Cover for Midwest, featuring the Marx Brothers. 10 December 1972. 

Robert Grossman was a versatile American artist, best known for his gorgeous airbrush celebrity caricatures which appeared in many magazines, most notably Rolling Stone. The latter magazine also ran his long-running political comic strip, 'Zoonooz' (1973-2017), which lampooned four decades of U.S. politicians, from Nixon to Trump. In 1961 his spy parody comics, 'Captain Melanin' and 'Roger Ruthless of the C.I.A.', appeared in Monocle. In the final years of his life he created the political webcomic 'Twump and Pooty' (2017) and the posthumously published illustrated novel 'Life on the Moon' (2019). Movie fans might also recognize his work from his co-directed animated short 'Jimmy the C.' (1977), which features a singing U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and the poster design for the 1980 comedy 'Airplane!'

Early life
Robert Samuel Grossman was born in 1940 in Brooklyn, New York. His father was a display artist, while his mother worked as a book keeper for her husband. As a child Grossman studied art classes at the Museum of Modern Art on Saturday Mornings, and at Yale University. He published his first drawings and cartoons in their college magazine The Yale Record. Among his main graphic influences were David Levine and Mad Magazine, "which appeared to me like a nearly divine revelation." He met his personal god Harvey Kurtzman at Yale, and became a lifelong friend. In 1960 Grossman also recorded a folk music album: 'Cosmo Alley Presents Bob Grossman' (1960).

Cartoon from 13 January 1962.

Early career
While in college, Grossman created an illustration which parodied The New Yorker. The image caught the interest of The New Yorker's art director Jim Geraghty, who hired him as his new assistant editor. However, Grossman soon got bored with the job and decided to become a freelance illustrator. On 13 January 1962 and 14 December 1963 two of his cartoons appeared in The New Yorker. From the mid-1960s on he became one of the most popular magazine illustrators, with his work appearing in such publications as The Atlantic, The East Village Other, Esquire, Evergreen Review, Forbes, Mother Jones, Monocle, The Nation, National Lampoon, Natural History, New York Magazine, The Nation, The New Yorker, The New Yorker Observer, Hugh Hefner's Playboy, The Realist, Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated and Time and TV Guide.

As an illustrator Grossman was noted for his inventive use of black ink and airbrush. In the 1920s and 1930s airbrush illustrations had been very popular, but they fell out of fashion in the decades beyond. Rather than use it for touch-ups, like his predecessors did, Grossman used the technique to make his caricatures more colourful and lively. Several of his covers have become classics, such as his portrait of Hugh Hefner between a pair of huge breasts, created for the 8 January 1972 issue of The Daily Telegraph. Another iconic image was his August 1972 National Lampoon issue, depicting U.S. President Richard Nixon as Pinocchio and U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as Jiminy Cricket. On 6 January 2005 Grossman illustrated an article for The Nation about C.A. Tripp's 'The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln', which claimed Lincoln may have been a closeted homosexual. His cartoon of Lincoln as a transvestite named "Babe Lincoln" caused as much controversy as the book itself. The artist himself just joked about it: "In the impoverished mental landscape of a cartoonist, this is what passes for true inspiration."

National Lampoon cover starring President Nixon as Pinocchio and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as Jiminy Cricket, August 1972.

Most people, however, will recognize Grossman's caricatures from Rolling Stone, where he was a regular contributor. His portraits of rock stars decorated many covers and articles. Longtime readers may remember his classic images of Grateful Dead lead singer Jerry Garcia (22 November 1973) and Crosby, Stills & Nash (2 June 1977). Yet the artist also ridiculed politicians in equally memorable fashion. His 17 January 1974 cover portrays Nixon trying to lift the skirt of the Statue of Liberty, while the cover of the 4 May 2006 issue portrays George Bush Jr. in a corner with a dunce cap.

Album covers
Grossman designed the cover of the records 'Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers' (1970) by The Firesign Theatre and 'Give Us A Break' (by Proctor & Bergman, 1978), 'Too Hot To Handle' (by Heat Wave, 1977) and Weird Al Yankovic & Wendy Carlos' Peter & the Wolf'/'Carnival of the Animals' (1988).

'The Rock Pile', 1968, published in music magazine Eye. 

In 1970 Grossman made a promotional drawing for a "1970s Senators for Peace and New Priorities" rally at Madison Square, depicting U.S. President Richard Nixon and his government marching through the streets as the Emperor with No Clothes. Grossman's most popular poster is 'The Rock Pile', which came as a free gift with a 1968 of the music magazine Eye. The drawing shows caricatures of dozens of rock, pop and soul stars all piled on top of each other as a human mountain. His most well known film poster was made for the comedy classic 'Airplane!' (1980), showing an airplane tied in a knot.

Grossman was one of several contributors to Alan Aldridge's 'The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics' (1969). He illustrated various paperback editions for Mad Magazine, namely 'The Mad Reader' (1975), 'Mad Strikes Back' (1975), 'Inside Mad' (1975), 'Utterly Mad' (1975) and 'The Brothers Mad' (1975). Grossman also illustrated Mike Thaler's children's book 'What Can a Hippopotamus Be?' (Simon & Schuster, 1976), which has been translated in several languages. His artwork additionally adorned non-fiction books, such as Robert W. Tucker's 'The New Republic' (2010).

From: 'Life On The Moon'.

Life on the Moon
In his final years, Grossman wrote and illustrated a novel of his own, 'Life On The Moon' (2019), which was published posthumously. The work was a lifelong dream project. The story is set in 1835, when The New York Sun reported that winged beings had been observed on the moon. Naturally this was a hoax, but it still fooled many people in an age when space exploration was confined to scientists. Grossman had always been fascinated by this historic event and created his own fantasy narrative around it, featuring cameos by historical characters like Andrew Jackson, P.T. Barnum, Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Goodyear. 'Life On The Moon' is comparable to a text comic in the sense that it's a collection of sequential illustrations with a few lines of narration and dialogue written underneath each image.

In 1977 Grossman, James Picker and Craig Whitaker made a three minute clay animated short, 'Jimmy The C' (1977), depicting U.S. President Jimmy Carter playbacking to a recording of Ray Charles' 'Georgia On My Mind'. Despite being nothing more than a gimmick, the short still managed to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short, but lost to Co Hoedeman's 'Le Château de Sable' ('The Sand Castle'). During the 1980s Grossman and his brother David directed various animated TV commercials.

'Evolution of a Playboy Bunny' (Audience Magazine). 

As early as 1961 Grossman already drew two comic series, 'Captain Melanin' and 'Roger Ruthless of the C.I.A.', for the satirical journal Monocle. 'Captain Melanin' starred an African-American superhero about five years before Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's 'The Black Panther' (1966) made his debut. Though, to be fair, Captain Melanin was more intended as a humorous parody than a serious crime fighter. 'Roger Ruthless of the C.I.A.' was a similar parody comic, targeting a vicious C.I.A. spy.

Some of Grossman's illustrations occasionally make use of sequential narratives. In December 1972 he published a four-strip sequence starring the Marx Brothers for Midwest, a supplement of The Chicago Sun-Times. The sequence is actually the same two comic strips placed underneath each other and depicts Groucho, Chico, Zeppo and Harpo pinching each others' cheeks with Harpo enjoying it the least. Another interesting illustration made in the 2000s for Audience Magazine uses three fold-out pages to show a woman in a laundry store gradually stripping nude and turning into a Playboy Bunny.

'Waterbugs' strip of 3 November 1973, caricaturing U.S. President Richard Nixon and Vice President Gerald Ford.

Grossman's best known entry in the comic world was his long-running series 'Zoonooz' (1973-2018), which started off under the title 'Waterbugs' in New York Magazine, satirizing the ongoing Watergate scandal by portraying president Richard Nixon as "Richard M. Nightcrawler" and White House staff members H.R. Haldeman and John D. Ehrlichman as the bugs Haldebug and Ehrlichbug. When Nixon abdicated in 1974, the comic focused on his successor Gerald Ford instead, prompting a name change: 'Zoonooz'. In 1976 New York Magazine was bought by Rupert Murdoch, whereupon the comic was dropped, but it found a new spot in Rolling Stone, where it ran for several decades. From that moment on real-life politicians were portrayed as anthropomorphic animals or other goofy characters with lame pun-based names. Gerald Ford became a duck, Jimmy Carter a farmer, Ronald Reagan a Mickeyesque mouse named Ronald Rodent, Bill Clinton a caveman ('Bill Klintstone'), George W. Bush a flying squirrel called Cap'n Bushy and Barack Obama a superhero who overestimates himself. His political comics for The New York Observer and The Nation about the 2008 presidential campaign were later collected on the author's own website, O-manland.

'Twump and Pooty', depicting Russian president Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump.

Twump and Pooty
On 12 July 2017 Grossman launched the webcomic 'Twump and Pooty' (2017), which targeted U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin as Punch and Judy. It ran on Steven Heller's column on the website

Grossman's work was often exhibited, among others at the Galerie Vontobel in Zürich, Switzerland (1980), the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco and the Smithsonian Institution. In 1999 he was inducted in the Airbrush Hall of Fame. His name lives on in the Robert Grossman Award for Satire.

Robert Grossman passed away in 2018, at age 78, from congestive heart failure. He was an influence on Drew Friedman and Terry Gilliam, who once said: "I did my best to follow in Robert Grossman's footsteps." In the late 1970s, Overton Loyd worked as Grossman's assistant.

2008 print by Robert Grossman, parodying Norman Rockwell's 1943 set 'The Four Freedoms'.

Robert Grossman art on Drew Friedman's blog

Series and books by Robert Grossman you can order today:


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