Yesterday was one of the best days I’ve ever had as a cartoonist. I didn’t sell anything, I didn’t get a huge licensing deal, and I didn’t have a cartoon rocket through social media. So what made it such a big deal?
Among the biggest influences on me as a cartoonist are the incredibly talented visual humorists at The New Yorker. I’ve read their books, I’ve voraciously consumed their cartoons, I’ve parsed their gag writing to better understand how best to synthesize a concept into its most elemental form, and, most of all, I’ve simply enjoyed their work.
My good cartoonist buddy, Crowden Satz – a very talented and prolific artist who’s been published widely in all the major cartoon markets, and I decided we’d meet in New York City and participate in the famous Tuesday cartoon submission day at the Conde Nast offices of The New Yorker on the 38th floor of the new World Trade Center. He was in town on personal business all the way from California, which is like … as far as the moon, approximately. So I hopped on a train and away I went.
Truthfully, I was pretty apprehensive. I’d heard that The New Yorker cartoon editor, Bob Mankoff can be pretty brutally honest as he sorts through the cartoon submissions – if he doesn’t think your work is up to snuff, you’re going to know about it in clear, quick, unambiguous terms. Add to that, I’m not the most socially adept conversationalist, so when I figured I’d be meeting some of the cartoonists I hold in high esteem, I could clearly picture myself stammering, stumbling, and uttering nonsensical terms along the lines of, “I like pizza!”. Yeah, I’m that guy.
I’d known Crowden through online correspondence for some time, but had never met him in person until I’d arrived in Penn Station. Since cartoonists emit an aura of Joe Coolness, we had no difficulty in identifying one another in a sea of other non-cartoonists. From there, we made our way to the 7th Avenue exit, and took a cab to the World Trade Center.
If you haven’t been to New York City recently, you may find it difficult to navigate once you get into the south end of Manhattan due to the amount of construction. And if you don’t live there, and haven’t had the opportunity to embrace the carnival ride of being a cab passenger, well, buckle up buttercup, it’s a thrill a minute.
Once we arrived and passed through the exceptionally thorough and effective World Trade Center security, we then made it to the Star Trek-esque bank of elevators. Very high-tech, and if you haven’t used them before, completely baffling. It was, at first, not dissimilar to playing “Whack a Mole” – you’d push a button and a door would open just long enough for you to notice it, then miss it. And again. And again. There apparently is a system of accessing the right elevator door which remains to this day a mystery to us. Fortunately, we were able to be just quick enough to whack an elevator mole and made the ascent to the 38th floor.
The New Yorker offices had recently been located close to Time Square – a location very convenient to Penn Station well to the north of the World Trade Center. But now they’re about 4 miles or so to the south near the southern tip of Manhattan.
The new digs are very nice, and the view from every window I had the opportunity to look out of was a perfect picture postcard; the Hudson River, the Empire State Building uptown, New York Harbor – all positively breathtaking. It was a clear, sunny day and you could see virtually forever.
Just to the right, after passing through the double glass door entrance was the area where cartoonists wait to meet one-on-one with Bob Mankoff to make their in-person cartoon submission. There was a sheet of paper taped to a counter near Colin’s (Bob’s assistant) desk with a list of names written in red Sharpie. Crowden, who’d been there before, jotted both of our names down. As we waited for our turn to meet with Bob, we were able to meet with a number of newcomers and a few seasoned New Yorker cartoon pros. Sidney Harris was there conversing with a group of young cartoonists. I think my eyelids made that flapping, fluttering sound you hear in the old-time movies when someone pulls the window shade and it shoots up and keeps spinning, as they went full open when I saw one of my all-time favorites, Liza Donnelly walk in. Super, super nice person.
And then it happened. It was my turn to go in. Oh, man. This is going to hurt. Now, mind you, I’ve been through some pretty tough training in my 22 years in the military, and I’ve been sent to more than one dangerous place, but I’d worked up a picture in my imagination of me sitting down in Bob’s office, handing him my packet of cartoons, and horrifically, after opening the packet and glancing quickly, angrily though my meager offerings, he stands bolt upright, rushes around his desk, grabs me by the nape of the neck and throws me physically out of his office, tumbling to the floor at the feet of the other, maniacally laughing cartoonists, sheets of my cartoons gently dancing in the air as they fall to the ground like pieces of ash from an erupting volcano. And finishing the vision, Bob screaming with the veins protruding from his neck and forehead in enraged indignance, “Come not ye forth forevermore lest I smite thee, thou vile thing!” in perfect Shakespearean diction, including an English accent which Bob doesn’t have.
What actually happened, however, is rather different. Turns out Bob is a really nice guy. He shook my hand, invited me to have a seat across from his desk, which was actually a drafting table, and asked me a little bit about myself. He asked me if I’d been published before, and began to peruse the packet of cartoons I’d handed him. He went through each cartoon offering sound advice and insight from his 40 plus years in the business. On the left side of the drafting to table, or as it happens, on Bob’s right, was a thin stack of cartoons sitting face down – the cartoons Bob was holding onto for further consideration for publishing. Bob asks more questions and offers more useful insight in a very polite way – and then it happens! Without breaking stride in conversation, Bob places one of my cartoons in the hold pile! And then another! And another! Three holds! No way! Yes way! While that may seem insignificant for those with no aspirations to climb the shimmering summit that is The New Yorker cartoon published credit, it is something akin to the skies opening up and angelic trumpets sounding to those of us fumbling among the rocks below. Some very talented cartoonists have submitted to the New Yorker faithfully every week for TWENTY YEARS before ever making a single sale. That’s a serious mountain to climb.
Now mind you, just getting into the hold pile doesn’t infer you’ll be seeing a Bill Abbott cartoon in The New Yorker any time soon. This pile then goes into a further meeting with Bob Mankoff and The New Yorker editor David Remnick, who I had the chance to meet and who is also a very nice guy, to choose those who will have a place on this bitterly tiny island. But is does mean that it’s at least worth having a second look, and that, to me, means an awful lot. And my good buddy Crowden had five held – how cool is that?
The rest of the day was spent eating in a fantastically good restaurant called Little Park and walking in the obscenely hot 90 degree heat in Manhattan. Dark clothing was a regrettable choice. I got back to Penn Station about 2 quarts low if you follow me.
Anyway, I’ll quit my rambling – just wanted to share what was an absolutely fantastic day – one where, regardless of the ultimate outcome, I got to live my dream – check in that box!
16 thoughts on “Great Day To Be a Cartoonist!”
Wonderful story, Bill Abbott. I hope that you are soon out of the “hold pile” and into the New Yorker.
Thank you Ruth – me too!
Congratulations – Wonderful tale – Thanks for sharing. You are an inspiration.
Thank you so much Pat!
Good for you for sticking your neck out, Bill. Sounds like it’s going to pay off.
well……look’s like you don’t need me
Not so sure about that Dick! For those of you who may not know, Dick Firestone was the marketing powerhouse that drove The Far Side’s licensing sales into the stratosphere.
Bill, that is absolutely fantastic!!! It’s such a thrill to watch you rack up success after success, I’m so happy for you! Congrats, and I can’t wait to see what comes next for you.
Thank you so much Kathy!
Fantastic! I hope to see you in the New Yorker sometime soon.
Thank you DB!
Loved this story! Rooting for you! (PS–just saw the Roz Chast exhibit at Norman Rockwell Museum, and I’m pretty sure she had a similar moment at the New Yorker…where her work is now a fixture!)
Thank you Carolyn!
That is a wonderful tale artfully told. I held my breath as I read, had inner exclamations of glee, and am once again holding my breath — this time hoping to see a Bill Abbott cartoon (or three!) in a forthcoming issue!!! Hoping I don’t have to hold my breath too long, either! :-)
Thank you Jeff – you and me both!
Did you realize there were three “Holds” before or after you stammered and passed out? Great story, great news, great cartoons, great trip and great guy! So happy, hoping there is more great news! What a wonderful experience and to even see other people you
recognized or admired. There really should be a “New Yorker ‘s cartoon” in the New Yorker magazine.