"Dedini: The Art of Humor," centers on cartoonist Eldon Dedini, who led a double life of sorts.
Dedini (1921-2006) contributed gag cartoons to numerous magazines but enjoyed long associations with two: The New Yorker and Playboy.
No pair of publications probably differ more dramatically in content, tone or intended readership, and Dedini adjusted his work accordingly.
His contributions to The New Yorker veered toward the genteel; his contributions to Playboy were more than a little bawdy.
All aspects of Dedini’s art are on view in the exhibit, curated by Jenny Robb and Wendy Pflug. His cartoons are characterized by clean, elegant artwork and an irrepressible wit.
“He was such a creative person and came up with so many ideas that he was able to send batches to both publications every week and have them considered by both,” said Robb, adding that Dedini had “first look” contracts with each.
Dedini’s gifts are apparent in a series of cartoons that ran in 1946 in Esquire. In a gorgeous full-color panel, three bandaged would-be skiers sit before a hearth — inside of which their splintered skis burn.
By 1950, Dedini had found his way into The New Yorker. Although the black-and-white cartoons on view are rarely riotous, they reflect their creator’s sardonic sense of humor.
In a panel from that year, a line of newly enlisted soldiers stand with armfuls of fatigues and boots; at the end of the line, a drill sergeant hands out comic books. The image pokes fun at the soldiers’ immaturity but also evokes sympathy; after all, considering the year of publication, the young men might well be on their way to fight in the Korean War.
Dedini expertly used captions to enhance his cartoons. In a 1972 panel, a jolly man in pajamas stands at his window. The caption, however, is at odds with the seemingly cheerful drawing: “Today I’m going to be unaware, uninvolved, uncommitted, and self-centered.” Dedini was in sync with the times; this is the perfect cartoon for the so-called “Me Decade.”
When Dedini began drawing for Playboy in 1959, the artist was able to let loose, working in full color and often having entire pages to himself.
“For a gag cartoonist, that’s a great gig to get — to have the full page of a magazine, and color as well,” Robb said.
Dedini frequently targeted Puritanism, seeming to agree with journalist H.L. Mencken’s description of that world view: “The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”
In a 1962 panel, two priests comment on a snazzy club into which playboys swarm with dates on their arms; adjacent to the club is the clerics’ church. The caption reads: “Well, you can save some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t save all of the people all of the time.”
On the other hand, hippies are subjected to his sarcasm in a December 1968 panel. Two elaborately outfitted nonconformists gaze glumly at a simple tabletop Christmas tree. “Looks a bit dull, doesn’t it?” asks the bead-bedecked man.
The exhibit further illustrates Dedini’s versatility with 10 spot-on caricatures of figures ranging from George H.W. Bush to Anais Nin.
The free exhibits "Dedini: The Art of Humor" and "Wordless: The Collection of David A. Berona" continue through May 22 at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum in Sullivant Hall, 1813 N. High St., at Ohio State University.
Hours: 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays.
Call 614-292-0538, or visit cartoons.osu.edu
This 2006 documentary details that journey as family, friends, colleagues and the man himself talk about his life and work.
This forty four minute film can be viewed at the Top Documentary Films site.
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