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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

New Yorker/Picture Book Artists: Ian Falconer – Beyond Olivia

At the end of July I created a post on New Yorker cover artists who also did picture books for children.  Well, I showed just a scant hint of some of the covers I have in my possession, and now seems like a good time to bring some others out for one and all to see.  And who better to start off this regular series than fan favorite Ian Falconer: He of the undeniable Olivia.

Falconer’s a particular favorite of the New Yorker, his covers dating back at least until the late 90s.  I could throw a whole bunch of them up here, but what I find interesting about New Yorker artists is how they can sometimes create small series of covers that go undetected unless you place them all together.  Take Falconer’s Easily Shocked Old Lady (or ESOL).  The Easily Shocked Old Lady is a Falconer staple.  She walks through this world of ours with a true fear of changing mores and habits.  Sometimes we identify with her.  Other times we are encouraged to enjoy her squirming.  And the poor woman appears unable to go anywhere without getting a case of the vapors be it . . .

At the museum

In a department store


Or even just taking an elevator

The ESOL is a kind of anti-Olivia.  Like Falconer’s most famous pig heroine, the ESOL prefers to wear red and white with some black (though she may try a bit of pink if she’s feeling adventurous).  Her hair is carefully swept back in a “do”, pearl earrings in place.  Sometimes I worry that her feet hurt wearing those black heels (though clearly she’s in good shape if she’s skiing).

There is one cover where a woman who looks a heckuva lot like the ESOL appears and it is Falconer’s cheeriest image.  I’m fond of it because it allows us a glimpse into her personal life.  Gone are the trappings of the New York lifestyle.  She’s clearly on vacation, a fact I ascribe to her hair which has reestablished its natural curl (she probably hasn’t been to her stylist in a while).  She’s still wearing her customary red, but now it’s with stretchy pants and shoes that won’t pinch her anymore.  With her, just as nerdily American, is her husband, waistband making a break for the sky, camera firmly in place.  It’s the happiest I’ve ever seen her.

You get a sense that New York isn’t good for this woman, don’t you?

Falconer’s done a slew of other covers as well, but it seems clear to me that they particularly like to use his skills when a holiday is in full force.  So you’ll see his works during . . .

Valentine’s Day

(can you spot the pre-9/11 cover?)


Or Halloween (which really suits him best)

One wonders why there has never been an official Olivia Halloween book.  Clearly he loves that time of year.  Perhaps someday.

Falconer continues to create cover (he had a nice windmill one the other day) but I live in hope that the ESOL will make her reappearance soon.  Or, at the very least, we’ll get a nice Halloween cover out of him this year.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. I love Falconer’s New Yorker covers. As for the ESOL, it makes me smile that she always appears to be wearing a Chanel suit. I have wondered if Falconer has a grandmother who wore Chanel. I kind of expected to see something snazzy for the ESOL’s ski outfit (something more along the lines of Coco).

  2. I, too, love these covers. Hoping you will also do a Harry Bliss medley, too.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Bliss shall come (that’s fun to say) but I’ve my eyes on a Spaniard for my next installment.

  3. This is such a fun retrospective — thank you! I love your simple but brilliant psychoanalysis of the ESOL. She definitely needs to go on vacation more often!

  4. Here’s someone you might not think of–John O’Brien. He did a number of New Yorker covers in the 80s and 90s and has as inked a number children’s books over the years.

  5. I love this with the kind of love that stems from the knowledge that I may become an ESOL someday myself 😉

  6. I LOVE Falconer’s New Yorker covers….I keep hoping they’ll finally have enough to do a book of ’em…I’ll be first in line! MY favorite ESOL is the central-park-walking-dog one…she’s so shocked by so many things, but oblivious of the body outline at which her dog is sniffing!

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Oh, I don’t have the dog-walking ESOL! I think I remember seeing it too. Darn! A gap in my collection.

  7. I love Falconer’s covers!

  8. lois sarrel says:

    I guess I’m an “ESOL” myself and although I’ve only been reading The New Yorker recently, compliments of a friend , I was struck by the September 10, 2012 cover by Ian Falconer.

    I looked at that cover and thought that it could be a cover about me, albeit not as glamorous or as well-dressed in a Chanel suit hailing a cab in NYC. I see that shorter, stouter,older individual as someone who is overshadowed by her Amazonian counterpart and feels insignificant, small and at a disproportional advantage overall.

    I would like to ask Mr. Falconer what his intention was when creating and distributing this cartoon. I feel that you cared more about the untimeliness of the Chanel suit than you did about your grandmother’s feelings. It makes me wonder what your relationship with her was like.

  9. lois sarrel says: