New Yorker artwork 4/17/17

(Not primarily about language, but there is a bit in there.)

From this issue: a Flatiron Building cover by Harry Bliss; a Rob Leighton cartoon on the Dear John letter, nit-picking, and self-awareness; and a Will McPhail cartoon about duck hunters.

Harry Bliss. Another in a series of Bliss drawings of New York landmarks, “Fashion District”: the Flatiron Building seen looking south — but with the scene playfully amended by a clothesline stretching across Fifth Avenue from a window halfway up the building.


From Wikipedia:

The Flatiron Building, originally the Fuller Building, is a triangular 22-story steel-framed landmarked building located at 175 Fifth Avenue in the borough of Manhattan, New York City, and is considered to be a groundbreaking skyscraper. Upon completion in 1902, it was one of the tallest buildings in the city at 20 floors high and one of only two skyscrapers north of 14th Street – the other being the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower, one block east. The building sits on a triangular block formed by Fifth Avenue, Broadway, and East 22nd Street, with 23rd Street grazing the triangle’s northern (uptown) peak. As with numerous other wedge-shaped buildings, the name “Flatiron” derives from its resemblance to a cast-iron clothes iron.

The building, which has been called “one of the world’s most iconic skyscrapers and a quintessential symbol of New York City”, anchors the south (downtown) end of Madison Square and the north (uptown) end of the Ladies’ Mile Historic District. The neighborhood around it is called the Flatiron District after its signature building, which has become an icon of New York City.

The building in a fairly recent photo, with Fifth Avenue going south on the right, Broadway going south on the left:


The building gets its name from the shape of an old-fashioned flatiron (or flat iron):


From NOAD2:

flatironhistorical  an iron that was heated externally and used for pressing clothes.

There are Flatiron Buildings in other cities (Chicago and San Francisco, for example), which get their names for similar reasons.

About the cover, on the New Yorker site:

“I’ve nearly met my demise many times by stepping in front of traffic as I search the skyline for inspiration,” Harry Bliss says, about his drawing of the Flatiron Building, the cover of this week’s issue.

Rob Leighton. In the cartoon, a man is raging on the phone to the writer of a Dear John letter he’s just gotten:


The letter obviously complains about his nit-picking. And in raging about the letter he picks nits (about hyphen use), revealing that he is unaware that he does in fact pick nits.

NOAD2 on relevant lexical items:

Dear John letter (also Dear John): informal a letter from a woman to a man, especially a serviceman, terminating a personal relationship: a young officer gets his Dear John letter. [using John as a generic name for a man]

nit: the egg or young form of a louse or other parasitic insect, especially the egg of a head louse attached to a human hair.

pick nits: chiefly North American look for and criticize small or insignificant faults or errors; nitpick. [metaphorical, treating looking for small faults as similar to searching for tiny nits in someone’s hair]

The generally preferred spelling for the verb related to pick nits is in fact solid, without a hyphen, as above: nitpick. But some writers like the hyphen (I do myself), and it’s nitpicking (or nit-picking) to insist that only one alternative is acceptable.

On the artist, from Wikipedia:

Robert Leighton is an American writer and artist, cartoonist, puzzle writer, illustrator, and humorist. He lives and works in New York City. His cartoons have appeared regularly in The New Yorker and other periodicals. In 1996, with Mike Shenk and Amy Goldstein, Leighton co-founded Puzzability, a puzzle-writing company. As part of Puzzability, Leighton has coauthored many books of puzzles, as well as puzzle-oriented Op-Ed pieces for The New York Times.

Asked why he creates cartoons and puzzles, two apparently different kinds of work, Leighton replied: “I think a puzzle is like a cartoon, like a joke, because the puzzle is the setup and the solution is the punch line. A good puzzle keeps you in suspense while you’re working on it, like a cartoon. And the ‘aha!’ is the equivalent of the laugh when a joke is resolved.”

Will McPhail. I picked this one out because I admired its elegant drawing and its formal composition, and because I caught a surprising allusion in the figures of the two hunters, so similar to two of the four principals of the tv show Duck Dynasty, while expressing a sentiment I would have thought utterly alien to them:


The hunters in the cartoon seem to assume that when the conditions are good, the ducks will come to them. But one of the premises of the tv show is that the ducks have to be attracted — by the duck calls the family makes. On the other hand, McPhail’s cartoons are often (intentionally) absurd.

On the show, from Wikipedia:


Jase, Si, Willie, Phil (if I’ve got them right)

Duck Dynasty is an American reality television series on A&E that portrays the lives of the Robertson family, who became successful from their family-operated business, Duck Commander. The West Monroe, Louisiana business makes products for duck hunters, primarily a duck call called Duck Commander. The Robertson men — brothers Phil and Si, and Phil’s sons Jase, Willie, and Jep — are known for their long beards and their Christian views. The family was previously featured on the series Benelli Presents Duck Commander and its spin-off, Buck Commander, on the Outdoor Channel

Not much information about the artist on his website, but here are two more of his absurdist cartoons for the New Yorker:



No caption, but here’s a description: God Dunks.

One Response to “New Yorker artwork 4/17/17”

  1. John Chase Says:

    No caption needed.

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