Bob Mankhoff gives a (21 minutes) TED talk on what cartoons are likely to be the accepted 18 out of 1,000 sent in, weekly. As cartoon editor, he is the man who chooses which few make the cut.
Bob himself was once an aspiring cartoonist who wanted to have his cartoons in the New Yorker – an experience which gave him a great deal of opportunity to experience rejection.
“From 1974 to 1977 I submitted 2,000 cartoons to the New Yorker and got 2,000 cartoons rejected from the New Yorker….” eventually one is accepted, this becomes a pattern and then “finally in 1980 I received the revered New Yorker contract”.
Interestingly, in the contract there is no mention of cartoons – they are called “idea drawings“. This is because they require thought not only on the part of the cartoonist, but also the reader.
He shows his most popular, often reproduced cartoon:
Bob Mankhoff cartoon
This illustrates humor
- our expectations are defied
- the narrative gets switched
- there’s an incongruity and a contrast
- “a cognitive synergy where we mash up these 2 things which don’t go together but temporarily in our minds exist”
In the above cartoon’s case, all of this is between the syntax of politeness (polite speech) and the message being rude.
Where different frames of reference are brought together this is technically called “by association” and need to work for the viewer to get the joke fast, in under a second. e.g.
New Yorker cartoon
This cartoon, which pushes together the traditional object of the Swiss army knife and a popular description of France as a nation which produces wine and also consumes it.
However, my favourite example of this mixing is a two-picture cartoon which looks at the popular dog film genre of the rescue dog….. reimagined.
Bob points out that a huge amount of humor generally is just poking fun at an enemy – but the New Yorker wants an insight into people, into ‘us’. So, for example, he showed this:
New Yorker Cartoon by R Chast
Humour does need a target, Bob Mankhoff says, but the target in the New Yorker is “us”. In the magazine, the humour is self-reflective and makes us think about our assumptions. It focuses on our foibles and weaknesses and not someone else’s.
“The New Yorker is also trying in some way, to make cartoons say something besides funny and something about us.”
The talk is enlightening, funny and interesting – a bit of an idea drawing with words. And well illustrated and leavened with cartoons.
If you are a wouldbe cartooner, aiming for the New Yorker market – then this is essential viewing.
TEDtalk: Bob Mankhoff “Anatomy of a New Yorker Cartoon” (viewable on Youtube)
Want to know more?
There’s a documentary “Very semi-serious: A partially thorough Portrait of New Yorker Cartoonists” – here’s a 45 second trailer:
I have seen the film, it was fun but regretfully I dozed lightly in some parts – this is not a reflection on the film so much as a comment on the fact that on that specific day I needed some extra sleep, and was in a warm, comfortable space. The bits which I saw were enjoyable.
And Bob Mankhoff did a much longer talk on video (55 mins), about his life story in cartooning – based on his book “How about never: is never good for you?”
The video is called: Bob Mankhoff: a career in cartoons” and you can watch it here.