cartoon by Sam Gross
Cartoon by Sam Gross. 

Sam Gross - who signed "S. Gross" - was an American creator of mostly single-panel gag cartoons. Active from 1962 until the early 2020s, he drew many cartoons for magazines like The New Yorker and National Lampoon. Gross lived up to his last name. Many of his cartoons featured black, offensive and sometimes disgusting comedy. His best-known cartoon is his 1970 "frog legs" drawing. Gross was additionally scriptwriter for Dick Oldden's 'The Genius' (1973-1977), Tom Hachtman's comic 'Gertrude Follies' (1978-1982) and Randy Jones' 'Cigarman' (1997-1998).

Early life
Samuel Gross was born in 1933 in the Bronx, New York City. His parents were Jewish immigrants. His father hailed from Lithuania and worked as a certified public accountant. Gross credited him with his gift for organizing. His mother was Romanian and enjoyed painting. Gross attributed both his creative and humorous side to her. As a young boy, he enjoyed drawing during boring lessons. One time, during World War II, the pupils received a prestigious assignment to draw military airplanes as realistically as possible. Since little Sam didn't like planes, he simply drew a self-described "goofy flying machine". His teachers didn't appreciate his work, took him off the project and pasted over his drawing. Gross briefly took drawing lessons at the School of Visual Arts, but in an interview in 1987 by Weni Lee for Splat! (Mad Dog Graphics), he said that he only learned discipline and technique: "You show up with the assignment, get critiqued on it, and learn from the criticism. But after a while, you should stop going to school and just get out there and do it." Among his graphic influences were Charles Addams, Mischa Richter and Saul Steinberg. He also expressed admiration for George Booth, Joseph Mirachi, Dick Oldden (with whom he later shared a studio) and Bill Woodman.

Cartooning career
Gross' first officially published cartoon appeared in a 1953 issue of the Saturday Review. During his military service in West Germany (1954-1956), the young recruit made a weekly cartoon for the Overseas Weekly, a magazine for soldiers, published by the International Media Company. In 1955, they compiled them into a book, 'Cartoons for the G.I.' Originally, Gross studied at City College to become an accounting major. He did this job for six months, but filling in other people's taxes wasn't half as exciting as drawing cartoons. Luckily, his father needed his help during the tax season, which enabled Gross to quit his day job and choose his own working hours, leaving him more time to draw cartoons. In 1961-1962, Gross took a sabbatical year and lived in Darmstadt, Germany. Thanks to his savings and his wife's job, he could comfortably draw and try to sell cartoons. The aspiring cartoonist assumed that Europe would be an easier place to launch his career. In the end, he sold a few cartoons to the French TV magazine Periscope and humor magazine Fou Rire, earning around 200 dollars. It wasn't much, but at least he had learned how to market himself.

Back in the United States, Gross continued working for his father as an accountant during tax seasons, drawing cartoons in his spare time. He also thought up ideas for the Brooklyn card company CharmCraft. Starting in 1962, Gross sold his cartoons to U.S. magazines. Jerry Beatty, editor of Esquire, originally rejected his work with the words: "Jesus, you are awful. Don't come back." A year later, Gross' wife motivated him to give it another try, and this time his drawings were accepted. Beatty ironically even told him: "Hey, you're pretty good. Where in the hell have you been?" Gross also earned money by selling gag ideas to the cartoonists Otto Soglow and, most notably, Charles Addams.

Cartoon by Sam Gross, The New Yorker, 4 September 1995.

The New Yorker
In the late 1960s, Gross was a friend of Paul Peter Porges, who was already an established cartoonist. One day, Porges had to be the interpreter during a lunch between the French cartoonist Sempé and the art editor of The New Yorker, James Geraghty. Porges brought along Sam Gross with him. Geraghty wanted Sempé to become a contributor to The New Yorker, but the Frenchman declined the offer, explaining he was already too busy. Geraghty's offer to buy his previously rejected cartoons instead, was declined as well. As the wine flowed, Geraghty got a little tipsy, looked over at Gross and promised that in that case, he would buy not one, but two cartoons from him. Thanks to Porges, who witnessed this promise, Geraghty was true to his word. To show his gratitude, Gross asked Geraghty to give him very specific instructions on what he wanted in his cartoons. It helped the art editor to loosen up and be less critical of Gross compared to other New Yorker cartoonists. And so, from 23 August 1969 on, Gross became a regular contributor in its pages. He continued to publish in The New Yorker until well into the 2010s.

National Lampoon and other magazines.
The other magazine Sam Gross was mostly associated with was National Lampoon. Until halfway through the 1980s, he was only a contributor, but later on, he served for a couple of years as the magazine's cartoon editor. Gross also edited cartoons for Parents Magazine and Smoke. Other magazines in which his drawings appeared were Cheetah, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Harvard Business Review, Ladies' Home Journal and The Realist. Although Gross cartoons appeared in the German edition of Hugh Hefner's Playboy, he never published in the U.S. version of Playboy, because they claimed the rights to each submitted cartoon. Preferring to remain independent, Gross saved all his cartoons and archived them very precisely. Each drawing received a number and statistical information, so he could keep track of how much he had earned for each individual cartoon. It helped him observe which of his cartoons were the most popular and most interesting for reprints and auctions. At one point, he said he had cataloged 27,592 cartoons in his possession. His most lucrative sale was his famous "frog legs" cartoon, which he auctioned for 20,000 dollars. Interviewed by Richard Gehr for The Comics Journal (6 March 2011), Gross explained that a colleague, Jimmy Frankfort, had actually lost 27 cartoons after giving them to the Saturday Evening Post. This made an "indelible impression" on Gross and motivated him to never give his originals away. He also carefully wrote down every good gag idea he had.

Cartoon by Sam Gross, National Lampoon, December 1970. 

Sam Gross enjoyed drawing cartoons about silly topics. Frogs and fairy tale characters were two of his favorite subjects. His most famous cartoon was printed in the December 1970 issue of National Lampoon. It shows a restaurant where frogs' legs can be ordered, with an amputated amphibian wheeling in on a trolley normally used by handicapped people. A color version of this gag was used as the cover for the 1977 National Lampoon comedy LP 'That's Not Funny, That's Sick!', and it also appeared on the cover of 'National Lampoon's Cartoon Book' (1988).

Gross also made several cartoons that some readers would consider to be in bad taste. He joked about taboo or offensive topics like tampons, handicaps, perverts and animal cruelty. One of his most infamous drawings depicts a blind beggar, whose sign reads: "Please help me. I am blind, and I think I may be black." Gross recalled that his editors felt this cartoon was so outrageously offensive, but simultaneously funny, that they burst out laughing and gave him a standing ovation. Despite being Jewish, Gross also infamously made more than a hundred cartoons about swastikas, published as 'We Have Ways of Making You Laugh: 120 Funny Swastika Cartoons' (Simon & Schuster, 2008). One of them portrayed a clown with a swastika and a little girl commenting: "Now I have another reason to hate clowns." This cartoon was actually sold to the New Yorker, but never was published in the magazine.

Gross' work has been collected in the books 'How Gross! : The Collected Craziness of S. Gross' (1973), 'I Am Blind and My Dog Is Dead' (Dodd & Mead, 1977, reprinted by Avon Books, 1978), 'An Elephant Is Soft and Mushy' (Dodd & Mead, 1980, reprinted by Avon Books, 1982), 'More Gross' (Congdon & Weed, 1982), 'Totally Gross' (Pocket Books, 1984), 'Love Me, Love My Teddy Bear' (Putnam Publishing Group, 1986), 'No More Mr. Nice Guy' (Perigee Books, 1987), 'Your Mother Is a Remarkable Woman' (Penguin Books, 1992) and 'Catss' (Ballantine Books, 1995).

Cartoon by Sam Gross. 

Comic scriptwriting
In addition to doing gag cartoons, Sam Gross was also a writer for comic strips, for instance the syndicated comic strip 'The Genius' (1973-1977) by Dick Oldden for King Features Syndicate. In National Lampoon, Sam Gross scripted installments of Tom Hachtman's 'Gertrude Follies' (1978-1982), a comic feature set in 1920s Paris, starring legendary writers Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Ernest Hemingway, painter Pablo Picasso and other celebrity artists. Originally Hachtman proposed 'Gertrude Follies' and another comic titled 'Double Takes', which consisted mostly of puns on names of celebrities. Gross felt that 'Gertrude Follies' had more possibilities than 'Double Takes' and told Hachtman he would "do him a favor by putting a bullet in Double Takes", so he wouldn't suffer writer's block within a year.

For the smokers' magazine Smoke, Gross scripted the superhero parody 'Cigarman' (1997-1998), drawn by Randy Jones. Cigarman is the alter ego of wealthy businessman Durham Lonsdale, who is able to turn himself into a giant flying crime-fighting cigar. 'Cigarman' was featured on the back page of each issue of Smoke Magazine from Spring 1997 until Spring 1998. After that, the comic was replaced with a sports column by Bert Randolph Sugar.

Cartoon by Sam Gross. 

Other Employment
Sam Gross also spent three semesters working as a cartooning professor at the Pratt Institute in Manhattan. In the 1970s, he served as president of the Cartoonists' Guild.

Graphic and written contributions
Sam Gross wrote the foreword for Dan Reynolds' book 'The Toilet Zone: A Hilarious Collection of Bathroom Humor' (Ccc Pubns, 1999). He also edited Jim Charlton's cartoon book 'Books, Books, Books: A Hilarious Collection of Literary Cartoons' (Harper Collins, 1983) and the compilation books 'Dogs, Dogs, Dogs' (Harper and Row, 1985), 'Cats, Cats, Cats' (Harper and Row, 1986), 'All You Can Eat: A Fest of Great Food Cartoons' (Virgin Books, 1988) and 'Tee Hee! A Collection of Classic Golf Cartoons' (Harper Collins, 1990).

In 1980, Gross received the Inkpot Award. It was the only prize he ever won throughout his long career. Interviewed by Richard Gehr in the previously mentioned Comics Journal issue, the cartoonist recalled that he hung the award on a plaque on the wall. It soon fell off, and after a few more unsuccessful reattachments, the object was so irreparably broken that he threw it in the trash.

Legacy and influence
Sam Gross passed away on 7 May 2023, at age 89. He was a strong influence on cartoonists Dan Collins, Frank Cotham and Rich Powell

cartoon by Sam Gross
Cartoon by Sam Gross, The New Yorker, 21 December 1992. 

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