mankoff_feature

Bob Mankoff lives and breathes cartoons. He’s drawn many himself — he’s had a contract with The New Yorker for more than 30 years and, in 1997, he became the magazine’s cartoon editor. It’s now his job to sift through the 1,000 or so “idea drawings” (as they’re called within The New Yorker‘s walls) that are submitted each week — and decide upon the 17 or so that will make it into print. As Mankoff explains in great detail in his TED Talk, he has a keen idea of what works within the context of the cerebral pages of his magazine. And he’s built up a stable of his own favorite drawings over the years.

We asked Mankoff to do the unthinkable and reveal in public some of the cartoons he finds perennially delightful. With typical good humor, he not only did so, but added his own wry commentary on why exactly he deems these cartoons perfectly New Yorker-worthy. Here, in chronological order, his top eleven. Enjoy.

"This is how humor works out, by bringing together two different things that usually don't go together," Mankoff says. "Usually, revolutionary Che Guevara is the T-shirt, but it turns out he admires another icon, Bart Simpson, a rebel in his own way. There's a tiny bit of disparagement here; Che is a little downcast. But Bart wearing Che wouldn't be funny." Matt Diffee, February 2, 2004.

“This is how humor works out, by bringing together two different things that usually don’t go together,” Mankoff says. “Usually, revolutionary Che Guevara is the T-shirt, but it turns out he admires another icon, Bart Simpson, a rebel in his own way. There’s a tiny bit of disparagement here; Che is a little downcast. But Bart wearing Che wouldn’t be funny.” Matt Diffee, February 2, 2004.

 

"This is a wonderful example of bringing together two different levels of association, with a tiny bit of disparagement against the French, which is always enjoyable," says Mankoff with a wink. "Normally it'd be a Swiss army knife but here it's French so it's all corkscrews. It's saying they like wine, which isn't too bad. It's not saying they're not inveterate alcoholics. For the viewer, there's the little cognitive thrill of putting things together." Michael Crawford, September 10, 2001.

“This is a wonderful example of bringing together two different levels of association, with a tiny bit of disparagement against the French, which is always enjoyable,” says Mankoff with a wink. “Normally it’d be a Swiss army knife but here it’s French so it’s all corkscrews. It’s saying they like wine, which isn’t too bad. It’s not saying they’re not inveterate alcoholics. For the viewer, there’s the little cognitive thrill of putting things together.” Michael Crawford, September 10, 2001.

 

"This is about the unbridgeable gulf between what each of us wants and how to interpret another's feelings," says Mankoff. "It's a wonderfully complicated sentence, and we understand it transfers to the very complicated psychological dimensions that separate them from each other." Bruce Eric Kaplan, October 26, 1998.

“This is about the unbridgeable gulf between what each of us wants and how to interpret another’s feelings,” says Mankoff. “It’s a wonderfully complicated sentence, and we understand it transfers to the very complicated psychological dimensions that separate them from each other.” Bruce Eric Kaplan, October 26, 1998.

 

"Cartoons are either in the realm of reality or fantasy. Everything about this can't possibly happen; it defies logic and reality and yet it leads to hilarity," says Mankoff. "'Fusilli' sounds like an Italian piece of pasta, but they're both crazy, because they're pieces of pasta. Is that Rigatoni calling? I don't know, but it's one of my all-time favorites." Charles Barsotti, November 21, 1994.

“Cartoons are either in the realm of reality or fantasy. Everything about this can’t possibly happen; it defies logic and reality and yet it leads to hilarity,” says Mankoff. “‘Fusilli’ sounds like an Italian piece of pasta, but they’re both crazy, because they’re pieces of pasta. Is that Rigatoni calling? I don’t know, but it’s one of my all-time favorites.” Charles Barsotti, November 21, 1994.

 

“This is a great cartoon, really, because it’s humor that is meaningful and absolutely true,” says Mankoff. “If we look at the obituaries and see our own age there, it’s chilling.” Roz Chast, October 25, 1993.

“This is a great cartoon, really, because it’s humor that is meaningful and absolutely true,” says Mankoff. “If we look at the obituaries and see our own age there, it’s chilling.” Roz Chast, October 25, 1993.

 

"You can't go wrong with stupidity," says Mankoff wryly. "When in doubt, make fun of an idiot." He relents: "But this is done in a lovely way, it's a lovely drawing. The guy who's doing this stuff is dumb, but the cartoon is clever." Jack Ziegler, July 11, 1988.

“You can’t go wrong with stupidity,” says Mankoff wryly. “When in doubt, make fun of an idiot.” He relents: “But this is done in a lovely way, it’s a lovely drawing. The guy who’s doing this stuff is dumb, but the cartoon is clever.” Jack Ziegler, July 11, 1988.

 

“This is so poignant, and I picked it to show off the range of New Yorker cartoons,” Mankoff explains. “It doesn’t work like the others, it really has mixed resonance. Mick is a saxophonist, and the cartoon shows off a barren landscape which is broadly symbolic. It’s not funny, but to me it’s about life without art. This is something that could only have appeared in The New Yorker.” Mick Stevens, December 17, 1979.

“This is so poignant, and I picked it to show off the range of New Yorker cartoons,” Mankoff explains. “It doesn’t work like the others, it really has mixed resonance. Mick is a saxophonist, and the cartoon shows off a barren landscape which is broadly symbolic. It’s not funny, but to me it’s about life without art. This is something that could only have appeared in The New Yorker.” Mick Stevens, December 17, 1979.

 

“This is a simply perfect cartoon; it’s perfectly constructed,” says Mankoff. “We have no empathy or sympathy for the pain-in-the-ass old biddy. Then there’s this guy, this shoe salesman, bringing out hundreds of shoes. We think he’s reaching for another black shoe and it turns out he’s reaching for a gun. But this is important: we know he’s not going to kill her. If he shot her, it’d be horrible. This is fantasy, not reality.” Chon Day, December 14, 1946.

“This is a simply perfect cartoon; it’s perfectly constructed,” says Mankoff. “We have no empathy or sympathy for the pain-in-the-ass old biddy. Then there’s this guy, this shoe salesman, bringing out hundreds of shoes. We think he’s reaching for another black shoe and it turns out he’s reaching for a gun. But this is important: we know he’s not going to kill her. If he shot her, it’d be horrible. This is fantasy, not reality.” Chon Day, December 14, 1946.

 

Want more on the making of New Yorker cartoons? Watch the adorable TED-Ed lesson “Inside a cartoonist’s world” from Liza Donnelly, as she walks you through the stages every cartoon goes through, from idea to finish.

Join the conversation! 25 Comments

  1. These are great! All of them are so clever

  2. I don’t think it was really necessary to explain the humor in each of them. The TED audience is smarter than that

  3. What? No Thurber or Chas Addams? These kids today!

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  5. Definitely agree with the Life Without Mozart choice, although I’ve confused people when I’ve sent them the notecard featuring this one. (It does take a minute.) But my number one favorite is from 1981 (I think) and called Prisoner of Pachelbel. It’s just a case of treating with gentle humor something I take really seriously.

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  11. Dear Mr. Mankoff,

    Please allow people to think and analyze for themselves – for the love of what is left of intellect in this world. Please and thank you.

  12. Love it! My favorite is the “New Boat” – they all brought a chuckle into the day that one and the kitty litter box made me laugh out loud.

    Thanks!

  13. Why on earth does Bob Mankoff think he needs to explain cartoons? And what he says is really of no substance.

  14. Nice choices, but I’m afraid I find few things more cringe-inducing than reading or hearing someone explain why/how a cartoon works. Also, some oddly aggressive stuff in the explanations, such as the insistence on the boat owner’s stupidity, or the not particularly thinly disguised condescension toward folks who might not read The New Yorker.

  15. The Mozart cartoon seemed like a half-assed t-shirt until I sort of sank into melancholy with it, at which point I appreciated it and felt sorry I said anything about it, and sorry that it felt so hopeless and close to death, and then I saw some yawning loss-pit opening up beneath us, me and the cartoon (and I hardly care about any of the arts, ho ho) and decided not to think about it anymore. The gay marriage cartoon is morning DJ material, if not condescending junk (do we know how the New Yorker reacted to Loving v. Virginia?), and “CHE GUEVARA wears a BART SIMPSON t-shirt” kind of makes me mad that the cartoonist was paid more than $5 for that. YES IT IS TRUE THEY ARE BUYING CHE FOR FUN, NOT FOR POLITICS. I like the boat, though. I like it a lot! And to not be a total scrooge about everything other than the boat cartoon, please consider looking up James Thurber’s “The Pet Department” the next time the opportunity presents itself.

    • “Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind.” — E.B. White

  16. All of them wonderful, but missed my favorite: A young Medieval couple in a huge 4-poster bed. She with a crown and he, smoking a cigarette. She is the speaker and the caption is:”Someday, my prince will come.” Still brings tears to my eyes I laugh so hard.

  17. It’s amazing how the cartoons are almost ruined by the silly explanations underneath. Whose idea was it to believe we needed the accompanying commentary? Mayor Bloomberg?

  18. This is quite an interesting set of cartoon which made me laugh!

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  20. Not so great is the wildly un-pc misogynistic lead cartoon… a choosy grandmother busy boosting the economy after likely managing an entire household is called a “pain-in-the-ass-biddy”, just a fantasy away from being shot by her disgruntled, middle-aged salesman, (whose dinner was likely cooked by someone just like her)? Wow.

    Baffling that this would be considered a “best” in 2014.

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About Helen Walters

Helen Walters is the ideas editor at TED. Previously the innovation and design editor at BusinessWeek, she writes about interesting people and what keeps them up at night.

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