Classic Cartoons

Martin Plimmer on Helen E Hokinson and B Kliban
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THE GAG-SHY cartoon demands some courage on the part of the artist, though it required less in Helen E Hokinson's day, when the picture itself was just as important as the idea.

Hokinson, who started out drawing fashion illustrations for department stores, swapped form for foible in 1925, when her enchanting depictions of plump, affluent ladies in hats began appearing in The New Yorker.

Fifty years later, B Kliban was working in an era when cartoon publishers were capitulating to the ethos of rapid gratification. Quick and simple line drawings predominated, sacrificing decoration for gags.

Though his style is much sparser than Hokinson's, Kliban was just as much a talented draughtsman, and his less-than-enchanting vision is acute. With or without a joke, he was still very funny.

What makes us laugh here is the skill with which both artists reveal personality traits. Helen E Hokinson died in 1949, and B Kliban in 1990.