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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

James Thurber and John Lennon: Drawing the connection

When James Thurber died on November 2, 1961, John Lennon was playing nonstop gigs in dives in Hamburg with the Beatles, who had yet to release their first recording. They clearly had no opportunity to meet. But because December 8 marks the date in 1980 of John Lennon’s murder and of James Thurber’s birth in 1894, the two lives are annually memorialized together by circumstance.

Their actual connection may be less well known. Lennon credited Thurber with being one of the major influences on his drawing. As Lennon biographer Philip Norman wrote:
Two comic artists, one British, one American were to have a profound influence on John’s style. He loved the intricate, scratchy technique of Ronald Searle . . . And, thanks to Aunt Mimi, he became a devotee of James Thurber, both the writings for The New Yorker and the cartoons, whose surreally wavering lines were a product of Thurber’s own near-blindness. John later said he began consciously “Thurberising” his drawings from the age of fifteen.
When In His Own Write was published in 1964, the Time reviewer got the connection:
In this startling collection of verse and prosery, Lennon has rolled Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll and James Thurber into one great post-Joycean spitball. All those jellybean-lobbing, caterwauling Beatle [sic] fans are not going to understand it at all.
See for yourself. The Los Angeles Times has a photo gallery of a selected illustrations from Lennon’s books In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works.

You can find a selection of Thurber mammals here or you read his illustrated, whimsical assessment of his own cartoons at our Story of the Week site.

John Lennon describes “Thurberising” to Dick Cavett:

Related LOA works: James Thurber: Writings and Drawings

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