You may not know his name, but you would recognize his cartoons of talking animals, talking pasta, kings, and corporate bosses. Over the course of his career, Charles Barsotti published more than 1,300 cartoons in The New Yorker and thousands more in other publications including USA TODAY, Parade, Playboy, Texas Monthly, an array of business magazines, and the British humor magazine, Punch. He was, in fact, so admired in the U.K. that three of his cartoons were issued as postage stamps in 1996.
Barsotti also did work for hire for commercial enterprises—most notably on Niceday, a line of office supplies from the British firm WH Smith. For them, Barsotti reprised one of his dogs to grace their packaging, and it became popularly known as “the Niceday pup.” This is an in-depth look at this playful creative design project.
This article is drawn from the Charles Barsotti archive at The Wittliff Collections, Texas State University. Gift of Ramoth Barsotti.
What was Niceday?
The Niceday brand was developed by Michael Wolf, design director at W.H. Smith (the U.K.’s largest retailer of books and office stationery), to give its new lines of office supplies a distinct identity. Niceday’s playful, even irreverent tone, immediately distinguished its office supplies from the rest of the pack.
Wolf had previously worked with many of The New Yorker’s cartoonists, and he knew that Charles Barsotti had just the right blend of clever humor with a sense of play. One of Barsotti’s go-to characters was an unnamed dog who, at times, voiced the species’ hidden anxieties—a classic example: a dog lays on a psychiatrist’s couch and complains, “They moved my bowl.”
And so, in 1991, Barsotti and designer Mark-Steen Adamson became an international design workhorse, designing the packaging for 650 office supply items in their first year. The cartoons primarily feature the dog, along with his feline nemesis and a bird to represent the environmentally-friendly ‘green’ line of products.
Niceday as a brand lasted about a dozen years, until it was acquired by the U.S. company, Office Depot, who kicked “the Niceday pup” to the curb.
Who was Charles Barsotti?
Charles Barsotti (1933 – 2014) was born in San Marcos and grew up in San Antonio, the son of a schoolteacher and a furniture salesman. He grew up drawing, inspired by the comics in the local newspapers and by the single-panel “gag” cartoons in the magazines of the day. While attending Southwest Texas State University he wrote and submitted cartoons to the College Star. After graduating he did cartoons in his spare time, successfully placing some in the early 60s, including in The New Yorker in 1962. He took a position at Hallmark in 1964, first working in writing, then on contemporary-themed cards. He jumped to The Saturday Evening Post in 1968 as an editor. Unfortunately, the Post folded the next year—part of a trend of closures of major general-interest weekly magazines including Collier’s and Look. Barsotti then went into high gear, launching a comic strip “Sally Bananas” for syndication with Newsday and later securing a contract with The New Yorker.
When he joined The New Yorker in 1970, the style of gag cartoons was still very rooted in the traditions of George Price, Whitney Darrow, Jr., and Charles Addams. Barsotti’s very simple line drawings evoked James Thurber, but his contemporary subjects could be seen as anticipating the work of Jack Zeigler and Roz Chast. Over the course of his career, Barsotti published more than 1,300 of his cartoons in The New Yorker. Although his New Yorker contract obligated him to offer first any cartoon he drew to them, Barsotti had a thriving freelance career as well, and he published thousands of cartoons in other publications including USA TODAY, Parade, Playboy, Texas Monthly, and various business magazines.
Barsotti and “Steeno”: Design collaboration
In 1991, cartoonist Charles Barsotti and designer Mark-Steen Adamson (aka “Steeno”) got to work on the Niceday products’ packaging designs. They became an international workhorse team, working from Kansas City and London by fax and Fed Ex, and designed the packaging for 650 office supply items in their first year. While their work was serious and incredibly industrious, their relationship was friendly and playful, as you will see in the galleries below.
Design Give and Take: Chisel Tip Marker
Design Give and Take: Staples
Design Give and Take: Pencil Leads
Design Give and Take: Diskette Case
Fun with Faxes
The fax machine (if you don’t know what that is–look it up!) was typically used for sending typed documents, but could be used to scan and send anything drawn or written on a sheet of paper. The thousands of faxed pages of correspondence from the Niceday project in Barsotti’s archive at Texas State University reveal both Barsotti’s and “Steeno’s” creative personalities.