More than 20 renowned cartoonists gathered yesterday at a Midtown bar to draw a cartoon mural inspired by a 1976 wall painting across the room that narrowly escaped destruction last year when the bar changed ownership.
"This is our - the National Cartoonist Society's -- Sistine Chapel," the creator of the comic strip "Super Duper," Bill Kresse, told The New York Sun.
Among the contributors to the 4-by-28-foot mural were the creator of "Basement Bertha," Bill Gallo, who organized the creation of both murals; the current president of the Cartoonists Society, Joe Giella, of "Batman" and "Mary Worth" fame; Playboy cartoonist Don Orehek, and Arnold Roth, who draws for the New Yorker, City Journal, and other publications.
"I feel like the whole floor is going to rise up with all the talent in the room," the writer and designer of "The Lockhorns," Bunny Hoest, said.
As befits a bar, many of the cartoons have to do with alcohol. The cartoonist of "Hagar the Horrible," Chris Browne, who inherited the strip from his father, drew Hagar exclaiming, "Everybody has to believe in something. I believe I'll have another drink." Mr. Browne's Hagar faces the one his father drew on the original mural.
"You need to be lubricated to draw funny. Or to speak funny. Or even to walk funny," Mr. Browne said.
A cartoonist for Mad Magazine and the New Yorker, John Caldwell, drew a homeless man holding a sign reading "Will Drink for Food."
"It'll be a fun wall for a bar. Look at the old one: It's got a lot of food and vomit on it. I assume that will happen to our wall. That's why I used waterproof ink," the cartoonist of the syndicated strip "Bizarro," Dan Piraro, said.
The bar, the Overlook Lounge, occupies the space once filled by Costello's, the famed watering hole for authors, artists, newspapermen, and cartoonists where A.J. Liebling drank and authors Ernest Hemingway and John O'Hara reportedly wrestled.
In the early 1970s, that bar's owner, Tim Costello, who inherited it from his father, asked the then-president of the National Cartoonists Society, Bill Gallo, to draw a mural to accompany the cartoons by the legendary humorist James Thurber. Legend has it that Thurber drew on the walls to settle his bar debts during the Depression.
Mr. Gallo offered instead to get the best cartoonists in the country to fill a wall in exchange for free food and drink.
Thus, in May 1976, 40 cartoonists, including "Spiderman" creator Stan Lee and the cartoonist of "Beetle Bailey," Mort Walker, filled a 4-foot-by-20 foot panel in no more than 20 minutes, Mr. Gallo said.
Costello's closed in 1992, and the Turtle Bay Cafe moved into the space. When that bar lost its lease last year, its owner, Marlene Cernese, told the Daily News that the space would be gutted to make room for a posh restaurant. Instead, Jeff Perzan and two associates bought the bar and contacted Mr. Gallo to commission another mural shortly thereafter. He negotiated the same terms: free food and drink for a day's work.
Mr. Gallo called the old mural a piece of New York history and said the new drawings would be as well.
"This is New York. This is a piece of New York that we should all be very proud of," he said, and many agreed.
"This place was fabled, and for that mural," Mr. Roth said.
"Cartooning is such a part of America. It's such an American art form. And, to me, New York is the center of America," Ms. Hoest said.
Thurber's drawings mysteriously disappeared sometime after 1976. Some speculate that they are behind the bar's mirrors, others that they were destroyed during renovations.
The president of the Long Island Chapter of the National Cartoonists Society, Mike Lynch, said he thought they were hanging on a wall near one of the men's rooms at the New Yorker's office in Midtown.