I just got back from the National Cartoonists Society Reuben Awards Weekend. Always a great time and the best part is getting to reconnect with old friends… and meet a few new ones. One such friend is long time, and now lamentably retired, MAD editor Nick Meglin. Nick was one of the people I most have to thank for bringing me onboard MAD and despite the fact that he only did it because he said I work cheap, he’s been a great mentor and friend.
Nick pulled me aside this weekend to tell me that he was browsing in an antique store recently and he found a book that he really wanted me to have. This book:
I’d never even heard of this book, or its author. So, I did a little research (there’s this thing called the internet)…
Eugene Zimmerman was born in Switzerland in 1862 and emigrated to the United States from Switzerland in at the age of six partly due to the impending outbreak of war… the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. Fascinated by art, Zimmerman began as an apprentice sign painter in 1877 and eventually went to work at the famous satirical magazine Puck in 1883. He switched from Puck to Judge magazine in 1885, where he worked until he retired in 1912. He did virtually all forms of cartooning, but was probably best recognized as a political cartoonist and satirist. He wrote this book, Cartoons and Caricatures or Making the World Laugh in 1910. This is an original 1910 print (I have found no evidence that it was ever reprinted).
But that’s not all. It turns out “Zim” (his pen name) was the founder and first president of the “American Association of Cartoonists and Caricaturists“. This organization, which Zim founded in 1927, could be considered (sort of) the predecessor of the National Cartoonists Society (est. 1946) especially when you consider that one of the first AACC board’s vice presidents was a guy named Rube Goldberg. The AACC’s goals as an organization were not always lofty, according to what I read. One of its principal purposes was to not just foster the growth of up and coming cartoonists with potential, but to also discourage those that they felt had no talent and lacked ability. Not a very embracing philosophy, and probably why the AACC faded away into obscurity. The NCS, on the other hand, was founded in part by the afore mentioned Rube Goldberg and was meant as a fraternal organization of already professional cartoonists.
This book is a real time capsule, and an odd mish-mash of instruction, theory, practical information, and general weirdness. It starts out with a bio of Zimmerman by “The Home Educator” editor John Maxwell. There are many “nuts and bolts” moments where Zimmerman talks about tools and materials (turns out he used a Gillott No. 303 nib for his main work… so do I!) and even how to transport your work, but a large part of it is Zimmerman’s philosophy of what it means to be a cartoonist.
It will discuss how to think like a cartoonist for a page or two, then switch gears to explain how to do splatter effects or draw shoes… although there is precious little actual instruction. He also touches on the business side of things. It is a really interesting collection of thoughts, experiences, and ideas, with a little practical advice thrown in… all through an early 20th century lens.
One prevailing theme in the book is this, and it’s a good one: there are no shortcuts to success as a cartoonist. Learn your craft and the fundamentals of drawing first. Walk before you run, in other words. Sound advice.
This gem in an honest look at the world of professional cartooning back in the very early 1900s. Thanks, Nick!
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