Funny Stories About Unfunny Cartoons

Some anecdotes from James Thurber's The Years With Ross, a book about the early history of "The New Yorker," in the days when it was edited by Harold Ross. In 1927, a reader sent in this letter:

"I have an idea for a cartoon. The cartoon is entitled, 'Pouring over his Books.' This is a pun. Have a student sit by a desk with a stack of books before him and reading out of one book. In the meantime have him pour some gin in a glass and is ready to drink it. All about him on the floor have bottles thrown about."

"The humor in this cartoon is in the words 'pour' and 'poir,' one means to drink and the other means to study careful."

Thurber notes that in the margin of this letter, Ross wrote "Too subtle."

I especially like the following Thurber story about Ross:

"I cannot vouch for the truth of his query about a drawing of two elephants gazing at one of their offspring with the caption, 'It's about time to tell Junior the facts of life,' but, valid or apocryphal, it has passed into legend. 'Which elephant is talking?' he is supposed to have said."

Thurber has a knack for turning a joke's fragility into part of its strength. Wasn't he also one of the earliest cartoonists to discover that being not very well drawn can make a cartoon funnier?

2 thoughts on “Funny Stories About Unfunny Cartoons”

  1. Grosz admired Thurber apparently. I wonder what kinds of things Thurber would have drawn and written had he lived in the Weimar Republic.

    Acc. The Years With Ross, the first story Thurber sold to "The New Yorker" was about a man trapped in a revolving door,

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