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This Week’s The New Yorker Anniversary Cover Features a Black Female Eustace Tilley!

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The New Yorker is a magazine of reportage, reviews, commentary, criticism, essays, fiction, satire, poetry, and of course, cartoons. It is published by Condé Nast. The magazine began as a weekly in 1925, and currently it is published 47 times a year.

Its reviews and events listings focus on the cultural life of NYC, but The New Yorker has a larger readership and is read internationally. I have been a subscriber since 1964.

It is especially noted for its illustrated, often topical covers. The first edition featured the character Eustace Tilley, now more or less the magazine’s mascot. That first cover was a visual pun: which is more ephemeral, a dandy or a butterfly? A foppish man with the monocle was offered as an image of the typical The New Yorker reader, a cultivated observer of life’s small beauties.

That first cover was drawn by Rea Irvin, the magazine’s original art editor, who also designed the distinctive The New Yorker headline type still used today. His character acquired the name, Eustace Tilley, in a series of humor pieces that ran in the magazine during its first year, that pretended to provide an inside look at the making of The New Yorker in a style that spoofed promotional writing. The stories, by Corey Ford, were accompanied by illustrations in which Eustace Tilley turns up in various scenes.

Ford’s pieces were commissioned so that there would be something to run on pages that advertisers were not buying. Advertisers were not buying because they were not sure what The New Yorker was. The second issue ran a mock apology for the first:

”There didn’t seem to be much indication of purpose and we felt sort of naked in our apparent aimlessness.”

The New Yorker almost folded during its first year. But, it got better. Janet Flanner, Dorothy Parker, E. B. White, and James Thurber joined the staff.

Eustace Tilley has been featured on nearly every anniversary issue cover in the past 83 years.

In 1994, efforts were made to do something to his image, which seemed out of date. He has been parodied, inverted, subverted, and perverted. The cover has been deconstructed, with a butterfly staring at a man. He has been depicted as a dog in the top hat and collar. There has been a female Tilley, an African-American Tilley, a punk Tilley, and a hipster Tilley.

This week, The New Yorker says that they ”wanted to capture the poise and the pose of the original Eustace Tilley dandy, but do it as something extremely simple and modern”. Malika Favre, a French artist who lives in London, says her The Butterfly Effect is another riff on that very first cover from 1925. And, not only is Tilley a black female this year, she’s a GIF. Favre:

”Like the original Tilley, I had her look slightly up, which shows her curiosity,and of course it was delightful to have the flight of fancy, the poetic touch, of the butterfly.”

Barry Blitt’s Tilley

R. Crumb’s Tilley

More Barry Blitt


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