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Very Fine Lines

An editor's-eye view of the New Yorker selection process: From left, Jacob Lewis, David Remnick and Bob Mankoff.
An editor's-eye view of the New Yorker selection process: From left, Jacob Lewis, David Remnick and Bob Mankoff. (By Bob Mankoff For The Washington Post)

Remnick laughs. "Okay, let's take that," he says. It goes into the Yes basket.

He keeps going. No. No. Yes. No. Now he picks up a cartoon that's labeled "Good Shrink, Bad Shrink." A guy's lying on a psychiatrist's couch with a shrink on each side of him. One shrink is saying, "Face your demons." The other says, "Take a pill."

Remnick cracks up. "That'll be on every refrigerator in America," he says. laughing. It goes into the Yes basket.

No. Yes. No. No. Remnick picks up a cartoon of a corporate boardroom with a bunch of guys in suits sitting around a conference table with one chair occupied by a brain in a jar. The caption reads, "But first let's all congratulate Ted on his return to work."

" Ewwww!" Remnick says, half groaning, half laughing. "Bob!"

"It's great!" Mankoff says.

"It's horrible!" Remnick responds, laughing.

"What? A little brain in a jar?" Mankoff replies. "No animals were hurt in the making of this cartoon."

Remnick laughs. But he doesn't change his mind. "Not here," he says. It's a No.

Hey, wait a minute! Did you catch that? The guy laughs at the cartoon, but he still rejects it! It's good the cartoonists aren't watching. This would drive them crazy. Well, craz ier. Constant rejection has rendered these geniuses half nuts already. In about 20 minutes, Remnick rejects 48 cartoons and buys 33 -- that's 33 out of nearly a thousand that came in this week! It's hard out here for a cartoonist.

Just ask Matthew Diffee. At 36, he's one of the New Yorker's star cartoonists, creator of the classic drawing of Che Guevara wearing a Bart Simpson T-shirt, which has become a hot-selling T-shirt itself. But the man is practically punch-drunk from repeated rejection.

Every Tuesday, like most of the New Yorker's four dozen regular cartoonists, Diffee submits a batch of about 10 cartoons.


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