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Comics: Meet the Artist

Robert Mankoff
New Yorker Cartoon Editor
Friday, November 5, 2004; 1:00 PM

Join Washington Post Comics page editor Suzanne Tobin online two Fridays each month to discuss the comics pages. From artists to writers to editors, Tobin is joined by a different guest for each show. This week, Tobin will be joined by Robert Mankoff, cartoon editor for the New Yorker.

Tobin and Mankoff were online on Friday, Nov. 5 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss Mankoff's work and the New Yorker's long history of featured cartoons.


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Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Suzanne Tobin: Welcome, comics fans, to another edition of "Comics: Meet the Editor." Today our guest is cartoonist Robert Mankoff, who wears many hats. He is the cartoon editor of The New Yorker, founder and president of the Cartoon Bank (www.cartoonbank.com), author of "The Naked Cartoonist: A New Way to Enhance Your Creativity," and author of many New Yorker cartoon compilations, including the latest "The Complete Cartoons of the New Yorker." Robert is joining us from his office in Manhattan. Welcome, Robert, and thanks for joining us Live Online.

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Robert Mankoff: I'm very happy to be here with how many other people are actually here, including Suzanne of course.

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Arlington, Va.: How much lead time is there for a New Yorker cartoon? I ask because they seem quite topical but doesn't a magazine need some time to get laid out?

Robert Mankoff: We appear on newsstands on Monday and sometimes we put cartoons in the magazine as late as Friday afternoon. But most of the cartoons come from ones we bought months before, and sometimes years before.

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Monterey, Calif.: Darn. The computer just ate my first question, so here's a shorter version:

As a long time New Yorker subscriber, I have noticed that I tend to laugh at most or all of the cartoons one week, and then not the next. I have assumed there are two different editors who take turns.

Yes?

Thank you.

Robert Mankoff: Well, there aren't two editors but I have a bit of a split personality so that might account for it.

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Gambrills, Md.: Mr. Mankoff, how long did it take you to get your first cartoon published by the New Yorker?

Robert Mankoff: I submitted cartoons for two years before I got one published. About five hundred cartoons in total.

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Gambrills, Md.: Is it okay to submit the same cartoon to several different publications for consideration, or is it best to do it one at a time? I've read in one place that this is considered "bad form," but elsewhere that this approach makes the most sense.
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What exactly does it mean when a magazine is "holding" some of your cartoons? How long would you recommend waiting before resubmitting it elsewhere?

Robert Mankoff: It's not common practice to submit the same cartoon, because then different publications may want to publish it and that can lead to confusion and in the worst case the simultaneous publication in two different places

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San Francisco, Calif.: The New Yorker is famous for cartoons that readers "just don't get." Have you ever published a cartoon that you really didn't understand?

Robert Mankoff: Sometimes I publish something that I think is funny but the humor is of an absurd kind in which there is nothing to 'get' as there is in a gag cartoon.

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Anonymous: What are some of the criteria you use for selecting cartoons -- especially political ones.

Which topics are the most challenging and or volatile?

Robert Mankoff: We favor cartoons that communicate some idea as well as being funny. In general no topics are taboo if handled correctly. Comedy, of which cartoons are a part usually deals with all the problems of life excepting tragedy, but sometimes it can go there as well.

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Bloomington, Ind.: --What do you know now that you wish someone had told you when you first started submitting to the New Yorker?

Who would you say is the greatest influence on your life?

Robert Mankoff: I think it's actually better not to know anything. Creative careers are very difficult. You find that out along the way, but there is no need to discourage young people with the truth.
My parents who both supported what I did but also left me alone to do it.

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Toronto, Canada: I'd sure love to see more women cartoonists in the New Yorker. Any idea the percentage of women who actually submit?

Robert Mankoff: I would also. We have a number of women cartoonists of whom Roz Chast is the best known and for that matter the best known of all our present cartoonists.
I'd say about 10% of the cartoons submitted come from women, and it's no doubt if women ran the magazine and one was cartoon editor more would be selected.

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Columbia, Md.: Having done college research projects on the cartoons in the New Yorker, I have a certain reverence for them. If I wanted to submit an idea, if not an actually drawing, who should I ask?

Robert Mankoff: We get thousands of cartoon submissions a week. If we also accepted ideas as well. Anyway you get the idea. Find someone to draw them for you.

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Chicago, Ill.: New Yorker cartoonists are known for their persistence. Many had submitted for years before having their cartoons accepted. As the editor, would you ever tell someone to simply 'give it up' because they are just not right for the magazine?

Robert Mankoff: I've hinted at it but that's as far as I'll go. Don't want to kill anyones dream outright.

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Detroit, Mich.: Do you plan to retire anytime soon?

Robert Mankoff: Would you like me to? Looking for a job?

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Alexandria, Va.: So how did you come to be a cartoon editor?

Robert Mankoff: I was a cartoonist at the magzine for twenty years before I became editor when Lee Lorenz who was editor decided to retire. I think it had something to do with the fact that I had founded the cartoon bank (cartoonbank.com) and revered both the tradition of the new yorker cartoons as well as had plans for where they might go in the future.

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Rockville, MD: Is it possible to get large (9 X 12) framed prints of New Yorker cartoons? There's one I'm especially intested in where a little boy in his pajamas comes crying into his parent's bedroom saying "The Yankees lost game 7 of the world series."

Robert Mankoff: You can get beautiful prints at www.cartoonbank.com

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De la Torre: Mr. Mankoff,
My mother has told me of a Mexican cartoonist named De la Torre who was published in the NY'er in the Forties and Fifties. I own both of your cartoon compilations spanning that era (cool flea market finds), but neither contains any of his work. Would you know whether his work was pubished in the magazine and/or where to find it? Thanks!;

Robert Mankoff: He published 33 cartoons in the magazine. You can find them on the CD set that accompanies "The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker".

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Long Beach: Do you think Bush/Nazism spoofs will be off limits in the coming four years for cartoons at the New Yorker?
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By the way, do you know the story of the Nov. 22, 1941 New Yorker? It was used by German intelligence to warn their North American operatives of Pearl Harbor. A fake board game ad with the dice reading 12 7
for a game company with a fake address.
By chance,the cover that week showed kids trick or treating, one of them had a Hitler mask on.

Robert Mankoff: I don't think we'll picture Bush as a nazi because whatever your political leanings he's not. We'll certainly make fun of him and all politicians.

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American Fork, Utah: Going one step beyond the New Yorker, do you think the rising generation of cartoonists will have much of a financial future in the print media, such as newspapers and magazines?

Robert Mankoff: I think the future will be online in combination with on demand publishing.

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New York, NY: My friend has been submitting for a while in person, and sometimes through mail. He frequently has cartoons held but still hasn't made it in. Is he getting closer or are you just messing with his head?

Robert Mankoff: The only head I'm messing with is my own. It took me two years to get published so I know how trying it can be.

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Miami, FL: Hi Mr. Mankoff. Please describe a recipe for a cartoon you'd typically choose for publication.

Robert Mankoff: There is no formula. It should be funny and communicate some idea about our culture.

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Laurel: Does every New Yorker cartoon contain an actual joke?

Some are among the uproariously funny comics I've ever read. Then there's ones like the following:

Two women (maybe 30s) talking in the kitchen at a party. You can see the party in the background but no other individuals are identifiable. One woman says "Frank is more like network; Ed is more like cable."

Huh?
Do you have to be from New York to get this?
Do women talk that way about men?
Are "like network" or "like cable" modern single slang?

This "joke" is either way above or below my head.

Robert Mankoff: I think sometimes some of the cartoons in the past just played off of buzz words that were in the culture. I hope we're veering away from that now.

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DC: Dear Mr. Mankoff,
Do you find a qualitative difference in the humor of your cartoons? By this, I mean, the New Yorker's cartoons seem "highbrow", while the common back-of-the-style page cartoons seem to be "lowbrow". Do you find a difference? The Post has Gene Weingarten who often discusses such things, but he is an absolute moron with no redeeming qualities or basis for his opinions. So I submit to someone who could help enlighten.

Robert Mankoff: Like I've said I like cartoons that have some idea that they are trying to communicate over and above the joke. So after 9/11 (about two months) we ran a Bruce Eric Kaplan cartoon in which one woman was saying to another "It's hard, but slowly I'm getting back to hating everyone". I think this is funny and sad and true. I don't think you'd see it on the "common back-of-the-style page cartoons" you refer to.

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New York, N.Y.: Is it better for an artist to submit by mail or in person?

Robert Mankoff: I'm happy to see anyone in person at least once.

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: Would you ever tell someone to ‘give it up. You're just not right for the New Yorker'?

Robert Mankoff: No, maybe they will be.

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New York, N.Y.: I've heard you receive thousands of submissions each week, though only a few select artists regulary appear in the magazine. Would a new artist need to submit a group of ideas at one time to get your attention, or will a single funny idea be enough to allow a newcomer to be published?

Robert Mankoff: Do at least 5 to 10 ideas.

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Washington, D.C.: Have you heard that Sting has a large framed copy of one of your cartoons in his house? I think it depicts 2 old rich guys talking, one of them saying something like "Sure, my life is good, but I'd rather be Sting," (something like that.)
My wife read that and said, "That egomaniac!;", but I have to say I'd do the same thing, (and I wouldn't mind being Sting either.)

Robert Mankoff: Hey, if you pay what Sting did I'll do one for you.

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Bethesda, Md.: I've got that 'New Yorker' shower curtain-- gives me a little lift every morning. How about a Steinberg shower curtain, for a '?' every morning?

Robert Mankoff: You mean Steinbergs view of the world. We have that on our site available as a print but the estate didn't want it made into a shower curtain.

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Georgetown, Washington, D.C.: Do you ever run a cartoon that even you don't understand? I love the cartoons in the magazine, and the magazine as well, but every once in a while I am left scratching my head. Have you ever gone back to a cartoonist for an explanation and found out is was something completely different than you had thought?

Robert Mankoff: We do just to irritate people like you.

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Arlington Va.: Liek everyone else, I love New Yorker cartoons. Can you tell me this, though: Have there been any memorable ones that were rejected and didn't make publication? If so, what subject did they try to cover or poke fun at?

Robert Mankoff: There are many cartoons that are very funny but don't make it into the magazine because they're not right for us.

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Annandale, Va.: Who's your favourite cartoonist from the history of the magazine? Who do you wish you had?

Robert Mankoff: Well, my personal favorite is Jack Ziegler. He's not as well known as some of the others but the range of his work is incredible. Check him out either in "The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker" or on cartoonbank.com.
Shel Silverstein who did a lot of stuff for Playboy would have been a worthy addition to our ranks.

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Re: not getting it: Seinfeld did a great episode on this, when Elaine doesn't get a New Yorker cartoon and tracks down the editor to have him explain it. Turns out he can't. He "just liked the bunny."

Robert Mankoff: The writer who wrote that episode is a new yorker cartoonist, Bruce Eric Kaplan (BEK). And you can do worse than have a bunny in a cartoon. At least it rhymes with funny.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: What was your career path that led you to become Cartoon Editor? When did you become interested in cartoons, and in what type of cartoon work have you engaged?

Robert Mankoff: I went to the High School of Music and Art in new york city. Always drew and always was funny. Also couldn't do anything else worth a damn so my fate was sealed early.

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Annandale, Va.: I have been reading and enjoying the New Yorker for thirty years for its literature, culture, and human interest stories. Would you please tell me what has happened to the New Yorker in the last decade to come to such a liberal slant? Was it Tina Brown's legacy? Their front page illustrations and editorial pages week after week show a slant that is sanctimoniously liberal. Bush can never do anything right in their editorial pages. What has turned the New Yorker into such a political machine?

Robert Mankoff: I think the new yorker has been quite llberal since the vietnam war. I think it's pretty much the honest opinion of the writers and editors who work here. I don't think it's of the knee-jerk variety but you probably disagree.

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McLean, Va.: I have to know: What did you think of the "Seinfeld" episode that basically made fun of the New Yorker's cartoons? I hope everyone at your publication enjoyed it as free advertising and didn't get too bent out of shape.

Robert Mankoff: Like I've said it was written by a new yorker cartoonist so how could we be offended by one of our own.

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Detroit, Mich.: Robert -- What's your favorite drawing ever? You must have one!;

Robert Mankoff: Jack Ziegler January 3rd at Rockefeller center. Huge rockefeller christmas tree upside down in tiny trash basket.

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Long Beach, Calif.: Do the core group of New Yorker cartoonists develop a state of mind in regards to how they approach the
New Yorker? It seems that a certain way of
thinking is required, very dry and ironic,
but lightly so. Am I close? Is there a clue
or two on how to come up with the stuff?

Robert Mankoff: I think it's more the editorial culling that produces what you think of as a distinctive new yorker cartoon state of mind. Doing cartoons are hard and doing them for the new yorker is harder. I do a lot of them and I'm often clueless how to begin.

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Arlington Va.: It's a very enjoyable and imposing book.
But I have to ask, how does the artist who
drew the 68,648th cartoon feel?

Robert Mankoff: Good. He may do the 649th as well.

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West Coast: Does Gahan Wilson ever submit to you these days? If not, it would be nice to see his work in the New Yorker on occasion.
Your thoughts on Gahan Wilson?

Robert Mankoff: Gahan Wilson submits and is published all the time. He's one of the best.

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Astoria, N.Y.: Have you ever heard the controversy regarding the New Yorker stealing people's ideas and having staff artists redraw them? If so what do you think about that?

Robert Mankoff: And vice-versa. We check all of our cartoons agains all the ones we have published. There's no way to check them against all that have been published. We don't steal of course and have no need to but the same idea often is thought of by different people. Every week I see a thousand cartoons and there are often identical ones from different cartoonist.

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15th and L, Washington, D.C.: Hey, Robert. This is gene weingarten from The Post, identified as an idiot by a chatter several questions ago.

Thank you for making the new yorker cartoons funnier. Yes, there are some of us who noticed.

Now here's one for you: A husband and wife are talking. They are drinking an impertinent Riesling. She is wearing Prada shoes but an unbecoming Norwegian scarf. On the bookshelves are works by Proust, Thorstein Veblen, Balzac and -- amusingly -- Jacqueline Susann. She says to her husband "I love you but I cannot stand that bird."

And, looking bemused, he says, "What bird?"

You can have it for free.

Robert Mankoff: Thanks but "free" always costs.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you also select the little sketches that go in the magazine, but are not comics? Or are those handled by someone else? I have never quite understood their purpose.

Robert Mankoff: No I don't. There called spots and are for purposes of layout. Some of them can be quite charming.

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Arlington, Va.: I am a 57 year-old, oh-so-frustrated cartoonist. BEK is who I want to be when I grow up.

Robert Mankoff: You and a lot of other 57 year olds.

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Chicago, Ill.: Would it be ok to resubmit a cartoon that has been rejected if it's redrawn or reworked? Have you ever rejected a cartoon and then accepted it later on drawn differently?

Robert Mankoff: Anything is possible.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you have plans to offer an annual cd to update the instantly incomplete "Complete" cds?

BTW, thanks for doing that. I love the idea of the Cartoon Bank. In fact, I'll ask another question - will you move the Bank beyond NY'r cartoons?

Robert Mankoff: We will definitely update at some point. And we may clone the bank for non new yorker cartoons.

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Washington, D.C.: I was in a vintage poster store in Georgetown perusing the past several years of "The New Yorker" Magazine's cover art. I am a collector of vintage cover art. I was wondering if "The New Yorker" Magazine has had any African-Americans or people of color on the cover since publication? Robert Mankoff: Well there definitely was a "Black" issue a few years back. Also there have been covers featuing malcom x and Dr. Martin Luther King in recent years.

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Springfield, Mass.: Describe a cartoonist whose submissions you rejected for many years but eventually accepted. What change did they finally make to gain acceptance?

Robert Mankoff: There are many. Frank Cotham who now pulishes regularly and Peter Steiner would be two. I think there jokes became less broad.

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Washington, D.C.: covers with black people on them: don't forget the recent ray charles dollar bill cover.

Robert Mankoff: Right. That was a great one.

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Tyson's Corner, Va.: So what's the address to submit a cartoon for those of us who want to be contribute to the millions of submissions?
By email or old-fashioned mail?

Robert Mankoff: Robert Mankoff
Cartoon Editor,
The Conde Nast Building, 4 Times Square, 20th Floor
New York, New York, 10036

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Robert Mankoff: Thanks everyone. The questions were great. I hope the replies were as well.

Best,
Bob Mankoff

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Suzanne Tobin: Thanks so much, Robert. I see the New Yorker is coming to town at Georgetown University, and although Bob isn't one of the participants listed, you never know...the info can be found at www.newyorkercollegetour.com/gu.cfm See you guys back in two weeks for another edition of "Comics: Meet the Artist."

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