R. Crumb's rejected gay marriage New Yorker cover: The rest of the story

Last year, R. Crumb announced he wouldn’t be working for the New Yorker any more after one of his covers was rejected with no stated reason. Now VICE magazine’s Nadja Sayej has unearthed the cover as (of all things) the illustration for a bookmark in the Danish catalog from the Venice Biennale art show. It was for a story on gay marriage and shows what may (or may not) be a drag king and drag queen applying for a marriage license.

The cardboard placeholder featured a color comic by R. Crumb depicting a drag queen and king holding hands in front of a marriage-license clerk. On its flip side was a blurb from Crumb explaining that the image was intended to be the cover of a 2009 issue of the New Yorker but was rejected for reasons unknown. Although I was excited to obtain such a rare and odd artifact, things didn’t quite add up.

Sayej manages to obtain an interview with Crumb and finds out much more about the cover:

Did the rejection offend you?
I’m in a privileged position because I don’t need the money. When you go to the cover editor’s office, you notice that the walls are covered with rejected New Yorker covers. Sometimes there are two rejected covers for each issue. I don’t know what the usual policy is, but I was given no explanation from David Remnick, the editor in chief, who makes the final decisions.

Do you think the New Yorker is homophobic?
I think it’s the opposite. The New Yorker is majorly politically correct, terrified of offending some gay person. I asked this gay friend of mine, Paul Morris, “If you saw this cover on the New Yorker, would you be offended?” He said, “I’d wanna hang it on my wall!”

Super bonus: Johnny Ryan draws a portrait of Crumb!


  1. says

    So the New Yorker doesn’t pay for rejected covers, but its editor can make copies of them to decorate his walls? Is that part of the rights licensing agreement?

    One of the things that make you go, “hmmm.”

  2. says

    It doesn’t depict gay marriage, but it does comment on the fundamental issue that the struggle for legal gay marriage represents. I love it! (And I’m not really a fan of Crumb’s work.)

  3. Riv says

    It makes no sence. How does it comment on the fundamental issue. They can get married anywhere.

  4. says

    I don’t know… to me (a gay man) it just feels OH so stereotypical. Maybe there’s more going on beneath the surface, but otherwise…

  5. says

    Scott Bieser: I believe the article stated that he did get paid for the cover. I’ve heard that The New Yorker pays a kill fee–I’d be shocked if they didn’t.

  6. sam says

    I think it does make a valid point about gay marriage, even though it doesn’t depict one. The confusion on the clerk’s face pretty much says it all. That said, I’d say most New Yorker covers are funnier than this.

  7. says


    Do you see the sign that says “gender inspection —>”? The ban on same-sex marriage is based on the notion that gender is a fixed, biological trait, and requires the state to verify it somehow.

    But gender is a social and psychological construct, not something that can be answered by looking between someone’s legs. If the marriage applicant on our left identifies as male and the one on the right as female, what business is it of the state to determine whether this is correct before issuing a license? If both applicants identify as female, the same question applies. Or whatever combination.

    Even if (as most readers will assume) one of these individuals is biologically male and the other female, and therefore eligible for a breeders-only marriage license, it still requires one to be designated “husband” and the other “wife”. But they don’t appear to conform to those gender roes, so what happens if the person who wears the pants chooses to be the “husband”?

    OK, it doesn’t say anything about letting two men or two women marry. Instead it raises the deeper question about why the institution of marriage labels people as “man” and “woman” in the first place.

  8. Synsidar says

    Apparently submitting cover artwork to The New Yorker is much more like submitting a cartoon than sending in something to be published. Rejections are routine, and say nothing about the quality of the artwork. In fact, there might be a book of rejected New Yorker covers:

    Between 2008 and 2009, I regularly submitted cover sketches to The New Yorker and had an uninterrupted run of luck — all bad. But now, in 2011, an email from Ms. Mouly confirmed that a “rejected covers” project was percolating, similar to a rejected cartoons book a while back. I dug out several other of my favorite rejected covers and sent them along. We’ll see. It’s nice to know that someone wants your work … even if it’s the work they originally didn’t want.

    Artist Bob Staake shows off his New Yorker covers, both published and rejected.

    Perhaps having a New Yorker cover rejected is like having an op-ed submission declined by a newspaper. It’s not that the piece wasn’t good; it just didn’t fit what the editor wanted to run at that point in time.


  9. Chris Hero says

    I think the cover is pretty clear and quite good. The New Yorker can reject whatever they like and Crumb, or anyone else, can choose to submit work wherever they want. Still, I feel this would have made a good cover.

  10. says

    Jason hit it on the head:

    “Even if (as most readers will assume) one of these individuals is biologically male and the other female, and therefore eligible for a breeders-only marriage license, it still requires one to be designated “husband” and the other “wife”. But they don’t appear to conform to those gender roes, so what happens if the person who wears the pants chooses to be the “husband”?”

    Crumb is showing that gender shouldn’t play a role in marriage.

  11. says

    Crumb in my opinion is very reactive to his initial take on an idea and doesn’t use any kind of censoring of any kind. This being rejected is true Crumb. He shouldn’t need to be in any main stream media anyways. Most people won’t get it and those that love Crumb don’t really get it either. Not that much anyways.

  12. says

    I think David Remnick is still freaked out by the controversy arising from Barry Blitt’s mash-up of right wing anti-Obama tropes. Too many people took it the wrong way and way too literally. He may not trust the sophistication of his readership anymore.

  13. says

    Jason Quest did hit it on the head; he said it far better than I ever could. I like the cover, it has a double hook and the message works.

  14. Steven Taylor says

    If it were up to me,…I think I would have rejected it too. It’s not particularly interesting as an illustration one way or another, regardless of who drew it.

  15. Mario Boon says

    I think if the cover is completely drawn and then rejected for some reason you’re still getting paid a kill fee to “cover” your work.
    Knowing the New yorker, you’d have to have submitted lots of sketches and colour sketches first.

  16. says

    Jason has it spot on. Gay marriage is a subset of the whole gender thing.

    I think the drawing skewers hypocrisy and ignorance very nicely, in a beautifully understated way.

  17. AfterHours Al™ says

    Okay, so maybe they are hetero cross dressers. Whatever.

    I like a lot of Crumb’s work, but even though this one is in colour, it just doesn’t seem like a strong piece.

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