Edward (Benjamin) Koren (1935-)
Edward Koren's cartoons and magazine illustrations are populated by characters that are identifiably human, whether drawn as people or as sly but earnest human-animal hybrids. He is known for work infused with clever wordplay, insightful commentary, and ironic observations. Alongside his hapless men and women are his familiar furry, spike-toothed creatures, jovial anthropomorphic monsters with keen wits, bizarre lifestyles, and all-too-human reactions to everyday problems. Koren is a member of a "small, magic group of artists whose work generates instant recognition," wrote a critic in Washington Post Book World.
Koren's drawings have appeared in top-flight magazines and newspapers such as Vanity Fair, Time, Newsweek, and New York Times. Many of Koren's works have appeared in the esteemed New Yorker magazine, and several books of his collected works feature illustrations that have appeared there. In Koren's first collection, Do You Want to Talk about It?, a couple gazes out over a scenic overlook at the giant word "EVERYTHING," while commenting in the caption, "Well, now we've seen it." In the title cartoon of "Well, There's Your Problem," a car mechanic diagnoses the customer's problems when he finds one of Koren's trademark hairy, grinning monsters under the hood. In another cartoon, houses, trees, and other surroundings droop sadly as a woman is told her depression is contagious. William Bradley Hooper, writing in Booklist, called "Well, There's Your Problem" a "wonderfully witty" book, and a New York Times Book Review critic observed that Koren's characters are "wonderful, vulnerable ugly ducklings" who "remain resilient, appearing to draw strength and vitality from the company of their peers."
What about Me?: Cartoons from the New Yorker offers cartoons with social commentary as well as the usual antics from Koren's furry, wooly semi-humans. There remains "something loveable" about Koren's characters, remarked a reviewer in Washington Post Book World. "Maybe that's because their concerns are recognizably ours." Hooper, in another Booklist review, called The Penguin Edward Koren "Superior humor." Howard Kaplan, in a Village Voice review of Caution: Small Ensembles, concluded that Koren's work is "selfdeprecating humor on a grand scale; for most of us, describing a Koren cartoon is like telling a joke on ourselves."
Outside of his humorous cartoons, Koren is an accomplished artist with numerous national and international exhibitions to his credit. He also lends his artistic skills to illustrating the works of others. Teenage Romance, or How to Die of Embarrassment, by Delia Ephron, is a lighthearted how-to manual for adolescents that covers the agonizing details of teenage relationships. Koren's illustrations "capture the more unforgettable moments," such as awkward moments on dates, observed a critic in New York Times Book Review. Ephron and Koren also produced Do I Have to Say Hello?, a book of manners that looks at the proper social behavior for children. "Everyone involved with children will recognize and enjoy (if ruefully) the trials so humorously presented by writer and artist," observed a critic in Publishers Weekly. Plane Crazy: A Celebration of Flying, by New Yorker writer Burton Bernstein, is the story of Bernstein's "personal joy, exuberance, and love of flight and the process of learning how to fly," wrote William A. McIntyre in Library Journal. Koren's "benignly squiggly drawings gracefully complement the book," commented Paul Sonnenburg in Los Angeles Times Book Review.
Dear Bruno, written by Alice Trillin, is a "gently reassuring book, illustrated with whimsical drawings," intended to provide encouragement to children with cancer and to their parents and caregivers, wrote a Publishers Weekly reviewer. The text of the book is Trillin's letter to Bruno Navasky, a friend's twelve-year-old son who suffered from cancer. Trillin also relates her own experience with cancer. She offers Bruno encouragement through humor and urges him to develop personal resolve—even irreverence—in the face of his condition. Both Trillin and Bruno overcame their illnesses to lead successful lives.
In The Hard Work of Simple Living: A Somewhat Blank Book for the Sustainable Hedonist, Koren contributes cartoons that encourage the ideas of simple, sustainable living and of existing in harmony with nature. The "somewhat blank" format makes the book in reality a journal, with Koren's cartoons, commentary from other authors who support simple living, and plenty of empty space for the readers to jot down their own ideas. Susan Dawson, writing in Workbook, called The Hard Work of Simple Living "a delightful collection" and a "lighthearted book" that seeks to help people "make fundamental shifts in their behavior to save the planet" by perceiving it to be fun—in other words, sustainable hedonism. Dawson quotes Bill McKibben, author of the foreword, as saying "The only genuinely subversive thing you can do in America is have more fun than other people. Which is not so hard. So get to it."
Koren's 2003 children's book, Very Hairy Harry, finds Harry, a furry blue monster directly descended from Koren's well-known hairy half-humans, considering the advantages and disadvantages of a haircut. Ben the Barber offers suggestions to Harry, noting that a lush long coat is good for such things as keeping warm in winter, hiding friends and pets, and for creating shade. But, Ben admits, being hairy can also mean being itchy—wildly, uncomfortably itchy. Harry chooses to go for the haircut, but the trim leaves him looking little changed from the book's opening pages. "Koren allows readers to laugh with the fuzzy protagonist, and to recognize themselves in this all-too-familiar and often dreaded situation," observed a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
Koren once told SATA: "I write and draw for my own delight, for my children's amusement, and because I would be unhappy if I didn't. I came to do Behind the Wheel because my son and I once explored construction equipment on a nearby highway construction site, and I was unable to satisfy his curiosity about the controls and instruments of the machines he was pretending to drive. The idea expanded to include a variety of machines that did different things. Of course, if I were not fascinated myself with them, I would not have done the book, nor would I have been interested in populating the pictures with the furry beasts who operate the machines, and which I love to draw. In all, most of my projects are labors of affection and humor."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Koren, Edward, Do You Want to Talk About It?, Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 1976.
Koren, Edward, "Well, There's Your Problem," Penguin (New York, NY), 1980.
Koren, Edward, The Hard Work of Simple Living: A Somewhat Blank Book for the Sustainable Hedonist, Chelsea Green Publishing Company (White River Junction, VT), 1998.
Booklist, December 15, 1978, review of Are You Happy? And Other Questions Lovers Ask, p. 652; November 15, 1980, William Bradley Hooper, review of "Well, There's Your Problem," p. 431; January 1, 1983, William Bradley Hooper, review of The Penguin Edward Koren, p. 595; January 1, 1990, review of What about Me? Cartoons from the New Yorker, p. 878.
Christian Science Monitor, December 4, 1978, review of Are You Happy? And Other Questions Lovers Ask.
Cosmopolitan, December, 1981, Jane Clapperton, review of Teenage Romance, or How to Die of Embarrassment, p. 22.
Horn Book, April, 1973, review of Behind the Wheel, p. 132.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2003, review of Very Hairy Harry, p. 911.
Library Journal, December 1, 1980, A. J. Anderson, review of "Well, There's Your Problem," p. 2498; September 1, 1985, William A. McIntyre, review of Plane Crazy: A Celebration of Flying, p. 206.
Los Angeles Times, October 27, 1985, review of Plane Crazy, p. B10.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 4, 1983, review of Caution: Small Ensembles, p. 9; October 20, 1985, Paul Sonnenburg, review of Plane Crazy, p. B2.
Modern Maturity, October-November, 1991, Charles Solomon, "Drawing from Experience: Four Grandmasters of Cartooning Look at the State of the Art," pp. 48-52.
Mother Jones, July, 1983, "Moods for Moderns," pp. 28-35.
New Yorker, December 13, 1976, review of Do You Want to Talk about It?, p. 162; December 21, 1998, review of The Hard Work of Simple Living: A Somewhat Blank Book for the Sustainable Hedonist, p. 99.
New York Times Book Review, April 9, 1972; September 4, 1977, review of Do You Want to Talk about It?, p. 23; November 13, 1977, review of Behind the Wheel, p. 40; December 14, 1980, review of "Well, There's Your Problem," p. 18; September 5, 1982, review of Teenage Romance, or How to Die of Embarrassment, p. 19; October 31, 1982, review of The Penguin Edward Koren, p. 35; April 9, 1995, review of A Dog's Life, p. 11.
Publishers Weekly, September 11, 1978, review of Are You Happy? And Other Questions Lovers Ask, p. 84; September 29, 1989, review of Do I Have to Say Hello?, p. 53; February 13, 1995, review of A Dog's Life, pp. 63-64; March 11, 1996, review of Dear Bruno, p. 48; July 14, 2003, review of Very Hairy Harry, p. 76.
Rolling Stone, December 11, 1980, review of "Well, There's Your Problem," p. 30.
School Library Journal, November, 2003, Gay Lynn Van Vleck, review of Very Hairy Harry, p. 104.
Scientific American, December, 1986, Philip Morrison, review of Plane Crazy, pp. 31-32.
Time, December 8, 1980, review of "Well, There's Your Problem," p. 94.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), December 17, 1989, Clarence Petersen, review of What about Me? Cartoons from the New Yorker, p. 8.
Village Voice, December 6, 1983, Howard Kaplan, review of Caution: Small Ensembles, p. 54.
Washington Post Book World, October 23, 1977, review of Do You Want to Talk about It?, p. E7; November 5, 1989, review of What about Me? Cartoons from the New Yorker, p. 16.
Workbook, fall, 1998, Susan Dawson, review of The Hard Work of Simple Living, p. 117.*
Brief BiographiesBiographies: C(hristopher) J(ohn) Koch Biography - C.J. Koch comments: to Sir (Alfred Charles) Bernard Lovell (1913– ) BiographyEdward (Benjamin) Koren (1935-) Biography - Career, Sidelights - Personal, Addresses, Member, Honors Awards, Writings