Back in February of 1925, the cover of the first issue of The New Yorker — which has been America's most consistent and respected publisher of mandarin prose, impenetrable poetry, and arch cartoons , for the past 88 years — featured a top-hatted dandy peering through a monocle at a butterfly. The character, drawn by Rea Irvin, the magazine's first art director, was dubbed Eustace Tilley.
Every year since then, on the publication date closest to the The New Yorker's actual anniversary, Eustace has appeared on the cover. For decades, the image was a faithful reproduction of the Irvin original. In recent years, though, artists have been encouraged to work changes on the theme, though always retaining the monocle )or something similar), the supercilious pose, and the butterfly. Now there's even a contest for the honor of being the Tilley-altering cover illustrator.
This year's winner, Simon Greiner, a recent immigrant from Australia, has given us "Brooklyn's Eustace," now appearing on The New Yorker's combined Feb. 11 and 18 issue. This Eustace is no early 20th-century dandy. He's another supercilious type: A Brooklyn hipster, complete with peacoat, ironic tats, carrot-hued moustache and beard, and, in lieu of a black top hat, a red slouch cap. The butterfly? It's there, all right, and he's peering at it through his hipster glasses. The twist is that instead of floating in the air as the original Eustace's did, it's an oversize logo on the back doors of, yes, a food truck. There's no clue as to what the truck is purveying, but its presence as the conveyor of the butterfly image suggests what we've all known for a couple of years: Food trucks on New York streets are now as common as the air that we breathe.
By the way, the runner-up in this year's contest would presumably have been a little more unsettling to readers: Its Eustace, by Nyack cartoonist and illustrator Martha Gradisher, looks like a bloated, senile version of the original, and is pictured not peering at but about to devour the poor butterfly.