Ridgefield notables: Robert Kraus, New Yorker cartoonist

Robert Kraus

Robert Kraus

Robert Kraus was an author, illustrator, New Yorker cartoonist and publisher who produced dozens of popular books for children.

“I write books to console myself, to encourage myself, to encourage others,” he said in a 1979 interview. By then he’d written and illustrated more than 60 books, had created dozens of covers for The New Yorker, and had become a publisher whose titles won several Caldecott Medals.

The Milwaukee native was born in 1925. He sold his first cartoon — to a barbershop — when he was 10. By the time he was a teenager, he was selling to magazines like Esquire and Saturday Evening Post. “The greatest compliment anyone can give you is to buy your stuff,” he said.

He studied at the Art Students League in New York, where in 1944 he met his wife, Pamela Wong, also a student. A year later, he joined the staff of The New Yorker, where he worked for 20 years and created more than 40 covers and hundreds of cartoons.

While at The New Yorker, he also wrote and illustrated more than two dozen children’s books — many reflecting happenings in his own life. “I wrote ‘Leo the Late Bloomer’ when I was having business problems,” he said. “I tend to write about problems — ‘Miranda’s Beautiful Dream’ was inspired by Martin Luther King.”

He left The New Yorker in 1966 and founded Windmill Books, which published works of Whitney Darrow Jr., Edward Koren, Norman Rockwell, Mickey Spillane, William Steig and Charles Addams. Within a year, the house had won a Caldecott Medal and over the years, published more than 200 titles on three continents.

In 1983, he began a syndicated Sunday comic feature, called “Zap! The Video Chap,” aimed at children addicted to the then-new phenomenon of video games.

However, his main interest was always in children’s books. “I never slant my books to children,” he said in 1979. “My books are not sickening, cloyingly sweet, and they have a point. I’m not a person who likes to write a lot, and children’s books are the ideal forum for my ideas.”

The Krauses moved to Ridgefield in 1965, owning the 1896 Colonial Revival house at the southeast corner of Main Street and Branchville Road. Walking his pug named Hoover and carrying a shillelagh, he was a familiar sight along Main Street sidewalks for many years.

In 2001, he died in Kent at age 76. He is buried in Fairlawn Cemetery beneath a stone that includes an illustration from his series of books about a character named Spider.

— Jack Sanders