Robert Crumb's Rejected New Yorker Cover


Zeon Santos of Neatorama says:"The New Yorker rejected this great same sex marriage cover art by Robert Crumb, so he subsequently declined to do any more work for the magazine. I think Robert Crumb is an unlikely candidate for New Yorker cartoonist, because his illustrations are neither boring nor conservative enough for the average subscriber, but what do you think?"

The cover editor explained to me that the chief editor, David Remnick, went back and forth, first accepting my cover design, then rejecting it, then accepting it, then rejecting it. This went on for many months. I heard nothing for a long time. Finally, the artwork was returned to me without explanation, nor was an explanation ever forthcoming. Remnick would not give the reason for rejecting the cover, either to the cover editor, or to me. For this reason I refuse to do any more work for the New Yorker.

I felt insulted, not so much by the rejection as for the lack of any reason given. I can’t work for a publication that won’t give you any guidelines or criterion for accepting or rejecting a work submitted. Does the editor want to keep you guessing or what? I think part of the problem is the enormous power vested in the position of chief editor of the New Yorker. He has been ‘spoiled’ by the power that he wields. So many artists are so eager to do covers for the New Yorker that they are devalued in the eyes of David Remnick. They are mere pawns. He is not compelled to take pains to show them any respect. Any artist is easily replaced by another. Fortunately for me, I do not feel that I need the New Yorker badly enough to put up with such brusque treatment at the hands of its editor-in-chief. The heck with him!



  1. This looks like a picture of a lesbian woman trying to marry a transvestite man. That’s always been legal. Why use it to illustrate same sex marriage?

    1. I don’t know. My first impression of the image was that the gender identification of the couple was not entirely clear. I think that’s a good way to illustrate the point.

    2. Just taking a guess – it’s about demonstrating the hypocrisy of opposition to “same-sex” marriage by showing a couple who would fall outside the bounds of the narrow religious morality that dictates that same-sex marriage should be illegal, yet would still not be denied a marriage license, simply because their plumbing matches what the law says it should be.

      Also, I think it’s pretty messed up to assume that just because a woman is dressed in drag, she must be a lesbian, and “transvestite” is a pretty dated nomenclature that I understand is offensive to some people. 

    3. I love all these different interpretations. I see a transman and a transwoman getting very legally married myself.  :-)

    4. You know, for a fact, that they are both pre-op?  Can you see their genitals? Did you really think about this picture or just go for the obvious answer?

    5. “This looks like a picture of a lesbian woman trying to marry a transvestite man.”

      Yes, that’s what it “looks like.” But you aren’t 100% sure and neither is the marriage license clerk. He is going to have to look at their genitals to make sure. 

      “Why use it to illustrate same sex marriage?”

      See above. That’s why.

  2. I think it is rubbish.  I tend to think Crumb isn’t very good though: he’s “I can see the ugliness in anyone & anything!” schtick is tiresome.  I think this cover is filled with boring tropes about queer people– oh wow, really, you conflated masculinity with manhood & femininity with being a woman & then swapped it, oh wow– so yeah.  I wouldn’t’ve put it on my magazine cover.  Crumb’s hissy fit about it only makes me think this was a long time coming– he sounds like a real joy to work with.

    1. It seems his “hissy fit” isn’t about his rejection.  The quality of his work isn’t the issue at hand here.  He had a problem with them giving him no reason for the rejection.  It seems he’d have been happy if they just sent him your comment verbatim.  They had him do work, accepted/rejected/accepted/rejected it, and gave no reason for any of that.  They didn’t even put in as much effort into working with him as you did in criticizing him.  I wouldn’t want to work with a client like that either.

        1. Fair enough.  I don’t know Crumb’s threshold for abuse, but I do know that he wanted them to give him a reason for rejection.  Perhaps he’d be prepared for whatever reason that may be.  Maybe not, but regardless, the lack of any response was what his article/letter was about.

    2. “Crumb’s hissy fit about it only makes me think this was a long time coming– he sounds like a real joy to work with.”

      If you call Crumb’s comment about not wanting to work again for an editor that rejected his illustration without an explanation a “hissy fit,” then how would you describe your own comment, which has about 10 times as many histrionics in it as Crumb’s comment?

  3. I’m not sure I’d be willing to run an image on the cover of a magazine either, if it was nothing but an image of two bland stereotypes with no other commentary given through context.

  4. It’s offensive to transgendered people, and on top of that… it’s just not very good art. I could see them dropping this. 

    1. Uh . . . Kfc as someone who is longtime transgender, and out about it, I simply have to say you have zero idea what you are talking about (other than the generic truth that some people of category X will always be offended by Y).

      The image (regardless of it’s technical merits as visual art), is both moving and beautiful.

      Caveat: this image doesn’t speak to me about “same sex” relationships; it’s clearly about gender variance, and the possibility of love between two people who are different kinds of gender minorities.

      1. > The image (regardless of it’s technical merits as visual art),
        > is both moving and beautiful.

        Also as someone with a long and complex relationship to gender, I agree.

        I disliked it for about 3 seconds, until I looked at it more closely, and then I found it a moving statement about the dignity of love in the face of society’s stupidity.  And actually, I think it’s a well-composed picture too.

        The couple, whether they look attractive to others or not, if you look at their faces, have a dignity about them that the poor befuddled clerk does not. There is not even any way for him to know for sure whether they “deserve” to be together by society’s standards or not without taking them in the back room and stripping them, since he (and we) can’t really know for sure what gender either of them is or was or whatever without looking at their plumbing. The stupidity of that as a criteria is contrasted with the innocent, loving expressions on their faces- a visual stand-in for the real criteria the decision to marry should be based on.

      2. Lexicat, I agree with you. I thought this was about more than same sex marriage. To me, neither of those characters’ genders are obvious, but the love on their faces is quite obvious, and that makes the clerk uncomfortable. And the “gender inspection” sign kinda supports that reading of it, no?

        1. It’s not obvious to me. The person to the right has a creepy look, a if excerpting power, the person to the left looks dejected.  

          As a gay-rights-statement, I’d rather read another issue of Gay Comix, which usually has way better art than this.

    2. People fail to realize that they have no right whatsoever to not be offended, legal caveats not withstanding.

  5. @ Zeon “…boring nor conservative enough for the average subscriber”

    Guess you don’t know NY at all!

    As an addendum:  the cartoon is plain bad. That’s why it was rejected.

    1. I would agree.  The NewYorker cartoon style usually has that little *something* that is not quite right.  This little something is a bit unsophisticated enough for their style.

  6. Yes, it’s a cover that renforces a lot of stereotypes about gay people, and it doesn’t belong anywhere near the ultra-snooty “concerned liberal” vibe that the New Yorker exudes. But I’d hate to work for a cover editor that wouldn’t tell me what was wrong with my work, no matter how TOTALLY OBVIOUS the problem.

  7. I agree that the cartoon is ugly and confusing, but Crumb had a good point:  A flat “No thanks” would have been better than months of no communication followed by a return with no note.

  8. I think it failed not because its controversial but because it’s just crap. Not just a little crap.  This is not art people, not by a long shot.

    1. “This is not art people, not by a long shot.”
      Thanks! But just so we can learn to be half as smart as you, give us some examples of art people, please.

  9. Guys, stop having fun! This is SERIOUS BUSINESS. We must NEVER poke fun about ourselves.

    Seriously, there’s a sign that says “gender inspection” to make the point extra clear. Some people are on permanent butthurt-mode.

  10. Yeah, the groom does kinda look like a female drag king, the “bride” is  definitely depicted as a male CD. I can’t see how the law would have a problem with that.

    Know a few of Drag Kings in my life. They were small, slightly-built women. Looked good as men, I can’t deny, but their tall, broad shouldered, long haired sport dyke girlfriends, who often wore skirts and dresses would have looked more plausible dressed as men.

    None of my business really, but I got a warm place in my heart for the tall sport dykes. Took one to the Homecoming dance. Met her a few years later and she was happy with her girlfriend. That explains why all the sexual stuff between us was so clumsy. She doesn’t regret it, just part of growing up and discovering who you are.

  11. I like R. Crumb a lot but I like the New Yorker more. I’ve laughed on seeing New Yorker covers. I’ve cried on seeing New Yorker covers, usually the 9/11 covers and particularly the 2003 9/11 cover where all the NYC buildings have twins. R.Crumb’s same sex marriage cover is just ugly and unworthy.

  12.  something about this story doesn’t make sense; maybe the note was lost in the mail from post or in his emails?  How much effort, if any, did Crumb exert to follow up with the editors of New Yorker and ask why?  I find it hard to believe they would not have extended that  amount of courtesy. Someone was probably tasked with providing the reason note or card and failed to follow through, it just slipped through the cracks.  he should persist in getting an answer and maybe now that this article on the debacle has been published, the New Yorker will respond.  

  13. Since the point was obviously lost on many of you, Crumb’s lovely illustration demonstrates perfectly that there is a further subtext to the anti-same-sex-marriage brigade’s advocacy for marriage to be between one man and one woman. Given the opportunity, they’d surely additionally demand that the man “look like a man” and that the woman “look like a woman” and that, in fact, the whole anti-SSM charade is at it’s core really just a feeble attempt to enforce rigid, stereotypical gender roles.

    1. I’m surprised so many commenters didn’t get Crumb’s point. And now that you have explained it to them, they will say they knew it all along and make up another reason why they are so angry about the illustration.

  14. I’m so grateful for all the experts here on the ‘Boing tripping all over themselves to tell me what is and isn’t good art.  So much easier not to have to think for myself; thank you!

  15. Compared to Crumb’s pen and ink drawings the cover painting lacks his usual panache. I think Crumb might have compromised himself by changing his usual style to a New Yorkerish watercolor illustration. Look up his pen drawings to compare.

  16. One thing definitely wrong with this story: Zeon Santos’ assertion that Crumb “is an unlikely candidate for New Yorker cartoonist”.  Crumb and his wife Aline Kominsky-Crumb have been jointly contributing to the magazine for several years.

  17. i love robert crumb’s work, and aline’s. i love the new yorker. i am pissed at them for giving him the runaround and hiding from good STRONG art right there on the cover. i am not going to nix my subscription b’cause i was born in ny and i live in iowa and it’s one of my life savers, but i sure am gonna let the nyrker know i am pissed and i am gonna SERIOUSLY miss seeing crumb NOT ONE BIT crummy work in there. editors can make mistakes. they owe r crumb..and many of us his fans…a MAJOR apology!!! and now my only question is: do i throw out my own dreams of one day being between their shiny pages?? feh.

  18. -have you ever seen these [100 lb] Taschen big books? They’re ridiculous. You can’t even read it. You have to sit the book on a podium, turning the pages like a giant Bible in a church. That’s ridiculous, I don’t want anything like that-

    I bought for you Mr. Crumb, if you want it, free from me to you; thanks for all the T&A. 

  19. “The New Yorker rejected this great same sex marriage cover art by Robert Crumb” – actually, the beauty and wit of the picture lies in the fact that you cannot be sure what sex either of them is. So it’s not a same-sex marriage per se.

  20. I was in Crumb’s camp up to that “The heck with him!” at the end. 

    No need for language like that, Mr. Crumb! Think of your young fans!

  21. Anyone who has ever submitted artwork, or a poem, or a short story to a  magazine can attest; rarely are artists given a reason for rejection. I understand that Mr. Crumb is famous and all, but the New Yorker has no obligation to tell Mr. Crumb why his work was rejected, any more than Mr. Crumb has any obligation to work for them in the future. Was it rude? Yes. Rude is SOP for most publications.

    1. Submitting something created on spec is hardly the same as turning in a commissioned piece. He didn’t just decide to scribble up a New Yorker cover and send it in. Were that the case, I’d be with you. But they requested the cover. Which means, once it’s delivered, if they decide they don’t like it, they owe either notes on how he could make the work acceptable, or an explanation as to why it can’t be made acceptable.

      And I just changed my mind while reading the original article to make sure I had my facts right. Under normal circumstances, I agree with what I said above, but here was the working relationship according to Crumb:

      “The New Yorker has a usual policy of having artists send in rough drafts of what you want to do, and the editor can then suggest changes, and I told them right from the start: ‘I don’t do that, I can’t work that way. I will send you finished pieces, and you can take it or leave it, accept it as is or reject it.’ They replied that they were OK with that. This was the first time they rejected something of mine. I could live with it if they gave me a reason. If not, I’m second-guessing the editor, and… Well, you know, I just don’t need the work bad enough to have to worry about what makes David Remnick like or dislike something.”

      If you tell someone your work is finished when it’s turned in, that’s it, and they can “take it or leave it”, you shouldn’t be surprised if they decide to leave it.

      1. If you tell someone your work is finished when it’s turned in, that’s it, and they can “take it or leave it”, you shouldn’t be surprised if they decide to leave it.

        And, if Crumb were anything less than the definition of illustration for a generation-plus, I’d agree with you.

  22. …because his illustrations are neither boring nor conservative enough…
    Unfair. NYer covers can certainly edge toward the controversial (below).  I think the principal thing about a NYer cover is being “low-key.”  They don’t hit you over the head.  They generally make you go through the process of saying, “What?”, then “Oh.”  Crumb is all about “WHAT?” and “WHAT? WHAT???” (Which is not a bad thing either, just a different style.)

  23. I don’t like this image, and that does not change my opinion about R. Crumb.

    The only thing that makes this not a parody of people who desperately need more respect in our society is the “gender inspection” sign, which kind of turns it on its head… kind of.

  24. I like the look of caring on the faces of the folks at the window, and how their clasped hands are front and center in the image. I am really torn about the look on the facee of the clerk, though, and the “gender inspection” sign. I understand that Crumb meant both of those to be parody of outdated modes of thinking about gender and sexuality, but the problem is that those modes are hardly outdated.

    This year a legislator in Maine actually proposed making transgender persons (or people whose gender otherwise just wasn’t clear at a glance; which itself is a stereotype of LGTBQ people) use the bathroom that matched their genitals rather than their gender identification, and didn’t understand the problems with posing this legislation until somebody at a meeting on the proposed legislation pointed out that checking up on what was in people’s underwear to enforce the law was going to go places nobody wanted to go.

    I unfortunately don’t think this cover went far enough in its parody; I think  a lot of people who got this on the cover of the New Yorker would have agreed with the sneering clerk and his fear, or applauded the idea of gender inspections. I think Crumb’s parody here is…too subtle (I can’t believe it, but it’s true).

    If the magazine did indeed request the cover and sit on this piece for several months, then I do feel they should have offered Crumb some kind of explanation–even “we don’t think this will appeal to our readership” is better and probably truer than silence.

  25. R Crumb is unlikely to be in the 1% (if he gets into it for his recent Genesis project, good for him, even if I hate his work).
    You really can’t do work for nothing.
    You can’t put time into a project and get nothing out of it without a comment and no idea what to do to get paid next time.  I think we’ve all been in that situation, and I think we all identify with his situation.

  26. Crumb has always been a controversial artist commenting on contemporary society with a  tongue-in-cheek, in-your-face, off-beat riff on most any subject.  My first reaction to his cover was “Oh, no!”  Then I examined it more closely and mellowed.  When I got it,  I laughed my ass off at the parody and play on fantasy versus reality.  Too bad the New Yorker underestimated its reader’s sophistication.

  27. I’m copping out here, because I am not really up on the current status of NY’s laws regarding same-sex unions. The date on the drawing of “2009” does make me wonder when this all started and the relevance of some of these arguments. When did he submit the piece and when was it rejected? I don’t really care about the answer. I like Crumb’s work, though it mainly stems from jealousy – his detail is so exaggerated that even the non adult images seem pornographic. That makes him fit so well in his medium. His use of expression and character and perspective is always a feast for the eyes. However, when he wants to express “current” events or take a position – I don’t follow. I look at this piece and it is lost on me, I don’t get it, or I think I do and then I don’t.  See “crumb” the documentary – he and his family are truly an enigma drawn inside a puzzle – interesting to try and figure out- possibly unsolvable.

  28. Not sure of the controversy. Crumb got paid to send a submission. His was among several to be considered. His wasn’t picked. The magazine is a private enterprise. For right or wrong they can choose what to put on their cover. I like Crumb’s art – not all of his views. Like this piece. (Tame by Crumb standards, however.) But they paid for it and can do what they want. 

    1. Luckily Crumb’s stature allows us to see it anyway. 
      I’d like to see the entry Remnick did chose.  Anyone have a link?

  29. If the cover was not provocative, no one would be discussing it. 
    It’s clear that Crumb has presented us with a man and woman applying for a marriage license and that the clerk (us, if you will) is confused by the applicants’attire. Is this a same sex marriage? A man-woman marriage? The point I believe Crumb’s illustration makes is, “Who cares?” It’s not your (our) concern! Withhold your personal judgement, sign and stamp the license, smile and congratulate the happy couple and move on.

    Personally, I like being provoked. 

  30. Robert Crumb says what he thinks. He probably didn’t appreciate an editor who wouldn’t do the same.

    Financial success allows him to choose what he does and who he works with. I can’t fault him for that.

  31. “…I felt insulted, not so much by the rejection as for the lack of any reason given…”

    I’ve got news for you, Mr. Crumb.  This happens to the average job seeker/employee all the damn time.

    Just be glad you’ll still be able to find work and earn a living, despite your disappointment and frustration in this particular case.  Most of us sitting at home torturing ourselves with endless internal monologues of What did I do wrong?  I don’t understand?  What?! while we try and get back on the horse and search/submit all over again for the twenty thousandth time…?  We have not been and will not be as fortunate as you.

  32. Well I like it, and I don’t think that R. Crumb is overrated.  The point isn’t about what kind of GLBT…JEUGHTR whatever this couple is (In fact the point is that it could be any combination), the point is that the state making rules about who and who can’t get married is just like the state doing gender inspections, which is patently absurd.

    Making the character on the right a little more androgynous might have worked a bit better though, stylistically speaking.

    FYI: Yes job seekers frequently get rejected without reason.  But there’s a big difference between joe lunchpail and someone working at the top of their field.  Does Brad Pitt get completely ignored when he gets cut from a role?  Probably not.

    1. …FYI: Yes job seekers frequently get rejected without reason.  But there’s a big difference between joe lunchpail and someone working at the top of their field…

      No.  I don’t think so.  I think those of us who try to perform assigned tasks to the best of our abilities deserve more than just vague assertions that “It’s not working out” as we’re hustled towards the door.   I frankly don’t give a rat’s ass what the tasks in question are.  We all deserve common consideration from our alleged superiors, but it’s very rare for us to actually get it.

  33. So how does it work, does a cartoonist just draw something on spec, and if the mag accepts the artist gets paid, and if it doesn’t , they don’t?
    Or does the mag contact an artist, explain what they’re looking for, and only pay if they use it?

    Also, the New Yorker does have provocative covers frequently, the one with the Obama’s fist bumping in the White House with a picture of Osama bin-fuckface on the wall, or the one with the Hasidic man kissing a black woman, at a time of hot tensions between the groups in NYC.
    So they just didn’t like Crumb’s work, he’ll live.

    1. “I can’t believe The New Yorker rejected a magazine cover.”

      Really? It happens all the time. That’s not even what this is about, and Crumb said he didn’t care that it was rejected. What are you trying to say here?

      1. My backhand point exactly. Rejections happen all the time at the NYer. Mr. Crumb demands to know why. And he’s pissed. I get it. But is this really about Mr. Crumb not getting an explanation, or about the NYer’s perceived slam against s-s marriage or gender issues? Because the last thing anyone could say about the NYer is that it doesn’t embrace s-s marriage or gender issues. It’s a big supporter. So maybe Remnick just doesn’t like the artwork. Or the expression on the clerk. Or the sign “Gender Inspection” which doesn’t seem to exist according to the NY laws: Maybe he just likes what Sempe submitted more. Who knows? Do you feel the need to explain what you do or don’t post on your blog? You explain if you want and don’t if you don’t. It’s your discretion as editor. That said, I’m not a big fan of Remnick, so I don’t mind him being in hot water with a “counterculture” artist.

        1. Crumb deserves an explanation. As an editor (5 years at Wired and 7+ years at MAKE) I have rejected hundreds of stories and pitches. I send a rejection letter that explains why the story was not suitable. I feel that’s part of an editor’s job.

          1. Fair enough and good on ya. And I’d bet your explanations are in lieu of payment, the soothing balm which Mr. Crumb received. My suspicious nature tells me Mr. Crumb wishes to know why his artwork was not “suitable” in order to create more controversy about Remnick’s view of gender issues. But I’ve got a dog’s view of the world.

          2. I feel that’s part of an editor’s job.

            Unfortunately, many people seem to focus on the paycheck aspect of their jobs to the detriment of the work aspect.

          3. Exactly. I don’t think enough people in here read the article regarding exactly why Crumb is cheesed off. 

            I draw for dollars and have been for over a decade. No response for months is just a case of client flakery – whether it’s the NYer or the Donut shop up the street. 

  34. If this guy from Neatorama thinks New Yorker subscribers expect boring and conservative content, then I would guess he has never read a New Yorker. An artist can be rejected after submitting to anything, I really don’t get this post. 

  35. I like it.  I probably would have given it a precursory look before opening the mag, perhaps I  would have even read the little paragraph about it.   The comments here with there breadth of opinion about the piece were more entertaining then the piece itself  (not that it was bad).     

  36. The confused looking man behind the window is the New Yorker (and maybe the audience too). It’s not exactly clear what we’re looking at (as the comments here demonstrate), and this makes people uncomfortable. What’s the gender of the people represented? We don’t know. And the ambiguity both of the people represented and of the meaning suggested is uncomfortable. Accept, reject, accept, reject, give up. 

  37. I sympathize with Mr.Crumb. Rejection can be difficult, especially when it comes without any reason or explanation. But it happens to the best of us. May I suggest that he just “keep on truckin'”?

  38. I really like this. It’s challenging. I think all the best discussion has already happened here but for me the key to reading it was the “gender inspection” sign. They’re *getting* their license which means to me they must have passed inspection, however uncomfortable that makes the clerk. If I had to guess I’d guess that the editor wanted something a little less confrontational and a little easier to read like a cake with two grooms. 

  39. I think Robert Crumb is an unlikely candidate for New Yorker cartoonist, because his illustrations are neither boring nor conservative enough for the average subscriber, but what do you think?

    What do I think?  That you really don’t understand the New Yorker or it’s readers.

  40. A lot of people didn’t read the damn article.

    An apology? I don’t expect an apology. But if I’m going to work for them I need to know the criteria for why they accept or reject work. The art I made, it only really works as a New Yorker cover. There’s really no other place for it. But they did pay me beforehand—decent money. I have no complaint there. I asked Françoise what was going on with it and she said, “Oh, Remnick hasn’t decided yet…” and he changed his mind several times about it. I asked why and she didn’t know. Several months passed. Then one day, I got the art back in the mail, no letter, no nothing.


  41. I don’t know why Mr. Crumb would be that angry about it.

    I’m assuming this is relatively normal for the magazine industry. They ask someone to submit a cover design, it’s not automatically accepted, they may have others doing drafts as well. In the end, the company decides what cover is best for their magazine/issue. It is business and it isn’t personal.

    Sure, it was rude for them not to converse more with him over the rejection, but I’m fairly certain Crumb has someone he talks to at New Yorker if he really wants to know.

    1. I’m assuming this is relatively normal for the magazine industry.

      Mr. Crumb has worked with various magazines and publishers for quite a few years now. I think he probably has some sense of how the industry normally works.

  42. It’s transphobic. Those ideas hurt people. No, it is not funny. No, it is not redeemed by – yet again – throwing trans people under the bus to advance the gay agenda.

    1. …throwing trans people under the bus to advance the gay agenda.

      That’s a rather grand accusation. Would you care to explain it?

  43. I’m a Crumb fan from way back (I have some first edition Zap comix) but I’m not crazy about the cover. Doesn’t justify how he was treated and it may be that Tina Brown had departed that she was his biggest fan at the magazine (this is speculation).

    Art Spiegleman did a controversial cover with, if memory serves, a Hassidic Jewish man kissing a black woman. Barry Blitt did the infamous Michelle Obama as Angela Davis cover… so it’s not like the magazine is shying away from edgy stuff. It may be that this just wasn’t up to Crumb’s usual standards and a dumb art editor failed to communicate properly.

  44. To all of those who feel the need to state that Crumb’s work isn’t very good, raise your hand if your oeuvre has received of the Grand Prix de la ville d’Angoulême, a Harvey Special Award for Humor, had an award winning documentary filmed about yourself, or have been displayed in the Masters of American Comics exhibition.

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