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The Mind of a Cartoonist

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What does the quirky, obsessive path of Ken Krimstein, a cartoonist for The New Yorker, say about the nature and craft of humor?

By LORI ROTENBERK

Made in America? | Craftsmanship Magazine, Spring 2016

Ken Krimstein draws about 60 cartoons a week. Every Wednesday he sends 10 to The New Yorker, which begins days of anxious waiting for the cartoon editor's response. Photo by Lori Rotenberk.

Ken Krimstein lives in his head. It’s a mischievous den sometimes ruled by an 8-year-old who is both silly and curmudgeonly and sees life almost in a state of animation. Now 57, and of average size and aspect except for his glasses with ice-blue rims, he was a mere six years old when he felt the giddy rush from drawing something that made his classmates laugh.

“Many of his toons don’t need a caption,” says one magazine editor who uses Krimstein’s work. “The art does the work—and when the caption comes in, the laughter doubles. Bless him.”

And so began a zig-zag life that, on this particular day, has him sketching ideas for me for a gag about themed bedsheets. No, not for kids—for adults, in mid-life crisis. The pattern, he thinks, might be eyeglasses with bifocals, or a days-of-the-week pill box. Or maybe just a martini or highball glass.

Ideas like these appear frequently in such cartoonist bibles as The New Yorker, which recently included some of his work in its “Best Cartoons of 2015.” He’s also been published in The Wall Street Journal and The Harvard Business Review, just to name a few. Although he teaches advertising copywriting at Chicago’s DePaul University by day, he’s driven, almost obsessively he says, to create cartoons.

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