when the bell tolls

Jesee Marinoff Reyes:

The New Yorker
March 6, 1995 issue
Illustration: Eric Drooker (b. 1958)
Art Director/Cover Editor: Françoise Mouly

JMR Design

If Stephen Kroninger is our latter-day John Heartfield (and he is) then Eric Drooker is our latter-day Frans Masereel or Lynd Ward. An artist with expressionist leanings and a committed social consciousness, Drooker’s graphic art was the staple of East Village politics and protest in the 1980s and 1990s (most visibly along with Seth Tobocman, with whom he’d later collaborate on the comics-zine World War 3 Illustrated as co-editor and contributor) in community posters and flyers and publications. Appropriately enough his work was also a staple in the Village Voice of the ’90s, as well as political journals like The Progressive and The Nation.

Like Masereel, Drooker has been especially adept at telling “wordless stories with pictures” and that has been evident in his comics work for years (World War 3 Illustrated was a treasure trove of this). Since the ’90s, he took this to the next logical step in a number of illustrated books and graphic novels, most notably Flood! A Novel in Pictures (Four Walls Eight Windows, 1992; reprinted Dark Horse Comics, 2002) and also in 2002, Blood Song: A Silent Ballad (Dark Horse Books/Harcourt).

Not surprisingly, when former RAW-cofounder Françoise Mouly became art/cover editor for The New Yorker under Tina Brown, Drooker was one of many “underground” artists, RAW-veterans, new cartoonists and illustrators, and even gallery artists brought in to the revitalized New Yorker. This cover captures Drooker’s powerful voice of social protest and brings it over to the genteel, literary confines of the once-stuffy magazine and its readership.

One aside, when this came out, one (of many) thoughts that popped into my head when seeing the two men huddled for warmth around the flaming trash barrel (a common sight in some precincts of the city) I thought, “Hmmnnn, a typesetter and pre-pressman, tossed from their jobs and lives by so-called progress.” This thought could be updated to illustrator and art director, almost. For some.

Ask not for whom the bell tolls.

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