Sunday, December 09, 2007

I Am Blind and My Dog Is Dead by Sam Gross

This is Gross's famous first collection of cartoons, originally published in 1977. Overlook has just reissued it in a nice little hardcover, with very festive stripes on the spine.

It's around a hundred pages, unpaginated, with one or two cartoons to a page, all in clear black-and-white. They're all in the frameless single-image New Yorker idiom, and I thought nearly all of them were funny. There are some unlikely recurrences: little match girls, frogs, gingerbread men, shepherds, hopscotch, construction, and cleaning women with dollhouses turn up much more often than one would expect. Gross's humor isn't quite as tasteless here as it sometimes got later on -- on the other hand, when you're a cartoonist whose name is "Gross," I think you get credited with being less tasteful than you actually are, no matter what your real level is.

This book has a wonderful copyright page, which lists all of the venues where these cartoons originally appeared: The New Yorker and National Lampoon, of course, but also Ladies Home Journal (22!), Saturday Review (13!), The New York Times (6), Good Housekeeping, Audubon, Writer's Digest, The Saturday Evening Post, Barrister, TV Guide, McCall's, Private Eye, Esquire, Head, Cosmopolitan, Gourmet, True, Cavalier, Argosy, and The Critic. When I look at that list, the first thing I think about is all those venues for cartoons that are closed or nearly closed now. In Gross's day -- in the case of this book, the late '60s and early '70s -- dozens of publications bought cartoons regularly, making a large and prosperous market. There doesn't seem to be anything like that now. (And the second thing I notice is that Argosy survived long enough to buy a Sam Gross cartoon, which I wouldn't have expected.)

I don't know if there's enough of a cartooning world for this generation's S. Gross to make a go at it; sure, The New Yorker and Playboy buy some, but there doesn't seem to be the broad range of publications buying gag cartoons as there used to be. If I were king of the media world, I'd want to find a way to fix that; this world needs more gag cartoons in it. But, for now, I'll take the ones I can get, especially if they're by a professional like Gross.

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