Sunday, June 30, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

George Priceless

by Rick Marschall

One of the great stylists of the New Yorker stable of cartoonists, George Price, lived near me when I was growing up. After all these years, New Yorker cartoon fans will still name one or two of his cartoons as their favorites.

His drawings for Judge, in the 1930s, were fluid and loose. His style evolved, through his New Yorker period, into angularities, sharp edges, and almost abstract, geometric  shapes that coalesced into the trademark “look” of George Price’s world. As if Modigliani drew cartoons.

He lived in Tenafly NJ, near railroad tracks and a block from the iconic Clinton Inn; and I lived 10 minutes away in Closter NJ. I consigned many collectibles to the charming Collectors Corner of Veronica Ronyets in Tenafly, so I was there often.

The first time I met George Price was when I cold-called him and requested an audience. Surprisingly, he cheerily invited me.

“Surprisingly” because – while he was never unfriendly – George was about the most dyspeptic person I ever met. It was almost appropriate, because his cartoons were populated by a cast of thousands equally divided into groups that were bewildered, bonkers, and… incurably crabby.

George was crabby. Angry. Complaining. Resentful. Like many of his characters. Sitting in the living room, fists clenched, ready for an argument.

… not with me, but with the world. I never really had much of a conversation with him, but rather our meeting were like He was the commentator, I was the audience. Which was fine; a lot of celebrities are like that, or need that. He was always cordial and welcoming before clearing his throat and starting rants. And I can be a good audience. But there are a hundred questions I would like to have asked. Instead…

A propos of nothing (I did not raise the subject) – “Bob Hope. He’s not a comedian. He’s not funny. Just a glib wise guy.”

OK. This was the late 1960s and early ‘70s. Price was extremely left-wing and, locally, famously so. Again, out of the blue. “I know those bastards just want to harass me. It’s an organized plot. Here’s how I know. I get piles of postcards, all signed God Bless America. It’s all BS.”

OK. One of the cartooning facts I did glean was that he never wrote his own gags, which surprised me, and still does. All his cartoons were so idiosyncratic, organic, and seemingly personal, that to buy – or have The New Yorker provide – premises and captions seemed unusual. And – by the way – was not George Booth the natural inheritor of Price’s Funny Farm Folks? The same mood; the same percentage of crossed eyes and bare light bulbs; only more (in Booth’s case) original drawings with corrections-upon-corrections, Scotch Tape, and no straight lines to be found...

George Price was unusual. Thank goodness he was prolific, too. We are left with several anthologies of his work. I had him inscribe one of them, George Price’s Characters, about a comprehensive a title as one could imagine. He did sketches of the New York Mets, too, from his skewed perspective. Until 1969, his favorite team would have fed anybody’s dyspepsia.

At a time in my Crowded Life in Cartooning when I was meeting a lot of cartoonists who loved golfing and cocktail parties; and cartoonists who retired to Florida and… to golfing and cocktail parties, it was almost refreshing to meet a talented misanthrope. Whose cartoons reflected his eternal dissents, or vice-versa, and still made millions laugh.

God bless America, indeed.  


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