Mr. Koren’s cartoons were an unmistakable fixture in the New Yorker and other magazines for more than 60 years. His characters, sometimes affectionately described as beastly, were residents of two locales he knew well — the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where he lived during the 1970s, and crunchy Vermont, where he moved to start a family.
He considered his work a form of doodling sociology. He was especially interested in people who were irony deficient.
“They’re so focused, they don’t see the humor in it,” he told the Burlington Free Press. “The people who really interest me are the aggressive ones. The privileged, the Olympian.”
In one of more than a thousand cartoons he published in the New Yorker, two skiers head down a slope. One is on a cellphone. The other says, “Hey — this is the quiet trail!” In another drawing, a teller asks a bank robber, “Paper or plastic?” A cartoon of two hens talking has one saying, “Did you lay those eggs yourself?”
Mr. Koren sometimes used children to pierce their pretentious parents. In a drawing of a family on a beach vacation, the parents read as their children build a large sand castle. In the caption, one child says to the other: “We’re a great team, Sash — you with your small and large motor skills, me with my spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination.”
Calling his work “profoundly” autobiographical, Mr. Koren said he got his ideas by leaving the house and observing the world around him, jotting down quick sketches in a notebook. “Ideas pop into my mind almost unbidden, and I have to jot them down before they disappear,” he once said.
Robert Mankoff, the New Yorker’s cartoon editor from 1997 to 2017, said in an interview that Mr. Koren’s genius was in “being awake to the absurdity of existence — your particular existence in your particular time.”
Mr. Koren’s cartoons were not satire, Mankoff said, in that Mr. Koren wasn’t attempting to change behavior by embarrassing people.
“It’s looking at the world and seeing it with a kind of double vision,” Mankoff said. “The humor has humility. It doesn’t think it’s going to change the world, but it still thinks it’s worth telling you how strange the normal really is.”
Mr. Koren published his first cartoon in the New Yorker in 1962: a stumped writer staring at a typewriter and wearing a shirt that says “SHAKESPEARE.” Gradually, Mr. Koren’s characters became more hirsute.
“It makes it funnier,” he told VTDigger, a Vermont nonprofit news outlet. “There’s some cartoons that I’ve done that just aren’t funny enough without hair. And I love hair. I love to draw hair.”
Mankoff said these “shaggy creatures tell us that this is how we actually look in some way.”
“It tells us we’re silly, which is sort of an important point,” Mankoff added. “We are frail. We have foibles. We’re gullible. Cartoons point these things out. They are exaggerations of the human form. I think he ups that.”
Edward Benjamin Koren was born in Manhattan on Dec. 13, 1935, and grew up in Mount Vernon, N.Y. His father was a dentist, and his mother was a teacher. His parents subscribed to Reader’s Digest and National Geographic, not the New Yorker.
Mr. Koren excelled at drawing, so his parents signed him up for art classes on Saturday. He attended Horace Mann, a New York City prep school.
“I was a great rival of one kid at Horace Mann who was a very fine painter,” he told the Comics Journal in 2013. “He was a very good draftsman, but in a classical way. And that’s when I first started drawing cartoons. They were my key to being accepted. I was the solitary, sort of marginal, shy kid from the ’burbs, and not anywhere near as sophisticated as the kids from Manhattan. They were richer and more urbane. I was a bumpkin.”
At Columbia University, he edited the school’s humor magazine and drew comics emulating James Thurber, Peter Arno and other cartoonists whose work he followed in magazines and newspapers.
After graduating in 1957, Mr. Koren studied printmaking in Paris for two years and returned to New York to pursue a master’s of fine arts degree at the Pratt Institute in New York, graduating in 1964. He then moved to Providence to teach art at Brown University but left in 1977 to become a full-time freelance artist.
In addition to the New Yorker, Mr. Koren drew cartoons for the New York Times, Esquire, Sports Illustrated, Vogue, Fortune and Vanity Fair. He also published multiple collections of his own work and illustrated dozens of children’s works. His cartoons were exhibited at museums and galleries around the world.
After moving to Vermont in 1988, Mr. Koren became a volunteer firefighter. He was also the state’s second cartoon laureate.
His first marriage, to Miriam Siegmeister, ended in divorce. In 1982, he married Catherine Curtis Ingham. In addition to his wife, survivors include two children from his first marriage, Nathaniel Koren of Baltimore and Sasha Koren of New York City; a son from his second marriage, Benjamin Koren of Burlington, Vt.; and two grandchildren.
In an interview last year with Michael Maslin, another New Yorker cartoonist, Mr. Koren was asked to name his favorite cartoon. He demurred at first, but then allowed that if he had to name a favorite, it would be the one with the mice — hundreds of mice, all gathered to watch their parents speak onstage.
The caption says, “Your father and I want to explain why we’ve decided to live apart.”
“This prompts questions about the nature of their particular family, their life together, how and where they live, their ‘lifestyle,’” Mr. Koren wrote about the cartoon. “There are also questions of timing: what happened before the frozen moment of the cartoon itself, and what will happen next? Pandemonium? Stunned silence? Cheers? An explanation? Whatever the outcome, it won’t be the mice we laugh at.”