Sam Gross, 89, Dies; Prolific Purveyor of Cartoons, Tasteful and Otherwise

Cartoonist Sam Gross, who tore up frog legs, fairy tales, cats, aliens and caveman gags, has graced the pages of The New Yorker and watered down National Lampoon’s favorite notions to draw belly laughs. Got Manhattan. he was 89 years old.

Complications of heart failure were the cause, according to Pat Giles, co-executor of the estate.

Mr. Gross was prolific. Near the end of his life, according to Giles, he was still drawing up to 17 comic book ideas a week, with a total of more than 33,800 comic roughs and finished comics drawn during his lifetime. It is said that In addition to The New Yorker and National Lampoon, he has sold his work to Esquire, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, a greeting card company, and mildly pornographic men’s magazines. He said his adaptability was the key to his longevity.

“I was never in any scene other than my own,” Gross said in a 2011 interview. comic journal“That’s one of the reasons I survived.”

As a New Yorker cartoonist, Mr. Gross was widely ranked among big names like Charles Adams and Saul Steinberg, as well as more contemporary stars like Roz Chast. Bob Mankoff, a former comics editor for The New Yorker who has worked with Mr. Gross for years, said in a telephone interview that he was “in the pantheon,” adding, “Nobody has drawn comics as funny as Sam Gross.” No,” he added.

A National Lampoon cartoonist since 1970 and, for several years, the magazine’s comics editor, Mr. Gross has worked with artists and powers such as Gahan Wilson (who, like Mr. Gross, worked for The New Yorker) and Rick Meyerwitz. Together, everything from race to gender to disability created humor worthy of a gag.

And while there are taste boundaries that many cartoonists wouldn’t cross, Mr. Gross jumped over them, doused them with gasoline, and set them on fire with the same laugh as he did.

A stiff-legged dog lies on its back next to a blind man holding a sign that says “I’m blind and my dog ​​died.” A medieval peasant had a giant bean tree growing out of his buttocks, and another peasant said, “The beans are magic beans, and I told you not to eat them.” Customers sit in front of a billboard advertising frog legs at a restaurant. A dejected legless amphibian rolls out of the kitchen. Some of his cartoons cannot be adequately explained in home newspapers.

Meyerowitz, author of Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead (2010), a colorful history of Lampoon, said in a telephone interview. Gross added, “He knew he could say it, but he was upset that people said, ‘Oh, I can’t say that.'”

But for Gross, it wasn’t just about shocking people, it was about making people laugh. “He didn’t mean to offend,” Mankoff said. “But the goal of a cartoon should never be to be offended.”

His comics delighted readers, even when dealing with less grotesque and taboo subjects.

A smiling cat pulls a mouse with a toy car. Another mouse shouts, “Please, think!” why is he so nice to you ”

A cow jumps over the moon. Another cow watching from the field said to the calf, “Son, your mother is a fine woman.”

Gross’ first New Yorker cartoon, published in 1969, featured a woman staring at a boy chasing a hand-rolled bus past a bus stop. His last appearance was in February. During his more than 50 years there, he published over 400 comics.

Gross didn’t have a visual style that was as immediately recognizable as George Booth’s dynamic lines or Edward Coren’s shaggy paintings. (The New Yorker magazine’s star cartoonists, Mr. Booth and Mr. Coren, have passed away within the past few months. Satirical artist Bruce McCall, whose work has been published in both The New Yorker and National Lampoon, died last Friday. died in ).

Mr. Gross’s style of painting consisted of elegant simplicity with jokes.

and obituary Emma Allen, the current comics editor of The New Yorker magazine, called his work “Walking an Economic Tightrope – Precariously achieving maximum hilarity with the slightest movement.”

A man who was present at the meeting opened the door of Death and said: “I hope you come here for circumcision.”

Two witches stir a bubbling cauldron. One said, “I’m writing a memoir. It’s mostly recipes.”

Mr. Gross speaks in a squeaky Bronx accent and spends decades hunched over a drawing board, making him a slight slouch, but he is also a mentor and advocate for other cartoonists. He was quick to highlight the injustice of the cartoons he saw. work. Meyerowitz said he pushed for royalty payments to cartoonists. Mankoff said he refused to sell the comics to a medium like Playboy, which has full control over the rights to the comics.

Gross also said he never changed his style just to sell comics.

“The New Yorker hasn’t changed my job,” he said in 2011. I do things for myself. ”

Samuel Harry Gross was born in the Bronx on August 7, 1933, to Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Max Gross and Sophie (Goldberg) Gross. His father was an accountant and his mother a homemaker.

After attending DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, he graduated from City College in New York, where he studied business, accounting and advertising.

Gross told Comics Journal that his first comic book, “Cartoons for the G.I.,” was published in 1953 after being drafted into the Army in 1954. Told.

His other comic books include “I Am Blind, and My Dog Is Dead” (1977), “More Gross” (1982), “We Have Ways of Making You Laugh: 120 Funny Swastika Cartoons” ( 2008), etc. A cartoon of his frog legs appeared on the cover of the 1977 National His Lampoon comedy album That’s Not Funny, That’s Sick! And the program of the touring stage show that followed.

After working in Germany for two years, Mr. Gross returned to the United States. He worked briefly as an accountant to save money and in 1959 married Isabelle Jaffe. She survived him, as did his daughter Michelle Gross and his sister Sarita Abrahams.

After their marriage, the Gros moved to Darmstadt, Germany, near Frankfurt, where Mr. Gros sold comics to European publications. About a year later, they returned to New York, where Mr. Gross submitted cartoons to such disreputable magazines as The New Yorker and The Saturday He Evened, and The Rascal. By the early 1960s, he was able to earn a full-time living as a cartoonist.

Mr. Gross kept records meticulously, which he attributed to his background as an accountant. He kept all his comics in a studio on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, organized by number in large black binders, sorted by theme.

He was also outspoken and let people know when he disagreed. According to Mankoff, Gross flatly refused to participate in the New Yorker’s caption contest.

“He was basically saying, ‘If you don’t want someone to write the last paragraph of an Updike article, you’re not doing anything to my caption.'”

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