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The stories behind The New Yorker's iconic covers | Françoise Mouly

So 24 years ago,

I was brought to The New Yorker

as art editor

to rejuvenate

what had by then become a somewhat staid institution

and to bring in new artists

and to try to bring the magazine from its ivory tower

into engaging with its time.

And it was just the right thing for me to do

because I've always been captivated by how an image can --

a simple drawing --

can cut through the torrent of images that we see every single day.

How it can capture a moment,

how it can crystallize a social trend or a complex event

in a way that a lot of words wouldn't be able to do --

and reduce it to its essence and turn it into a cartoon.

So I went to the library

and I looked at the first cover drawn by Rea Irvin in 1925 --

a dandy looking at a butterfly through his monocle,

and we call it Eustace Tilley.

And I realized that as the magazine had become known

for its in-depth research and long reports,

some of the humor had gotten lost along the way,

because now often Eustace Tilley was seen as a haughty dandy,

but in fact, in 1925,

when Rea Irvin first drew this image,

he did it as part of a humor magazine

to amuse the youth of the era,

which was the flappers of the roaring twenties.

And in the library,

I found the images that really captured the zeitgeist

of the Great Depression.

And it showed us not just how people dressed

or what their cars looked like,

but also what made them laugh,

what their prejudices were.

And you really got a sense

of what it felt like to be alive in the '30s.

So I called on contemporary artists,

such as Adrian Tomine here.

I often call on narrative artists --

cartoonists, children's book authors --

and I give them themes such as,

you know, what it's like to be in the subway,

or Valentine's Day,

and they send me sketches.

And once the sketches are approved by the editor,

David Remnick,

it's a go.

And I love the way

those images are actually not telling you what to think.

But they do make you think,

because the artist is actually --

it's almost a puzzle;

the artist is drawing the dots,

and you, the reader, have to complete the picture.

So to get this image on the left by Anita Kunz,

or the one on right by Tomer Hanuka,

you have to play spot the differences.

And it is something that ...

It's really exciting to see

how the engagement with the reader ...

how those images really capture --

play with the stereotypes.

But when you get it,

it rearranges the stereotypes that are in your head.

But the images don't just have to show people,

sometimes it can be a feeling.

Right after September 11,

I was at a point,

like everybody else,

where I really didn't know how to deal with what we were going through,

and I felt that no image could capture this moment,

and I wanted to just do a black cover,

like no cover.

And I talked to my husband, cartoonist Art Spiegelman,

and mentioned to him that I was going to propose that,

and he said, "Oh, if you're going to do a black cover,

then why don't you do the silhouette of the Twin Towers,

black on black?"

And I sat down to draw this,

and as soon as I saw it,

a shiver ran down my spine

and I realized

that in this refusal to make an image,

we had found a way to capture loss

and mourning

and absence.

And it's been a profound thing that I learned in the process --

that sometimes some of the images that say the most

do it with the most spare means.

And a simple image can speak volumes.

So this is the image that we published by Bob Staake

right after the election of Barack Obama,

and captured a historic moment.

But we can't really plan for this,

because in order to do this,

we have to let the artist experience the emotions that we all feel

when that is happening.

So back in November 2016,

during the election last year,

the only image that we could publish was this,

which was on the stand on the week that everybody voted.

(Laughter)

Because we knew somebody would feel this --

(Laughter)

when the result of the election was announced.

And when we found out the result,

we really were at a loss,

and this is the image that was sent by Bob Staake again,

and that really hit a chord.

And again,

we can't really figure out what's going to come next,

but here it felt like we didn't know how to move forward,

but we did move forward,

and this is the image that we published after Donald Trump's election

and at the time of the Women's March

all over the US.

So over those 24 years,

I have seen over 1,000 images come to life week after week,

and I'm often asked which one is my favorite,

but I can't pick one

because what I'm most proud of is how different every image is,

one from the other.

And that's due to the talent and the diversity

of all of the artists that contribute.

And now, well,

now, we're owned by Russia,

so --

(Laughter)

In a rendering by Barry Blitt here,

Eustace has become Eustace Vladimirovich Tilley.

And the butterfly is none other than a flabbergasted Donald Trump

flapping his wings,

trying to figure out how to control the butterfly effect,

and the famed logo that was drawn by Rae Irvin in 1925

is now in Cyrillic.

So, what makes me really excited about this moment

is the way that ...

You know, free press is essential to our democracy.

And we can see from the sublime to the ridiculous

that artists can capture what is going on

in a way that an artist

armed with just India ink and watercolor

can capture and enter into the cultural dialogue.

It puts those artists at the center of that culture,

and that's exactly where I think they should be.

Because the main thing we need right now is a good cartoon.

Thank you.

(Applause)