Bob Mankoff has been the cartoon editor for the New Yorker for 17 years and was a cartoonist at the magazine before that. He discussed several specific cartoons as well as the cartoon caption contest with MetroFocus host Rafael Pi Roman. “Most New Yorker cartoons I don’t think are belly laughs, they’re sort of smiles of the mind,” Mankoff said of the magazine’s style.
Mankoff created what is perhaps his most famous cartoon in 1993. It features a businessman on the phone trying to make an appointment and the caption reads, “No, Thursday’s out. How about never — is never good for you?”
He said the cartoon was inspired by a real life situation when he was trying to make an appointment with someone who was often unavailable. “I was on the phone with someone who was blowing me off, this guy Dick Klein who was a cartoonist for the New Yorker then, and Dick was sort of a quirky guy, and I said,
‘Well, can we meet Tuesday?’
So then what I said to him was, ‘How about never?'” Mankoff said.
The phrase has made it into the Yale book of quotations, was used by Nancy Pelosi on the Jon Stewart show and has been printed on t-shirts and thongs, among other items. Mankoff also explained some of his lesser-known cartoons, saying “some cartoons you enjoy for the absurdity, rather than get.”
Mankoff said that one of the worst parts of the job is when famous people send him cartoons that they’ve drawn themselves. “David Mamet, when I became cartoon editor, sent me a nice letter saying ‘Congratulations, I’ve taken the liberty of sending you a bunch of cartoons,’ I said ‘Thank you very much, I’ve taken the liberty of sending you a play.’ So there are famous people who send in cartoons, but fortunately they have famous day jobs.”
As cartoon editor, Mankoff runs the popular cartoon caption contest. His advice on winning? Be persistent and write a lot of captions for the same cartoon. “If you have one idea for a cartoon I guarantee it’s a bad idea…Try to create ten. Why? Because nine out of ten things in life don’t work out,” he said.