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← The stories behind The New Yorker's iconic covers

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Showing Revision 8 created 08/03/2017 by Brian Greene.

  1. So 24 years ago,

  2. I was brought to The New Yorker
  3. as art editor
  4. to rejuvenate
  5. what had by then become
    a somewhat staid institution
  6. and to bring in new artists
  7. and to try to bring the magazine
    from its ivory tower
  8. into engaging with its time.
  9. And it was just
    the right thing for me to do
  10. because I've always been captivated
    by how an image can --
  11. a simple drawing --
  12. can cut through the torrent of images
    that we see every single day.
  13. How it can capture a moment,
  14. how it can crystallize
    a social trend or a complex event
  15. in a way that a lot of words
    wouldn't be able to do --
  16. and reduce it to its essence
    and turn it into a cartoon.
  17. So I went to the library

  18. and I looked at the first cover
    drawn by Rea Irvin in 1925 --
  19. a dandy looking at a butterfly
    through his monocle,
  20. and we call it Eustace Tilley.
  21. And I realized that
    as the magazine had become known
  22. for its in-depth research
    and long reports,
  23. some of the humor
    had gotten lost along the way,
  24. because now often Eustace Tilley
    was seen as a haughty dandy,
  25. but in fact, in 1925,
  26. when Rea Irvin first drew this image,
  27. he did it as part of a humor magazine
  28. to amuse the youth of the era,
  29. which was the flappers
    of the roaring twenties.
  30. And in the library,
  31. I found the images
    that really captured the zeitgeist
  32. of the Great Depression.
  33. And it showed us
    not just how people dressed
  34. or what their cars looked like,
  35. but also what made them laugh,
  36. what their prejudices were.
  37. And you really got a sense
  38. of what it felt like
    to be alive in the '30s.
  39. So I called on contemporary artists,

  40. such as Adrian Tomine here.
  41. I often call on narrative artists --
  42. cartoonists, children's book authors --
  43. and I give them themes such as,
  44. you know, what it's like
    to be in the subway,
  45. or Valentine's Day,
  46. and they send me sketches.
  47. And once the sketches
    are approved by the editor,
  48. David Remnick,
  49. it's a go.
  50. And I love the way
  51. those images are actually
    not telling you what to think.
  52. But they do make you think,
  53. because the artist is actually --
  54. it's almost a puzzle;
  55. the artist is drawing the dots,
  56. and you, the reader,
    have to complete the picture.
  57. So to get this image
    on the left by Anita Kunz,
  58. or the one on right by Tomer Hanuka,
  59. you have to play spot the differences.
  60. And it is something that ...
  61. It's really exciting to see
  62. how the engagement with the reader ...
  63. how those images really capture --
  64. play with the stereotypes.
  65. But when you get it,
  66. it rearranges the stereotypes
    that are in your head.
  67. But the images don't
    just have to show people,

  68. sometimes it can be a feeling.
  69. Right after September 11,
  70. I was at a point,
  71. like everybody else,
  72. where I really didn't know how to deal
    with what we were going through,
  73. and I felt that no image
    could capture this moment,
  74. and I wanted to just do a black cover,
  75. like no cover.
  76. And I talked to my husband,
    cartoonist Art Spiegelman,
  77. and mentioned to him
    that I was going to propose that,
  78. and he said, "Oh, if you're
    going to do a black cover,
  79. then why don't you do
    the silhouette of the Twin Towers,
  80. black on black?"
  81. And I sat down to draw this,
  82. and as soon as I saw it,
  83. a shiver ran down my spine
  84. and I realized
  85. that in this refusal to make an image,
  86. we had found a way to capture loss
  87. and mourning
  88. and absence.
  89. And it's been a profound thing
    that I learned in the process --
  90. that sometimes some of the images
    that say the most
  91. do it with the most spare means.
  92. And a simple image can speak volumes.
  93. So this is the image
    that we published by Bob Staake

  94. right after the election of Barack Obama,
  95. and captured a historic moment.
  96. But we can't really plan for this,
  97. because in order to do this,
  98. we have to let the artist
    experience the emotions that we all feel
  99. when that is happening.
  100. So back in November 2016,
  101. during the election last year,
  102. the only image that we
    could publish was this,
  103. which was on the stand
    on the week that everybody voted.
  104. (Laughter)

  105. Because we knew
    somebody would feel this --

  106. (Laughter)

  107. when the result of the election
    was announced.

  108. And when we found out the result,
  109. we really were at a loss,
  110. and this is the image
    that was sent by Bob Staake again,
  111. and that really hit a chord.
  112. And again,
  113. we can't really figure out
    what's going to come next,
  114. but here it felt like we didn't
    know how to move forward,
  115. but we did move forward,
  116. and this is the image that we published
    after Donald Trump's election
  117. and at the time of the Women's March
  118. all over the US.
  119. So over those 24 years,

  120. I have seen over 1,000 images
    come to life week after week,
  121. and I'm often asked
    which one is my favorite,
  122. but I can't pick one
  123. because what I'm most proud of
    is how different every image is,
  124. one from the other.
  125. And that's due to the talent
    and the diversity
  126. of all of the artists that contribute.
  127. And now, well,

  128. now, we're owned by Russia,
  129. so --
  130. (Laughter)

  131. In a rendering by Barry Blitt here,

  132. Eustace has become
    Eustace Vladimirovich Tilley.
  133. And the butterfly is none other
    than a flabbergasted Donald Trump
  134. flapping his wings,
  135. trying to figure out
    how to control the butterfly effect,
  136. and the famed logo
    that was drawn by Rae Irvin in 1925
  137. is now in Cyrillic.
  138. So, what makes me really excited
    about this moment

  139. is the way that ...
  140. You know, free press
    is essential to our democracy.
  141. And we can see from
    the sublime to the ridiculous
  142. that artists can capture what is going on
  143. in a way that an artist
  144. armed with just India ink and watercolor
  145. can capture and enter
    into the cultural dialogue.
  146. It puts those artists
    at the center of that culture,
  147. and that's exactly
    where I think they should be.
  148. Because the main thing we need
    right now is a good cartoon.
  149. Thank you.

  150. (Applause)