At the soul of Ed Koren's work is soul. Our sharpest satirists hold the world (or specific aspects of our world) in sharp contempt. Koren, who died last Friday at the age of 87, was a kind man and his work is filled with kindness towards his characters and respect for his readers.
Gag cartoons come in different speeds. Peter Arno’s gags, with their crisp blacks and strong diagonals, are ready to zip by, while Roz Chast’s inert couch potatoes slowly stew. For Koren’s characters, life lopes along.
So, those of us who are lopers—and we are many—find ourselves in Koren’s world, see ourselves in Koren's gentle satire. That’s me, alright, the slightly soft, bearded white guy by the fire or at the dentist:
But wait… that guy at the dentist with whom I identify… is he even a human? What is he?
For Koren, animals and humans coinhabit. Animals appear human and humans appear animal: the accepted reality of Ed Koren, which, as we visit his work, becomes ours too.
Why stop at animals? Koren, acting in open-hearted surrealism, acceptingly breathed human life into inanimate objects:
Sometimes in a Koren cartoon, the gag is subtle, almost about to fly away, but nonetheless firmly delivering an idea or a completely true feeling we'd never clearly realized before. And here it is:
Animals as humans? Talking vegetables? How did Ed Koren get away with this?
Craftsmanship comprised of an overarching vision of humanity resting on solid design, delivered with an instantly identifiable line...
On the Planet Koren, there are no crisp tuxedos, only tattered fuzzy sweaters. No angry raging, only fuzzy musings. No solid black, only that inimitable scratchy, fuzzy line tying it all together like balled twine.
We will miss visiting this fuzzy planet so similar to ours, but kinder, funnier, and weirder.