August 2006

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.

The Wall Street Journal, April 29, 1981


The original of this cartoon was hanging, for a while anyway, on the office wall of U.S. Secretary of Commerce Malcolm Baldrige (see my posting in Eli's Corner)

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

Better Homes and Gardens, April 2000


CAPTION: My composition is entitled 'Why Mrs. Fina Should Take Her Early Retirement Package.'"

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.

Selling Power, September 1990

sell0990.JPG This is the first of more than 75 cartoons that Selling Power magazine purchased from me. The publication started out as Personal Selling Power, a trade magazine for professional salespeople, shortened its name after a few years, and is very much still around. Unfortunately, however, about five years ago Selling Power completely stopped using cartoons as part of its editorial mix.

Not too long ago I cornered Selling Power's founder and publisher, Gerhard Gschwandtner, at a trade show (he was manning the Selling Power booth) and asked him why no more cartoons. He gave me what I considered a pretty wimpy answer, to the effect that while he personally loved the cartoons, the "design boys" decided they had to go, and he went along with that decision.

Bad thinking. If ever a publication needed cartoons and humor to supplement its hard-hitting editorial content, it's Selling Power.

A strange contradiction: Selling Power has an ongoing website,, on which there is a "Cartoon of the Day" feature, using cartoons from past issues. My cartoons appear there on a regular basis. An even stranger contradiction: in 2005, Selling Power came out with a cartoon collection, "The Sunny Side of Selling", containing 200 cartoons from past issues (18 of them are mine). So Selling Power is obviously still very much cartoon-oriented.

C'mon, Mr. Gschwandtner, it's time to speak up! Bring cartoons back to Selling Power!

Me and Tom

x.jpg I met pop artist Tom Wesselmann in the army in 1953, and we remained friends until his untimely death in December 2004. What bound us together were 1) our similar senses of humor, 2) our love of "classic" country music and 3) our ambitions to be New Yorker cartoonists. Tom was from Cincinnati, Ohio, and after his two years of army service, he and his wife moved to NYC, more specifically to Brooklyn, where I was still living with my parents. The above photo, taken in my bedroom/studio in Brooklyn around 1956, shows me (left) with Tom sitting in my seat at the drawing table. We were either discussing gags, cartooning or country music.

Tom went on to become one of the pioneer "Pop Artists" in America and his work now sells at auction for about a million dollars apiece. But the desire to be a New Yorker cartoonist never left him. Over the years, he submitted many, many batches to The New Yorker (in the later years under a nom de plume), with no success. A couple of times in the fifties or sixties the editor offered to buy his gag only (they did that at The New Yorker in the good old days, but don't do it any more). The editor said he would assign the gag to one of their "regulars". Tom didn't like the idea, but caved in, thinking it might help his cause. It didn't. I remember that one of the gags was eventually drawn by Otto Soglow. I kind of lost track of the other one, but can probably track it down somewhere.


Living Cartoon -- 1954


This photo I took of PFC Tom Wesselmann, in 1954, was set up as a "living cartoon". The caption was something like "What makes you think I'm bucking to make Sergeant?" (It looked better on paper, with the Sergeant's stripes drawn over and under the soldier's eyes.) We posed a few of these "cartoons", and they helped pass the time during our 2-year hitches as draftees in the army.


The Wall Street Journal, July 23, 1958


Ha! Check out those parking rates from 1958.

Nutrition Health Review, Spring 1980


In case you can't see it clearly, there's a big wide grin on the patient's face.

The Wall Street Journal, January 6, 1987


Kiwis were just starting to be imported around this time, and a salad wasn't a salad unless it was garnished with a few slices of that exotic fruit. But not everybody liked kiwi.

Advertising Age, January 24, 1983


For those of you who are scratching your heads and asking, what's funny about this: well, the cartoon was printed in 1983 and 1998 was a very, very distant time in the future.

The Wall Street Journal, January 24, 1958


I remember that Charles Preston (WSJ Editor) loved this gag, and kept referring to it again and again after he bought it.

Insurance Sales, July 1989


Insurance Sales magazine, and a sister publication in the insurance field, Rough Notes magazine, were relatively low-paying markets, but I could count on them to buy many of my business-related gags after they had been rejected by all the other publications. Both of them printed many cartoons of mine. Insurance Sales folded years ago, and I'm not sure if Rough Notes is still around.

The National Enquirer, November 11, 1982

natenq111182.JPG The Enquirer, the much-maligned supermarket tabloid, was surprisingly generous in the rate it paid for cartoons. It was said that the owner, Generoso Pope, believed in rewarding his reporters and contributors well. Mr. Pope died many years ago, and as far as I know the Enquirer doesn't publish cartoons anymore, but I'll keep checking it at the cashier.

A couple of times when I was in the neighborhood of the Enquirer editorial offices in Lantana, Florida, I stopped in to say hello to the cartoon editor. I'm pretty sure that the offices are now in Boca Raton.