Frank Modell

In today’s New York Times, an obituary “Frank Modell, Longtime New Yorker Cartoonist, Dies at 98” by Sam Roberts:

Frank Modell, a classically trained artist who contributed more than 1,400 cartoons to The New Yorker — customarily, he said, “of angry men and sexy women and dogs” — during an illustrious era for the magazine, died on Friday at his home in Guilford, Conn. He was 98 [born 9/6/17].

Women and dogs and the occasional clown.


the cover of his 1978 book

More from the Times:

For more than 50 years, beginning in 1946, Mr. Modell’s moon-faced characters leapt from The New Yorker’s pages in a perpetual state of exasperation or pandemonium, evoking for readers their everyday vexations.

… His two-dimensional fun-house mirror reflected life’s little absurdities:

Columbus plaintively appeals to a skeptical Queen Isabella, who demands: “Three ships is a lot of ships. Why can’t you prove the world is round with one ship?” Two elephants eye a third dubiously as one says to the other: “You know the type. Remembers only what he wants to remember.” A mean-looking woman who has just shot her husband says into the telephone: “And one more thing, Lieutenant. Tell your men to wipe their shoes before they come tramping in here.”

“Modell is the quintessential gag cartoonist,” Richard Calhoun, a social historian, wrote in “The World Encyclopedia of Cartoons” (1980).

Three more Modell cartoons, starting with a conventional gag cartoon:


caption: “Dear, come look at Skeeter’s new trick!” A dog cartoon and a magician cartoon all rolled into one

Then a cartoon that has a legend, while the humor turns on linguistic material that isn’t actually in it:


the uni- of unicorn and the uni- of unicycle

Finally, another clow, dancing — and (with a giant pencil) drawing Modell’s signature at the same time:


The Times obit and the Wikipedia page provide almost no personal information (we do learn that after serving in World War II, he got married, then divorced, then started working for the New Yorker, while still in his 20s); it’s almost entirely about his artistic career. Ah, you think, but there’s a 2013 book by James Stevenson, The Life, Loves and Laughs of Frank Modell, which sounds promising. From a review by Michael Maslin:

The book is part autobiography and part biography with reminiscences from Frank’s friends, along with a fascinating interlude by Stevenson about his early years at the magazine.  Life, Loves and Laughs is chock full of color reproductions of Modell’s art, cartoons, covers and fine art, as well as plenty of photographs including a number taken by Stevenson of William Shawn, the New Yorker’s second editor.

This is a review of a privately printed edition, but a more generally available edition came out in 2013. It’s listed on — at a steep $56 price for a paperback. (I haven’t seen it.)

Note that the book is written by a New Yorker cartoonist about a New Yorker cartoonist, here reviewed by a New Yorker cartoonist, so I suspect that most of it is about the profession of drawing.

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