Thursday, February 09, 2017

My attempt at getting a cartoon in THE NEW YORKER

I’m forever amazed at the quality of the cartoons in THE NEW YORKER. They are consistently funny week after week. There was an HBO documentary on their cartoon editor Bob Mankoff that is worth seeing if you’re interested in this subject matter. It details the process of getting a cartoon into the magazine – a rigorous one at best.

The cartoonists, even the veterans, go up to THE NEW YORKER offices once a week and peddle their wares to Mankoff. On the one hand, you’d think that if you’ve already gotten fifty cartoons into the magazine you should just be able to just send one in and get it rubber stamped, but on the other, no guarantees mean you always have to push yourself and the cream of the crop gets selected each week based on merit not seniority.

At one time there were tons of outlets for one-panel artist/humorists. Lots of magazines bought cartoons. You could have one in THE NEW YORKER, one in PLAYBOY, one in ESQUIRE, and one in THE SATURDAY EVENING POST the same week. Now, it’s pretty much THE NEW YORKER or bust.
As a budding young cartoonist myself, I always wanted to get a cartoon in THE NEW YORKER. So in the late ‘70s I decided to investigate how I might make that happen. I called the magazine and asked how I’d submit a cartoon. They said I needed to send six or seven. They could be pencil sketches. If they bought one I would then redo it in pen and ink. I was to send them to Lee Lorenz, the cartoon editor back then.

I dashed off seven cartoons, sent them in, and received the standard form rejection letter two weeks later. But at the bottom was a hand-written note by Lee Lorenz with instructions to call him at a certain number.

So I did.

He said he liked my cartoons, thought they were very funny. He said he wasn't going to buy one but encouraged me to submit six or seven more every week for about a year. Eventually he would buy them, and he might even buy a few he had rejected earlier. But he needed to ensure that I was prolific and he could count on me to deliver on a long-term basis. “That this wasn’t just a lark.”

Unfortunately that’s exactly what it was. I said I didn’t really have the time because I was the head writer of MASH at the time. He laughed and said maybe that’s why the jokes were funny. Anyway, that was it. I never submitted more drawings. And for all I know the submission policy is now completely different.
But I have a great deal of respect for those cartoonists who did stick it out and entertain me every week. Thank you guys and gals.  Keep the flame lit. We need your laughter now more than ever.


Matt said...

Have you thought about publishing your cartoons here?

normadesmond said...

So hard to chose a favorite of all time but this one comes close:

"Dad" rabbit hands a wrapped gift box to college bound youngster rabbit at the train station.

Caption: "Your mother wanted you to have this for good luck. It's her foot."

rockgolf said...

I've never tried to draw a cartoon, but I regularly entered the "Cartoon Caption" contest. Only once did I ever get selected for the final three. Thrill of a lifetime, and validation that at least someone thought I was funny.
There's a great story out there about Roger Ebert's regular submission to the contest too.

Carol said...

Do you still have the ones he rejected and can you post them if you do? (or point at the entry if you posted them before)

Charles H. Bryan said...

It's trendy to dump on The New Yorker's cartoons, but for the number that are published each week, many do hit the mark. (And the one that says "How's never..?" is one that I need to purchase and glue to my office door.)

Thinking of this just gets me started drooling about the spot illustrations and covers that TNY also publishes. For a text heavy magazine, it's damn pretty.

And, hey, the writing's quite good, too. (Except for the poetry. Holy crap, I know that there's better poetry in the world than what they usually select.)

So, Ken, will you share your cartoon submissions with us? Do you still have copies?

Charles H. Bryan said...

Oh, and another thing -- other than The New Yorker, who is a regular widely published market for single panel cartoons? PLAYBOY?

Jeff Alexander said...

Mister Levine:
Your blog post on attempting to have a cartoon in The New Yorker begs this question (possibly a Friday question):
Have you ever entered a caption suggestion to go with a cartoon in the weekly contest the magazine has? If you win, you receive a framed copy of the cartoon with your caption.
For the record, I did once and I'm guessing it did not make it as a finalist because it was a little too long.
Also, I've been enjoying your pod casts and I do have another question - the opening theme you've been using sounds so familiar to me but I can't place it. Is it a theme for a game show from days gone by?

Bob Sharp said...

My favorite cartoon shows a math classroom with the professor addressing the students and a guy flying out the door. The caption: About half way through the learning curve, Bob let go.

Andrew said...

Ken, have you ever read Bob Mankoff's riff on the Seinfeld episode "The Cartoon"? If you'll recall, that's the episode where Elaine forces a cartoon editor (played by Paul Benedict - there's life after The Jeffersons!) to admit that a cartoon isn't actually funny.

Rick said...

Jeff Alexander: The lead-in theme is the radio jingle music track used for "K-Earth 101" here in L.A.

Johnny Walker said...

What a tease! Do you still have the comics you submitted?

Peter said...

Ken, with your birthday coming up in a few days, which is also Valentine's Day, will you be taking your wife to see Fifty Shades Darker?

C'mon, it's directed by James Foley, who directed Glengarry Glen Ross. It's gotta be at least half good!

Bob Sharp said...

Jeff Alexander said...

Also, I've been enjoying your pod casts and I do have another question - the opening theme you've been using sounds so familiar to me but I can't place it. Is it a theme for a game show from days gone by?

Jeff, it's the instrumental version of the 93 KHJ jingle.

Andy Rose said...

I've had some similar experiences, and I've never understood why someone would demand proof of long-term reliability in a situation like that. It's not as though if you make one submission and then stop, they're going to run out of cartoons in the future. They're always flooded with submissions. Why not just buy what they think is worthy of the magazine, regardless of whether you're going to make more?

Mibbitmaker said...

I draw cartoons, but less gag cartoons than comics (books, but indy... none of that superhero stuff -- and strips) and editorial cartoons. My attempts at getting published in comics form has been unsuccessful. Also, In comic books, I don't have it in me to self-publish (an option in indies) in any meaningful way.

I did discover an option to do web comics online. It's not impossible to get some money from it, though I put mine up free. I'm going to draw them anyway, so I might as well at least some more eyes on it.

If you still want to get your cartoons out there, even on a lark, that is an option. Or, of course, your own blog, as suggested by Matt above.

Bob B. said...

I must admit I seldom find the cartoons humorous. I am reminded of a Family Guy (or Simpsons) episode where someone reads a New Yorker cartoon at a newsstand. He stands there as the day turns to night and the night to day again. Just as it's about to become night for a second time, the character says "Oh now I get it" and gives a half-hearted laugh.

I have entered their cartoon caption contests numerous times and have never become one of the finalists. I've even entered with captions like the ones referenced above where the general public wouldn't get the joke but still no success.



- Who choose Rebecca Howe's romance song as The Righteous Brothers "You Lost That Loving Feeling"?

- BAR WARS: At what season did the producers of CHEERS decide that Sam/Cheers was going to have the last laugh against Gary's, and when did you and David Isaacs have the inclination that you were always going to reference back to Harry the Hat from earlier seasons of CHEERS?

Breadbaker said...

Thanks for posting that Roz Chast cartoon. She has been a favorite cartoonist of mine for decades, and her book about her parents dying helped me so much in dealing with my own father's death.

And she has found humor in kale more than once.

MikeN said...

Curious, how many people understand this cartoon?

Johnny Walker said...

My thoughts exactly, Andy Rose.

MikeN: A very specific reference? Maybe drawn to tie in with a particular article?

Lou Gravity said...

It's the pool game where they yell out "Marco" and "Polo." I think they played it in "The Sopranos." And, you must not watch a lot of tv because there's a "Marco Polo" Geico commercial that runs incessantly.

Anonymous said...

Bob Sharp
I never saw that one, but it is as hilarious and witty as anything I ever saw on CHEERS---the highest praise I can give!
Diane D