I stole a cartoon from this book the other day, the cartoon where Mankoff is chronicling his life in tiny dots that even as he makes them are slipping through the hourglass counting down his life.
If only I could draw, I kept thinking as I read – it’s such a wonderful way to liven up a memoir (of course my memoir, if I could draw, would just have drawings, not cartoons, because even after reading the chapter in this book called “How to ‘Win’ the New Yorker cartoon contest” my mind still goes totally blank when I see a caption-less cartoon).
A little anecdote in the book reveals a lot. After Mankoff became cartoon editor of the New Yorker, David Mamet sent him a stack of cartoons, along with a note that said “Congratulations! I’ve taken the liberty of sending you a batch of cartoons.” Mankoff wrote back, saying he’d taken the liberty of sending him a play.
This goes to the question of what is art, anyway. Is a cartoon the same as a play? Mankoff clearly thinks so, and feels pretty good about the process by which New Yorker cartoons get selected. It’s pretty tough to break through, apparently. His regular stable of cartoonists, the ones you see over and over in the magazine, have to submit 10 to 15 cartoons to him each week. Each week! And sometimes Mankoff and David Remnick, the editor, select one from the stack; but more often they don’t.
I loved this book, but it got me thinking about why I’ve been finding the cartoons in the New Yorker rather insular, and not all that funny (but maybe I’m just turning into an old lady, like my mother who so often complained about the New Yorker cartoons, which I, in those days, found quite funny).
And yet those people who can come up with captions for the cartoon contest – I find them amazing. And almost always funnier. I wonder if Mankoff ever invites any of them into his office.