Requiem for the Home Front: A Cheer for Irma the Caricaturist
by Tom Engelhardt
lmost three quarters of a century ago, my mother placed a message in a bottle and tossed it out beyond the waves. It bobbed along through tides, storms, and squalls until just recently, almost four decades after her death, it washed ashore at my feet. I’m speaking metaphorically, of course.
Still, what happened, even stripped of the metaphors, does astonish me. So here, on the day after my 71st birthday, is a little story about a bottle, a message, time, war (American-style), my mom, and me.
Recently, based on a Google search, a woman emailed me at the website I run, TomDispatch
, about a 1942 sketch by Irma Selz that she had purchased at an estate sale in Seattle. Did it, she wanted to know, have any value?
Now, Irma Selz was my mother and I answered that, to the best of my knowledge, the drawing she had purchased didn’t have much monetary value, but that in her moment in New York City -- we’re talking the 1940s -- my mom was a figure. She was known in the gossip columns of the time as “New York’s girl caricaturist.” Professionally, she kept her maiden name, Selz, not the most common gesture in that long-gone era and a world of cartoonists and illustrators that was stunningly male.