It’s hard to believe. Sam Gross, a giant in the magazine gag-cartooning world, passed away last week, at the age of 89.
Sam Gross never retired. He showed up regularly on Tuesday mornings at the offices of The New Yorker to offer his latest cartoon creations, and to schmooze away with other cartoonists while awaiting his turn to see the Cartoon Editor. And afterwards he would hang around and continue schmoozing at an improvised lunch that he and a few other cartoonists arranged at some nearby restaurant.
I’m sure I must have crossed paths with Sam Gross many years ago, in the glory days of gag cartooning, on “Look Day” Wednesday. That was the day that local cartoonists invaded Manhattan to make the rounds of the Cartoon Editors of all the magazines, newspapers and syndicates that were actively purchasing gag cartoons. On a good day a cartoonist could show batches of rough cartoons to about a dozen editors, in the hope of getting some “holds” or selling a few outright. These days, the only Cartoon Editor that sees cartoonists in person is Emma Allen of the New Yorker (and the day had long ago been changed to Tuesday, instead of Wednesday).
So, as I said, Sam Gross and I must have crossed paths, but I don’t remember ever talking to him until some time in 2004, in The New Yorker waiting room. We struck up a conversation and he mentioned that he was working on yet another cartoon anthology project, a book or a daily calendar, on the subject of Law (something like his “Cats! Cats! Cats!” and “Dogs! Dogs! Dogs!” books, I imagined). He asked me if I had any good Law cartoons published that he could consider using — he was interested only in reprints, not originals. I told him that this was his lucky day, that Law was my “spec-i-al-i-tee” and that I had loads of cartoons published in The National Law Journal and similar legal publications that I’d be pleased to offer for the project. Long story short, I sent copies of my reprints to him, he selected one that had appeared in the NLJ, I signed the necessary releases, and in no time at all I received a hefty royalty check from his publisher.
That’s the kind of mensch Sam Gross was.
The above snapshot was taken in 2007, when we met at a cartoon art exhibit. That’s him on the right, with the beard, and me on the left. It looks to me like we had the same predilection for black turtle-neck shirts.
Rest in peace, Sam Gross.