The cartoons of Abner Dean


"Abner Dean (1910  – 1982), born Abner Epstein, was an American cartoonist who was the nephew of sculptor Jacob Epstein. In allegorical or surrealist situations, Dean often depicted extremes of human behavior amid grim, decaying urban settings or barren landscapes. His artwork prompted Clifton Fadiman to comment, 'His pictures are trick mirrors in which we catch sight of those absurd fragments of ourselves that we never see in the smooth glass of habit.'"

What Things Do, Jordan Crane's wonderful online comics site, has large reproductions from Abner Dean's brilliant 1947 book, What Am I Doing Here?


  1. Thanks for this!

    Practically the first book I ever “read” was The New Yorker’s 25th anniversary cartoon collection, with art from 1925 to 1950. Abner Dean was one of the many standout artists. I have a couple of vintage collections by Peter Arno (who Dean resembles stylistically, with the gray washes — but not thematically), and other New Yorker artists. But I’d never seen a Dean collection until you hipped me to this one.

    The fact that his name was Epstein, and that Jacob Epstein was his uncle, was a revelation. Right up there with Albert (Brooks) Einstein being the son of Harry (Parkyakarkus) Einstein. But I digress. As usual.

  2. Imagine my surprise at loading up Boing Boing this evening and seeing a post about my Great Uncle Abner. I’ve been following and trying to learn as much as I can about Abner for the past few years, and I’m happy to see that he’s starting to receive more attention. I don’t always understand his work myself, as uniquely tied as it is to America’s obsession in the mid-century with Freud and the degradation of the human condition in the war years, but he had such a unique vision and incomparable draftsmanship.

  3. When I was in high school in the early 60s, ABNER DEAN’S NAKED PEOPLE, an anthology of selections from his first four books, was released, in a nice slipcovered hardbound edition. My folks saw a little picture from it in the NEW YORKER and bought it for me for Christmas. Even though I was a fanatic about cartoonists, I had never heard of Dean, and thought then, as I still think many years later, “Why isn’t this guy as famous as anybody else in the field”? I don’t think any of his books are in print, but they are easy enough to locate online. In my opinion, his stuff holds up as well as (and is as good or better than)anything in the “metaphysical cartoon” field, including Steig and Steinberg (although Steinberg exists on his own plane because of his unparalleled visual imagination). Todd Hignite’s COMIC ART # 9 contains the best article on Dean I’ve ever run across, by Ken Parille, as well as great stuff about other people who are rarely mentioned in contemporary comics publications. It came out a couple years ago and should be easy to find. Abner Dean is way overdue for a massive rediscovery!

  4. IT’S A LONG WAY TO HEAVEN is on eBay today for a dollar; the seller touts it as “racy.” The signed lithograph is one of a thousand that came with the first thousand copies of NAKED PEOPLE; I’ve seen it offered far less expensively if you’re patient.

  5. OH! i found What Am I Doing Here as a teenager. I love that the messages aren’t always the smack-you-in-the-face sort. It’s a lovely book to contemplate, and nice to see sometimes melancholy images of what we all go through presented so simply… so not pretentiously…I find it sweet, like a personal message from a stranger. It has that appeal. <3

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