One Genius Departs, Another Arrives

It’s been a terrible year of loss for those of us who consider the weekly collection of New Yorker cartoons one of the best reasons for living. William Hamilton, Michael Crawford, Frank Modell — all these legends died recently. And now Jack Ziegler.

Even if you didn’t know the name or the man, you’ve seen his cartoons, more than 1,500 of which have appeared in the magazine. His drawing style — clean, rounded, unmessy — is instantly recognizable. His humor, too. Jack Ziegler, like all the greatest of cartoonists, was keenly aware of life’s absurdities and silliness; instead of finding it tragic, he discovered a fount of comedy. His first cartoon in the New Yorker, from 1974, is classic Ziegler, even before the world knew who he was. A simple idea — animals that make the “wrong sound” — in Jack’s hands became a knowing commentary on corporate beauracracy, biblical nonsense, and mass production. It works on one level and on three others: a work of subtle genius.

We’ll miss Ziegler’s sweet sense of humor, his affection for human foibles, his sensationally clear lines. We’ll miss laughing at things we never thought we’d find funny.

But life goes on, and so does talent. The current stable of New Yorker cartoonists features a handful of relative newcomers whose idiosyncratic, un-classical approach to the art has brought a new sense of possibility (and creative wonderment) to the magazine’s august pages. Artists like Liana Finck and Tom Chitty use pen and ink in a way that initially looks scribbly and out-of-proportion, but, with repeat viewings, project a kind of composed beauty perfect for the dark, edgy humor they prefer. Perhaps the most exciting, original and, yes, profoundly funny newish member of the team is Edward Steed. His drawings look like no one else’s. His humor — black, with grace notes of foolishness — is like no one else’s. Steed, we’re tempted to say, is a kind of genius, and each week the magazine arrives in our mailbox, we hope one of his utterly unpredictable cartoons appears therein. Can he do it again? Another masterpiece scrawled on the back of a napkin?

He can. He does.

We look back with unrelenting pleasure on the gifts people like Jack Ziegler have given us readers. Thanks to Edward Steed and his young cohorts, we’ve got much to look forward to.

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1 Response

  1. Chris says:

    I have often thought cartoonists are fine art