Abner Dean’s Universe: Before…

« No other state of confusion is as interesting as yours. »

By the mid-1930s, Abner Dean (1910–1982), Abner Epstein in New York City, had reached the pinnacle of his profession, and begun to make rewarding inroads into other pursuits and endeavours. Fruitfully and prolifically published in most of the top magazines of the era (and top era for magazines), such as The New Yorker, Life, Esquire, Coronet, Time, Newsweek, Collier’s, Look, Ladies’ Home Journal and so forth, he’d also scored in the advertising field (most notably through a fifteen-year association with Aetna Insurance).

Yet he was restless; he bristled at the limitations, conventions and formulae of the era’s gag cartooning world and had something grander in mind and up his sleeve. We’ll get to that.

But first, here’s a sampling of what Abner accomplished as a commercial illustrator and cartoonist early in his career.

The following four cartoons appeared in the pages of Esquire, for which Dean produced in excess of forty colour cartoons, and scads more in good old black and white (frequently with spot colour adornment) between 1934 and 1955.
Spot the influence? The girl is a dead ringer for one of Jack Cole‘s celebrated beauties.


As Abner created five covers for The New Yorker (1933-35), it seemed absurd to leave any of them out, especially given their high calibre. Here they are, in order of their appearance.


Two examples of Dean’s illustrations for Aetna Insurance‘s long-running advertising and prevention campaign, for which Dean produced a whopping one hundred and ten drawings between 1940 and 1955. This one hails from 1946.
To better convey the tone and tenor of the campaign, I’ve transcribed some of its text. This entry is from 1955.
Our boy, wearing an appropriately skeptical expression, from the back cover of his Come As You Are (1955, Simon & Schuster).

Incidentally, what little remains publicly known about this once-famous man is the fruit of diligent research conducted by the eclectically erudite Ken Parille. As usual, we stand on the shoulders of giants. Thank you!


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