Sam Gross 1933-2023


            Legendary cartoonist Sam Gross, known for his witty work in The New Yorker and National Lampoon, passed away at the age of 89 in his Manhattan home on May 6. Despite often advising his mentee and close friend Pat Giles to pursue a more lucrative career like opening a dry cleaner, Sam achieved his childhood dream of becoming a cartoonist.

It was Pat who described his cartoons as sweet and brutal. Characterized as “a cranky but always funny realist” by Pat in a Zoom interview, Sam had an uncanny ability to find potential jokes in everything he observed. Pat fondly recalled visiting Sam on Ocean Beach during summers, where he watched in awe as Sam drew inspiration for his gags.

            “We were once on Fire Island, and Sam saw a cat go by and he explained how he noticed that when a cat moves there is almost only one foot ever on the ground at any given time and that they move totally different than all other animals. That’s the thing that I always enjoyed about being with him – everything that he observed was a potential joke,” said Pat.

            Speaking of cats, Sam believed that he drew cats better than Leonardo da Vinci. In a 2011 interview with The Comic Journal Sam said, “Me and cartoonists Nick Downes, Pete Mueller, and Phillipe Cohen were at an exhibit of Leonardo drawings at the Met. Leonardo can draw a fantastic horse, and dogs. There was this drawing of these cat paws, and I called them over and said, ‘Look at that. I draw a cat better than he does.’ And I do. He could not draw cats! One good thing about cartoons: If you can’t draw something, you draw it your way.”

            Sam found humor in nearly everything and never ceased to create cartoons and write gags. According to Pat, Sam amassed a staggering collection of nearly 35,000 individual jokes throughout his lifetime, a testament to his passion and discipline in his immensely successful career.

            When he sought peace away from bustling New York, Sam found a slower pace with his family on Ocean Beach. “They had been going to Ocean Beach for about 50 years on and off over the years,” Pat explained. “He was just very at home there and I think it was a great place for him to go and recharge.”

            While Sam’s gags were occasionally shocking, they always possessed a heartfelt essence. Whether it was a legless frog amputee wheeling his chair into a crowded French restaurant with frog legs on the menu or a pack of wolves howling at the moon, questioning their impact, Sam’s cartoons were meticulously clever.

            Pat remembered Sam saying, “If you’re funny, you can get away with anything,” which exemplified Gross’s fearlessness in taking risks with his work. However, he never forgot the targets deserving of satire. “He didn’t pull any punches and was politically incorrect before that phrase even existed, but he was never a bully,” Pat said. He had this smart sense and realized who the bullies were in any particular depiction.”