“Top Dog” by John Cuneo | the new yorker

At the height of his fame, in the 1920s, Rin Tin Tin, or Rinty, was one of the silver screen’s brightest stars. He received reviews – mostly admiring – in national newspapers for his performances, thousands of requests for autographed photos from ardent fans, and made so much money for Warner Bros. that the people at the studio called him “the mortgage lender”. In writer Susan Orlean’s 2011 article on Rinty, she notes that the Hollywood legend argues he even received the most votes for the first ever Best Actor Oscar. He didn’t win. He was disqualified, they say, for being a dog. I recently spoke to artist John Cuneo about his inspiration for this week’s cover.

You live upstate in the Catskills. Do you often come to New York?

The city seems overwhelming and barely navigable. When driving, I find the very first garage I come across near the West Side Highway. I’m happy to walk the next thirty blocks, if it means I can do without the stress of vehicles.

Are you interested in cinema?

I am in awe of the film shoots I see in the city. The equipment, trailers, security, mountain of logistics and huge crews of people are just beyond me. Just drawing it was almost more than I could handle!

This isn’t your first cover with 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 emails. Also, we can never be sure what a dog is thinking and this may allow people to project emotions onto it. This makes the covers a bit participatory. Your interpretation is as valid as anyone else’s.

You are about to travel abroad for the first time, to Paris, for an exhibition of your drawings. What are your fears as you prepare for this journey?

I don’t feel like I belong in my own backyard, so I don’t exactly expect to fit in in Paris. But it would be nice if I at least looked the part – I got a haircut and bought some tighter pants. My fear is that the opening of the show will go wrong and no one will show up. Then I’ll spend the rest of the trip hunkered down in the Airbnb, drawing gloomy thoughts in my sketchbook and wondering what pancakes look like.

Your finished drawings contain so much detail. How do you keep the breeze of a quick sketch?

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

See below for more covers featuring dogs:

Find the covers, cartoons and more of John Cuneo on Conde Nast Store.

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