New Yorker cartoonist will speak here Sept. 26

Nearly 40 years after he finally sold his first cartoon to The New Yorker, Bob Mankoff still jokes about it.

“My illustrious career in cartooning began with many rejection slips – enough to wallpaper my bathroom. Undeterred, I kept drawing and submitting. Hey, I had other rooms that needed wallpaper,” Mankoff, now the cartoon editor of the prestigious magazine, and best-selling author, wrote.

“Two thousand submissions later, I finally broke through. Close to a thousand published New Yorker cartoons later, I’m still at it,” he wrote.

Mankoff was as jovial during a recent interview with the Salisbury Independent, as he talked about speaking at Salisbury University Sept. 26.

“I’ll be talking about my life in cartoons,” said Mankoff, whose background is in psychology, allowing him to understand the role of humor and how to be funny while relevant.

Often, his creations have a dose of dry humor, but they aren’t condescending, he said.

“Not all of it is dry, but there is a certain subtlety involved. We don’t bang you over the head. We want you to use your head,” he said.

One of his cartoons portrays guests chatting at a cocktail party, with one telling the other, “The way I see it, the Constitution cuts both ways. The First Amendment gives you the right to say what you want, but the Second Amendment gives me the right to shoot you for it.”

Mankoff’s interest in cartooning was born from his ability to draw. “I went to a high school of music and art in New York City and I could draw better and I was funnier than the other kids,” he said.

He started submitting cartoons to The New Yorker in 1973 and finally sold one in 1977. Since then, he’s had 950 published.

Despite what he called “hundreds and hundreds of rejections,” Mankoff said he preserved out of desperation. “I wasn’t good for anything else,” he joked.

“It was worth it. Now I’m sitting in my office in New York. I’m looking at the Empire State Building right now. I’ve been doing this for close to 40 years. I didn’t expect it and I’m extremely grateful for it,” he said.

Not that it’s always easy. Everybody who’s charged with being creative every day has trouble coming up with ideas now and then, he reasoned.

“The main thing is to get your backside in the right place every day. Sometimes nothing comes but most of the time something will come,” he said.

“Whether you’re a cartoonist or a stand-up comedian, it’s hard to be funny for money. It’s not that hard to be funny, but to be funny where the rent depends on it, that’s a bit of a strain. It’s a great life, though. The creative life is a life worth pursuing,” Mankoff said.

As cartoon editor, he assesses more than 1,000 cartoons every week, drawn by up-and-coming artists  who, he said, “come in and have so much talent and energy that you want to  make way for them.”

He mentors and advises, teaching them, “the only way to get good ideas is to get a lot of bad ideas.”

“So don’t put all your eggs in one basket or one idea. The sign of a amateur is, he thinks everything he does is great. The sign of a professional is, he is more discriminating. It comes out of a lot of work. A lot. Starting out I did 35 cartoons every week. The more you do the work, the better you get at the work. That’s the only way you can get better,” he said.

Often, aspiring cartoonists feel nervous when they meet him.

“They’re in The New Yorker office. They call you Mr. Mankoff. And when they hand you their cartoons their hands shake a little bit. You just want to say, ‘Relax. Relax,’” he said.

Those who attend his presentation at SU — free to the public at 1 p.m. in Perdue Hall — are likely to be New Yorker readers, and will, no doubt,  have questions.

“I’ll tell them anything they want to know that I actually know,” Mankoff said.

“I’ll expound a little bit. I’ll be sort of funny, so everything I say will sound smarter than it actually is.”

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