There is a fascinating piece written by James Sturm on his (failed) attempts to get a cartoon into the New Yorker on Slate.
One of the first books I read when I was trying to learn the art of cartooning was Mort Gerberg’s “Cartooning,” which is pretty old now, but includes a great chapter on what it was like to submit gag cartoons to magazines. Cartoonists took their work around on a specific day (I believe it was Wednesday) and worked the circuit from The New Yorker to the Saturday Evening Post, to Playboy and then on down to the lower level specialty magazines. Rejection was common and the close-knit group of people who aspired to earn a living selling cartoons would then commiserate at a bar, swapping cartoons and ideas around.
Of course now the gag market has all but dried up, with most of the magazines defunct and only the New Yorker and Playboy really dedicated to maintaining it as a key part of the magazine (Hefner was an aspiring cartoonist.)
I was surprised then to see that the old method is still the best way to get in – go to the office on Tuesday with a bunch of samples and meet with Bob Mankoff who will probably reject everything that you have to offer. However, this time there’s really no where else to go; it’s one stop shopping with your drawings. Of course you could post them online as Sturm did, and hope that they find an audience or even better someone who is willing to pay you for them.
I still harbor dreams of getting into the New Yorker, but really am too busy to think of ideas and am not sure that I can sustain the level of creativity and humor that it takes to really have a go at it. One cartoonist mentions trying for 25 years to get in; I read that Roz Chast always has to deal with the feeling that the newest cartoon will be her last; that she will run out of ideas. Perhaps there’s also a little bit of hero worship going on as well; I look at the cartoonists’ work that I admire and feel like I could never do something as good as what they do (while acknowledging that they probably submit 50 or so drawings for every one the magazine accepts.)
Here’s one of Sturm’s cartoons:
I thought this one was pretty funny, and definitely a New Yorker type of drawing. But Mankoff rejected it, saying that the desert island idea was overdone. Oh well.