Cartoons are illustrated
jokes. They are generally not regarded as fine art, but delightful
fluff. While they probably can be traced back to pre-historic
times and cave art, they really came into their own in the 19th
century with the proliferation of journals and newspapers.
While the "comic strips"
of many newspapers is always one of their best-read features,
"editorial" cartoons" have focused on political
and sociological topics. These drawings are usually accompanied
by a short caption and over the years many cartoonists, especially
those featured in The New Yorker magazine, have established
oeuvres of great panache and individuality. Sometimes their key
to their success is the drawing style, or the individual characters
portrayed. Sometimes it is not the quality of the illustration
or the distinctiveness of the characters but the simple caption
whose sardonic and/or satiric "punch" line is an extremely
witty or caustic observation on the social mores of the time.
Abe Hirschfeld, whose large,
theatrical caricatures, graced the front page of The New York
Times Sunday Arts & Leisure section for decades, is perhaps
the most famous example of a cartoonist whose works qualify, and
sell as, art. (Many artists, such as those belonging to the "Ash-Can"
School," began their careers as newspaper illustrators, which
is distinct from cartoonists.)
Some cartoons, like the
large ones that appear on "Page Six" of The New York
Post, are quite detailed, but most are quick sketches and
one has to be impressed with the ability of many cartoonists to
consistently draw the same characters with very considerable,
if not consummate, skill.
Anthony Haden-Guest has
been one of the most ascerbic observers of New York City's nightlife
(see The City Review article on his book
on Studio 54, the famous disco) and art world for a generation
or so and was one of the early journalistic imports from Britain
who developed a well-deserved reputation as a fine reporter and
writer. In recent years, he has also dabbled in cartoons that
have been prominently featured in such sophisticated publications
as The New York Observer.
One gets the notion that
many cartoonists are ensconced in some delightful New England
farmhouse concocting their screwball ditties, usually about urban
and suburban entertainments, from afar, but make no doubt about
Mr. Haden-Guest is a "man about town" and this collection
of cartoons ain't no "Smiley" lapel pin.
Essentially, it is bons
idées rather than bons mots from the party circuit and
one of their niceties is that its often not the captioned remark
or conversation that rings the bell, but the captioned "idea,"
or "reflection," or "interpretation."
The best of his cartoons
feature some sketched heads facing one another against a dark
background, vaguely reminiscent of some Caravaggioesque double
portrait. Mr. Haden-Guest's drawing skills may not yet be a master's
but many of them evidence a good deal of flair and artistic talent
in a nicely calligraphic way.
There is nothing terribly
bittersweet nor nostalgic about his work. He is blunt, frontal,
and quite often devastating. You, too, can be jaded, or if that's
too outré for you, cool.
Survival through the pitfalls
and pratfalls of an active social life is quite an accomplishment
and Mr. Haden-Guest probably deserves a chestful of ribbons for
service above and beyond the call of being socially adept.
Mr. Haden-Guest is the author
of several books including "True Colors: The Real Life of
the Art World" (Grove/Atlantic) amd "The Last Party:
Studio 54, Disco and the Culture of the Night" (William Morrow
& Co.). He has contributed articles to such publications as
as Vanity Fair, Talk, The New Yorker, Details,
Paris Review, The London Observer and the Sunday
Times and Telegraph. In 1979, he won an Emmy for writing and
narrating "The Affluent Immigrants," a PBS television
The book's sections include
"Affairs of the Heart," "Performer Anxieties,"
"E-Answered Prayers," "What They Say and What they
Mean: Advice to Lovers" and "Postmodernist Excuses"
Humor is an embracing form
of loving even at its most inane, ridiculous, or condescending.
Mr. Haden-Guest is not inane, ridiculous, or odious, but inspired,
perhaps righteous and always observant. The important question
is is he a good song-and-dance man? I confess that I have seen
him numerous times bright-eyed, albeit not bushy-tailed, at a
coffee-shop devouring the morning papers and one would never guess
that beneath such a proper and studious appearance lurks such
discerning and affectionate glee.