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Veteran Cartoonists Discuss Childhoods, Careers and Trump

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On Thursday, Nov. 9, legendary cartoonists Bob Mankoff and Roz Chast arrived on campus to take part in an evening conversation and Q&A, which was hosted by the New York State Writers Institute.

The discussion took place in the Science Library’s Standish Room, which, with its wood-paneled walls and scenic views of the University’s athletic fields lends itself to a warm and pleasant atmosphere. Attendees were mostly of post-college age and seemed very familiar with the work of both artists, though a few students seeking extra-credit for classes found their way to the panel as well.

After offering some brief opening remarks, Mark Koplik, the Assistant Director of the Writers Institute, sat down with the guests to ask them a few questions before handing inquisitive responsibilities over to an eager audience. Those in attendance were treated to an informative and humorous evening.

The two cartoonists offered words on a range of topics including insights to their respective artistic processes, the evolution of American popular humor and its origins in Vaudeville, and rare details on the cartoon-editing process at The New Yorker. The artists also shared thoughtful anecdotes from their childhoods spent in New York City.

Both Mankoff and Roz Chast remembered growing up in what Mankoff referred to as a “balkanized New York” where neighborhoods were very much entities of ethnical homogeneity. He said that just about everyone thought he had a knack for conveying humor from an early age. The only exception was his mother, whom he says would often turn to him and say “Robert, they tell me you’re funny.”

Chast, who grew up in Brooklyn, described her youth as an anti-social experience. She says she learned to draw what she thought was funny and evolved her unique style with countless hours of experimentation on her sketchpad as a girl. Both artists recalled a realization during their late teenage years that their unconventional styles may have been destined for cartoons.

The final question of the night came from a student who asked the artists whether they thought it was easier to write cartoons these days since the political climate provides no shortage of absurdity.

With a laugh, Chast responded, “Sometimes, [Trump]…does things so unbelievable that I feel like if I don’t draw a cartoon about it, blood might come out of my ears.”

Similarly Mankoff responded that, “It’s a bit like shooting fish in a barrel.”

“But,” he added, “sometimes you have to shoot the fish.”

Following the conversation, vendors sold Bob Mankoff’s “My Life in Cartoons” and Roz Chast’s graphic-memoir “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?” as well as her 2017 publication “Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York.”

Both authors stayed to offer autographs to enthusiastic patrons.

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