John Cuneo’s “Top Dog” | The New Yorker


At the height of his fame, in the nineteen-twenties, Rin Tin Tin, or Rinty, was one of the big screen’s brightest stars. He received reviews—mostly admiring—in national papers for his performances, thousands of requests for autographed photos from ardent fans, and made so much money for Warner Bros. that people at the studio called him “the mortgage lifter.” In the staff writer Susan Orlean’s 2011 piece on Rinty, she notes that Hollywood legend holds that he even received the most votes for the first-ever Academy Award for Best Actor. He didn’t win. He was disqualified, it is said, for being a dog. I recently spoke to the artist John Cuneo about his inspiration for this week’s cover.

You live upstate, in the Catskills. Do you come into New York City often?

The city seems overwhelming and barely navigable. When I drive in, I find the very first garage I come across close to the West Side Highway. I’m happy to walk the next thirty blocks, if it means I can go without the vehicular stress.

Are you interested in filmmaking?

I’m in awe of the film shoots I see in the city. The equipment, the trailers, the security, the mountain of logistics, and the huge teams of people simply boggle my mind. Just drawing it was almost more than I could handle!

This isn’t your first cover featuring a dog. Why do you think they make such good stars?

When you feature a dog, you don’t have to worry about misrepresenting or offending anyone. Dogs don’t write angry e-mails. Also, we can never be sure what a dog is thinking and maybe that allows people to project emotions onto them. That makes the covers feel a little participatory. Your interpretation is as valid as anybody else’s.

You are about to travel abroad for the first time, to Paris, for an exhibit of your drawings. What are your fears as you prepare for that trip?

I feel out of place in my own yard, so I’m not exactly expecting to fit in in Paris. But it would be nice if I at least looked the part—I got a haircut and bought tighter pants. My fear is that the show’s opening goes badly and no one shows up. Then, I’ll spend the rest of the trip hunkered down in the Airbnb, drawing dark thoughts in my sketchbook and wondering what crêpes are like.

Your finished drawings pack in so many details. How do you retain the breeziness of a quick sketch?

I think most comic artists strive to make their drawings appear as if they come from a place of ease and spontaneity. I know I enjoy seeing work that feels like the artist enjoyed making it. Capturing spontaneity is a contradiction of course, but I try to invest a little novelty in the lines and to keep a light touch, figuratively and physically—drawing with clenched teeth and a clenched fist is to be avoided.

See below for more covers featuring dogs:

Find John Cuneo’s covers, cartoons, and more at the Condé Nast Store.


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