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New Yorker cartoonist Handelsman dead at 85

J.B. Handelsman, who applied his dry wit to subjects ranging from politics to popular culture while creating nearly 1,000 New Yorker magazine cartoons, has died of lung cancer.
/ Source: The Associated Press

J.B. Handelsman, who applied his dry wit to subjects ranging from politics to popular culture while creating nearly 1,000 New Yorker magazine cartoons, has died of lung cancer.

Handelsman, 85, died June 20 at his home in Southampton, N.Y., The New Yorker said Tuesday.

Besides his 950 cartoons and five covers for the magazine between 1961 and 2006, Handelsman illustrated several books and wrote three humor pieces that incorporated drawings. His work also appeared regularly in Playboy and in the British humor magazine Punch.

“Bud Handelsman found a way to combine the traditions of the New Yorker cartoon and editorial cartooning and make of it something totally his own,” David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, said in an e-mail. “At its best, his work had political bite and, at the same time, a real humanity and wit. Everyone at the magazine — editors, writers, artists, and readers — will miss him and will miss his unique voice.”

In a remembrance in the current issue of the magazine, Nancy Franklin wrote that Handelsman’s legacy “has as much to do with writing as it does with drawing. Handelsman may be better known for his captions than for the cartoons.”

In one 1968 cartoon, an audience member at a string quartet concert says to his companion, “It’s dull now, but at the end they smash their instruments and set fire to the chairs.”

In another, from 2003, a businessman in a corporate boardroom says, “We are among those chosen to bear the burden of rebuilding Iraq. A thankless job, with no reward apart from obscene profits.”

Handelsman was born in the Bronx in 1922. His given name was Bernard but in adulthood he adopted John as his first name, and he was known informally as Bud. He studied at the Art Students League and at New York University.

He is survived by his wife, the former Gertrude Peck, three children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.