Was R. Crumb's New Yorker Cover on Gay Marriage Worthy of Rejection?
When R. Crumb was commissioned to draw a cover for a June 2009 issue of The New Yorker, he came up with this illustration of a gender-indeterminate couple tying the knot before a city clerk. A sign near them reads, "Gender Inspection," accompanied by a red arrow. The cover, which Crumb had never made public until now, was rejected by New Yorker editor David Remnick, and Crumb responded to the slight by publicly announcing that he'd never work for The New Yorker again.
A writer for Vice had discovered the cover on a bookmark being distributed at the Venice Biennale. On the back was Crumb's version of how things unfolded:
"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!"
How all of that fit onto the back of a bookmark I have no idea, but it was interesting to hear Crumb's tale nonetheless. Clearly, the "gender inspection" sign was what Remnick was wrestling with, and the fallout from millions of gays and lesbians who would have undoubtedly felt marginalized and stereotyped by the depiction. On the other hand, you need to put the illustration in the context of the illustrator: Crumb's entire career was built on his hypersexualized images of hulking women with lumberjack legs and the scrawny she-men who fawn over them. The picture was celebrating gender-defiance, not mocking it. Remnick should have run the cover and instead rejected the fist-bump catastrophe of the year prior. But come on, R.! Please reconsider your New Yorker boycott. I'd love to see your gloriously twisted work on future covers.