Bernard Handelsman Biography

Bernard Handelsman




Printmaker, cartoonist, and illustrator Bernard Handelsman, who also went by J.B. Handelsman and Bud Handelsman, was born in New York City on February 5th, 1922. His parents Max and Dinah (née Birnbaum) Handelsman were both teachers and encouraged their children to pursue their interests in the liberal arts, Bernard in art, and his older sister, Edith, in writing and journalism. 

After graduating high school in 1938, Handelsman enrolled at the Art Students League, where he remained until 1942. A brief stint in the Second World War in the US Army Air Corps ended with his diagnosis of severe asthma. Returning to civilian life, he enrolled in New York University with the aim of studying electrical engineering. By 1946, however, he had decided to return to art, and left school to pursue a career as a commerical artist. Finding emplyment as a typographic designer at various firms throughout the city to support himself, he began submitting cartoons to such publications as Playboy, for which he, along with Shel Silverstein, was the first cartoonist for the magazine; Esquire; and the Saturday Evening Post; signing his work "J.B. Handelsman". (A dislike of his given first name led to him signing variously as John, J.B., or Bud.) In 1950 he married Gertrude Peck, and he scored a recurring cartooning gig with the New Yorker beginning in 1960, a professional partnership that would span forty-five years. 

In 1963 the Bernard and Gertrude Handelsman moved to England, settling in Leatherhead, Surrey. He decided to try his luck with a British audience, whom he felt his work was more suited toward. This proved to be a boon, as he became a regular contributor to Punch - or, the London Charivari, the oldest British satirical publication at the time and the first magazine to use the term "cartoon". Of particular popularity was his strip "Freaky Fables", which he submitted under the name "TR Squink" and "AJ Spoop". This success led to commissions from the Evening Standard, Observer, New Statesman, and Saturday Review. Meanwhile, he continued to keep up his connection to the US with his ongoing contributions to the New Yorker and Playboy., the latter of which would publish a complilation of his works, titled You're Not Serious, I hope in 1971 and give him an award for Best Black and White Cartoon.

In 1982 he returned to the United States and settled once again in New York. In addition to his work in magazines and periodicals, he was commissioned to illustrate several children's books as well as adult fare, including works by John Cleese and David Frost. In 1992 he created a 10 minute animated film for the BBC's Christmas Special titled "In the Beginning". 

Bernard Handelsman continued to work for the New Yorker until 2006, contributing nearly 1,000 cartoons and five covers. He died in Southampton, New York, on June 20, 2007. 

Sources for this biography include Chris Beetles Gallery and The New Yorker.