About Irv Yaniger
Irv Yaniger (1932-1984) was a complete artist, a true “natural,” skilled in drawing, painting, cartooning, sculpting, printing, silk-screening, woodcuts, photography, even puppetry. With a clean sense of line and form, his work stands out as simple but not simplistic- delineated space was as important as the mark, nothing beyond the essential was included, and nothing essential was excluded. His intellectual breadth and curiosity was reflected in his choice and use of subjects. Yaniger could talk knowledgeably about ancient history, cinema, anatomy, philosophy, carpentry, and the mechanisms of dirty jokes, sliding from subject to subject with a casual ease. He made his living doing graphic art and photography for local (Baltimore) and national clients like Otter Pops, Koontz Dairy, Geno’s (later part of McDonald’s), and authored and illustrated high school textbooks ranging from civics to chemistry. He was also fluent in Biblical Hebrew and Yiddish.
Yaniger’s son, Stuart, recalls, “Dad was a voracious reader- our house was always stuffed with well-used books of all sorts. Whatever I wanted to learn about, he had books about it and knew exactly what was in them. When the game Trivial Pursuit came out, his friends had a special ‘Irv Yaniger Rule’: he had to answer every question on the card, not just the category he landed on. I could be watching an old movie on TV late at night, and when he’d walk by, he’d glance at the screen and name the title, studio, director, and stars. He once told me that the fact that I could recognize Spring Byington was evidence that he’d raised me right.”
Amidst the breadth of his oeuvre, the form dearest to Yaniger’s heart was the cartoon, which showcased his talent of telling a story within severe boundaries and constraints. Inspired by the great cartoonists of the early 20th Century such as Doc Winner, Winsor McKay, George McManus, Otto Soglow, and Ernie Brushmiller, he experimented with strips, panels, and eventually editorial page cartoons.
“One night when I was about 13, he walked by where I was sitting and reading, dropped a comic book in front of me and said, ‘Look at this. It’s great art.’ This was Zap Comix, home to R. Crumb, S. Clay Wilson, Gilbert Shelton, and other sorts who would not be expected to appeal to one’s parents in the 1960s. But that didn’t matter to him- this was great art and that’s all that counted,” Stuart Yaniger relates.
The warmth of his personality shines through even the most satirical of his drawings- if he had a weak point, it was his unwillingness to put a truly sarcastic or hurtful edge in any of his public art even when needed. His cartoons appeared mostly in The Baltimore Sun and The Huddle (a weekly magazine put out by the late, lamented Baltimore Colts), where they delighted Baltimoreans for several decades. Though most of the drawings shown on this website were created as companions to written pieces (editorials and advertisements), we think that these stand alone as exemplars of the craftsmanship of drawing.