Cartoons

Food & Drug Packaging, September 1983


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The publication of this cartoon in the trade magazine FOOD & DRUG PACKAGING in September 1983 prompted a Letter to the Editor that was printed a few issues later. The letter was written by a packaging company executive, and I'm quoting it in its entirety, because it also helps non-packaging-oriented people to understand what the gag is all about:

"The cartoon by Stein in the September 1983 issue of FOOD & DRUG PACKAGING was well done. It points out the new packages available to the supermarket shopper; however, one package is not commercially available and is still under market test, in selected parts of the country, after five years. The retort pouch is not yet considered to be a widely used package in the United States and this is true even after 20 years of development. Giving the retort pouch "equal billing" with ovenable paperboard and seamless aluminum cans is an injustice to total market conditions. Perhaps, in the distant future, the retort pouch will become a viable supermarket commodity. But, it sure isn't now!"

And now, after all these years, I get to comment on this letter. Yes, I knew all along that retort pouches were still in a testing stage. But I used the term because I found "retort pouches" to be a very funny-sounding name for a package (even funnier than "ovenable paperboard containers" or "seamless aluminum cans"). To this day, I can't help smiling when I think "retort pouch" -- try saying it and see if you don't have the same reaction.

And, after all, humor is what it's all about.






Public Domain


Over the years, I've thought of gags that I considered clever and marketable, but which I didn't think I could pull off with my limited cartooning skill, so I never attempted to draw them.

(As I've often explained to anyone who would listen, I'm really a gagwriter who, out of desperation, turned to cartooning as the outlet for all the funny thoughts racing through my mind all the time. "Real" cartoonists are gifted, prolific artists who can intrinsically draw in a humorous vein.)

A gag that comes to mind, for instance, would have required both a title in a box above the drawing and the usual caption below. The title would have been MR. OTIS MAKES ANOTHER MOMENTOUS DECISION. The drawing would have shown the outside of the very first elevator, under construction, with a workman holding up signs below the button controls. The signs say FOR and AGAINST. And a very pensive Mr. Otis, standing nearby, is saying the caption: "No, it still doesn't look right to me. Let's try UP and DOWN again."

OK, maybe the first elevators didn't have button controls. To a gagwriter, that is immaterial (remember, dogs don't really have the ability to talk). If any of you "real" cartoonists want to take a crack at this gag, I'm officially putting it into the public domain. Go for it -- sell it to The New Yorker. See if I care.






The Wall Street Journal, February 19, 1998


wsj021998.JPG A few weeks after this was printed in The Wall Street Journal, I received a letter from a Vice-President at IBM. She said she wanted to buy the original drawing "for personal use (non-commercial display purposes only)".

I emailed her that my fee for an original would ordinarily be $200, and if IBM were purchasing it, that's what I would charge. However, I added that since she specified it was strictly for her personal use, I would reduce the fee to $150. She soon emailed back as follows: "I did say that the cartoon would be for personal-internal display purposes only, however, I did neglect to mention that it is not for my personal viewing but for the IBM CEO and Chairman, Mr. Lou Gerstner. He enjoyed your cartoon and requested that we purchase if available. So I'm not quite sure how you want to handle the cost -- it's up to you."

Wow -- Louis Gerstner! I was suitably impressed.

I emailed her back and said that under the circumstances, we should split the difference and make it a fee of $175. And that's exactly what we did.






Chopped Liver?


On June 14, 1990, Julie Salamon, The Wall Street Journal's film critic, wrote a review of the movie "Dick Tracy", in which she made reference to newspapers that don't print comics, such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. I took umbrage at that remark and dashed off a letter to the Editor. In a few days The Wall Street Journal printed my letter and, of course, printed a cartoon of mine on the same page. wsjletter062290.JPG You can find the cartoon in my Wall Street Journal posting dated June 22, 1990






National Review, April 4, 1994


natrev040494.JPG Shortly after this cartoon appeared, I received a phone call from Michele Meny, on the staff of the Rush Limbaugh TV show (yes, Rush had a TV program in those days, in addition to his radio program). She said that Rush wanted to show the cartoon on the show, crediting both me and National Review. I don't agree with 99% of Rush Limbaugh's views or opinions, but since I HAD used his name, I didn't think I could refuse such a reasonable request. I simply asked to be informed when the cartoon would be shown and Ms. Meny got back to me with that information. The cartoon appeared onscreen for less than a minute, during a "break in the action", and as far as I know, Rush never commented on it.






National Review, December 13, 1985


natrev1213851.JPG This is the first cartoon I sold to National Review. The "Cartoon Editor" in 1985 was Priscilla Buckley, sister of NR founder William Buckley, and she wrote me a nice note saying she "couldn't resist" this one. We had a very cordial relationship (by mail) until she retired in 1992, and my cartoons continued to appear in NR on an irregular basis until 1998. At about that time, NR reduced its cartoon usage to a bare minimum, which continues to this day. I saw the handwriting on the wall and just stopped submitting cartoons for consideration.






Official U.S. Government Approval


In June 1981 I was pleased -- and surprised -- to receive the following letter from U.S. Secretary of Commerce Malcolm Baldrige. mbletter.JPG I framed his letter and it is still hanging in my studio. You can find the cartoon he's referring to by going to the Publication posting under Wall Street Journal, April 29, 1981, or in the 1980's Decade or under the Topic of Business -- Board Meetings.

Mr. Baldrige, Commerce Secretary under Ronald Reagan, went on to create and endow the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Awards for business excellence. He died in 1987, but the Awards are still very much a factor in the business world. Congress passed legislation to perpetuate them and each year our President awards them to deserving businesses.






Mad, October 1968


Gagwriting is one-quarter of the thrill of being a gag cartoonist. The other three quarters are drawing the gag, selling it and finally, seeing it in print. In 1968 I came up with an idea that I couldn't seem to develop into a cartoon, but it occured to me that it could possibly become a pretty good spread in Mad magazine. I roughed out a layout, wrote a lot of copy, and sent it out.

I soon heard from Mad Editor Nick Meglin, who said he was interested in the concept and the writing, but he wanted to farm it out to one of his regular artists to draw. (See my posting about Tom Wesselmann -- the same proposal was made to him by The New Yorker.) I pondered for a while about what leverage I had if I were to insist on doing the artwork myself (absolutely none, I decided), so I said OK to Mr. Meglin's offer.

The two-page spread appeared in the October 1968 issue, illustrated by Joe Orlando. The images below were taken from the reprint of the article in the paperback book Steaming Mad, which appeared years later.

So I got paid the writer's fee instead of the artist's fee, and that's how I became one of Mad's "usual gang of idiots" and a hero to my little kids. mada1068.JPGmadb1068.JPGmadc1068.JPGmadd1068.JPGmade1068.JPGmadf1068.JPGmadg1068.JPGmadh1068.JPG






The Eli Stein School of Gagwriting


(Don't worry -- you won't need a credit card)

Lesson One: I've always believed that a cartoon caption is funnier if it is posed in the form of a question -- if possible -- rather than in the form of a declarative statement. I feel that the question format effectively invites the reader to participate in the humor, perhaps even prompting the reader to silently but knowingly answer the question posed.

I realize that this is somewhat like what Neil Simon has one of his characters saying in one of his plays -- the old comedian who adamantly insists, and I'm paraphrasing here, "You know what's funny? Words with a 'k' are funny -- 'pickles' is a funny word."

Well, pickles IS a funny word, isn't it?? Notice how that last question got you involved?

End of Lesson One, and probably the end of the Eli Stein School of Gagwriting.






The Wall Street Journal, July 12, 1957


wsj071257.JPG This was my first sale to a major market. It was printed in 1957, but I remember making the sale in 1956.

Charles Preston was the man who, more than fifty years ago, convinced The Wall Street Journal to start printing a cartoon every day, and to this day he's still at the helm of their "Pepper . . . and Salt" feature.

I remember visiting Preston many times in his Lexington Avenue office on Wednesdays, which was "Looking Day" for the local cartoonists. Unfortunately, I don't have a photo of the young, dashing Charles Preston of those days, but I have this photo of him and myself at the 50th Anniversary celebration/exhibit, which was held at the World Financial Center in 1999. preston.jpg That's Preston on the left, me on the right.






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