Ian Falconer, the author of the “Olivia” books and of more than thirty New Yorker covers, died on Tuesday, at the age of sixty-three, after a brief illness. During his short but illustrious career, he designed numerous opera and ballet sets and costumes, and received a Caldecott Medal for “Olivia,” in 2001.
I met Ian in 1996, in the early days of my tenure as The New Yorker’s art editor. My mandate was to refresh the art for what had come to be perceived as a highly respected but somewhat fossilized magazine. I turned to Falconer, who grew up in Ridgefield, Connecticut, and was a longtime fan of the magazine, for help. We spent long hours in the archives, marvelling over the old covers and laughing at the ways artists like Helen Hokinson, Mary Petty, Charles Addams, or William Cotton portrayed the antics of the bourgeoisie during the nineteen-thirties and forties. Falconer was a lover of classical drawing and, through his images, helped bring back the facetiousness and irreverence of the magazine’s early days. Here are a few of his many covers. They display his inimitable wit, wonderfully tender yet devastatingly sharp.