New Yorker cartoonist Barsotti dies

AP News
Posted: Jun 17, 2014 5:36 PM

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Charles Barsotti, whose New Yorker cartoons plumbed the human condition featuring characters such as the psychiatrist dog and the pilgrim with the walking stick, has died. He was 80.

Barsotti was diagnosed in 2013 with brain cancer and died late Monday at home in Kansas City, his daughter, Kerry Scott, said Tuesday.

"He got the maximum out of the minimum," said Robert Mankoff, cartoon editor of The New Yorker magazine, which has published nearly 1,400 Barsotti cartoons since the 1960s. "With just a few lines he could delineate a hobo, a spy, a king, a philosopher, a dog, a judge, all those in the same picture."

Barsotti, born Sept. 28, 1933, in San Antonio, Texas, graduated from Texas State University in 1954 and worked for Kansas City-based Hallmark Cards as a greeting card artist before moving to New York to become cartoon editor for The Saturday Evening Post until that magazine closed. Barsotti and his family returned to Kansas City in the 1960s when Barsotti developed the "Sally Bananas" comic strip.

He freelanced cartoons for The New Yorker for several years before he became a staff cartoonist for magazine about 1970, while he and his family remained in Kansas City.

"You know, he drew cartoons about philosophy and kings, and I sort of think he was the philosopher king of cartoonists," Mankoff said. "Really. He asked the big questions. Why are we here? What should we do? In a very simple way which didn't come down on any sort of answers but says part of being human is just not ignoring these questions."

Mankoff pointed to the Barsotti cartoon showing St. Peter saying to "the guy in heaven who's ready to go in: 'Really you were worried about that? You thought that was a sin too? You must have worried yourself to death.'"

Barsotti's cartoons also appeared in other publications, including The Atlantic and The New York Times. Several collections of his work have been published, including most recently the 2007 book "They Moved My Bowl," which featured his dog cartoons.

Lee Lorenz, former New Yorker cartoon editor, said the dogs in Barsotti's cartoons could have been speaking for Barsotti.

"The pup was sort of a mouthpiece for him," Lorenz said.

Barsotti's "austere, black-and-white" cartoons were instantly recognizable, and The New Yorker still has several that are as yet unpublished, Mankoff said.

"They are almost like cartoon emojis," Mankoff said. "The pilgrim on the treadmill, the little pup ... talking to the older dog with the older dog saying, 'My advice is learn all the tricks when you're young.' ... He found humor in the deepest spots of humor, which is about ourselves."

Barsotti was still working on panels even while he was ill, Mankoff said.

"I talked to Charlie I think about a month ago, and he was ready to go into the hospice, and he was saying that he was not surprisingly philosophical about it, certainly not happy about it," Mankoff said. "But what he wanted to do, was the doctors to be able to control the tremors in his hand so that he could still draw."