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The incredible, wild life of Peter Arno, the fabled cartoonist whose racy satire and bold visuals became the unforgiving mirror of his times and the foundation of the New Yorker cartoon.
In the summer of 1925, The New Yorker was struggling to survive its first year in print. They took a chance on a young, indecorous cartoonist who was about to give up his career as an artist. His name was Peter Arno, and his witty social commentary, blush-inducing content, and compositional mastery brought a cosmopolitan edge to the magazine’s pages—a vitality that would soon cement The New Yorker as one of the world’s most celebrated publications.
Alongside New Yorker luminaries such as E.B. White, James Thurber, and founding editor Harold Ross, Arno is one of the select few who made the magazine the cultural touchstone it is today. In this intimate biography of one of The New Yorker’s first geniuses, Michael Maslin dives into Arno’s rocky relationship with the magazine, his fiery marriage to the columnist Lois Long, and his tabloid-cover altercations involving pistols, fists, and barely-legal debutantes. Maslin invites us inside the Roaring Twenties’ cultural swirl known as Café Society, in which Arno was an insider and observant outsider, both fascinated and repulsed by America’s swelling concept of “celebrity.”
Through a nuanced constellation of Arno’s most defining experiences and escapades that inspired his work in the pages of The New Yorker, Maslin explores the formative years of the publication and its iconic cartoon tradition. In tandem, he traces the shifting gradations of Arno’s brushstrokes and characters over the decades—all in light of the cultural upheavals that informed Arno’s sardonic humor.
In this first-ever portrait of America’s seminal cartoonist, we finally come eye-to-eye with the irreverent spirit at the core of theNew Yorker cartoon—a genre in itself—and leave with no doubt as to how and why this genre came to be embraced by the masses as a timeless reflection of ourselves.
New Yorker cartoonist Maslin pays homage to artist Peter Arno (1904 1968) whose witty drawings created a style that's been synonymous with the New Yorker since its launch in 1925. Maslin's riveting biography is surprisingly the first on the rakish genius, who arguably shaped the look of the weekly magazine. Beginning with Arno's posh education at Hotchkiss and Yale, Maslin depicts the young, defiant artist (born Curtis Arnoux Peters) determined to become a cartoonist despite the strong objections of his father, a New York state supreme court judge from whom he became estranged. His first piece appeared in the 18th issue of the magazine under his pseudonym, possibly in an effort to sever ties with his father, suggests Maslin. Readers of the New Yorker in the 1920s embraced Arno's work, especially after the debut of the Whoops Sisters series, featuring two feisty old ladies who used language laced in double entendre. From 1925 to his death in 1968, with a short hiatus during WWII, the New Yorker published hundreds of Arno's drawings, many of which are reproduced in the book. Maslin fills the book with insights into the cartoonist's life and art, noting that the world he depicted on paper as well as in his messy private life reflected "the implication that something unsavory was about to take place."