Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #307: Omnibooth by George Booth

One of the great joys of living a really long time, I have to imagine, is being able to do multiple "best of" collections over the decades, each time presenting a new one as the definitive story...and then living long enough to do it all over again. George Booth, the New Yorker cartoonist, is in that enviable position: he's been publishing regularly in the New Yorker since 1969 -- and he wasn't young then; he was born in 1926 and was drafted into the Marines for both WWII and Korea.

So Booth has had more careers and lives than most of us: he was only slightly younger than I am now when he made his big break into the New Yorker, serving as an inspiration for all of us middle-aged underachievers. And his lumpy, quirky cartoons are lovable as well, full of ne'er-do-wells, cranks, goofballs, functionaries, cavemen, fat dogs, and the inimitable Mrs. Rittenhouse.

Omnibooth was the first major retrospective of Booth's work, a large-format book from 1984 collecting the best cartoons of what was then about a decade-and-a-half career. It was thus about five years before the last Booth book I saw -- Day 204's Booth Again! -- and only has a few cartoons that also appear there. (There's "Ip Gissa Gul," of course, which will probably be on his tombstone.)

Booth's work is weird and amusing and rarely seems to aim towards a traditional punch line. He draws cluttered rooms inhabited by weak-chinned men and their zaftig wives, cluttered with bric-a-brac and ferns, infested with scrawny cats, with an iron plugged into a dangling light-bulb socket, as the inhabitants struggle with some aspect of modern life -- usually on the losing side. Sometimes we see the outside of those houses, which is equally cluttered. Booth has a mania for drawing the same set-up over and over again -- this book often reprints those on following pages, so you can flip back and forth, like a highbrow "Six Differences" -- with different dialogue and dogs facing in different directions.

Booth is rarely laugh-out-loud funny, but he's relentlessly amusing and deeply odd; his cartoons are dispatches from an alternate world populated only by lower-middle-class obsessives, full of baths, amateur orchestras, mechanics, and more ugly furniture than you could credit. He's an American treasure, and I hope he keeps cartooning for another decade and at least one more triumphant career retrospective.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

No comments:

Post a Comment