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Don’t Worry

R.C. Harvey is back with another expedition into comics history. This time he tells the true story behind Eustace Tilley, The New Yorker‘s monocled mascot.

Eustace Tilley is the name given to the 19th century boulevardier languidly inspecting a passing butterfly through his monocle on the cover of the first issue of The New Yorker dated February 21, 1925. The same picture appeared on the magazine’s anniversary issue every year until 1994, when a new editor at The New Yorker, Tina Brown, suddenly violated hide-bound tradition by replacing Tilley with a 20th century version of the boulevardier, a chronic slacker and layabout drawn by Robert Crumb.   Nothing was ever the same at The New Yorker since.

Crumb’s drawing arrived at the magazine without explanation, said art director Francoise Mouly. “We noticed that it showed the view in front of our old offices on 42nd Street, but we didn’t realize that it was also a play on Eustace Tilley.” Understanding that the picture was a parody of Eustace Tilley, Brown seized upon it as a way of breaking a 69-year logjam: she put Crumb’s Tilley, subsequently christened Elvis Tilley, on the cover of that year’s anniversary issue.

As Lee Lorenz, one-time cartoon editor at the magazine told me, Eustace Tilley appeared on the cover of the anniversary issue because no one could think of an appropriate alternative. So year after year, Eustace Tilley returned. Without too much difficulty, we can see how this custom had become a habit. It was Harold Ross’s fault.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—At Artsy, Alexa Gotthardt profiles Emma Allen, the new cartoons editor at The New Yorker.

It’s a new role at the magazine. While Mankoff focused on cartoons, Allen has a fuller plate, overseeing Cartoons, Daily Cartoons online, Shouts & Murmurs, Daily Shouts online, and humor videos and podcasts. She and the magazine’s associate cartoon editor, Colin Stokes, also star in a video series, “Cartoons, Etc.,” in which they engage with a rotating cast of guest cartoonists “so that fans can put a face to the squiggle signature,” Allen explains. They also have plans to introduce Daily Comics, or “multi-panel, longer-form funny things” to the website’s comic ecosystem.

“Some part of my brain self-protectively has made me forget what it was like the first couple months,” Allen says when I ask how she’s acclimated to wearing this rather Herculean number of hats. “After the initial blitz, it’s been more of a regular job that I can come in and do, and go home and not collapse in a heap or cry or drink a bottle of scotch.”

—And it’s a weird all-New Yorker day here, because Daniel Gross has a profile of the South African cartoonist Mogorosi Motshumi.

Motshumi was born in Batho five years after white lawmakers made racial segregation a national policy. His father died when he was seven. He was raised largely by his grandmother in a one-story house that had a corrugated metal roof and two large windows that faced the road. On the dirt streets of Batho, he learned to fight back when bullies picked on him, but at home he rarely spoke. “I preferred being inside my own head,” he told me. He learned to resent authority figures. As a nine-year-old, a cop drove Motshumi to the police station and forced him to explain why his grandmother wasn’t paying rent.
When, a little while later, he learned that his mother had married a cop, he felt angry and ashamed.

It was around this time that he started reading comic books that his older brother brought home from high school. Though some were local comics written in the colonial language of Afrikaans, he preferred American superhero comics, like “Spider-Man.” “These comics, they always had solutions,” he told me. In a comic book, evil exists, but justice prevails. Villains rise up, but heroes rise to meet them. “That is the light that you’re looking for,” he said. When policemen persecuted the Hulk, he felt vindicated in his hatred of authority. “He’d run and run and run until he could run no more, and he’d start to fight back,” Motshumi told me. “That was my kind of world.” He taught himself to draw in his grandmother’s backyard, tracing characters in the sand with his fingers.


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