How About Never - Is Never Good For You? by Bob Mankoff

If you're a reader of The New Yorker then surely you've come across a brilliant cartoon and thought "I could have written that!". Or maybe you've stared at their famous cartoon caption contest and have been unable to come up with anything worthy to say. Or maybe, like Elaine Benes, you've tried in vain to understand the punchline of a particularly obtusely delivered drawing. Anyone who has spent time enjoying The New Yorker cartoons should look forward to reading How About Never - Is Never Good for You by New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff. Named after Mankoff's most famous caption, How About Never is both a memoir and a look at what it takes to create cartoons for one of the few adult periodicals that still offers them.

A mediocre art school student and psychology school dropout, Mankoff, like many of his cartoonist brethren, accomplished the feat of publishing a cartoon in The New Yorker only after years of rejection, though with many other avenues for cartoon publishing around he was able to get his work to the public in other less distinguished magazines. The New Yorker, with its illustrious history of smart cartooning, was the coup de grace and once within the walls, Mankoff became a regular.

The reality of the limits of space in print publishing means that there are bound to be many more cartoons rejected that accepted, which led to Mankoff's later creation of The Cartoon Bank, which offered cartoons that had not been approved for The New Yorker to the highest bidder. Meanwhile, Mankoff ascended to that most prestigious position of Cartoon Editor, in a position to smash young cartoonists' dreams as previous editors had tried with him. Actually, in all seriousness, he became a mentor to young cartoonists, writing how-to books, crediting The New Yorker's newest staff and offering a guide on what makes New Yorker cartoons funny. He even gives the secret of how to win the famous weekly cartoon caption contest, which Roger Ebert claimed to have entered every week, eventually winning on his 107th try.

How About Never is a fast read, filled with Mankoff's humorous asides and many cartoons drawn by the author and his colleagues and predecessors. Beyond being a memoir and history of The New Yorker's comics, it offers a history of comic drawing that you'll probably learn something from. Mankoff also addresses the question of whether the magazine's cartoons have become dumbed down. I do wish that Mankoff would have addressed the question of how the internet ("where no one knows you're a dog", to quote another famous New Yorker comic) has changed the business of cartoon gatekeeping, but mostly this is a very entertaining read.

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