Cartoonist James Sturm wrote an article for Slate Magazine about his experience submitting to The New Yorker for the first time. The piece is titled “How Hard Is It to Get a Cartoon into The New Yorker?” and it’s an excellent read. He includes the cartoons he submitted (all of which are good and a few are very funny). Here’s one that cracked me up:
One reason the article is such a great read is that Sturm isn’t a gag cartoonist. He simply wanted to shake things up, try something new, and see if he could get his work published in the most prestigious venue for gag cartoonists. Hey, why not shoot for the stars? Sturm eventually gets a face-to-face meeting with cartoon editor Bob Mankoff. Did he sell any of his cartoons? Read the article to find out. One thing I found very interesting — shocking, actually — is that David Sipress submitted for 25 years before he sold a cartoon to the magazine. That’s dedication.
I’d be lying if I said I had no interest in getting my cartoons published in The New Yorker. I’d be willing to bet that most, if not all, single panel cartoonists would love to have their work appear the magazine, just to say they accomplished the feat. In the article, Sipress says, "If you are a gag cartoonist and after a while you are not in The New Yorker, you begin to feel like a failure.” I think there’s some truth to that. It’s like being an avid mountain climber not summiting Mount Everest.
When I was just starting out as a cartoonist, in 1993, I submitted a batch of cartoons to The New Yorker. They were literally the first 10 single panel cartoons I ever drew—and I submitted them to the Mount Everest of gag cartooning. What was I thinking? Well, I was clueless about the prestige of The New Yorker and delusional about the quality of my cartoons. Of course, a few weeks later my work was rejected. On the first page of the submission package was a handwritten note. It read, "We’ll have to pass as these aren’t New Yorker material." (Biggest understatement ever!) They wrote something else, which was semi-encouraging (“keep it up” or “keep drawing” or something similar). Bob Mankoff wasn’t the cartoon editor back then, but whoever it was certainly didn’t need to take the time to write a handwritten note on my amateurish submission. In Sturm's article, Mankoff mentions that he receives so many submissions that are “not even in the neighborhood.” The cartoons I submitted in 1993 weren’t even in the same country.
Over the past 18 years, I've accomplished some things I'm proud of in the field of cartooning. But I still don’t feel like my cartoons are in the neighborhood of The New Yorker. (I'd like to think they’re in the same zip code, though.) One day, I want to have at least one of my cartoons grace of the pages of the magazine. I’ve noticed that, over the past few years, Mankoff has been including cartoons that don’t really have the traditional New Yorker look—there’s been more diversity in humor and drawing style, which gives me hope.
So I guess I’d better start submitting. After all, it took Sipress 25 years. It may take a while, but I think I can get to the top of Mt. Everest. In the meantime, I’m having fun climbing.