Obituary: Charles Barsotti, longtime New Yorker cartoonist
Charles Barsotti filled his frames — sometimes without a punch line — with seekers and worriers, the witty and the ruthless, out of context but perfectly placed.
The New York Times
Charles Barsotti, a cartoonist for The New Yorker whose jaded canines, outlaw snails and obtuse monarchs made readers laugh for more than 40 years, died Monday at home in Kansas City, Mo. He was 80.
The cause was brain cancer, his son, Michael, said.
Mr. Barsotti made pasta talk. He drew hot dogs planning cookouts. His lines were spare and clean, whether drawn or written:
• An anxious-looking man emerges through clouds at heaven’s gate, greeted by a bemused St. Peter. “No, no, that’s not a sin, either,” St. Peter says. “My goodness, you must have worried yourself to death.”
• A small dog, seated in a psychiatrist’s chair, talks to a human patient: “Well, I think you’re wonderful.”
• An older man with a walking stick plods in the direction a sign is pointing. The sign says “Truth.” The man is on a treadmill.
• A gregarious piece of rigatoni talks into a telephone: “Fusilli, you crazy bastard! How are you?”
Mr. Barsotti filled his frames — sometimes without a punch line — with seekers and worriers, the witty and the ruthless, out of context but perfectly placed. The universal was absurd, the absurd universal. You laughed without necessarily knowing why.
“That was sort of his deep comment about humor itself: that humor is a type of truth that strict rationality can’t understand,” Robert Mankoff, cartoon editor of The New Yorker, said in an interview. “But that doesn’t make it any less true.”
Mankoff added: “There’s just something so imaginatively ridiculous about that piece of pasta.”
Charles Branum Barsotti was born on Sept. 28, 1933, in San Marcos, Texas, and grew up in San Antonio.
“In school I was always, always, always in trouble for doodling, but my mother and dad were very supportive,” he told Texas Monthly in 2000. When he was 13 or 14, he said, his mother sent him to downtown San Antonio to take an art class in La Villita, an arts center. “I drew from a nude,” he said. “At that age it was quite a shock, like, ‘Holy smoke, that woman’s got her clothes off!’ It scared me to death, but I was a big hero in school for a few days.”
After graduating from Southwest Texas State University in 1955 with a major in social sciences, Mr. Barsotti served in the Army for two years and then spent several years working in a residential facility for people with developmental disabilities. In the early 1960s, he got a job illustrating greeting cards for Hallmark in Kansas City, Mo., all the while drawing freelance cartoons on the side. He sold his first to The New Yorker in 1962.
He moved to New York in the late 1960s and worked as the cartoon editor of The Saturday Evening Post before it folded in 1969. The next year he became a staff cartoonist for The New Yorker.
Almost 1,400 cartoons appeared in the magazine, and many more were published in The Atlantic, The New York Times and other publications. Among his books are “The Essential Charles Barsotti” and “They Moved My Bowl,” which featured his dog cartoons.
In addition to his son, his survivors include his wife, the former Ramoth Millin; four daughters; three grandchildren; and a sister.
While many of Mr. Barsotti’s cartoons were timeless, playing on universal human foibles, they could also be timely. One well-known cartoon depicts a short young dog in a business suit talking to a tall, weary older dog in wrinkled clothes. The young dog speaks with authority: “We do all those old tricks electronically now.”