February 04, 2005


As well as some other people. I'm reposting these examples as of now, along with some very interesting comments I got on the pre-crash Sovereign Liege a few months ago. You can read them in the extended entry section.

(Click the thumbnails for larger images.)

I wrote then that he deserved to be back in print, in editions that didn't mar his work by splitting many of the drawings across two pages.

John Dinwiddie:

That Abner Dean is so thoroughly forgotten
is just another sad fact of our disposable culture
life. What Am I Doing Here was the rage in
smart circles for several years after its appearance. Its popularity tracked the post war
popularity of psychoanalysis. The chances were
that anyone on the couch had a copy within reach.

I was born in 1940, was 7 when the book came out
and was snapped up by my Freudophile father. I
was thrilled to see a bunch of nekkid people running about, but the depth of the humor and insight was not lost on me even at that age. His work fascinated me. His horrific caricature of a lunch counter (the one with huge funnels stuck in the mouths of the customers) still haunts me. What might have he had done with McDonalds? Well,
he did it, that's what, then and there.

A few years ago I found a copy of It's A Long Way
To Heaven, the contents of which are as strong as
the selections in the more famous book. Philosophers' Convention takes the cake, as does
Amnesia, The Consultation, The Eternal Optimist,
many others. It's a priceless possession for me,
whatever its worth on the out of print market.

The idea of getting back to the original plates
and reissuing them in a format that showcases Dean's extraordinary greyscale talent is a fine one. There are many certified great American artists who couldn't shine the man's shoes. His
drawings are unique, often beautiful in a way that
competes with the satirical content and kicks the
complexity up several notches because of that competition.

Don Zirulnik:

I collect Abner Dean. I think I have the largest private collection of Dean's work. I Would love to see some things republished. Abner Dean's Naked People is a nice collection and can, with patience, be found for a few bucks with a signed limited (5000) edition litho,

[after an email exchange]

My experiences parallel those of John's fairly closely. I have a couple of originals and am always looking for more.
"what am i doing here? " and "its a long way to heaven" contain some of his best work. He was born Abner Epstein, attended Darmouth from about 29- 31 and published some works under Epstein before switching to Dean.

Good to connect. Dartmouth has a lot of dean stuff squirreled away in special collections somewhere. You can get some more info on dean in his obit in the N.Y. times.junesomething 1982, I think. Tell me about the dean you have. I have a lot of obscure dean/ epstein prints as well as a portrait and a drawing of an elephant and the egg toss from abner deans naked people.


oh yes, I absolutely agree. I was born in '42, and Mother snapped up "What Am I Doing Here" pretty quick when it came out when I was about 5 or so. I thought it was a cartoon book (well, it was, rofl) and pored over that thing like CRAZY quite a few times. I noticed as I got older that it made me think crazy things. Crazy but good.

Like the swooning Ophelias on the conveyer belt going over the cliff - middle sister was a swooning Ophelia type, so I got that one right away. And only Mother and I got the joke when I started calling middle sister 'Ophelia'. It was nice that no one else in the family liked the book. Father only read the sporting green, middle sister only read movie magazines, and brother only read sci fi.

So it was like Mother's and my little secret. She used to kid me just before serving dinner, "Have you set out the funnels?"

So bring on our Mr. Dean again !! There's a couple generations of folks out there who have NO IDEA what great art and philosophy can accomplish when combined !!! Get some Thurber out there again too. None of these modern people have the slightest idea of what a sense of humor is. Look at how "The Unicorn in the Garden" has faded into utter obscurity. Shame on all of them.

Jim Leonard:

Nice to stumble upon this site! Abner Dean has always been something of a mystery to me. I've found several of his books over the years, (It's a Long Way To Heaven, What Am I Doing Here, And On the Eighth Day, Come As You Are, & Cave Drawings for the Future) all of them invariably marked down drastically and languishing on a shelf for what I can only assume is lack of interest. Silly people...
I've always been fascinated by his stuff, but have felt that his style sort of sits in a nexus between Steig (specifically 'About people' & 'The Lonely Ones'), Steinberg, and maybe Artzybasheff. Not knowing much about the man, I've then made the assumption by the timing of his books that he was following in the wake of those other artists, perhaps 'jumping on the bandwagon'. Though much of what he does is unique, I'd have to say many elements seem a bit derivative. Still, fascinating books to treasure!
Speaking of that crowd & those following in their wake, can anyone tell me anything about Jane Eakin? I've just found her book from '46, 'I Do All the Work Around Here', and again - - fascinating, a little derivative, and something of a puzzle...

Kirk Brooks:

I discovered Abner Dean some years ago. My parents had several of his books; Come as you are, long way to heavan, and on the eighth day and some others. Aparently my parents bought them when they came out. I recall looking at them from time to time as I was growing up and having no idea what they were about.

When I rediscovered them as an adult I was blown away. I also realized how many of those images had taken root in my consciousness at a deep level. "The wonder of you" was an image that I have always thought amusing and salient. "What am I doing here" is a question that pops up often in my own work.

I will add my own voice to those for whom Dean is a treasured possesion.

Posted by james_h at February 4, 2005 04:58 PM


I have a prized copy of "What am I doing here?" that was handed down from my grandmother. When younger, my sister and I thought it was quite hilarious that grandmother had something so "naughty" in her bookcase. As I got older I noticed how timeless his sentiments were. Now I love to keep it on the coffee table and watch friends reactions when they browse through it, as they ask themselves "what am I doing here?"

Posted by: PF Roeper at February 21, 2005 07:33 PM

I, too, love Abner Dean. He's got a wonderful line and his insight about people, society and the mind are as relevant as ever. Too bad he's not in print anymore.

Posted by: Dan at April 11, 2005 10:04 PM

At my first trip to Paris in 1959 I visited this wonderful bookshop 'Shakespeare and Co' near Notre Dame Cathedral and discovered a Signet Pocket Book Edition of 'What am I doing here ?' This was such a shock as this little book seemed to express my feelings so acurately, that I bought the five available copies which I distributed to my friends once back home in Antwerp. I'm glad that at last I found a trace of this wonderful artist that seemed lost completely.

Posted by: Jan Baes at April 21, 2005 07:23 AM

A kid born in 1956, I discovered Abner Dean late. Some of the drawings in his books do sink into the fold between pages, even taking the central image of the cartoon down with them. Dean's best work should be reprinted in a better format, although the market would be pretty limited unless we spread the word far and wide. As Karenkat's comments illustrate, Dean has great appeal for some of us, and not much others. Dean’s best drawings appeal to those who enjoy a stimulating ponder as much as a quick chuckle. There will only be enough of a market for a reprint if everyone who might be interested learns about it and learns why they should be interested. I would love to display a few Dean drawings on my own website, but since I teach, among other things, copyright, I would want to contact the holders of the rights first.

Posted by: Bill Freese at May 5, 2005 10:09 AM

I came across Abner Dean in 1981 at a garage sale in Ann Arbor MI. I was going through a hard time... Boyfriend leaves gives me up for a much older married woman.. Heartbreak!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Alcholism.. Dean's cartoon's made me laugh.. Comfort of sorts... helped me gain back sense of humor?? !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Kristina Kofler at May 14, 2005 02:40 PM

In case anyone doesnt think the world is getting smaller-- I'm the boyfriend Kris writes about above I'm sorry Kris. I cotinue to collect Dean - I just bought some aetna advertisements and have picked up a few things from his Dartmouth days working as Aber Epstein. He over lapped with Dr Seuss working on the Dartmouth Jack o'lantern. It puzzles me that he rose to the the top in terms of commericial success and artistic quality and content within a few years of graduating from Dartmouth, and then drifted off into obscurity. Perhaps he was blacklisted or had a substance abuse probem?

Posted by: Don Zirulnik at July 6, 2005 03:11 AM

I own an original pen and ink drawing by Abner Dean entitled "Experience" which is framed in a Kulicke frame. What would be the best way to assess its value? How might I go about finding the appropriate market for this work and selling it? Thank you.

Posted by: cynthia at June 7, 2006 12:02 PM

Actually, I might be interested. Why don't you email me with more info?

Posted by: James Holland at June 11, 2006 07:59 PM

I am working on a history of New Yorker artists. I can't find any original Abner Dean art. Does anyone know of original color drawings by Abner Dean? Please email me with any info. Thanks

Posted by: B. Block at July 10, 2006 09:10 PM

I was so pleased to find this site! I just mentioned Abner Dean in my blog about caring for my elderly mother and wanted to share our experience with What Am I Doing Here? with you.

Posted by: Alexandra Grabbe at July 22, 2006 06:39 AM

Abner Dean had a rare insight into the natural substance of our human existence. I was particularly attracted to one of his cartoons entitled, "I made this". With naked humanity in lock-step parade like burdened humanity, the main character was on a high spot of ground displaying a pole with a bunch of randomly placed boards nailed to it. So symbolic! I'd love a print of it.

Davis Goss

"The Science of Building Harmonious Life Experiences"

Posted by: Davis Goss at January 7, 2007 11:35 AM

I am in love with Dean's work! I found a book that belonged to my grandfather in my garage a few years ago and I am totally hung up. I am sad that all of his work is out of print, I have had a great deal of luck finding his work on www.alibris.com
If you really enjoy his work I highly recomend looking for his book "Abner Dean's Naked People" it is a collection released in 1963, featuring work from a number of his books and all the images are big and do not fall into the crease.
I am still in awe of the fact that so few people have ever heard of him.

Posted by: e at February 22, 2007 05:58 PM

As a 20-year-old college student in 1981, I was fond of some of the relics of late-1940s American culture: old radios, old cars, old neon signs, later Art Deco, the earliest experimental jazz, etc. That period is now commonly referred to as "a simpler, more innocent time." (It was, huh? Right after the horrors of World War II? Yeah, sure!) I used to walk down the old working-class streets of Binghamton, NY and try to imagine what life had been like in those days.
But after I discovered What Am I Doing Here? in a thrift store, and after seeing the movie "True Confessions" (1981), it began to dawn on me that underneath all those cultural trappings, the late-'40s period had a dark, ominous undertone. America was beginning its descent into the Cold War era of enforced conformity, with advertisers promoting a blond, blue-eyed, spotlessly clean "normalcy," and many people secretly felt empty and confused and cynical about trying to fit in to all that. Some of those feelings would later erupt in Ginsberg's "America" and other "subversive" works of the '50s-- but Dean had the guts to bring it all right out in the open in 1947. I wonder how many people picked up his book that year and said to themselves (as I did 34 years later), "Damn, it's not just me! Here's somebody else who sees all this, too!" (Let's hope some people of the WWII generation will discover this site and post their stories here.) Some of Dean's portrayals of women-- as scheming, manipulative heartbreakers-- may now seem like sexist caricatures, but I think they also reflect the roles that a lot of women back then (and now?) felt forced to play in order to survive in a society where the deck was stacked against them. And he certainly didn't take it easy on men either. Thanks, Abner, for taking brutal honesty and making it accessible and entertaining.

Posted by: urgeking at March 30, 2007 12:23 AM

I was given a marvelous litho (?) years ago that is signed "Abner J. Epstein" (in pencil). It's a dark and hypnotic piece featuring two individuals--a intensely spooky old woman in foreground--carrying a coffin through what appears to be a tunnel. Can anyone give me information on this work? As we all know, Dean was born Epstein and adopted his nom de plume at an early point in his career.

Many thanks.

Posted by: Jim Bosha at July 5, 2007 06:45 PM

Hello,Ihave a small plate approx.4" dia. of an Abner Dean cartoon The figure is standing against a rock looking at a bird, w/caption, I,d know you anywhere. Any idea of value???? 7.22.07

Posted by: joe at July 22, 2007 10:16 PM

I have two originals by Abner Dean "Arrested Development" & "Accumilated Virtue" I am looking for an appraiser to find out it's value? Any suggestions for me?

Posted by: Cheryle Gail at October 4, 2007 03:45 PM

Have a signed abner. It has a bird flying over water.. that's it. no caption. any one know what this is? want to sell

Posted by: trish at January 26, 2008 10:46 PM

I found a copy of Abner Dean's Naked People in a used book store (now gone) in St. Paul in the mid-sixties, flipped through it and immediately bought it -- I didn't even finish browsing the store. At the time, without the Internet, I couldn't find any additional info about him. Like most things, it sort of faded from my memory until today, when a friend asked me about browsing used book stores and one thought led to another. If he got a book published in hard-cover, I knew there had to be some fans out there somewhere! Thanks!

Posted by: Jeff in Minneapolis at October 21, 2009 10:54 AM

I'm looking to buy any original art by abner dean - also any letters to/from him. THANKS. send email to donz@vellum.net or call 415-509-7530

Posted by: don zirulnik at September 13, 2011 11:37 AM