Category: 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.JPG madb1068.JPG madc1068.JPG madd1068.JPG made1068.JPG madf1068.JPG madg1068.JPG madh1068.JPG

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Eli Stein — Gag Cartoonist

For over 50 years my stuff has appeared in practically all of the major and minor cartoon outlets (no, not The New Yorker — Cartoon Editor Bob Mankoff has convinced me that my "Saturday Evening Post" drawing style has no place within its pages). But I haven't given up — maybe if I bring him cartoons drawn with my left hand, or with the pen between my toes or in my mouth . . . who knows what might happen. I'm sure it's not the gags that are deficient, considering some of the gags that have appeared in the New Yorker since the William Shawn era.

Anyway, I've been entertaining people over the years at The Wall Street Journal, The National Law Journal, Barron's, Good Housekeeping, The Saturday Evening Post (YES!!), King Features Syndicate, First, Woman's World and National Review, just to drop a few names. And I plan to continue doing just that.

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Personal (but not too personal)

  • My wife Lila and I have lived in a townhouse condo (actually a Homeowner's Association) on the south shore of Long Island, NY for the past twenty years.
  • Lots of children and grandchildren, but none living with us now. Here are their names, in no particular order, so if you see these name in any of the cartoons, you'll know why: Rebecca, Marc (Levi), Allyson, Rachel, Gary, Abigail, Sharon, Jonathan, Kelly, Lori, Andrew, Daniel, Liz, Matthew and Stephen.
  • Education: BA, major in Design.
  • How I made a living (since I obviously couldn't do it as a cartoonist): Art Director, mostly in advertising and cosmetics. Also did a stint in the evenings as an Adjunct Professor of Advertising and Graphic Art at a local SUNY college.
  • Pastimes: Tennis and racquetball. Also taking long-distance hikes with my wife and whichever children or grandchildren choose to come along.
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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).