New Yorker cartoonist's book pokes fun at city-rural divide

Longtime New Yorker magazine cartoonist and Vermont resident Edward Koren has released a new book of cartoons spanning about 40 years that poke fun at country and city dwellers and the interactions between the two.

"Koren: In the Wild" (Button Street Press, $21.95) features his humanoid and hairy creatures in what Koren describes as "a mash of interactions and small pieces of theater."

In one cartoon in the 194-page book, a woman tells puzzled guests seated with cocktails outside on her porch, "I need everybody to come down the garden to cheer on the tomatoes." Another has a farmer delivering food by shovel from a wheelbarrow to a couple seated at a restaurant saying, "Here's some baby spinach — from my soil to your plate."

The book caused Karen Mittelman, executive director of the Vermont Arts Council, to laugh out loud, something she doesn't normally do while reading.

"I love how he skates right on the edge," she said. "He shows us how ridiculous and how precious we can all be without at all offending anybody."

Koren, who was born in New York City, knows what he calls the bifurcated life people lead between rural, suburban and urban life. He moved full time to Vermont about 30 years ago to the small village of Brookfield where he also serves as a volunteer firefighter.

"Ed, originally a city guy, now lives in a very rural village in Vermont. His cartoons beautifully capture the duality of rural and urban life," wrote Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry's ice cream and a friend of Koren, at the beginning of the book. "For a guy like me, also between Vermont and New York, I love and can relate to Ed's humor, and to his humanoid and warm and fuzzy and puzzled and brave creatures."

Koren, who served as Vermont's second cartoonist laureate for three years, has had more than 1,100 cartoons published in the New Yorker since the 1960s. He has also written and illustrated other books.

And he never runs out of subject matter, often writing down what he hears people say as fodder for his art.

"What captures my attention is all the human theater around me. I can never quite believe my luck in stumbling upon riveting mini-dramas taking place within earshot (and eyeshot), a comedy of manners that seems inexhaustible," he wrote about his exhibition at Columbia University in 2010.

He is fond of a quotation by Lily Tomlin that basically says no matter how cynical you get, it's impossible to keep up.

"And I can't keep up," he said. "There's always something where your jaw drops."