Obituary Note: Edward Koren

Edward Koren

Edward Koren, the New Yorker cartoonist "who created a fantasy world of toothy, long-nosed, hairy creatures of indeterminate species that articulated the neuroses and banalities of middle-class America for six decades," died April 14, the New York Times reported. He was 87. With Charles Addams, James Thurber, and Saul Steinberg, Koren "was one of the most popular cartoonists in the New Yorker's long love affair with humor. To connoisseurs, his bristling pen-and-ink characters, with or without captions, were instantly recognizable--nonconfrontational humans and a blend of fanged crocodile and antlered reindeer who poked fun at a society preoccupied with fitness fads (bike-riding), electronic gadgets (cellphones) and pop psychology."

Koren studied art in New York and Paris, but struggled for years to create a distinct style before he "found it hiding in plain sight: the subtle humor of life's contradictions," the Times noted. He published his first New Yorker cartoon in 1962, depicting a struggling writer in a "Shakespeare" sweatshirt, puzzling over his typewriter. During his career, he published more than a thousand cartoons for the New Yorker, including dozens of covers, and many more for the Nation, Time, Newsweek, the New York Times, Vogue, Vanity Fair, and other publications.

In addition to his magazine work, Koren published collections of cartoons, wrote and illustrated children's books, and illustrated books by Delia Ephron, George Plimpton, and Alan Katz. In all, he illustrated some 25 books and wrote nine, including Behind the Wheel (1972); Well, THERE's Your Problem (1980); and What About Me? (1989). His cartoons, drawings, and prints appeared in shows and galleries across the United States and in England, France, and Czechoslovakia. Many became part of museums' permanent collections.

"My trajectory was a comedy of manners," Koren told the Times. "I was drawn to sociology and cultural anthropology. My work was a bit tame, I suppose. I avoided sex. It was political in a different sense. I examined the middle class, and everywhere I looked people were outraged. I did not want to manifest that in my work. I just gravitated toward animals.... Animals are gentle and funny. There is a long tradition in English and French literature, going back to the 19th century, of using animals in humor. For me, it was a framework, a way of getting above the political fray and the passing controversies of the day."

Koren never retired. For the New Yorker's April 17 issue, he drew Moses on a mount overlooking his people and holding up a stone tablet of the Ten Commandments in Roman numerals while proclaiming, "Time for an update!"

In a tribute, the New Yorker's cartoon and humor editor Emma Allen wrote: "In his final months, he didn't have the energy to draw as large, or with such obsessive, scratchy detail, as before, but he still couldn't resist reworking one final cartoon--featuring the Grim Reaper, as a poet--before sending it off to me last week.... On a recent call with Ed, when I expressed awe at the fact that he was still sending in cartoons for me to review, he quoted Mark Twain: 'The secret source of Humor itself is not joy but sorrow.' Neither of us mentioned the second half of that line--'there is no humor in heaven.' For believers, there’s certainly now no need to mention it ever again, what with Ed's arrival."

Bear Pond Books, Montpelier, Vt., posted on Facebook: "We are so sad to hear about the passing of this absolute gem of a human, Ed Koren. He was funny, warm and talented and we are proud to call him a Vermonter and a friend of Bear Pond. Our hearts are with his family--may his memory be a blessing."

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