Friday, August 7, 2020

Adam Zyglis' Homage to Bob Mankoff

From The Buffalo News.

Bob Mankoff is president of, which he launched in 2018 after his legendary run as cartoon editor of the New Yorker. His most famous cartoon, which he drew in 1993, goes like this:

A business exec is standing at his desk, phone to his ear, checking his calendar. “No, Thursday’s out,” he says. “How about never – is never good for you?”

The line seeped into popular culture and has come to define Mankoff’s career. He borrowed it for the title of his 2014 memoir, “How About Never – Is Never Good for You? My Life in Cartoons.”

Mankoff says the classic recipe for humor is conflict, and that’s why his “never” cartoon works: While the message is rude, the syntax is polite.

Last week, Buffalo News editorial cartoonist Adam Zyglis offered an homage to that famous cartoon with this brilliant one:

Zyglis imitated Mankoff’s pointillist style and refashioned the familiar caption so as to make a classic new again. The cartoon, which ran Thursday, worked even if you didn’t know the original reference – and really popped if you did.

Zyglis wasn’t sure if Mankoff would be offended or pleased. They are of different cartooning generations – Mankoff is 76, Zyglis half that – but it turned out he needn’t have worried. On Sunday, Zyglis was thrilled to get a call from Mankoff. They spoke for nearly an hour.

“He thought it was a great adaptation,” Zyglis says. “I’m so glad he was flattered.”

Then, on Monday, in his weekly Cartoon Collections blog, Mankoff told how he had called Zyglis both to congratulate him and to ask how he’d come to adapt the “never” cartoon. 

He quoted Zyglis as saying he had come to believe that President Trump’s “desire to postpone the election was really his way of saying he didn’t want to have it at all, and the businessman in the ‘never’ cartoon popped into my head.”

That’s because Zyglis grew up reading New Yorker cartoons. 

When he was a student at Canisius College, one of his professors, the late Mel Schroeder, kept an archive of great cartoons clipped from all over, including many from The New Yorker. And Zyglis thinks of “never” as the quintessential New Yorker cartoon.

As it happens, some of the magazine’s other great cartoons, over the decades, have featured Buffalo in their punchlines. In one, a eulogist stands before a casket and says, “He’s in a better place now – no offense to Buffalo.”

New Yorker cartoons are typically concise – that one is 10 words – and typically pack the punch of their punchlines in the last word. How come Buffalo makes such a dependable punching bag? I asked Mankoff about that some months ago. Here was his answer:

“There’s something euphonious about the word that makes it fun to say. You know – Buff-a-lo.”

Beyond that, he thinks our city works in jokes in the same way as certain other cities, such as Baltimore and Bayonne.

“Buffalo is a gritty town. We don’t think of it as fancy. It’s not Paris. 

There’s another joke like that. It’s a guy on a lounge in a tropical place with palm trees in the background, and he says, ‘Hey, what can I say? It’s not Baltimore, but then what is?’ 

And I did one once, of a guy in a bar, who says, ‘I’m a citizen of the world, but I’m based in Bayonne.’ ”

Other New Yorker cartoons are not about Buffalo the city but about buffalo the mammal. One shows a bison, at home on the range, with a cellphone to its ear. “I love the convenience,” it says, “but the roaming charges are killing me.”

And there’s the one that’s as much about our favorite culinary item as it is about us. Two angels are chatting in the clouds. One has full angel wings. The other has tiny orange chicken wings in an otherwise black-and-white cartoon. “I died in Buffalo,” the angel says.

“I think all humor deals with incongruity,” Mankoff says. “But let me say this, also. There’s a part of what’s funny that nobody can explain. I’m trying to explain the poetry of a caption, which you can’t really do. I think Buffalo works as a punchline, as does Bayonne, as does Baltimore. I haven’t quite explained why, but I think you get it.”

And now, as we are all hunkered down at home for months on end in the age of the coronavirus, Mankoff figures his most famous cartoon takes on new meaning.

“Never has to be good for everybody now,” he says, “at least until we blunt the curve.”

Humor is good for everybody now, too. In his blog, Mankoff once cited “the great tradition of using humor in a time of crisis to help us cope with adversity and anxiety.”

His prescription: “Take two cartoons and call me in the morning.”

Still, he knows cartoons are not a panacea in our trying times.

“If they were, big pharma would have bought our company and be charging exorbitant prices for them.”

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