Thursday, September 09, 2021


  • An 18 year old cartoonist named Charles was exhausted and disappointed after being rejected by every employer in town, but before giving up he decided to give art one last try.  
  • His father waited impatiently for Charles to abandon cartooning and get a "decent," financially stable job. 
  • Charles knocked on the door of a struggling start up magazine, fully expecting another rejection, but to his shock the editor purchased one of his cartoons.
  • Thinking he'd finally found his market niche, Charles hastily prepared twelve more cartoons, all of which were quickly rejected.
  • Charles was devastated, so the editor took the young cartoonist to lunch and coached him about life and art.
  • Eager for attention, Charles drew a brash cartoon insulting an author at a rival magazine; the rival magazine complained about the "tasteless" cartoon, but then tried to hire Charles.
  • Charles declined the lucrative offer, staying loyal to the editor of the start up who took him to lunch.

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The "Charles" in my story was Charles Dana Gibson.  He was paid a total of $4 for that first cartoon, which he sold to a start up magazine called Life.  His "insulting" cartoon (published on January 6, 1887) depicted writer Robert Louis Stevenson as gay.  Rival magazine Puck attacked Life for the tasteless cartoon, but tried to lure Gibson away with a long term contract.  Gibson turned down Puck because he was so grateful to the editor of Life for taking him to lunch.

As Frank Mott wrote in his epic five volume History of American Magazines, Gibson's decision "turned out to be very lucky for Life."

Three years later, in 1890, Charles invented the Gibson girl, which became an international sensation.

  Gibson's cartoons turned out to be hugely profitable for Life and helped solidify its position.  It also made Gibson fabulously wealthy-- wealthy enough to please even his father.  As Susan Meyers noted in her book, America's Great Illustrators, 

All this fanfare over Gibson's work represented a major turning point in publishing history.  Never before had an illustrator so influenced American business; never before had so much money been earned from the creation of a single artist. As magazines competed for his services, the stakes grew higher and higher.  

Collier's magazine agreed to pay Gibson $1,000 per drawing for 100 drawings, but Gibson "categorically refused to desert Life, ever loyal to [the editor who had taken him to lunch]." 

Gibson ended up owning Life magazine and living on his own private 700 acre island. 

His example contains lessons for everybody.

In addition to his "Gibson Girl," Charles became an excellent draftsman capturing a
wide variety of faces, expressions and archetypes for his social commentary.