On Christmas Day, Vermonter’s “Spirit” comes to life

December 24th, 2008 by Daniel Barlow · No Comments

By Daniel Barlow Vermont Press Bureau Published: December 24, 2008

MONTPELIER – During a recent interview to promote his film adaptation of Will Eisner’s “The Spirit” comic strip, Frank Miller remembered first discovering reprints of the cartoonist’s work in a small drugstore in Barre.

“I was 14 years old, driving my bicycle in Vermont, and I would go to two drug stores to buy all my comic books,” Miller told the Film Journal International earlier this month. “And at the second drug store in Barre, Vt., I came across this oversized magazine that was in black-and-white and I was entranced.”

That comic was a 1970s reprint of Eisner’s work decades earlier on “The Spirit,” which ran for 12 years as a supplement to newspapers’ Sunday comics section. Miller quickly devoured Eisner’s work – forever influencing his own artistic direction.

More than 30 years later, Miller, who grew up in the Barre area and attended high school in Montpelier, brings his own version of “The Spirit” to the big screen on Christmas Day. The film stars Gabriel Macht as Denny Colt, a police officer who fights crime as the masked, noirish Spirit.

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Categories: articles · comics journalism · interviews · news · vermont

Alison Bechdel in Montpelier, Vt.

December 3rd, 2008 by Daniel Barlow · 1 Comment


Alison Bechdel came to Bear Pond Books in Montpelier, Vt. tonight as part of her tour for the THE ESSENTIAL DYKES TO WATCH OUT FOR.

Of course, we gave her a copy of SEEDS.

She said she is working on a second memoir and joked that, “All I’m interested in writing about now is myself.”

Categories: Seeds · events · news · vermont

Tim Newcomb and his “Gaggle of Governors”

December 1st, 2008 by Daniel Barlow · No Comments

Photo: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur/Times Argus

By Daniel Barlow
Vermont Press Bureau
Published: November 29, 2008

MONTPELIER – Tim Newcomb has satirized four sitting Vermont governors over hundreds of political cartoons during his 25-year career – and he usually always feels bad about it afterward.

One cartoon this year showed Republican Gov. James Douglas in a rubber boat literally riding a wave of national party contributions soon after vetoing a bill that would place new limits on campaign fundraising.

Newcomb’s Douglas takes key traits from the real-life politician and transforms them into exaggerated quirks as the cartoon version sports just a wisp of hair, a thin frame and oversized glasses across a childlike face.

“Jim Douglas is such a gracious gentleman,” Newcomb said Friday from his downtown Montpelier studio. “He is such a naturally likeable guy that I find myself apologetic to him whenever I see him.”

Read the rest at the Times Argus Web site.

Categories: articles · comics · interviews · vermont

Vermont cartoonist Ed Koren honored by state leaders

October 28th, 2007 by Daniel Barlow · No Comments

I had a great time Friday evening at the ceremony to honor New Yorker cartoonist Ed Koren.

October 27, 2007

By Daniel Barlow Vermont Press Bureau

MONTPELIER – Amid a stream of congratulations, playful verbal jabs and thunderous applause, Edward Koren became the first cartoonist to be given the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts Friday evening.

Koren, a Brookfield resident who has drawn cartoons for the New Yorker magazine for four decades, was praised at the Vermont Statehouse by Gov. James Douglas, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch and others for his ability to poke fun at modern life in Vermont in his single-panel creations.

As Koren prepared to take the crowd of nearly 200 people gathered in the House chambers through a sampling of his rustic cartoons, he noted that he has always been suspicious of awards that involve the words excellence and the arts.

“That is, until right now,” he quipped.

Presenters and speakers mined Koren’s talent of drawing hairy and furry monsters in his cartoons and his strong civic mind, including his ongoing stint as a member of Brookfield’s volunteer fire department.

Margaret “Peggy” Kannenstine, the chair of the Vermont Arts Council board of trustees, joked that she was happy to “honor the most renowned firefighter from Brookfield.”

She went on to mention that Koren is part of the growing community of cartoonists who call Vermont home, noting that two years ago the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction opened its doors.

“It feels good to have welcomed Mr. [Garry] Trudeau to Vermont in the same week that we are honoring Ed Koren today,” Kannenstine said, referring to the Doonesbury cartoonist who held a fundraiser at Junction opened its doors.

“It feels good to have welcomed Mr. [Garry] Trudeau to Vermont in the same week that we are honoring Ed Koren today,” Kannenstine said, referring to the Doonesbury cartoonist who held a fundraiser at CCS on Monday.

Letters from Vermont’s two U.S. senators were read by staff members to congratulate Koren. Sen. Patrick Leahy’s letter noted that Koren is “clearly the most talented artist in the Brookfield Fire Department.” Sen. Bernard Sanders’ letter called him a “cartoonist of the first order.”

Welch, Vermont’s freshman representative, attended the event and noted that he was proud to hang a Koren original in his Washington, D.C., office, which was given to him soon after his election to the office last year.

Welch, without describing the cartoon, said that it is “provocative and politically incendiary” and that anyone who wants to see it is free to “come down and take a look.”

He then praised Koren’s cartoons for giving people a “greater understanding of who we are together.”

Tunbridge filmmaker John O’Brien, a close friend of Koren’s, upped the humor ante in his remarks, which included showing off early nudes that Koren had drawn at the dawn of his career and reading from a paperback science fiction novel that shares its title with Koren’s last name.

In his remarks just before Koren was awarded the prize, Douglas, who picks the winner based on recommendations from the Vermont Arts Council, noted that he was “no stranger to cartoons,” especially those that satirize him and appear in local newspapers during legislative sessions.

When he discovered there was a cartoonist among the award candidates, he prepared his “trusty pair of scissors” to remove him from the list, Douglas joked – until he found out that cartoonist was one of Brookfield’s most famous residents.

“Ed’s work is a classic reminder of what it means to live in Vermont and be a neighbor,” Douglas said.

Koren, who read punch lines from more than a dozen of his cartoons that were displayed on an overhead screen in the House chambers, spoke very little during the ceremony.

But he beamed with pride and smiled strongly as he and his wife, Curtis Koren, sat near the speaker’s podium.

“I don’t think I would be here today if I was an editorial cartoonist,” he told the crowd, which, as expected, exploded with laughter.

Koren joins other luminaries who have received the Arts award since it was first offered in 1967, including writers David Mamet, Grace Paley and Howard Frank Mosher, and filmmaker Jay Craven.

Contact Daniel Barlow at

Categories: comics journalism · ed koren · vermont

If you meet Edward Koren, you may end up in The New Yorker

October 25th, 2007 by Daniel Barlow · No Comments

Between the publication of NEW STARS and my trip to SPX, I totally forgot to post my recent profile of Vermont cartoonist Edward Koren.

For 40 years, Koren has been one of the most popular NEW YORKER cartoonists to draw comics in a small single box. He’s receiving the Governor’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of, er, I mean the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts at the Statehouse in Montpelier, Vt.

I’ll probably be covering that ceremont tomorrow night too. Anyway, this was published in the Times Argus and the Rutland Herald on Oct. 7. Ed left me a nice message a few days after it ran, saying the profile was “more flattering than [he] deserves.”

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Vermont Press Bureau
Photo: Stefan Hard

Edward Koren’s little creatures – furry, monstrous things with horns, large teeth and wide eyes – are all over his home in the quiet, off-the-beaten-path village of Brookfield.

They’re printed on the tiles of his kitchen counter and they hang in numerous portraits on the walls.

He’s drawn them on scraps of paper that are now stuffed in the corners of his busy art studio and has carved them from wood, giving these little monsters a three-dimensional, lifelike quality.

“They’re extreme, they’re aggressive, they’re horripilations,” Koren says with a sharp smile when asked to describe the unidentifiable creatures that often pop up in his single-panel cartoons.

Just don’t call them cute.

“I hate the word ‘cute,’” he says, adding that he sees the creatures as extreme and fierce representations of regular people. “It’s a quick read of a subject that is far more nuanced. They’re not cute, they are complex.”

Despite his contempt for the blandly endearing, Koren – who has spent 45 years drawing cartoons for The New Yorker – is a chatty, likable and polite man whose comics, although satirical and pointed, could hardly be considered mean or menacing.

Koren, 71, started his career as a cartoonist in New York City, but nearly 30 years ago moved to a spacious 19th-century home in the heart of Brookfield, a central Vermont town of about 1,200 that is known mostly for a floating bridge rather than as the inspiration for one of the most celebrated cartoonists working today.

That geographical move has infused Koren’s work with characters and quirks inspired by his new surroundings. Astute readers will notice Montpelier-area restaurants as settings or the name of a local school or community group on a character’s shirt.

Koren will be honored for his artistic contributions when he is given the 2007 Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts this month.

“He really loves Vermont,” says Mark Singer, a longtime New Yorker writer who befriended Koren more than 30 years ago. “Everyone knows that when you go to Vermont, you have to visit Ed. It’s a state that he was really drawn to.”

Koren was born in New York City and attended the private Horace Mann School and Columbia University, where he honed his cartooning skills while drawing for the college’s humor magazine, a sort of 1950s version of the famous National Lampoon periodical.

At the time, Koren aimed his wit and pen at what he and some peers decided was the greatest threat to the academic institution: the college president’s plan for students to volunteer part of their time in the community as a requirement for graduation.

Koren believed that would distract the students from their academic work, which he considered their mission there at the college.

“The proposal had the campus in an uproar,” Koren remembers. “They had to shelve those plans, although I can’t attest to the fact that we were responsible for that.”

But his outlook on that issue has clearly changed over the years.

“I can see now that it was a very narrow vision that I had,” he says. “Wisdom has caught up with me.”

Today, Koren exemplifies the ideal Vermont citizen. For 19 years he has been a volunteer with the Brookfield Fire Department, including several years spent as its captain. He helped raise money to renovate the community’s historic town hall and often donates art for fundraisers by organizations including Vermont Public Radio.

“Joining the fire department was one way of doing something for the community and getting to know the people here,” he explains. “I’ve become friends with people I would probably have never interacted with in New York.”

Koren got his artistic break in May 1962 when The New Yorker accepted one of his cartoons. This one featured a sloppy-looking writer, cigarette dangling from his lips, sitting before a typewriter. Printed on his sweatshirt is one word: Shakespeare.

“Let me explain that one,” Koren says. “This was before people had slogans on their shirts. Everyone wore plain shirts.”

That comic launched a lifetime freelance relationship between Koren and The New Yorker. After several years of continued publishing, he quit his teaching job at Brown University and devoted himself full-time to cartooning.

Koren says his art started out in a more traditional style. But over the years, in a move he says was more subconscious than intended, he developed the scratchy, etching-like style that he has become renowned for.

“Ed’s style is unique, and that’s really the only way to put it,” Singer says. “No one has even tried, if they were smart, to replicate Ed’s style and look.”

In an era when cartoonists are now doing much of their work on computers, Koren still draws by hand, using pencil and pen, in his cluttered and darkened studio space on the first floor of the family home. He and his wife are now empty-nesters.

Koren says he is a constant doodler, and his art – drawn on scraps of paper or whatever else was handy at the time – sits in piles on the two drawing tables in the studio. Posters he created for benefit concerts 20 years ago are piled next to the art he drew just last week.

His bookshelf is filled with collections of famous and forgotten cartoonists; underneath his drawing tables are shelves full of his own work, nearly all of which he has kept over the years.

To fix his artistic mistakes, Koren uses an eraser nub and a razor blade, which can scratch out a regretted thin line. He also draws on paper too large to scan into a computer and instead mails his work to The New Yorker.

“I’m a draftsperson as much as I am an artist,” he says. “This method has worked for me over my lifetime, and I don’t plan on changing.”

Koren’s early comics focused on upper-middle-class life in the city. They still do sometimes, but his work now has a purely Vermont flavor — beat-up trucks with shaggy dogs riding in the back, overalls and baseball caps.

A 1989 drawing of his featured a suited businessman approaching two anglers by a stream in a beautiful Vermont setting. He asks, “Could you fellas tell me if there’s anyplace around here where I could find a fax machine?”

“Ed was part of that whole world of people who moved to Vermont after the late ’60s,” says John O’Brien, the filmmaker behind the “Tunbridge Trilogy” who met Koren through mutual friends about 20 years ago. “He has really documented that perfectly in his cartoons, and when he skewers people for it, he’s also poking fun at himself.”

Koren says his cartoons can be appreciated both by the city types who are typical of The New Yorker’s audience and his neighbors and friends here in Vermont. Similarly, he finds jokes in both conservative and liberal positions.

Asked about his political beliefs, Koren first describes himself as a “left-of-center Democrat, but not a full-blown Progressive.” But he also describes himself as a social conservative.

“I’m concerned about sprawl, about development, about the lack of general education.”

Wary of sounding like a cranky curmudgeon, Koren still says he is greatly concerned with what he calls “the general dumbing down of the population.” It’s disappointing that the younger generations are watching TV or playing video games instead of reading books, the local newspaper or, yes, cartoons, he says.

Although he knows some might still refer to him as a flatlander, Koren sees himself now as a true-blue Vermonter. He still returns to New York several times a year, yet says he doesn’t feel at home anymore among the lights of the city.

While the place he calls home has changed, Koren’s muse has not. People, as always, are his inspiration.

“What was funny to me then,” he says about the subjects of his early work, “is still funny to me now.”

Edward Koren will receive the 2007 Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts in a public ceremony Oct. 26 at 4 p.m. at the Statehouse in Montpelier. The award is given each year to a Vermont artist who has achieved national or international stature for advancing his or her art form.

Categories: comics journalism · ed koren · vermont