The New Yorker cartoonists amuse Beaver Creek
Vail CO, Colorado
BEAVER CREEK, Colorado ” Mort Gerberg says he broke into the cartoon biz by “screaming, hollering, pushing and shoving.”
“This is not a profession that invites anybody in,” the now regular contributor to The New Yorker magazine said. “It’s also a profession that you don’t choose. It chooses you.”
Six New Yorker magazine cartoonists will square off for an improv drawing contest Friday at the Vilar Performing Arts Center. They paused during a recent dinner at the Beaver Creek Chophouse to share their stories.
Gerberg’s drawing talent emerged when he was a little kid.
“People thought my drawings were terrific and I wasn’t getting the same reaction from anything else,” he said.
After working as an advertising salesman and newspaper reporter, he quit his job at age 30 to pursue cartooning.
“My father disowned me,” he said, noting his dad couldn’t understand why he would quit his steady job. “To me, a cartoonist was not the kind of thing a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn was supposed to do with his life.”
Chad Covert Darbyshire got his first taste of fame in eighth grade. His classmates wrote insults and compliments about other students in “slam books.” Darbyshire started drawing cartoons instead, and his doodles became super popular among the students.
Carolita Johnson fell into cartooning when she returned to the United States after a 15-year stint in Paris, where she served as a model as part of what she calls the ugly modeling movement.
Likewise, Matthew Diffee picked up cartooning at the age of 29, after falling short of acclaim as a comedian and gallery artist.
“I had failed at a lot of other things, so any kind of success is great,” he said, noting his family and friends embraced his new trade. “Everyone was for it.”
Cartoonists face tons of rejection.
Each Tuesday, they arrive at The New Yorker office armed with 10 drawings. Nine out of 10 ideas typically get the ax. Afterward, the cartoonists get together to compare their rejects.
“Everybody goes out to this restaurant and shows each other their work and says ‘Boy, that’s pretty funny’ and laugh,” Gerberg said.
Although the constant rejection can be defeating at times, cartoonists learn to cope.
“It’s easy once you’ve been a model and have someone look you in the eye and say, ‘You’re ugly'” Johnson said.
Coming up with ideas is serious work. Darbyshire said he spends 25 to 30 hours a week crafting his drawings.
“It’s stressful because you have a constant deadline,” he said. “You have to come up with 10 ideas a week and they don’t just fall out of the sky.”
He wakes up in the morning with three or four ideas, then thinks of more while vacuuming, mowing the lawn or driving. He jots down ideas in a tattered notebook that he keeps in his pocket.
When inspiration strikes Johnson, she text messages herself, then fleshes out the drawings at her kitchen table. Diffee sketches at a drawing table in his apartment “A lot of coffee is involved, always,” he said.
Fodder for the subject matter can be anything from observations at parties to the news. Gerberg said he writes about things that irritate him.
Sometimes, the subject matter proves controversial. Diffee fielded complaints from angry Girl Scouts after one of his cartoons ran. It featured Girl Scouts on a man’s doorstop with a caption that read: “Would you like to buy some Girl Scout crack?”
Few artists can make a living on cartooning alone. For one thing, snagging freelance work is tough. Weekly submissions at The New Yorker land in a slush pile with 3,500 other unsolicited cartoons, Darbyshire said.
Then there’s the dwindling market. Whereas about 30 magazines ran single-panel cartoons in the 1950s, “Now there’s, like, three,” Darbyshire added.
To break in, he advises drawing every day and never giving up. Most new freelancers find success after mailing repeated submissions to the magazines.
“I’ve heard stories about people who submit for years, then get a letter one day saying ‘Congratulations,'” Darbyshire said.
Pay varies with seniority. A single New Yorker cartoon can sell for $700 to $2,000, cartoonists say.
“It’s not about the money,” Gerberg said. “If it were about money, I’d do brain surgery.”
To beef up their incomes, most cartoonists keep other jobs. For instance, Johnson models clothes for companies like DKNY or Calvin Klein before those garments go into production.
While the life of a cartoonist falls short of glamorous, there are payoffs. Cartoonists see their work as a vital form of self-expression and take comfort in the fact that perhaps, in some small way, their drawings influence public opinion.
“It’s a great release,” Darbyshire said. “You have all these ideas floating in your head and it’s good to have a voice, to voice those ideas.”
Along with venting, the cartoonists form a close-knit and supportive social circle.
“I think that as a body, cartoonists are the best people in the world, and I really mean this seriously,” Gerberg said. “They’re the most elastic, they’re the most giving, they live in the moment and they really have a skewed view of life, which I share.”
High Life Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 748-2938 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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