‘The world is ambiguous’
BEAVER CREEK – “I don’t think there should be any journalism but cartoons,” said Bob Mankoff, cartoon editor of The New Yorker, pretending to clutch a microphone and report from the Middle East.”Oh no! Oh no!” he screamed in the lobby of the Charter Hotel in Beaver Creek. “There’s an explosion! But don’t worry folks, my pencil is still working.” Mankoff pretended to sketch something.
Mankoff and his wife recently visited the Vail Valley for a cartoon event called Humor on the Slopes. “It turned out to be more than just me falling down over and over again,” Mankoff said.For Humor on the Slopes, three groups of cartoonists from The New Yorker gathered for a forum and discussion. Mankoff, who has been drawing cartoons since the 1960s, was in the oldest group, he said. The youngest group started drawing in 1999.Mankoff was in graduate school for experimental psychology when he decided he wanted to draw cartoons. He said he’d been drawing since high school but didn’t consider making a career out of it until he “failed at everything else.” He struggled as a freelance cartoonist for the first few years before reaching success, he said.Mankoff sold his first cartoon in 1975 to a magazine called the Saturday Review. In 1980, he signed a contract with The New Yorker. He has published more than 800 cartoons in his life.”Once you cartoon for a few years, you can’t possibly do anything else. Everything else just feels like work,” Mankoff said.Mankoff, now cartoon editor of The New Yorker, goes through about 1,000 cartoons every week, narrowing them down to about 35 before he meets with the editor-in-chief and the managing editor to select the 15 or 16 that get published in the weekly magazine.Mankoff said he rejects cartoons that are too silly, too raunchy or even too funny for The New Yorker.”I mean, picture this: You’re in the middle of reading a very important article in The New Yorker, and then you’re laughing because you got distracted by a cartoon, and you have to go to the bathroom because of all the laughing … come on people, please keep the humor at a minimum,” Mankoff said.
Many of the cartoons he rejects are good but are not appropriate for The New Yorker, Mankoff said. In 1991, he started a company that made many of the rejected cartoons available to the public. The New Yorker bought the company, Cartoon Bank, from Mankoff in 1997. It is now online at cartoonbank.com.At Humor on the Slopes in Vail, Mankoff said he enjoyed using mountain culture in his cartoons.”People came up to me and said ‘I have a dog named Fluffy,’ and like that,” Mankoff said as he snapped his fingers, “Fluffy is on skis.”Mankoff and his wife, who don’t downhill ski, tried cross country skiing while in Vail. The rental equipment was $87 per person. Mankoff said he didn’t realize that all the clothes were going to cost about $1,000 each.”Now we have to devote the rest of our lives to cross country to validate the clothes,” Mankoff said. Mankoff said he and his wife hope to return to Vail with their 14-year-old daughter, Sarah. He said cross country skiing is something they would enjoy doing as a family.Mankoff said the most unpleasant part of the trip was the altitude sickness. From Hastings-On-Hudson, New York, he and his wife were uncomfortable upon their arrival and were constantly told to drink lots of water.”I grab water out of people’s hands – I act like it’s a 911 situation,” Mankoff said. “I need water,” he gasped.Mankoff said humor is an immensely important “counter weight” in journalism.”I think cartoons basically say, ‘the world is ambiguous,'” Mankoff said. “They cut down to size all the issues that seem so big.”