“We All Have To Start Somewhere” Department. Case in Point No.6

Case in point No. 6 in this ongoing feature is Pop Artist Tom Wesselmann. I’ve written about my old friend Tom previously in Eli’s Corner. Tom passed away in 2004 without achieving his not-too-secret ambition of cartooning full-time for The New Yorker. It’s interesting to think about how different Tom’s life might have been if he received that elusive OK on any of his countless New Yorker cartoon submissions. By the way, reproductions of his Pop Art paintings were featured in The New Yorker in later years, on more than one occasion. I remember one that was full-page.

A Wesselmann painting was recently purchased for over six million dollars at auction.

But I digress — back to Tom Wesselmann’s gag cartoons. I have dozens of examples of Tom’s early printed cartoons, some going back to his college days. His cartoons appeared sporadically in many of the regular cartoon-using magazines in the late 1950’s and the 1960’s, but of course never in The New Yorker. So here is just a sampling of a cartooning career that was nipped in the bud.

And remember, “we all have to start somewhere”, even world-famous Pop Artists. Note that Tom dropped the last “N” in his signature in his earlier cartoons.

I’ve also included a photo of Tom as featured on the cover of Art News magazine in January 1982.

From Profile, a University of Cincinnati student magazine, Christmas 1954 issue: wes1.jpg From Profile, Spring 1955 issue: wes2.jpg wes3.jpg From Profile, Summer 1955 issue: wes4.jpg Caption: “This will teach you that the free peoples of the world are not to be plundered by you pawns of totalitarianism!” From 1000 Jokes, March-May 1956: wes5.jpg From For Laughing Out Loud, May-July 1956: wes6.jpg From For Laughing Out Loud, July-September 1959: wes7.jpg From The Wall Street Journal, March 12, 1959: wes8.jpg From The Wall Street Journal, late 1950’s: wes9.jpg wesartnewscover.jpg


  1. comment title
    Thanks for introducing me to another talent, who for some wierd reason his cartooning was not deemed “acceptable” to the New Yorker. What is it with those guys? I went to Columbia University, have a healthy sense of humor, yet do not “get” many of their cartoons – simply not funny, no matter which way I interpret them. Why is the dream of every cartoonist to be in The New Yorker – is it like winning the Nobel Prize? Donna

  2. comment title
    Well, anyone can win a Nobel Prize, but obviously it takes a really special talent to get a cartoon published in The New Yorker. Maybe we cartoonists all aspire to be published there in the hope that we can raise their “humor quotient”. I, and many others, agree with you about the quirkiness of New Yorker cartoons, a condition that has existed since William Shawn was editor.

  3. comment title
    Hi Eli, Great story about Tom Wesselmann, had no idea he did cartoons! I always admire his work. I am also a visual artist who after experimenting with minimal art decided to do instead cartoons as an art form. It’s nice to see Tom’s cartoons but in his case, I can imagine why the NY didn’t buy his cartoons: the first examples from 1955 look very similar to Steinberg. Later on they have a hint of VIP and Chon Day and, unfortunately the later samples look a bit more generic. His art was great and grandiose, but I guess once the cartoon bug has bite you, it’s hard to resist. It reminds me of Hugh Heffner, who also wanted to be a cartoonist. All the best, Felipe

  4. comment title
    Thanks for writing again, Felipe. A while back you solved a mystery for me concerning two self-portraits (one of them yours) that I had posted from a 1985 flyer of The Cartoonists Association show at the Master Eagle Gallery. You are absolutely correct about the influences of Steinberg and VIP on Tom’s cartoons. His other cartoonist “hero” was Sam Cobean. I’ll even agree about Chon Day, but if anyone was influenced by Chon Day’s work, it was definitely me.

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Welcome to the Eli Stein Cartoon archive. To begin, read my introduction and personal notes, and then please look at the cartoons, which are categorized by either decade, publication name or topic. I’ve included some personal comments, memories and photos below many of the cartoons. I’ll be adding cartoons, memories and photos ad infinitum. Remember, your comments are appreciated (just click on the “comment” link at the bottom of each post).