Tuesday, June 8, 2021

So, You Want to Be a New Yorker Cartoonist

From The New Yorker

Howdy. I’m Emma Allen, and I take it you want to be a New Yorker cartoonist.

Before you uncap that pen or dip your quill in the blood of your frenemies, you might want to take these cartooning tips and tricks into account. Or not! Who am I to tell you what to do?

Oh, right, I’m the cartoon editor of The New Yorker.

So, first things first. You want to know if there’s any subject matter I’m hankering for, or whether there are topics to avoid?

Not really! I suggest you do a quick Internet search to make sure your idea is fresh, but, other than that, I’m most interested in what is tickling you.

That being said, try to peruse as many cartoons as you can to get familiar with the voice of The New Yorker. 

Cartoonists published in the magazine and online have a wide range of backgrounds and styles, but by reading the cartoons we publish you’ll get a better idea of what makes them New Yorker cartoons.

Now you’re curious if I have any specific style tips. Both in terms of the humor and the art, I’d rather see you not try to imitate some generalized composite of New Yorker cartoons. That’s bound to be too familiar.

Style and materials vary widely. Some cartoonists stick to line work, some favor stark black-and-white, some shade with line or ink wash. Use the tools and tricks that you know best.

Now, before you start sharpening your Crayolas, remember that spot color should only be used if it significantly enhances the joke in a New Yorker cartoon. Otherwise, black-and-white is tried and true.

I suggest you format your cartoons like the ones you see in the magazine: the squarish image above a typed or neatly handwritten caption. 

The caption should be in quotation marks, and it should be clear who, in the image, is speaking it. (Open mouth usually does the trick.) If there’s hand-lettered text within the drawing, make it legible.

Often, people start making a cartoon by drawing a box and then filling in space within that box. Do you really need the box? Try defining the space with shading. 

Remember: if The New Yorker runs your cartoon, it’ll be framed by blocks of article text, probably about something really depressing, like what’s happening to all the bees. (Spoiler: it’s not good.)

Right, so you’re starting to draw up some cartoons and, boy, are they funny. But your baby is screaming and you haven’t fed the cat in days and your stove is on fire and you really don’t have time to polish up all the art—can you send in rough sketches?

Short answer: yes.

Long answer: to start, give me your cat as collateral. Then, if I’m not already familiar with your style, send in relatively finished art so that I know what I’m dealing with. Once we’ve become better acquainted, send in roughs all you want, and you can have your cat back.

Speaking of roughs and finishes, here’s a short glossary of terms used at The New Yorker but possibly not anywhere else.

Gag: A gag is a single-panel cartoon. Secondarily, it is what I do when I think about the guy who used to cut his toenails on the F train.

Batch: When you submit cartoons, you should bundle a bunch of them together for review. Ideally, around ten. Ten cartoons is a batch. Like a bunch of crows is a murder. Or a bunch of murders is a podcast.

Trope/cliché: These words refer to a type of cartoon that we’ve been publishing for a long time, such as a desert-island cartoon, or a Grim Reaper cartoon. A cliché is a bad thing in certain circumstances (original wedding vows), but here it’s just a recurring format or theme that cartoonists will continue to riff on until there are no riffs left.

O.K.: When I e-mail you to tell you that we’re buying your cartoon, the subject line will read “O.K.” “O.K.” is code for “call your parents and tell them that all your hard work has finally paid off because you’re getting published in The New Yorker, baby!” Cartoonists refer to “an O.K.” as a sale.

Rough: As mentioned, this is what you’re sending in, though don’t get too loosey-goosey.

Finish: This is what you will send in after receiving an O.K. from me, incorporating any notes I may have.

Ready to submit? Please proceed to https://newyorkercartoons.submittable.com/submit.

“Hey!” you suddenly yell at me. “I’ve submitted a truckload of cartoons and you never buy any and I hate you!” Wow, all right. That’s honestly rude, but let me reply in a calm voice, “You shouldn’t feel too disheartened.”

Thousands of cartoons roll in every week, and I can only buy around twenty. And then we usually run about a dozen in a weekly issue. 

I’m terrible at math, but I can still see that that’s terrible math. Some of your favorite contributors submitted for years before getting that first, sweet, sweet O.K., so buck up.

What if you’re a master artist, but your buddy Philomena is the one with a real sense of humor. Can you team up? I don’t see why not, so long as P-dawg is game and you make it clear that you collaborated.

This is a bit awkward, but you have bills to pay and the fire damage to your stove is pretty bad—does The New Yorker shell out cold hard cash for cartoons?

Yes! I solemnly swear we won’t publish anything by you without compensating you for it.

Now imagine: you sold a cartoon to The New Yorker, you gloated to your mom, you’re rolling in a pile of single-dollar bills—what happens now? Well, take a shower. Money is very dirty. 

After you’re clean, you will wait, as your little gag circulates through our fact-checking, legal, and copy departments and wends its way to a bulging Google Drive of other cartoons yearning to be slotted into an issue.

But I will absolutely try to run your cartoon soon so that your mother doesn’t call you a liar, irreparably altering your relationship so that, even though you still see each other on major holidays, there’s a chill to your interactions that was never there before.

Oh, and if you would like to ask me about why you’ve never won the caption contest, please get to the back of the line.

Happy cartooning!

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