By Curt Peterson
It’s true, a lot of people read the New Yorker, at least in part, for the cartoons, and about 70 of them showed up for Edward Koren’s introduction of his new book, “Koren in the Wild” at the Norman Williams Library in Woodstock Tuesday, Dec. 11. The book consists of 200 Koren cartoons. It is Koren’s 11th book.
Koren has produced 28 covers for the New Yorker and over 1,100 of his cartoons have been published in the magazine.
His figures will be immediately recognized by anyone who has seen even one of his creations – they have squiggly lines, huge noses and unaggressive expressions. The cover of his new book displays a good example.
“Where do I get my ideas? Observation and eavesdropping. Cartoons are a conversation,” Koren said.
Koren’s career as a cartoonist started when he got a submission accepted by New Yorker magazine in April 1962. A college classmate introduced him to the art editor. He took a pencil sketch of a cartoon idea with him, and it was accepted.
“For 35 years we hand-carried pencil sketches to a Tuesday morning meeting,” Koren said. “The editor would accept or reject each submission. If we were rejected, we would work our way down a list of other publications ranked by prestige, hoping to find an editor with the right sense of humor.”
Koren said all the other magazines are gone – the New Yorker being the only surviving buyer.
Artists no longer deliver submissions – the magazine insists they be scanned and sent through the internet. Still due Tuesday morning, Koren said, they are usually accepted or not by Friday. Once accepted, sometimes with editorial input, the artist has as much time as needed to finished his cartoon and email it to the editor.
Koren said he was a “doodler” as a student, “much to the despair of my teachers.”
In many of his cartoons the juxtaposition of local, real Vermont culture and that of visitors, vacation home owners and newcomers is the basis for humor. In several slides of his work he pointed out wine glasses, Bermuda shorts, sandals and wicker furniture in the same frame with overalls, boots, straw hats and baskets full of fresh vegetables.
“And my cartoons often depict porches. I love to draw porches,” he said. “Porches are a place of community.”
On Tuesday, his entrance was dramatic – Koren, 83, is a captain on the Brookfield Volunteer Fire Department, and responded to a fire call before he left for Woodstock – the crowd waited patiently. The cartoonist has been a fireman in his adopted hometown for over 24 years.
He and his wife Curtis have lived in Vermont since the 1970s.
His education is impressive – Columbia, private study in Paris, Masters in Fine Arts from Pratt Institute, and several years’ teaching at Brown University.
He was the third Vermont Cartoonist Laureate, a designation awarded by the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River and formalized in a state house ceremony.
Koren describes cartoons as a specific moment in history—an instant in time implying the moments before and after as part of the set-up.
“It’s been the same for 2,000 years,” Koren said, “from the very beginning of graphic satire. My cartoons are frozen theater pieces, and I am the director.”
At the end of the event Mr. Koren signed books for his fans, drawing one of his characters with each signature.
Edward Koren stands next to one of his cartoons published in the New Yorker magazine.