THE MOST FAMOUS line Bob Mankoff has ever written, as spoken by a cartoon executive at a desk, is: “No, Thursday’s out. How about never — is never good for you?”
So it’s fitting that official word came on a Thursday that Mankoff will be out as cartoon editor of the New Yorker, effective at the end of April — even if his passion over two decades made it hard to imagine him ever leaving the job.
New Yorker editor David Remnick announced yesterday that Mankoff will step down and that the magazine’s Emma Allen will inherit the post. Mankoff says that he’ll continue to contribute cartoons to the publication, and that he’ll keep working on the forthcoming book “The New Yorker Encyclopedia of Cartoons.”
“He has brought everyone’s best work to the table and managed a complicated balancing act with grace,” Remnick said of Mankoff in a staff note that also praised the outgoing editor’s careful buildup of a stable of fresh, diverse cartooning voices.
“What I absolutely take satisfaction in is that, as I leave as cartoon editor, I leave the New Yorker and my successor with a bumper crop of new and talented cartoonists who came in under my tenure,” Mankoff tells The Post’s Comic Riffs on Thursday.
“To name a few, Liana Finck, Emily Flake, Drew Dernavich, Paul Noth, Harry Bliss, Edward Steed,” Mankoff says, before wryly deciding to name more than a few: “Alex Gregory, David Sipress, Joe Dator, Zachary Kanin, Farley Katz, Pat Byrnes, Ben Schwartz, Tom Toro, Chris Weyant, Matt Diffee, Amy Hwang — well, you get the idea.”
Mankoff also leaves the magazine with the online Cartoon Bank, a visual vault he founded a quarter-century ago, during the Internet’s mainstream infancy, as a new source of revenue for cartoonists.
“In the early ’90s, the market for magazine cartoons was already not only drying up, but dried up,” Mankoff says. “There was still the Everest of the New Yorker, but the rest of the markets were pretty much the equivalent of foothills.
“I conceived of the Cartoon Bank as a way for cartoonists to make money by licensing the nine cartoons out of every 10 they did that got rejected, often unfairly by obtuse editors like I became,” Mankoff continues. “The Cartoon Bank hasn’t been a failure, but it hasn’t been successful enough to do what I wanted it to do: Provide enough of a supplementary income so that cartoonists could devote themselves full time to cartooning. When it does that, I’ll be very proud. Until then, I’m partially proud.”
Mankoff also shepherded the daily presence of cartoons on the magazine’s website, growing its digital audience.
Since he became editor, “the biggest change was that cartoons, even of the very benign variety that appear in the New Yorker, now have great power to offend — at least among the easily offended, a class whose numbers grow even as I write,” Mankoff says. “Now, even Canadians take offense at being stereotyped as polite.”
Mankoff jokes about the shift, but when he inherited the lofty office from Lee Lorenz, he had to cultivate cartoonists who worked in comic tones increasingly absurd and meta — talents who, “when they use a cliche, they destroy it,” he likes to say.
Mankoff’s numerous New Yorker accomplishments sprang from the seeds of rejection. After many months of fruitless cartoon submissions, the kid from Queens finally got his first cartoon published in the New Yorker 40 years ago. Three years later, he was offered a New Yorker contract.
From there, he honed a spare, pointillist style that proved distinctive on the page amid the sweeping lines and brash brushstrokes of some of the longtime New Yorker cartoonists.
More than 800 cartoons later, the lean and bearded Mankoff, 72, published his memoir, “How About Never — Is Never Good for You?,” in 2014. He also opened the New Yorker’s doors to Leah Wolchok’s 2015 documentary “Very Semi-Serious,” which not only illuminated Mankoff’s work — we see him culling from hundreds of weekly cartoons and encouraging rising talents — but also followed such New Yorker cartoonists as Roz Chast.
So what will Mankoff do once May arrives? “I think I will rest on my plaudits for a while, if I can find them,” he says. “Last time I tried resting on them, I slipped and threw my back out, so I’m going to be cautious.”
Upon reflection, what will he miss most? “The unwarranted adulation and respect that comes with the imprimatur of being cartoon editor of the New Yorker,” Mankoff says. “However, if no one is looking, I might try to sneak that imprimatur out of the building.”
And what might the late Mollie Mankoff — whom the cartoonist describes as the stereotypical smothering Jewish mother — say to her son, if she could, upon his farewell from an editorship that greatly enhanced the magazine?
Quips Mankoff: “They paid you for that?”