Even if you don’t recognize the name, you will instantly recognize his wonderful New Yorker cartoons featuring what my husband always refers to as “furry alligators.” He tried for the most part to remain above passing political controversies, focusing instead on au courant topics like fitness fads, electronic gadgetry, and pop psychology. He poked fun at contemporary relationships but steered clear of sex. “Animals are gentle and funny,” he said. Disguising his subjects as animals allowed him to avoid exposing their anger or bitterness and instead portray them with affection for their foibles. “I’m the kind of American middle-class folk I like to draw,” he wryly admitted.
His furry alligator cartoons emerged organically from his experience of daily life. “Within his comfort zone,” wrote a critic in 2010, “Mr. Koren can be funny, psychologically acute and philosophically provocative. He has a pitch-perfect feel for gag lines, and with his scribbly draftsmanship has forged one of the most distinctive styles in cartooning.” As noted in his obituary, “He found subjects everywhere. Walking in the woods in California, he was passed by a jogger, who called out: ‘Working on my quads!’ ‘There’s a cartoon,’ Mr. Koren said.”
I knew Ed only briefly and slightly, from our days as summer residents of Vermont, where our circle of friends overlapped with his, meaning that we occasionally found ourselves in his company at dinner parties and small gatherings. I remember him vividly because—well, because he was Ed Koren, the famous cartoonist. He would likely be able to place my husband, who has a talent for engaging a wide variety of people in conversation on a wide variety of topics. He might even remember me as well, if only because I was one of those passers-by in his quotidian existence who inadvertently evoked the comment, “There’s a cartoon.”
Only later, while thumbing through a book of his work, did I learn that I had been immortalized in an Ed Koren cartoon published in the New Yorker on April 22, 1974. The moment I saw it I was teleported back to that dreamy summer evening in Brookfield, Vermont, sitting around a picnic table with Ed and others eating corn-on-the-cob that had been growing in the field only an hour before, and shushing one of my daughters who was clamoring for dessert, “No more carbohydrates until you finish your protein.” Pitch-perfect indeed—it was an exact quotation.
But what is even more remarkable was that although there I was, with my long curly hair and glasses, I had been transmogrified into a mom in her suburban Philadelphia kitchen, standing near a refrigerator festooned with a couple of alphabets' worth of plastic letters, cheerfully telling her grumpy daughter, “No more carbohydrates until you finish your protein.” (The New Yorker Cartoon Bank thinks the child is a boy, but I know better.) It was an entirely accurate rendition of our kitchen—except that (and here’s the creepy part) Ed had never once visited our home in Philadelphia, he knew us only in our Vermont incarnation.