This week I continued my search for women cartoonists. And time and time again, The New Yorker magazine kept showing up in my search results. After about the fifth time that this happened, I suddenly realized something. I knew of The New Yorker in the same way that I know about any other ubiquitous piece of pop culture. But I didn’t know any specifics. I didn’t know its history or what it was primarily known for. And I certainly didn’t know why all my searches for women cartoonists kept leading back to this one publication. So I decided to investigate further. Time for this week’s deep dive.
The New Yorker is a weekly publication that is nearly 100 years old. Its debut issue was published on February 21st, 1925, and it was originally created to be a humour magazine. Hence the prevalence of cartoons throughout. But it’s not just cartoons. One of the most iconic elements of the magazine is its illustrated cover; a tradition that continues to this day. For the first two decades of its publication, The New Yorker aimed to be a more sophisticated source of humour, often lampooning the high society of the city of New York. However, after the second world war, the magazine began publishing more reporting and investigative journalism. It became known for its legendary fact-checking processes and the quality of its writing. A reputation that continues to this day.
But a signature piece of The New Yorker has always been the cartoons. This is why my search for women cartoonists kept leading me there. Getting published in The New Yorker seems to be the ultimate signifier of success in the world of cartooning, and most of the top artists in this field have been published there at some point in their careers. Interestingly, women were there from the beginning. In fact, the first woman to be published in The New Yorker was Ethel Plummer, who contributed a cartoon to the very first issue back in 1925. Mary Petty was a contributor for 39 years, providing 273 cartoons and 38 covers. Helen E. Hokinson contributed 68 covers and over 1,800 cartoons!
These women cartoonists weren’t just successful. They had something to say. Barbara Shermund created nearly 600 cartoons for The New Yorker during her career, nearly all of which were distinctly feminist. She focused on portraying the flapper women of the Roaring 20s, and used them to critique and satirize the gender norms of the day. She even included queer content. To the extent that you could back then, of course.
Unfortunately, the era where women could thrive as cartoonists at the magazine did not last. Their contributions dwindled after the death of Harold Ross, the original Editor-in-Chief, in 1951. And between 1959 and 1973, there was a grand total of zero women whose cartoons were published. That’s right. You read that right. Zero. Thankfully, this is no longer the case. More women cartoonists are published now than ever before, including women of colour like Emily Richards (Hopkins) and Liz Montague. It’s still not equal, but it’s much better than zero.
All in all, this past week has been a hell of a lot of fun. I chose cartooning for this month’s topic because I wanted to laugh during the doldrums of January. Well, I have certainly laughed a lot this past week. Smiled. Chuckled. Guffawed. The whole nine yards. It’s also been fascinating to see the changing perspectives of womanhood and gender norms throughout the decades as expressed through these cartoons. So yeah. It’s been a great week.
Next week I’m going to be looking more into the actual technique of cartooning. I have exactly zero visual arts skills, so I’m looking forward to learning more about what sort of techniques this specific genre of art utilizes. In the meantime, if you know of any cartoonists I really should check out, please let me know.
One final note. I also discovered this past week that there have been three cartoonist couples at The New Yorker over the years. That’s just plain adorable.
Suggestions for artists I should check out? Please contact me with your ideas. I hope you enjoyed your daily helping of art!