Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Ted Rall: "The New Yorker is Bad for Cartooning"

Editorial cartoonist Ted Rall writes in his syndicated column about The New Yorker magazine and its reputation for "sophisticated, often cutting-edge" cartoons (as Morley Safer described it on last week's 60 Minutes interview with Cartoon Editor Bob Mankoff).

Ted disagrees.

"Here’s a challenge I frequently give to New Yorker cartoon proponents. Choose any issue. Read through the cartoons. How many are really good? You’ll be surprised at how few you find. But don’t feel bad. Like the idea that the U.S. is a force for good in the world, and the assumption that SNL was ever funny, the 'New Yorker­ ­cartoons are sophisticated and smart' meme has been around so long that no one questions it. 
"From the psychiatrist’s couch to the sexless couple’s living room to the junior executive’s summons of his secretary via intercom, New Yorker cartoons are consistently bland, militantly middlebrow, and mind-numbingly repetitive decade after decade 
"Which is fine. 
"What is not fine is not seeing fluff for the crap that it is."

The challenge here is: do you use a Mankoff, a Rall or your own self as a tastemaker? Humor, they say, is in the eye of the beholder.

Me? I find some cartoons funny and therefore "good," and others not. That goes for The New Yorker, the comics page, the comic book rack, the graphic novels, etc.

I can correct a few factual items:

"They pay pretty well."

There are at least two US markets that pay nearly twice as much or more per cartoon. [EDIT: I'm getting a lot of emails about that line. Mea culpa! I should have said there are a couple of markets paying the same or more. My mistake.]

If you have heard that a New Yorker cartoonists gets four figures for a cartoon, then, yes, that's true too. This rate is for established, "contract" cartoonists. It can take years to get a contract. I mean 7, 8, 9 years of regularly appearing in the magazine. They are rarely handed out. The contract guarantees The New Yorker a "first refusal" at all of the cartoonist's output with a guarantee of higher pay per cartoon. 

"Every Wednesday morning, Mankoff holds court, looking over submissions of cartoonists who must present themselves in person rather than, say, email or fax their work."

It used to be every Wednesday (just like in Thurber's THE YEARS WITH ROSS), but it got switched to Tuesdays years ago. Not sure why.

There are quite a number of cartoonists who send in their work electronically, without showing up in person. More than half. The trick is getting that email address or that fax number.

"Editors at other publications work with professional cartoonists they trust to consistently deliver high-quality cartoons, and help them hone one or two rough sketches to a bright sheen."

I tend to send "finished" cartoons; cartoons that are ready for publication. I chose to do this in the beginning since I was an unknown, and I wanted the editor to see what I could do. Since I send cartoons all over the place, and since editors can leave and a new one who doesn't know me may suddenly appear in the old editor's place, I've kept up that policy. 

But a good number of the established pros do send roughs to The New Yorker. I don't know of any "they must be finished cartoons" policy. 

I found Ted's column to be thoughtful and he made some good points. But the person who ultimately decides whether a cartoon is "good" is the person who is reading it. 


Mark Anderson said...

Good post here, Mikey. And I totally agree - this is all subjective.

You know, this is one of those things that's easy to get caught up in.

I tried the New Yorker for years, never got in, got a little bitter, came to terms with it, and now I'm a little comfier with my place in the world of cartooning.

I looked at this week's cartoons and about half made me laugh. (Well, as much as a cartoonists laughs. It's actually more of a slight smile and nod of approval.) Some were quite good, and I thought some fell into that very NYery niche that I think can be overrated.

Rall riles people up; it's what he does, he's good at it, and he must like the attention. Good for him I guess.

Everyone gets their hackles up from time to time. But at the end of the day I find the people I respect/admire are the ones who just keep their mouths shut, their heads down, and do the work.

Move along people, nothing to see here...

Tom Falco said...

I thought I was the only one who didn't get the New Yorker cartoon gags. Guess not. I don't feel so stupid now.

Garrincha said...

I usually find poorly drawn but funny cartoons in the New Yorker. Some are not funny at all (to me at least) and they are still poorly drawn in my opinion.
Sometimes I enjoy well drawn cartoons that make chuckle.
That doesn't happen too often.
If there were more periodical publications with a steady volume of cartoons in them, then maybe the New Yorker wouldn't be seen as the créme de la créme of cartooning.

Unknown said...

You want to know what's good to Ted Rall? Ted Rall. Do you want to know who takes Ted Rall seriously? See above.