Rea Irvin’s name might not be instantly familiar, but you most certainly are familiar with his work. Born August 26, 1881 in San Francisco, Irvin studied at the Mark Hopkins Art Institute. His first steps into an illustration career was as an unpaid cartoonist for The San Francisco Examiner. In conjunction with his illustrating endeavours, he also worked as an actor and a piano player before moving to the East Coast in 1906.
He was working as the art director for Life Magazine until American journalist Harold Ross approached Irvin to help launch a new magazine, The New Yorker. Initially brought on board just as an advisor, Irvin created the New Yorker typeface, served as the magazine’s first art editor and drew the famous Eustace Tilley portrait used for the very first issue. The New Yorker debuted on February 21, 1925 with Irvin assuming that the magazine would fold after just a few issues, but would go on to illustrate 69 covers from 1925 until 1958. All of which you can see in the book, Covering the New Yorker.
Fellow cartoonist James Thurber had this to say about Rea Irvin,
“The invaluable Irvin, artist, ex-actor, wit, and sophisticate about town and country, did more to develop the style and excellence of The New Yorker’s drawings and covers than anyone else, and was the main and shining reason that the magazine’s comic art in the first two years was far superior to its humorous prose.”