Illustration 09 Dec 2010 08:22 am


- James Thurber has long been a national treasure, both as a writer and a cartoonist. The only problem is that most of the younger generation has probably no idea who he is.

He’s been the go-to guy for design-y animation.
-It all started with the UPA animated short, Unicorn in the Garden. This was a holdover from the planned animated feature, titled Men, Women and Dogs, that UPA was going to make of his work.
- The William Windom tv series about a cartoonist at work, My World and Welcome to It, used his style.
- The War Between Men and Women, a movie starring Jack Lemmon, portrayed the story of a bachelor cartoonist whose love life fed his comic strip. The style of Thurber fed the animated version of his strip.

He was a New Yorker cartoonist and writer. Here’s a sample of the cartoons printed in that magazine.

My Life and Hard Times was a big book for Thurber. Several of his biggest short stories are in this book, including: “The Night the Bed Fell” and “The Night the Ghost Got In.”

Here are the illustrations from that book:

The book’s cover




























11 Responses to “Thurber”

  1. on 09 Dec 2010 at 1:01 pm 1.Don Cox said …

    Library of America do a very comprehensive collection of Thurber’s drawings and writings for $35.

    You can get it from them or from Amazon.

  2. on 09 Dec 2010 at 4:09 pm 2.Ray Kosarin said …

    Thurber was an American treasure, and it’s unconscionable how little we acknowledged him now. When we do remember him, it is too often more because of others’ adaptations of his stories and drawings than his pitch-perfect original works.

    He was the best kind of creator. His New Yorker stories were delicate modern fables. He wrote brilliantly–for many years he shared a New Yorker office with E.B. White, and it’s hard to say that either was better with words–and his quiet, precise language walked a razor’s edge that managed somehow always to be funny, incisive, and melancholy, all at the same time. Though he was no spectacular draftsman, his drawings and cartoons hit the bull’s eye time and again: where another illustrator might have made a more impressive drawing, Thurber simply made the right drawing.

    I’m not sure I’ve yet seen an adaptation of Thurber that’s got him quite right. Danny Kaye was no more Walter Mitty than Jim Carrey is the Dalai Lama. And though it’s sacrilege to criticize UPA in its prime, “Unicorn in the Garden” was, at best, a near miss. Certainly a nearer miss than any other Hollywood studio of the time might have managed, but still too broad for Thurber’s brand of caricature which had a distinctly gentler touch.

    Gentleness like Thurber’s is in sadly short supply today. We could certainly use more of it.

  3. on 10 Dec 2010 at 11:32 am 3.George Griffin said …

    Ray is right. Thurber’s drawings “hit the bull’s eye,” but “no spectacular draftsman” is a suitably enormous understatement. The drawings are by most standards inept, childish, idiosyncratic, i.e. “bad drawing.” But they were very funny: perfectly matched to the off-kilter sensibility of his writing and of the New Yorker itself, which promoted a kind of casual, sketchy drawing style.

    One can also see a lot of indirect influence today in the naive, wordy styles of David Shrigley and Raymond Pettibon, both of whom have also been animated with mixed results.


  4. on 10 Dec 2010 at 2:13 pm 4.Eddie Fitzgerald said …

    Thurber was unique, but I can’t help wondering who his influences were. Edward Lear? 19th Century kids books? John Held’s etching style? One of William Blake’s sketches look a little like this. Maybe even Fenninger indirectly. An early newspaper strip artist drew a little like Thurber but I can’t remember his name.

  5. on 10 Dec 2010 at 2:20 pm 5.Eddie Fitzgerald said …

    Oops! I forgot one other possible influence: Hugh Lofting, who wrote and illustrated Dr. Dolittle. Compare Thurber to Lofting and you’ll realize that Thurber was actually a pretty good draftsman in the sense that he had a solid understanding of line, composition, and negative space.

  6. on 10 Dec 2010 at 2:23 pm 6.Michael said …

    Hugh Lofting, of course. I’d forgotten about him. Crockett Johnson, I think, got something from Thurber in creating his style.

  7. on 10 Dec 2010 at 3:52 pm 7.George Griffin said …

    Another thing worth noting is Thurber’s visual impairment. It may have improved his style which depended on broad strokes, not details.

  8. on 11 Dec 2010 at 1:25 am 8.Eddie Fitzgerald said …

    Crockett johnson! Yeah, that makes sense. Maybe Milt Gross influenced Thurber a bit…or was it the other way around?

  9. on 13 Dec 2010 at 5:08 pm 9.allari said …

    There’s definetely a personal sensibility behind those drawings. My complaint is with the artsy fartsy imitators that followed suit.

  10. on 28 Feb 2012 at 3:13 pm 10.Vitai Leticia said …

    Yes, I know my thoughts are late…but I have recognized this site just now…and because Mr. Thurber has been influencing me for decades – although I am Hungarian – I must drop a few words here.
    His thoughts, writing and drawing style, his topics and deep humanity are able to give me courage and SMILE to survive the hard times, so the daily life…
    I think he is a big philosopher and psychologist, too besides the talented story writer and illustrator.

  11. on 03 Sep 2016 at 6:45 am 11.How To Create a Book Trailer | Write to Done said …

    […] not an artist? Ditto ahem. Take a look at the cartoon art of James Thurber. Take a look at Lewis Carroll’s original manuscript artwork for Alice in Wonderland, rejected by […]

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