How About Nev­er — Is Nev­er Good for You?: My Life in Cartoons

Bob Mankoff
  • Review
By – May 1, 2014

Bob Mankoff claims that he has one of the best jobs in the world, and who are we to argue? As the car­toon edi­tor of The New York­er, a posi­tion he has held since 1997, Mankoff spends his days sort­ing through some of the wit­ti­est and most intel­li­gent car­toons on the plan­et and select­ing the six­teen or so that will be pub­lished in the mag­a­zine each week. And for this he gets paid. 

Mankoff cov­ers much ground that any New York­er car­toon fan will find of inter­est. In addi­tion to recount­ing his own life and career as a car­toon­ist, Mankoff pro­vides an excel­lent his­tor­i­cal sur­vey of mag­a­zine car­toon­ing on both sides of the Atlantic and a fas­ci­nat­ing look at how car­toons are solicit­ed, reviewed, and edit­ed at The New York­er. He also ven­tures to give an intel­li­gent analy­sis of how car­toons work, focus­ing on the vary­ing ten­sions between draw­ing and cap­tion: in some cas­es, the draw­ing sim­ply serves as a pas­sive vehi­cle for the deliv­ery of a ver­bal gag, as in the famous car­toon by Mankoff him­self from which the book’s title is drawn (a busi­ness­man check­ing his cal­en­dar while on the phone to anoth­er, and say­ing, No, Thursday’s out. How about nev­er — is nev­er good for you?”). In oth­ers, the draw­ing itself is the thing, as in many of the clas­sics by Charles Addams and Saul Stein­berg, whose fan­ci­ful charm would have been ruined by a cap­tion. In still oth­ers, the draw­ing and the cap­tion are of equal and insep­a­ra­ble impor­tance, the lat­ter pur­port­ing to explain a seem­ing­ly impos­si­ble sit­u­a­tion depict­ed by the for­mer (think of all those desert isle car­toons that depict two unlike­ly com­pan­ions washed up on an islet the size of a postage stamp). 

Mankoff’s writ­ing is crisp and wit­ty with­out being friv­o­lous, and, as befits a car­toon­ist, he under­stands all too well that a pic­ture is worth a thou­sand words. The book con­tains a gen­er­ous selec­tion of some of the best New York­er car­toons through­out the years, from the under-drawn but per­fect­ly cap­tioned work of James Thurber to the under­stat­ed mor­bid­i­ty of Addams and the sur­re­al men­tal land­scapes of Roz Chast. While pur­port­ed­ly includ­ed to illus­trate points made in the text, they also serve a more pro­sa­ic, and per­haps more impor­tant, pur­pose — they sim­ply delight the reader.

Relat­ed Content:

Bill Bren­nan is an inde­pen­dent schol­ar and enter­tain­er based in Las Vegas. Bren­nan has taught lit­er­a­ture and the human­i­ties at Prince­ton and The Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go. He holds degrees from Yale, Prince­ton, and Northwestern.

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