Bob Mankoff, How About Never—Is Never Good for You?: My Life in Cartoons
Booklist got it right:
In a witty mix of memoir and New Yorker cartoon history exuberantly illustrated with New Yorker cartoons past and present, Mankoff discusses his mother’s complicated influence (“Humor thrives on conflict”), how his psychology background helps him understand what makes cartoons funny or thought-provoking, and why he created the Cartoon Bank, which transformed the profession. He also unveils the magazine’s cartoon selection process under editors William Shawn, Tina Brown, and David Remnick and describes his own rigorous assessment of 1,000 cartoons a week. Other cartoonists describe their working methods, and Mankoff even offers inside information on the New Yorker’s devilishly difficult Cartoon Caption Contest, which the late great movie critic Roger Ebert won in 2011 “after 107 tries.” A cartoon lover’s feast.
I particularly liked the bits where Bob talks about how the humor in cartoons works, and how the cartoonists themselves work:
In cartooning, as in life, nine out of ten things don’t work out…
To get good ideas in any field, the best method is to generate lots of ideas and throw out the bad ones.
He then points to something that I’d always suspected: that there are writing-first cartoonists and drawing-first cartoonists:
Different cartoonists have different was of getting quality from quantity. One division is between the doodle firsters and the word firsters. The doodle firsters doodle away until a drawing inspires something funny, while the words first people write, write, and write some more until something clicks.
(For a great example of the process of a word-firster, check out my friend Matt Diffee’s TED talk.)
The other thing I love about this book is how informed it seems to be by Mankoff’s blogging — it reads like a really lean, well-edited blog post, with cartoons tossed in the stream at any point they need to be to illustrate the point. It’s fast reading that also rewards re-reading, which is a hard thing to pull off.
If you’re at all interested in The New Yorker, cartooning, or how humor works, this is a really great read.
Filed under: my reading year 2014