Last Monday, Barry Blitt won the Pulitzer Prize for his New Yorker covers and editorial cartoons—which have been more spot-on than ever in the Trump era.
To ring in the occasion, we’re revisiting Blitt’s Design Matters With Debbie Millman interview from 2017, in which he discusses some of his most famous New Yorker covers (he has contributed more than 100 since 1992), as well as his process at large.
As he says in the interview, “I thought that art was something higher than wisecracks. Little did I know … there’s tremendous art in wisecracks.”
We’re glad to see that the highest journalism authority in the land agrees.
As a complement to the interview, here are 17 quotes by the hilarious and self-effacing Blitt. Collectively, they offer a keyhole view into his genius.
“I was born a smart aleck. A wisenheimer. A jokester, punster and fool. It is no picnic, feeling the need to be funny all the time. I remember my dad, similarly afflicted with the jester gene, coming home from work one day with a black eye; he’d made a comment to someone with no sense of humor, apparently.” (source)
“I don’t know what I was thinking when I was starting out. I was hoping I’d get paid to draw realistic pictures of hockey players. I still hold that hope alive.” (source)
“I don’t really know what makes someone want to be a cartoonist, but part of it is trying to get in trouble. You’re looking where the line is and seeing how much you can step over it, and I mean, I do that in my personal life, too. I try to anger and piss people off a little bit to try to see what I can get away with.” (source)
“I didn’t always know I’d be doing this sort of work for a living, god no. And I’m still expecting someone who looks like they’re in charge to walk into the room at any moment and tell me to stop—I’ve had my chance, the fun is over.” (source)
“I have no boundaries. I do anything at anyone’s expense.” (source)
“A cartoonist’s style is created by weaknesses and personal restrictions as much as strengths.” (source)
“I have no idea where ideas come from. It does seem like a mysterious, unconscious thing. Though I’m pretty sure that most of my lousy ideas—when no inspiration makes itself available—are the result of calculated, paint-by-numbers thinking.” (source)
“I’ll just redraw things a million times. I’m never happy with what I’ve done. I’ll draw it once and think I can do a better job of it. I’ll draw it again, and I’ll go back to the first one and say ‘that was a little bit better’ and start a third one. And so it’s nice to have someone come and actually take it away from me. Usually a courier is sent and waits outside the door, and they just pull it away from me.” (source)
“Really, the first attempt—sometimes the second one—is generally the best. A drawing loses life after that. I wish someone had told me that a long time ago. I probably wouldn’t have listened. And it’s still a hard thing for me to obey. But a drawing with life is really the best result you can get. I’ll take a mediocre likeness over a perfect one if it’s got more life in the line.” (source)
“At 59 years old, I’ve given up wishing I was someone else, for the most part. I do wish my color palette was a little more vibrant, but even when I consciously try and do something about it, everything still looks kind of pale and drab. It’s hard to change who you are.” (source)
“It just seems like every picture of Trump is a revelation. Any angle. I didn’t know a person could look like that. His facial expressions—he really is a cartoon. He’s like an instruction manual of how to caricature someone. I mean it’s just all there.” (source)
“… For a while, it was the sweep of his hair, like frozen yogurt in slow motion, that captivated me. Then, his mildly prissy overbite was all the rage. His chin and secondary and tertiary chins are what I’m stuck on these days.” (source)
“A cartoonist deals in clichés. Some are offensive, but some aren’t offensive. You tweak them if you can.” (source)
“I can’t watch TV news anymore; it’s always people yelling at each other or—worse—people agreeing with each other.” (source)
“Hobbies? Well, when I’ve applied a swath of watercolor to a page, and it’s going to take a little while to dry, I’ll often run over to the electric piano and pound out some chords. A lot of illustrators and cartoonists are amateur musicians, and it’s not hard to see why: the immediate gratification and improvisational fun found in making jazz or popular music is a nice antidote to the patience it takes to execute an image that tells a story in an exacting technique like watercolor.” (source)
“I’m an adequatist! I would be happy with something adequate. Perfection’s out of the question.” (source)
“I took my son Sam to a movie recently. I was dropping him off to meet a bunch of friends there. So I dropped him off, and a bunch of his little friends were there. And he, like, didn’t want me to come anywhere near them. He wanted me to drop him off and not say hi to friends. And I was, like, offended. You know, I’m just going to say hi to them. I guess I was just too uncool for him. And I said: But I did the cover of The New Yorker last week!” (source)
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