30-Year-Old New Yorker Cartoon Anticipated To Sell For $50K At Auction
By Mikelle Leow, 17 Sep 2023
Image via Heritage Auctions
The New Yorker has, for over a century, kept readers on their toes for its next cartoon. But no other illustration has struck a chord throughout generations like Peter Steiner’s 1993 Cyberdog. Now, the panel—the most reprinted cartoon in the history of the magazine—is slated to go under the hammer at Heritage Auctions for as much as US$50,000 at its art sale on October 6.
Depicting two dogs in front of a computer, the cartoon is underscored with the caption: “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”
The interwebs were unfamiliar territory 30 years ago. Today, they’re inescapable. Despite dramatic changes in the tech landscape, the one-liner continues to resonate. The appeal of voicing your thoughts under a cloak of anonymity speaks to all, no matter if your core memories are shaped by Waaazzzuuuuppp’s or TikTok dance trends.
The Most Reprinted Cartoon in ‘New Yorker’ History Barks Up Heritage’s Illustration Art Event in October!— Heritage Auctions (@HeritageAuction) September 15, 2023
Peter Steiner's (@plsteiner) 'On the Internet, Nobody Knows You're a Dog' turned 30 this year and remains forever young.https://t.co/JVqTq2lOf3 pic.twitter.com/IZSQZzoMrm
As with many overnight internet sensations, this cartoon’s perennial success was pretty much an accident. Scant on ideas to meet his weekly cartoon quota for the magazine, Steiner often kicked off his process by sketching an image and then coming up with a caption for it later (the opposite method seems to be the choice for today’s art, much of which is AI-generated).
Steiner drew a picture of two dogs seated in front of a computer, one on the floor and the other in a chair. The punchline arrived on a whim, and it was submitted as a throwaway gag. The artist was baffled to learn that it had been selected from the pile.
The cartoon didn’t catch on right away. Soon buried with all the other New Yorker visual commentaries, it was an underdog, to say the least. However, as time went on, it found its place on T-shirts, mugs, and even on the pages of other magazines. And now, it’s commanding a lofty US$50,000 sum.
Astonishingly, looking back, Steiner now realizes the illustration “wasn’t about the internet at all,” he tells the auction house.
“It was about my sense that I’m getting away with something,” the artist elaborates. He’d gotten this revelation only recently.
“I realized the cartoon is autobiographical and that it’s about being an imposter or feeling like an imposter,” Steiner notes. “I’ve had several checkered careers, and in every one, I felt like a bit of a fraud. I mean, I think many people have that syndrome, the sense that, yeah, I’ve got everybody fooled: ‘They think I know what I'm doing, and they think I'm good at this.’ So for me, this morning, that was a kind of interesting revelation this late in the game.”
And even after delivering hundreds of cartoons throughout his career, Steiner is certain this forever-young illustration will be the one to highlight his obituary.
The illustrator has made peace with the knowledge that he could “one day be eulogized solely as the guy who drew ‘On the Internet, Nobody Knows You’re a Dog,’” according to Heritage Auctions.
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