See All Topics

Home / Section: Books

David Sipress Presses Flesh in Book Promo Tour

TERRY GROSS, HOST: David Sipress, welcome to FRESH AIR. I love your cartoons. Thank you for being here. Let’s start with your most published and tweeted cartoon.

SIPRESS: I wrote that sometime during the ’90s. It’s not a New Yorker cartoon. I never can remember where it first started, but I think it was during the whole Bosnia problem. And it was so upsetting getting up every day and reading the paper, something we’re familiar with right now. And every time the world goes, you know, down the toilet, that cartoon begins to show up all over the internet.

David Sipress is interviewed on NPR (audio and transcript).

GROSS: I want to get back to Ukraine for a moment. Your father emigrated from Ukraine when he was a child with his parents. He was born in 1905. Did he talk much about what he left behind in Ukraine and what it was like to, you know, be on the ship coming to America and land here?

SIPRESS: Well, a lot of the theme of my memoir is about secrecy and spending my – a life trying to get my father to tell me anything about that distant past. I don’t think it’s unusual for immigrants of my father’s generation to have that sort of urge to forget about all that and not talk about it … But there was very little about my father’s immigrant past that he ever talked about, except to say things about how terrible crossing with all the hoi polloi, as he put it, in steerage was.


Then there is this InsideHook interview.

Sipress now lives in Brooklyn and has been a staff cartoonist at The New Yorker since 1998, publishing nearly 700 cartoons in the magazine. Sipress, the 2016 winner of the National Cartoonists Society’s Reuben Award for Gag Cartooning, is publishing a different kind of work this month with the release of his first book, What’s So Funny?: A Cartoonist’s Memoir (out today, March, 8th). Prior to the release of What’s So Funny?, Sipress was gracious enough to speak with InsideHook about his book, the creative process and New York City.

InsideHook: How did the process of writing your book compare to the process you use for your day job?

David Sipress: I’ve been addicted to doing single-panel cartoons for my entire life. It’s the shortest form creativity can possibly take. You get an idea, draw it and put in the caption. In five minutes, you’ve done your work for the day. The idea of writing a book seemed unimaginably challenging and huge because I had never done anything long-form like that before. I felt like it was a challenge I needed to take on, to learn how to write in a way that didn’t depend on one idea at a time. That’s what got me going. On the days the writing went well, I began to realize it wasn’t that dissimilar. One good idea led to another good idea that led to another. It was kind of like stringing together the single ideas that I’ve been so familiar with for my whole life. It got to be fun and kind of addictive.



Elsewhere: sat down with Sipress to talk about his time in Boston and at The Phoenix, and how it led to his cartoons being shared and recognized worldwide (and even to some begrudging acceptance from his hard-nosed father).

… and I guess it couldn’t have been very long after that when you sought out the people at Boston After Dark, which would soon morph into the Boston Phoenix.

Well, I had been drawing a lot of cartoons. And I was making copies of them … and I started a totally useless business of going to Harvard Square and trying to sell Xerox copies of my cartoons for 10 cents apiece.

Do you know who Charlie Giuliano is? He was a music writer and sort of a denizen of everything hippie back then in Cambridge … I had a conversation with him; he was working at Broadside, which was another alternative paper, and my first cartoon was published in Broadside. And then I started hearing about this Boston After Dark … and one day I just got up my courage and I took my bag of Xerox copies and I went to the office.

And to my surprise the receptionist said, “Oh yeah, go right in, the editor’s right in there.” I went in and immediately smelled … it was redolent with the odor of marijuana. And to my amazement, they said, “Sure, you’re in next week.” And that was the beginning of my 30-year career of being in what then turned into the Phoenix, every single week.

Read the interview here.



Then move on to the interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency:

David Sipress did not sell his first cartoon to The New Yorker until 1997, when he was 50. He wasn’t exactly a struggling artist until then — his work had long appeared in the Boston Phoenix, Playboy and the Washington Post, and he had some success as a sculptor. But The New Yorker represented the kind of career pinnacle that any good son would want to share with his father — especially a Jewish father who never regarded art as a viable career.

You describe the generation gap between you — born here, relatively affluent, protected from suffering — and your father, whose journey you describe as one “from impoverished immigrant with a fifth-grade education to successful businessman.” For any kid who dreams of being an artist — and risks disappointing their parents — what advice do you have?

I always hesitate to give advice to anyone about the big choices in life. Everyone’s path is different. I only know that for me, as I say in the book, not defying my parents and turning my back on my dream of being an artist would have meant being “trapped in the wrong life.” I guess I would say to that kid who shares my dream, if you feel as strongly as I did, you really need to listen to that. 

cartoons © David Sipress and Condé Nast

Community Comments

No comments yet.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.