Remembering Danny Shanahan: 1956-2021
The cartoonist, Danny Shanahan, who contributed drawings to The New Yorker from September of 1988 through last year, died early this morning, according to his wife, Janet Stetson. He was 64, just days shy of his 65th birthday. His death was due to complications from surgery.
Danny became known at first as a pun-centric cartoonist, but soon enough he was plowing the same cartoon fields as most everyone else, taking a unique detour into a number of Elvis Presley cartoons. He came into The New Yorker world wide-eyed and confident. The first time I met him, not long after his first New Yorker cartoon was published, he asked me how to get New Yorker covers (“You begin by submitting them,” was my helpful advice).
Danny’s star rose quickly at The New Yorker, becoming a favorite contributor during editor Robert Gottlieb’s short tenure. Mr. Gottlieb was so fond of Danny’s work, he once huddled with then art editor, Lee Lorenz to develop a cover idea for Danny to execute (the cover, a businessman running along a city street, with New York City Taxi rates on his briefcase, was published August 12, 1991). Over his thirty-two years at the magazine Danny contributed approximately a thousand cartoons, numerous illustrations, and a dozen covers.
Danny was born in Brooklyn, July 11, 1956, one of eleven children, and raised in Bethlehem, Connecticut. Before bursting onto the pages of The New Yorker, he tended bar at The Bottom Line in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. He lived for a time in New Mexico with his family before moving to Rhinebeck, N.Y., where he became part of a small community of New Yorker cartoonists that included Michael Crawford, Liza Donnelly, and myself.
Around Rhinebeck, Danny was often seen strolling the town’s main street, sometimes with a cigar in his hand (until he quit in later years). In a number of his New Yorker cartoons showing small town sidewalk scenes, shop windows contain names of actual stores in Rhinebeck.
Decades ago he and I began meeting on a fairly regular basis in a Rhinebeck coffee shop, usually on a Thursday or Friday morning. Eventually our duo became a quartet with the addition of the New Yorker cover artist and cartoonist, John Cuneo, and Mark Burns, a local friend well versed in humor (he’s a writer). We came to know Danny as someone with an uncanny ability to fire off hilarious, often dark jibes, machine-gun style. During these coffee-soaked sessions Danny would invariably derail the conversation with a comical hand grenade. He would also tell stories that could go on for five or ten minutes, then another ten minutes after he had interjected, “Long story short.” But when he talked shop, he was always serious, proud of his New Yorker career; he wrote 99.999% of his cartoons (I only know of one drawing he did that came from someone else – a friend’s off-handed remark Danny recognized as cartoon material). His competitive side, if that’s what it was, was never far from the surface. He was one of the first of the magazine’s cartoonists I knew – if not the first – to talk about how well, or how poorly he was selling. Mostly, he sold well.
In the past five years, throughout a tragic series of personal events, his placid demeanor curiously remained intact, although he became more of a listener than a talker. In one of our last coffee shop meetings, pre-pandemic, I said to him, “I’m amazed by how well you seem to handle everything.” He looked directly at me (something he rarely did) and said, with a smile, “On the outside.”
In December of 2020, The New Yorker suspended his contract
. His last drawing for the magazine appeared in the issue of November 23, 2020. In the drawing a pilgrim woman, holding a cooked turkey on a platter, says to another pilgrim woman: “He says my eagle tastes fishy, so this year I’m trying something new.”
Amidst personal turmoil, Danny moved to South Carolina to be with family members. Our friendship, lasting as long as his New Yorker career, was tossed up in the air. Just a few months ago, Danny and I finally exchanged letters. He wrote: “I’m looking forward…to start building back up…what I’ve caused to tumble down.” With the news today that Danny had passed away, there is sadness as well as ample confusion.
Danny leaves behind his wife, and two sons, Render and Finnegan.
–Photo at the top of this post: Danny Shanahan in Rhinebeck, NY., taken by Michael Maslin
I am so sad to hear of Danny’s passing. He was a staple around Rhinebeck, with his dry sense of humor always bringing a giggle. He will be missed. Life is complicated and its important to smile at the good times and let the bad go. RIP
Thank you for this lovely tribute to Danny.
Danny will be missed by many.
Thank you for this touching tribute. Lost a good one.
May he rest in peace
One of the funniest cartoons I was privileged to see was his
“LASSIE GET HELP” cartoon.
One of my lol time favorite New Yorker cartoons…RIP
Oh no! Such awful news. My heart goes out to his family, personal and professional.
I am absolutely thrown by this sad news. I am looking for words but having trouble finding anything that matches the depth of my feelings. Danny was a wonderful addition to all our lives. I will always hold him in the highest esteem..Thank you Michael for this biography and tribute.
I agree Michael with Jay – thanks for the biography.
He would definitely approve of this message. You were a good friend. I’m sorry he’s no longer with us.
I never met Danny but you wrote a very fine, affectionate tribute. Thank you.
I first met Danny in the summer of 2010 and we’d usually meet a couple of times a year after that to talk about the cartooning industry. His wit and sheer dedication to the craft made him fine tune punchlines with the precision of a watchmaker. Even with his success he always stayed down to earth and maintained the curiosity that drove him so much in his work and his life. He will be truly missed.
Very sad to hear this, of course. His work was consistently smart and funny. My heart goes out to his wife, Janet, and his family.
I’m so sorry to hear this. He brought a great deal to my life.
Michael, I’m sorry for the loss of your friend.
I knew Danny when I worked at The New Yorker from 2002 until 2006. He was amazing. I was on the business side, not edit, but he would graciously appear at cartoonist events I had for clients. What a great man.
I never knew him, but I certainly knew of him. After his crowning misfortune last year, I have been looking for his name, wanting to see him emerge again. I have considered writing to you, Michael, to ask if there was any news. Alas, this news today was it, I guess. I could be wrong, but I have the feeling that this business which got him “suspended” was mostly a piece of bumbling foolishness, the result of a questing spirit probably questing too far. I have no opinion or feeling of any sort about that business, but I do think that people should for the most part be left alone to live their lives.
I can’t help but wonder if “complications from surgery” is really the correct story. But people should be allowed whatever exit story they prefer.
Michael, I agree with others on this page who compliment you for a graceful and affectionate tribute to your friend. You very skilfully convey his appeal and talents. I feel for your loss. My tears for all involved.
Complications from surgery is the correct answer, there’s nothing more sinister in this. It was a hard road
This breaks my heart in so many ways. Michael, I treasure the lunches you, Danny and I had at the Martindale Chief Diner. Danny was a great storyteller and I would often hook up with him at the Terrapin Bistro bar for martinis and laughter. His spontaneous observations of life were as funny as any of the best stand-up comics. R.I.P. old friend…
I am one of Danny’s sisters (he had 6 sisters and 4 brothers!) and I speak for the whole family thanking you for this kind tribute. It brings comfort to know that he was loved and appreciated by so many. His death has left us completely heartbroken and irrevocably changed, and we will love him and miss him forever.
Lillian, my condolences to your rather large and presumably Irish family, from an admirer of Danny’s wit and humor and who happens to be a fellow member of a rather large and presumably Irish family.
Nifty obit for Danny.
Losing friends is the worst part of getting old. That’s when you need them most.
Brilliant stuff. My faded, torn cartoon of his – the meat counter, with ‘goddam life of Riley’ grade beef, has been on my wall for years. So sad he’s gone.
Fond memories of Danny’s wry take on life in cartoons and in person.
So sad for Janet and the kids.
Always honored to know Danny and to have one of his works about a much loved local community event framed in our home. I am so glad you wrote this Michael.
Out of all the New Yorker cartoons, his were never the ones I would ever say “Don’t get this one.” Sorry to hear of Danny’s passing and even sorrier to hear it came on his upswing.
Danny was so generous with his talent. Over the years, Danny donated countless pieces for various fundraisers, not to mention drawings for T-shirts ! I am proud to have one such cartoon from a library fundraiser on my office wall! I have also kept my whale watch T-shirt for more years than I care to admit!
My prayers are with Danny and his family. May he Rest In Peace.
Thank you for this tribute to Danny. So privileged to own Danny’s Elvis & Bill Clinton racing to the donut shop, makes me smile every day. We will miss seeing you around the Village. Sending much love to Janet and the boys.
The cartoon of the two waves out on the ocean (Yo, Greg! Hey, Warren) has always been a valuable part of my life when I’ve needed to remember that life is a big fluid sea and we are but waves. It’s never failed to comfort me.
Rest in power, Mr. Shanahan. I’ll miss you.
So sorry to hear this. A wonderful tribute to a funny, brilliant soul. I hope his daily takes comfort in knowing he was beloved by so many who never knew him personally.
So sorry to hear this. A wonderful tribute to a funny, brilliant soul. I hope his family takes comfort in knowing he was beloved by so many who never knew him personally.
Alison Howard Roland
I am deeply saddened by learning of Danny’s passing. He was a gem and you were his best friend of many years which makes you a gem too. Your tribute is fittingly perfect and gives a wonderful picture of Danny’s humor and vibe. He was funny and quick witted and loved by many. My heart aches for Janet, the boys, his many siblings and dear friends. Danny was a good man who cared deeply about his family, life, friendship and his artwork. I remember meeting Danny when Janet started dating him. I was immediately impressed by his attire, hair do and shoes. He had a sweet smile and a unique flair, and I could see why Janet was so smitten. Watching him become a father to beautiful sons and seeing him in love with Janet was a precious sight. Danny always greeted me with a smile , interested in what I was doing and loved letting me know how life was, good and the not so good stuff, he was very present in his conversing. I will keep in my heart and memory all the good things he has lived and created and pray he’s at peace. I’m sending love and heart felt sympathy to you all- the ones he loved so dearly. Such a loss. Thank you Michael for writing such a beautiful letter of love and friendship.
Such a wonderful obituary, Michael.
Affectionate, clear-headed and and honest words about our friend. I hate that Danny’s legacy will be ( understandably) clouded. It is a conflict that we’ll all carry with us, and it’s a weight that each friend will bear differently . What I’m recalling today are his sly, dark wit, his scarily prodigious gifts , and his damn good company.
Thank you. This obituary is worthy of Danny. I didn’t know him well, but know the family, and this news is so hard to hear. You write with love. May his memory become forever a blessing.
I came upon th news of Danny’s untimely death only yesrerday, and it greatly saddened me. He was well liked by the members of our adult ed organization, Lifetime Learners at Bard College. On at least two occasions over the years he taught courses on “The Art of Cartooning” to our members. He also participated as a lecturer just three years ago in our annual January Intersession Program. His presentation that year was the most highly attended of the eight that were given. I am not lucky enough to say that I was a close friend of Danny since I only worked with him at Bard on a few occasions, but I thoroughly enjoyed every minute that I spend with him. He was a kind,generous person with a fine sense of humor. All of us at Bard will miss him.
Thank you for writing this. I knew Danny back in the day and just now found out about his passing. I’m at a loss for words. Such a wry sense of humor. One of my favorite cartoons of his was one he told me that the NYer had rejected: a drawing of Frankenstein wearing a t-shirt with the “100% Recycled” logo. My thoughts and prayers are with Janet and family.