By James Mayfield
Denton Live Fall/Winter 2005
If you’ve ever picked up an issue of The New Yorker, you know that the cartoons within its pages are a signature item of the weekly publication (and have been since its debut in 1925). But did you know that one of the more popular and prolific artists currently putting his stamp on the pages of the renowned magazine is Denton’s own Matthew Diffee?
Moving to Denton at three months old, Diffee spent his formative years in the community of Hidden Valley Airpark. “My father was a pilot for Braniff,” says Diffee. “And where we grew up was built around a small airstrip and everyone was an airline pilot. Everyone was always flying and tinkering with planes — it was a great place to grow up.”
Besides the airline influence, being raised in Denton has also had an impact on the artwork he does today. You can see hints of Diffee’s Texas upbringing in many of his drawings, like that of a fishing boat with a bumper sticker that says, “I’d rather be hunting,” or another of a bruised and battered man wearing a T-shirt that says, “Don’t Mess With Connecticut.” Even as early as his second year at Robert E. Lee Elementary, Diffee had the artistic bug, though he says he never dreamed of being a cartoonist back then. “I didn’t want to be a cartoonist,” says Diffee. “I wanted to be an artist. I was always into art, I was always the kid who drew.”
One teacher in particular had a major influence on Diffee early on. “I was really into raccoons as a kid,” Diffee says. “And Mrs. Mitchell, my second-grade teacher, actually had raccoons as pets, and I would go out and sketch her raccoons.”
At age 29, Diffee got his foot in the door at The New Yorker by submitting a cartoon to a contest that was sponsored by the magazine and the Algonquin Hotel. He won, and by his first year with the magazine, he was sending them an average of 15 cartoons a week, with the magazine accepting around four — total.
Today, more than 100 of Diffee’s cartoons have appeared in The New Yorker. His work can also be found in the recently published tome, The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker. And while he now lives in Brooklyn, New York, Diffee doesn’t rule out a return to Denton sometime in the near future. “The food, the music scene, Recycled Books, the Courthouse area is very hip and happening — I’m still thinking about the idea of moving back,” he says. “Hey, do you guys need a cartoon professor at North Texas?”