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New Yorker Cartoonists Share Insights, Laughter with Audience

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Robust laughter and insightful dialogue filled the Huxley Theater on Thursday as the New York State Writers Institute played host to iconic cartoonists Roz Chast and Robert Mankoff of The New Yorker magazine.

“It’s kind of a dream come true to have Roz Chast and Bob Mankoff together with us in the same room,” said Assistant Director of the NYSWI, Mark Koplik, who moderated an informal Q&A session in the theater of The New York State Museum.

“For many of us, they need no introduction. Their visual styles and their styles of humor are as iconic as only cartoons can be.”

Both Chast and Mankoff have been contributing cartoons to The New Yorker a weekly magazine known for longform journalism, social commentary, political analysis, and literary fiction in addition to its witty cartoons since the late 1970s. The cartoonists’ friendship is as seemingly steadfast as their contributions.

“You were the first person to talk to me,” said Chast, recalling her early days at the magazine.

“Right. And you thought I was an Iranian terrorist,” replied Mankoff to the audience’s amusement.

In between Chast and Mankoff’s quips and the howls of an enthusiastic audience were unique insights from two of the industry’s very best.

Chast’s rèsumè includes a best-selling memoir and several prestigious awards including honorary doctorates from both the Pratt Institute and Dartmouth College. Mankoff, a best-selling memoirist himself, ascended to the position of cartoon editor for The New Yorker in 1997, a position he held until April of this year when he left to take on a similar position at Esquire.

“A New Yorker cartoon,” said Chast, “If you’re trying to draw that I feel, ‘why don’t you just go do something else?’ You should be doing what you think is funny and hopefully that will somehow work out.”

“Part of being a New Yorker cartoonist is that it [the cartoon] appears in The New Yorker,” said Mankoff, who likened the experience of reading a cartoon in the magazine to blind-tasting great wines.

“You’ll often find that people can’t tell the great wines from the perfectly ordinary wines, but that

doesn’t mean the experience you get when you’re tasting great wine isn’t different,” said Mankoff. “The fact that the cartoon appears both helps The New Yorker, but The New Yorker helps the cartoon.”

According to Chast, who submits between six and eight cartoons to The New Yorker per week, close to a thousand cartoons are submitted to the magazine each week, meaning a majority of her work goes unpublished.

“If I really like an idea, I won’t give up on that idea,” said Chast, who sometimes resubmits a cartoon four times, reworking the piece as she goes.

“All the ideas that aren’t working are potential ideas that could work, or half ideas,” said Mankoff who explained that cartoonists, like writers, don’t necessarily start from scratch. “Often what you do to get ideas is look at cartoons you had done previously.”

“What is your experience of funny?” asked one audience member. “What’s your history with developing a sensitivity to funny?”

“I went to funny basic training,” said Mankoff. “It’s not funny. It was terrible. It was funny boarding school.”

“I found an ad in the back of a magazine, it was ‘how to be funny,’ and I read the book,” said Chast.

“Now they know the secret,” said Mankoff.

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Chad Arnold is a reporter for the Albany Student Press covering Student Association affairs. He is also an die-hard heavy metal fan.

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