Cartoonist George Booth has passed away.
George Booth, the New Yorker cartoonist who created a world of oddballs sharing life’s chaos with a pointy-eared bull terrier that once barked a flower to death, and sometimes with a herd of cats that shredded couches and window shades between sweet naps, died on Tuesday at his home in Brooklyn. He was 96.
His daughter and only immediate survivor, Sarah Booth, said the cause was complications of dementia.
One of Mr. Booth’s best-known offerings — a two-page, 12-panel spread on Jan. 12, 1975, “Ip Gissa Gul” (meaning “Ape Gets a Girl”) — told of cave men who chance upon a furious, frustrated ape who wants a mate. He finally carries off a cave girl. The cave men later find the ape, the cave girl and six little creatures, and puzzle over the existence of the first cave children.
George Booth, one of The New Yorker‘s true originals, has died at age 96 according to his daughter, Sarah Booth. Mr. Booth passed away less than a week following the death of his wife, Dione.
Booth is among the handful of New Yorker cartoonists of whom it could be said that the artist closely resembled the artist’s work (Charles Addams and Steinberg are among the others). Meeting Booth was like meeting a character in his cartoon world.
His drawing style was at once both new to our eyes and seemingly always there – an honest original. Seeing a Booth published drawing one might marvel at the intricacies of people, places, and things. Look at the original art and you’ll see cut-out chairs, and plants and dogs, etc., etc., placed and arranged as on a theater set. He was a master of design, and a master of humor. Everything was funny. The way he drew a piano was funny. His humor transferred directly to the page where the drawings’ good vibrations continued.
George Booth contributed to The New Yorker from 1969 to 2022. The Maslin link above has George’s first and last drawings to The New Yorker, while the Condé Nast store has hundreds of Booth cartoons.
I went in the military in World War II and ended up in Leatherneck Magazine after all the infantry stuff. The way I got there was when I was drafted in ‘44, the recruiting sergeant said, “What do you want to do in the Marine Corps?.” and I said “I want to draw cartoons.” I didn’t happen to notice there was a world war going on! And so at the end of the war, they sent a telegram to Pearl Harbor, everyone was getting out, it was VJ day, and they sent a telegram from Washington because I had said I wanted to cartoon. They were losing their staff [at Leatherneck], and the telegram said PFC Booth can come to in Washington as Staff Cartoonist.
From Leatherneck, Collier’s called me, and wanted me to show my stuff in New York. So, in ‘47 I got in [Collier’s], Look!, The Saturday Evening Post, True, and some trade publishing magazines. Eventually, I had to take a job at a publishing company as an art director because I got married, so I did that and drew cartoons for the publishing company. There were eight magazines in that company, my department covered five trade publishing magazines, so I cartooned for those for about six years. Covers, spots, illustrations, whatever I could do. Eventually I left, because they couldn’t pay enough money to keep me going. So in 1966 I think it was, I walked away from that job and started to sell to magazines again like I did before.
I eventually sold a two page spread to The Saturday Evening Post, and the day it was to be published, I went up to the Post and the editor said, “I’m sorry, this is the week we’re going out of business.” So they did not print my spread– my two pages. But the editor, Mr. Emerson, sent a letter to the editor of The New Yorker, William Shawn, and the letter said, take a look at this guy, and that was my start at The New Yorker in 1969.
GEHR: And you had “Spot” [a United Features daily strip about a dog that thought it was human] for a year.
BOOTH: It probably was not a logical strip, but I didn’t want to be pinned down to a cartoon every day forever. Some guys go after that and it’s fine, but I preferred the variety, sophistication, and humor of The New Yorker.
George had two newspaper syndicated panels, Spot in 1956-57 and Local Item in 1986.
GEHR: Your mother is featured in one of The New Yorker‘s more famous cartoons, too.
BOOTH: Yes. After 9/11, when thousands of people died in Lower Manhattan, the New Yorker said we won’t buy any cartoons this week. You may submit, but we don’t plan to buy anything. I submitted a drawing of my mother sitting like I’ve seen her sit, and they printed it. It was the only cartoon they bought and the only one they printed in the next issue. The cat can’t face it; his paws are over his eyes. And Mother’s praying. Her fiddle and bow are lying down properly, with the bow facing in, like she was taught at Stevens College.
Booth also is a skilled wordsmith. In fact, while most cartoonists see brevity as the key to a funny caption, he feels just the opposite. The George Booth captions are lengthy – always funny – and have become one of his trademarks, with his most verbose cartoon coming in at an impressive 205 words.
And then there are his recurring characters, which range from the inept mechanics at Al’s Auto Lubrication & Tune-Up to the beloved Mrs. Ritterhouse, who was based on Booth’s mother.
“The New Yorker liked Mrs. Ritterhouse, and they put her in my contract,” Booth says. “They own Mrs. Ritterhouse. The New Yorker put my dog in the contract, too, along with a character named Senator Bloviate. They put all those characters in the contract because they didn’t want other magazines printing them. That was okay. If The New Yorker liked it, that was fine with me.”
According to Booth, Mrs. Ritterhouse is among his most popular characters with readers.
The man himself: tall, with a Will Rogers-like tuft of hair falling onto his forehead. A gentle man, with a touch of Missouri accent (that makes sense: it’s where he was born). Booth was a real character. Spend any time with him and you would be treated to his bursts of laughter – perhaps a snort! Laughing full out loud when he was surprised by humor in others. He wasn’t the least bit shy about laughing at his own work – an honest reaction to absurdities he’d laid down on paper … His laughter, like his cartoons, providing moments of contagious pure joy.