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.

                                    *                *                *                *

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.


chris bennett said...

There seems to be a truth unifying all seven 'lessons' David:

Listening to our conscience and acting upon it regardless of whether it brings utilitarian reward is the mark of wisdom.

Anonymous said...

Another lesson is don't get cocky and take your second sale for granted.


Puneet said...

Very interesting

MORAN said...

The lesson is be nice and take someone out to lunch even though you don't have to.

Richard said...

The lesson is to give audiences what they want;
Unreasonably pretty fashionable young women

Then they may humor your other pictures

kev ferrara said...

These are such great drawings.

Jason_Chatfield said...

There are so many good cartoonist stories from this era surrounding fateful lunches.

Meanwhile, look at those FACES! Just brilliant expression in every face. Lovely line, shadow and expression. What a brilliant artist.

David Apatoff said...

chris bennett-- I agree that conscience is a sub-theme that runs through many of these sentences but I was hoping that there were at least seven separate lessons condensed into this little tale, including, "Your Dad's concept of 'financially stable' may no longer be true in your lifetime," and "Sometimes people who claim to be aghast at your brash behavior are secretly long to hire you and put that brashness to work for them."

Puneet-- Glad you agree.

JSL/Anonymous-- True. Gibson recalled that he went back to Life the very next morning, in the hope that if Life bought one, they'd buy a dozen more that had already been rejected by everyone else in town.

David Apatoff said...

MORAN-- exactly. The editor took a paternal interest in Gibson and spent time with him even though he didn't need to. He later said that Gibson's youthful drawings were laden with mistakes but they were the good kind of mistakes, honest mistakes, and the kind that when corrected could eventually lead to a good artist. In any event, his act of kindness paid off a thousand fold.

Richard-- well there's no question that pictures of pretty young women are what every audience wants. I guess that's lesson no. 1. But I wouldn't say audiences merely "humored" Gibson's other pictures. His social commentary and observations were well done and hugely popular.

David Apatoff said...

kev ferrara-- Aren't they? Today we tend to take Gibson for granted but he was quite special. And especially when we see how large originals his originals were, we see what a commitment those great big strokes required.

jason chatfield-- Someday we should sit and compare notes on those famous lunches. Then of course there was the famous cocktail party where a young Alex Raymond happened to meet a young Austin Briggs and revealed that he had just won three separate King Features competitions to draw three new comic strips: Flash Gordon, Jungle Jim and Secret Agent X-9. Raymond would desperately need help with the drawing. In the meantime, Briggs had a steady base of pulp magazine clients which he introduced to Raymond.

comicstripfan said...

The famous “man in the middle” of 2 Gibson girls is a study in itself, transmuted as it was later on by the cubist Duchamp and the futurist Giacomo Balla.

Felicity said...

I love Gibson girls and study a lot doing copy of his portraits

Laurence John said...


I assume you're referring to a Duchamp painting such as 'Nude descending a staircase' and Balla's 'Dynamism of a dog on a leash'... are you suggesting they were both inspired by the Gibson illustration ?

comicstripfan said...

Laurence John,

Not necessarily, however it’s interesting to speculate - the sense of motion conveyed by Balla’s dog and in Duchamp’s controversial (at the time) male nude seems to be anticipated by Gibson’s depiction of a man’s head spinning between two pretty girls to whom he is obviously attracted. Nevertheless one wonders to what extent they all might have been influenced or inspired by early (19th century) photographers’ experimental effects in this regard.,

Laurence John said...


Whether cubism or futurism was inspired by the multiple exposure effects seen in photography I don't know. The official word (the Tate) doesn't mention it although, like you, my guess is that it played a part.

Would be interesting to know if there's a drawing that pre-dates the invention of photography that uses the multiple exposure effect to give the impression of movement.

chris bennett said...

Hi Laurence and comicstripfan,

I think it's worth pointing out that because such a graphic effect (as far as I am aware) is scarce before the invention of photography doesn't necessarily mean it is predicated on it. The accelerated deepening of the literalist mindset at the heart of 'culture' around 120 years ago is fertile ground for adopting a representation of the flow and flux of experience as a series of static, graspable and fixed 'moments'.

Tom said...

I really like the way Gibson, especially in the quick portrait sketches, brings his pen across one plane of the head and turns the same line at the meeting of the next plane and carries on his line. Sometimes at right angles and sometimes as curves. He seems to be describing his understanding of form or feeling for form, more then actual drawing something seen, he is describing how forms turns in space. I feel we are still in the world of Euclid!:)

kev ferrara said...

David, if you have a moment, please check the bin for a disappeared comment of mine from around one this afternoon. ~thanks

Nick Jainschigg said...

I'm always astonished at the sheer size of many of Gibson's drawings. They literally do not make pen nibs as large any more. It's a pity. I'd love to see what inking at scale with a nib does for the gesture of the line.

Vipul said...