Fast forward to April 2017. I awoke early on a grey, foggy Spring morning and brushed my teeth wondering if today is the day I get a one-in-a-million shot at having something published in the New Yorker.
The E train was down, so I took a Gett down to the new offices at One World Trade Centre. The driver asked, “Why you going to World Trade? You work there?” I say, “No. Just visiting.”
Truth is, this is the first time I’ve been back since that first visit. I’ve been uploading toons via the “online upload” function for New Yorker cartoons for the lasts 2.5 years, wondering if they’d even arrived, much less been looked at. My fault for not going in, of course. Especially considering the newfound proximity to my apartment. Something about that building still gives me the willies.
I clambered out of the car juggling my backpack, water bottle and stack of cartoons. I did forget to eat… that could prove to be a problem.
I already knew this was going to be a long day.
You see, last month it was announced that after a 20-odd years and a billion-odd cartoons reviewed, Bob Mankoff would be stepping down as Cartoon Editor of the New Yorker. We’re told he will be replaced by Emma Allen, but not whether the weekly in-person review will continue thereafter.
I arrived at the gargantuan tower and arched backward to see it disappearing into the sky beyond the dense cloud of fog. Upon entering the new digs, I was greeted with an entirely new process of check-in, including photo ID, green card scanning and backpack x-ray. National Security and all that.
A small squadron of fellow hopeful cartoonists were congregated at the check-in desk as we underwent the security screening process. We passed with flying watercolours and piled into the lift to hurtle skyward to level 38. The buttons for the lift were on the outside.
Because of course they were. What could possibly go wrong?
As we turned the corner and into the giant glass doors, we were met with a second, larger squadron of much smarter cartoonists who had arrived much earlier and signed in before us.
I knew this was going to be a long day.
The list was already 20 names deep, and some of them were serious names. This ever-growing scroll became a who’s who of New Yorker cartoonists, all vying for one last shot and a farewell to the Bob.
I started speaking with Sam Gross and Mort Gerberg who, over these last two years I’ve been privileged to have spent a lot of time and dare I say consider them friends. They were both as aware as I that this was going to be a long wait, no matter which way we looked at it, and the list was only getting longer.
Mort asked, “You’re submitting?” “Yes.” I said, “I hope so.” He smirked and replied, “I guess they’ll let any old schlub submit these days.”
(Yes, cartoonists do that as often as comics.)
I heard Joe Dator to my right mention Australia, and turned to see he was talking about yours truly! Joe, a regular contributor and one of the cartoonists on the walls here had only ever communicated with me online, despite him only being over in Astoria.
He mentioned he was planning a trip Down Under to see the Great Barrier Reef before it perished. I warned him to stay away from literally every breathing, stinging creature unless he had good travel insurance. I’m good like that.
We went on an expedition to find coffee and water, knowing full well it would be hours before we got to see Bob and we’d need caffeine to stay alive ’til our names were called.
We did find the coffee machine, but just as I started brewing Joe’s cup of joe, it packed up and told us it was also retiring that day. “Error 371, Call Operator,” it said.
We journeyed to the other end of the building to discover a twin coffee machine that still had life in it yet. Coffee was poured. Coffee was drunk. Repeated x 5 times over the following hours. Not one ounce of food.
I turned a corner to find a cluster of young fellow scribblers, including one Jason Adam Katzenstein (JAK), now a star-regular contributor to the mag, in a circle, talking about various important and interesting things upon which I was out of the loop. It seems nobody is clear on how things will work here after Bob leaves. Jason mentioned he had an album launch on May 5th for his band, Wet Leather.
If you ask most cartoonists they will probably tell you they have a deep love of music, too. Mort Gerberg can play the hell out of Gershwin on the baby grand in his apartment. Likewise Arnold Roth on his Tenor Sax. It seems to be a common thread among cartoonists to have a firm grasp on the orderly language of music in concert with the absurd language of comedy.
After wandering the halls plastered with best-selling cartoons from the people in the adjoining room, I returned to find the great George Booth had arrived and placed his name about 464th on The List. (I think it earns the capitalisation by now. Just look at this thing.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve been contributing since 1463; you abide by The List. Brutal.
Dozens of cartoonists had made the trek from all over to the great tower of Bobness to say their goodbyes. Gagsters from LA, Portland, Seattle, DC, Philly, The Upper West Side. No schlepp-too-far for a final hurrah.
The wonderful Maria Scrivan had come out from Connecticut. I found her in the Cartoon Lounge around fellow female cartoonists Mitra Farmand who had made the trip from Boston. We discussed everything from pens to the mental-acuity that comes from writing by hand vs typing.
Shannon Wheeler, of Too Much Coffee Man-Fame also made the trip from Oregon and found himself at the tail end of The List, which was now 75,450 names deep. He’d be there ’til 2020.
Just then, Bob himself emerged from his glass case, shadowed by a journalist from the Washington Post who had been taking copious notes throughout the various sittings. Bob announced to the now heaving congregation of cartoonists that he’d just be taking submissions and saying goodbye, without reviewing each cartoon. He had a meeting to get to by 3pm, and there’s no way he’d make it to all of us before then.
Days passed, and finally, my name was called to go in to see Bob. Our meeting was approximately 21 seconds long as he asked me what I did when I wasn’t cartooning. I told him I was a comedian as I dumped my stack of cartoons on his desk. He asked for my show dates for the next few days before telling me to give my email to his assistant, Colin as he was going to work on something with stand-up comedy in the not-too-distant future. He ushered me out of his office and said his goodbye as the next cartoonist made their way into the office.
After the list of cartoonists yet to see Bob dwindled to a mere 400, those who had been seen decided it was time for The Lunch. You know the one. Same place. Every week.
Upon hearing “Lunch” my stomach did a backflip and stabbed my brain with a heft hunger headache, reminding me I hadn’t eaten at all yet today. We piled into the buttonless lifts and onto the streets, a giggling gaggle of gagsmiths clambering off down Chambers street towards the 1–2–3.
I had been a long day.
As I boarded the train, I got an urgent email from an ad agency needing some storyboards. I needed the work, so had to exit, leaving the rest of the cartoonists to hurtle North for the lunch. Possibly the last one? Who knows.
We’ll see in the coming weeks what will become of this funny ritual cartoonists subject themselves to.
Fast forward 4 days…
I woke up late Sunday morning nursing a hefty hangover after 3 shows the night before… I wandered to the bathroom. Just as I sit down for my morning pooperooni, I decide I might check my emails.
I froze, then literally sh_t myself when I got this email…