Cartooning at the New Yorker

22 November 2014

Bob Mankoff

Robbie Cottrell’s excellent service The Browser, in which he reads the web and points you to the best bits of writing and journalism, pointed me this week to something I’d never have come across through my usual sources: a short review by Cody Walker of the memoir by the Cartoons Editor of the New Yorker, Bob Mankoff.

Now, I’ve always loved the New Yorker: although there’s too much in there to read every issue, it’s still a treat for a train journey. Some of its writing is still among the finest American reporting, and, of course, it’s famous for its cartoons. Those were what I came across first, since when I was a lot younger I used to read a lot of James Thurber‘s collections of writing and drawings, which sadly seem to have fallen out of fashion now. Through that I found my way to his memoir of the New Yorker‘s infamous founder and longserving editor, Harold Ross, The Years With Ross. Ross’s approach probably wasn’t the only way to run a magazine, but it certainly worked.

But back to Bob Mankoff. Thurber was one of the people who set the tone for the New Yorker cartoon, and there’s a kind of a template for them: whimsical but knowing, wry, complicit with the reader. One thing I learned was that the Cartoons Editor of the New Yorker looks at about 1,000 cartoons a week, and passes on 50 to the Editor, who will use about 17.

And there’s a laugh-out-loud moment as well, for which it helps, I think, to know that Mankoff is Jewish:

Bragging to his friends, the elder Mankoff said: “They laughed when my son said he was going to be a cartoonist, but they’re not laughing now.”

The image at the top of this post is courtesy of the Westport Library, Connecticut, and is used with thanks. A Browser subscription, which gives you access to the archive and unlimited articles, is a modest $20 a year.

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