Insight on Cartoonists: Nick Downes (The New Yorker)

To navigate life’s all-too-frequent stumbling blocks successfully, it’s necessary to learn how to accept the downs as well as the ups.  But at the New Yorker magazine (still the embodiment of  what gives the Big Apple its fine reputation), they really get their “ups” when the cartoon artwork of Nick Downes appears. Just recently he was the cartoonist whose work all we would-be caption writers got to play with (see the last page of any issue for the fun of this).

Nick Downes cartoonWe had the pleasure of lunching with Nick and some of his fellow artists at a monthly gathering of New Yorker cartoonists at Pergola Des Artistes on Restaurant Row (West 46th Street).

The conversation was lively, and banter filled the air.  In a quiet moment, Mr. Downes agreed to respond to a questionnaire I gave him. His answers were, like his artwork, clear and direct.

Regarding would-be cartoonists, Nick said, “If you’re compelled to do it, you should do it” — this encouraging comment, despite the perilous situation facing newspapers. Is there still a place for aspiring artists? “I can only hope so,” was his wistful reply.

Nick grew up reading “Steve Roper” (the William Overgard strips which began in 1954) because he “liked the story and the drawing style.” He was also drawn to (my pun again…and intended) the New Yorker even as a youngster. His favorite was, “Charles Addams — I  loved the macabre subject matter.”  His early appreciation of Addams even extends to Nick’s willingness to be, if he weren’t already himself, Charles Addams. “He had a great life,” he says.

Among the current crop of cartoonists he likes fellow New Yorker artist, “Matt Diffee among the younger group. He’s very funny and he can actually draw.”

Nick Downes self-portrait
Nick Downes self-portrait.

Looking back, Nick admits that his early adulation of television cowboys and private eyes was “totally unjustified,” but he does hold in high regard a literature professor he had at Northeastern College, a chap by the name of Robert Parker. Parker is the same gentleman who went on the write the best-selling Spenser detective novels and was, as his appreciative student recalls, “an excellent teacher.”

Nick takes great pride in having been able to publish two collections of his cartoons, “Big Science” and “Whatever Happened to ‘Eureka?” as well as a greeting card (he has a number of them issued by NobleWorks Inc) that has already sold a half million copies (and still counting). He also takes delight in having been published in not just the New Yorker, but Playboy, Punch and the National Lampoon among others.

I had the pleasure of looking at a batch of his wonderful work myself, and here I go again: Put your money down on Nick, Nick Downes, that is.

Stanford Chandler
Latest posts by Stanford Chandler (see all)