Ed Koren, famed cartoonist and beloved Brookfield community member, dies at 87
When Emma Allen started as cartoon editor at The New Yorker magazine five years ago, Ed Koren drove down from his home in Vermont, biked through Manhattan to the New Yorker’s office, and joined her at lunch.
“He just showed up with his signature rosy-cheeked, like, joie de vivre of like total good cheer and love of life, and made me feel better about the entire endeavor I'd undertaken,” Allen recalled.
At that point, Koren was in his 80s, and he’d been drawing cartoons for the New Yorker for more than 50 years. He took Allen under his wing, teaching her about the magazine and how she could better serve cartoonists. “And that, you know, this isn't rocket science, and that it was something that was full of joy,” she said.
That’s how Ed Koren did things: generously, and full of joy.
Koren was born in New York in 1935. He started drawing in high school, and while he was a student at Columbia University, he drew cartoons for the college humor magazine. He went on to do graduate work in Paris and at Pratt Institute, and he served on the faculty of Brown University.
In 1962, The New Yorker magazine published its first Koren cartoon, which features a man looking dejectedly at a typewriter, wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with the word “Shakespeare.” Over the past 60 years, the magazine has published more than a thousand of them.
“He really was – is – the most loved of all the New Yorker cartoonists of his generation,” said Bill McKibben, another Vermont-based New Yorker contributor and longtime friend of Koren’s.
You know an Ed Koren cartoon when you see one. They have an air of wry sophistication, and a sense of humor that’s both biting and benevolent. The characters are fuzzy, pointy-nosed, and usually caught in a moment of foolishness.
In an interview with VPR in 2011, Koren described what he called a “little flame of discontent” in him that drove him to point out the foibles of human existence. But at the same time, he said, “what I am interested in is a kind of sociology, almost, of the way people, human beings, go about their lives.”
McKibben says the secret to Koren’s humor was his understanding that all of us are very human. “And all of us are trying to kind of make our way in the world, and that that's hard and funny. And he could see that with deep generosity of spirit,” he said.
In the 80s, Koren and his wife, Curtis, moved to Brookfield, Vermont — population 1,200. Those who knew Koren say he loved Vermont for its natural beauty and tight human connections.
“He is somebody who, you know, moved here from out of state and really enriched the civic and cultural life of a Vermont in so many ways,” said James Sturm, co-founder of the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction. He called Koren a consummate artist, deeply committed to his craft and his community.
Koren drew friends' wedding invitations and designs for public radio membership mugs. He received the Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts in 2007, and was crowned the state’s cartoonist laureate in 2014. Each winter, he and McKibben would compete to see who could get more days in on skis.
Koren was also a longtime member of the Brookfield volunteer fire department. He said in a 2007 interview that it gave him a connection to people he wouldn’t know otherwise.
“I mean, some people join churches for community engagement,” he said. “And I've joined the fire department for the same reason.”
In 2020, Koren was diagnosed with an incurable form of lung cancer. Last July, fire trucks, neighbors and friends paraded past his house to show how much they cared about him.
Koren’s national audience loved him, too. Emma Allen gets lots of mail from New Yorker readers, complaining about one thing or another. But she says the only thing they have to say about Ed Koren’s work is: can we have more?
Koren continued to draw as long as he was able, adding to his repertoire of hundreds and hundreds of cartoons. Frozen stories, he once called them, with a beginning, middle and end. He said it’s up to the viewer’s imagination to put it all together, and it was up to his imagination to make it possible.
Ed Koren died Friday at his home in Brookfield, his wife confirmed to the New York Times. He was 87 years old.
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