Guest Commentary with Dave Rowles: ‘If I can make it there’ … wait, what?
-January 19th, 2017
For several years I have been dutifully sending cartoons to The New Yorker, only to have them dutifully rejected by the editors. I finally decided that I needed to go to New York and hand-deliver my cartoons. This, I thought, would be my big chance to be rejected in person.
Robert “Bob” Mankoff is the esteemed cartoon editor of The New Yorker and a cartoonist himself. A handful of other cartoonists and I were waiting to see him that day. I was second in line.
I entered his office sporting my newly purchased ‘I ♥ NY’ t-shirt and matching cap. He greeted me with a smile, introduced himself, and had me take a seat. We exchanged pleasantries—‘Kind of chilly out today,’ ‘I found a good taco stand on west 32nd,’ ‘Gee, New York sure has a lot of tall buildings,’ ‘I think I might have caught something on the subway’—that sort of thing. Eventually he said, “Let’s see what you’ve got.”
I handed him the dozen or so cartoons, my hands shaking with nervous anticipation. He quickly but carefully studied each cartoon. His expression was dour, never changed; it was like he was studying ancient Chinese manuscripts. Once, I thought I noticed a slight raise of an eyebrow, but I might have just imagined it.
Finally he said, “These don’t make any sense.”
“Precisely!” I responded proudly, leaning back in my chair, arms crossed. I was beaming. Having studied New Yorker cartoons for years, I knew the kind of material they were looking for.
He sat staring at me, the dour expression still intact. “You can’t have a chicken and an elephant in the same cartoon.”
I tried not to show signs of panic, but I realized that most of the cartoons in this batch were chicken and elephant cartoons. I didn’t plan it; it just worked out that way.
“The size difference is too extreme,” he went on, “You could have a kangaroo and chicken or an elephant and kangaroo—but not a chicken and elephant.”
I was visualizing my cartoons, substituting kangaroos for chickens and elephants and trying to figure out if the cartoons would still make no sense.
“You’re probably right,” I said, no longer beaming, “but have you ever tried to draw a kangaroo?”
“And your children look like miniature adults,” he added.
Wow, I thought, this guy is uncanny. Drawing children has never been one of my strong points. I guess I hoped all the chickens and elephants would divert attention from my crudely drawn “mini-adults.”
“I don’t draw them as they are,” I said timidly, “I draw them as they will be.” That was the best I could come up with. A prolonged and awkward silence followed.
“Let’s face it,” he finally said, “cartooning might not be your thing.”
My head exploded. “Wait!” I shrieked, rifling through my backpack like a desperate raccoon with a garbage sack. “I’ve got more!”
He signaled with his index finger, and a security guard entered the room.
“Show the gentleman out,” Mankoff muttered, not even looking up.
As I was leaving his office, I turned to him with one last offering. “Lunch?” my voice squeaked.
“Out!” he barked, pointing at the door and shaking his head.
Next thing I know, I’m out on the street hailing a cab, telling the cabbie to “just drive.” I spent the next several hours gazing at the sights of Manhattan through the window of a Checker cab contemplating my curious encounter with Mr. Mankoff.
Eventually I made it home and stayed up all night drawing kangaroos.
Dave Rowles has been the Journal’s editorial cartoonist for 30 years. In his day job, he is a production manager with global allergen supplier ALK at its facility in Post Falls.