Blown Covers: New Yorker Covers You Were Never Meant to See

A book review article by: Jason Sacks

A couple of years ago at Wondercon I ended up hanging out a bit with Shannon Wheeler, of Too Much Coffee Man fame, among other creations. Well, we fans of great, fun, indy comics think of Shannon as the TMCM guy, and he deserves all the fame he gets for that great series. But Shannon had another dream, the ultimate dream of a certain type of cartoonist: he wanted to be in The New Yorker

Yes, our fun, goofy, semi-underground cartoonist from Portland was anxious to move away -- at least creatively - from the quiet, provincial intellectual and bohemian life of the Rose City to join the oh so patrician world of intellectual elites sipping their organic fair trade shade grown micro grown coffee on Sunday morning in their tony Upper East Side digs while chortling quietly at the good, good humor of Garrison Keillor and Barry Blitt.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the intellectual elite: they didn't just accept our friend Mr. Wheeler; they embraced him with open arms. Shannon has started a nice career submitting cartoons to The New Yorker, and has sold a happy number of them already. Oh, he's no Charles Addams -- he's not yet a true mainstay for the magazine -- but he's started to fill his own unique niche.

How did The New Yorker allow a ragamuffin like Shannon into their midst? Blown Covers: New Yorker Covers You Were Never Meant to See goes a long way in answering that question, making it clear along the way that the stereotype that many of us have of The New Yorker is dead, dead wrong.

As we find in this virtual tour through the morgue of never-published sketches and cartoons, The New Yorker can be as cutting, nasty, scatological and sexual in its pursuit of humor as any magazine. It just does so from a slightly different perspective.

Much of that approach comes from art director Françoise Mouly, who had brought a much more avant-garde approach to New Yorker cartoons and covers since she joined the staff of the magazine nearly 20 years ago. She encouraged her staff to experiment, to be cutting or nasty, to take smart sides in some of the major arguments of the day.

This book contains a collection of pieces that were rejected by the magazine, and they provide a fascinating look at the pieces that were nearly great. From Bob Zoell's clever pun

To Peter De Sève's clever satirical piece about the Elliot Spitzer scandal.

This Barry Blitt piece succeeds completely in creeping me the fuck out

While this Bob Staake piece is a pretty perfect little satire of how the two sides of the American political world perceived Barack Obama shortly after his election.

We even get the inside story behind one of the magazine's most famous/notorious covers, Art Spiegelman's "Hassidic Kiss."

After basically inhaling this wonderful hardcover in about a day, I really was able to see why Shannon was so excited to write for The New Yorker. Not only does he get to work for one of the smartest and most empathetic editors anyone can wish for, but he gets to work in the company of a bunch of cartoonists who are a lot like him: smart, irreverent and satirical as hell. 

I never thought it would happen, but this book made me want to buy The New Yorker for the cartoons!



Jason Sacks is Publisher of Comics Bulletin. Follow him at @jasonsacks, email him at or friend him on Facebook.

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