basement was full of them. I grabbed them all and, since that time, my basement has been full of them. Three basements, actually, as I have moved three times and lugged them with me each time.
Once upon a time, I began a quest to cull all the cartoons from these magazines and put them into binders, arranged by cartoonist. I immediately ran up against a stumbling block in that many cartoons were on two sides of the same page. This meant that I was going to have to do a lot of xeroxing if I were going to preserve them all. Luckily for me, I was teaching at the time at a high school that gave me unlimited access to a xerox machine. (This is before all the security around copy machine codes - probably designed to expressly cut out the kind of copy machine abuse I was engaging in.)
Anyway, I set to work and filled up several binders of which these are only a few:
The work of George Price
A Charles Addams cartoon and an index
One of the Booth pages
Sadly, no one warned me against the use of glue sticks and rubber cement to paste things into scrapbooks so I have basically ruined the very cartoons I was trying to save. Irony, gotta love it.
Then I had kids and all such projects got shelved. And, eventually he NYer went to the trouble of putting out a book of every cartoon they ever ran, rendering the project completely moot :-)
So, for me, the big highlight of this year's Reubens weekend was meeting Mr. Booth in person and getting a glimpse of his creative process.
The meeting was not at all as I imagined - I think I was thinking a polite little moment in the middle of one of those cocktail conversations where you are standing quietly listening to a lot of famous cartoonists riff off one another and then someone introduces you and you nod and then fall into a hole in the floor somewhere.
Instead, at breakfast one morning, while eating eggs and talking politics with Wiley Miller (another huge moment in my life, BTW) John came back from getting coffee and said "I just met George Booth and we had a very nice little chat."
"What!? You met him and I missed it!"
"He's right over there, you can just go up and talk to him."
"You're kidding me, right? He's trying to get his breakfast!"
"No, seriously, he's really nice - just go up and talk to him."
And the great thing about the Reuben weekend, and people like Mr. Booth, is that John was absolutely right - I could just go up and talk to him. So I gathered my courage and just did it.
And he was delightful. And he laughed at something I said. I have no idea what it was, or if it was even funny, but he's polite that way.
I'd like to think that I held it together and was very dignified during the whole exchange - I hope so anyway - but I did go back to the table and have my one big "Oh, my god - fan-geek" moment of the weekend.
Now I can die happy :-)
Coming soon - Part 2, some of my favorite Booth cartoons and some pictures of his presentation.