I first began reading The New Yorker in the early 1960's, when my mother gave me a subscription as a Christmas present. But I had seen the magazine on newsstands as early as the late 1950's. In those days, it was a very fat and prosperous looking rag, often well over a hundred pages an issue. It intrigued me, with its suppressed by-lines, encyclopedic register of events in New York City. The masthead of the magazine sat atop The Talk of the Town, and underneath it ran the lead editorial pieces. There were never any photographic illustrations then, but they had cartoons, and in the Talk of the Town section, they usually had little cartoon vignettes by a cartoonist named Otto Soglow, though the ones in the Town section weren't signed. Soglow's vignettes and cartoons had a simplicity of style, geometric and controlled, and a kind of innocence that was utterly dry.
Soglow, born in 1900, fell into cartooning by accident, and never left it. Eventually, his association with The New Yorker was so firm and familiar that his visual style was virtually synonymous with it.
Soglow as a young man
Soglow "illustrating" a model as a gag
Soglow mixing a cocktail (probably during Prohibition)
Lots of Soglow's cartoons work off a simple joke--
I wasn't able to locate any of the Talk of the Town Soglow vignettes online, though there must have been hundreds over the years. This is typical of many of them (note Thurber's droopy dog following the wagon) --
Soglow's cartoons relied heavily on immediate recognition, since he rarely had captions. Today's hip New Yorker cartoons often have no obvious subtext, and the irony of the tension between the action and the meaning seems almost anti-humor. Soglow's work is reminiscent of an earlier, perhaps more innocent time of simple, light-hearted amusement.
I haven't been a regular reader of The New Yorker for many years now--I got off that train about the time that Tina Brown was hired as conductor. She's long-gone too, though the magazine still runs good cartoons, but nothing like those Soglow used to contribute.
Did Soglow ever do a cartoon of eskimos? I like to think so. He'd have done a very satisfying little igloo, with furry collared natives indomitably confronting some redoubtable absurdity.
Here's a cocktail I've just made up, to celebrate the work of Otto Soglow. It's pleasantly refreshing, and perfectly suited to a carefree afternoon or early evening, when the frustrations and obstacles of the day have been left behind, and some amusing conversation is in order.
The ingredients, as usual, are by proportion, though the recipe will do nicely for two.
3 parts gin
2 parts dry vermouth
2/3 part ginger liqueur
1/2 part maraschino liqueur
1 part fresh lime juice
Shaken and served up in chilled cocktail glasses.
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