He suggested I stay away from desert-island gags and the incongruity gag (in which there's a disconnect between the caption and the picture). These are overdone, and if he were going to use this type of material, he would turn to the all-stars he already has on his bench (baseball metaphor his).
Mankoff put two of my cartoons aside to consider for the next issue's final cut. I knew they wouldn't sell; I saw this as a small gesture of encouragement. The rest he handed back to me. He explained how hard it was to get into the magazine and that he wasn't just looking for a good cartoon but someone who could be a "New Yorker cartoonist."
Mankoff said so many submissions he looks at are not even in the neighborhood and that I was in the neighborhood but that I was going to have to figure out what my work was about, how it was distinct. I had to decide what would make it exceptional. He told me to keep submitting via e-mail each week.
My audience had lasted 12 minutes. Many of the other cartoonists who had already shown work were still there, waiting to go out for lunch—a long-standing Tuesday tradition that any cartoonist, published or not, could be part of.
On the way to the restaurant, we passed giant banners of Charles Addams drawings hanging from the facade of the the Lunt Fontanne Theater. I wondered whether any of today's New Yorker cartoonists were exceptional enough to someday inspire a Broadway musical.
At the restaurant a long table was already set up and glasses of red wine were served as soon as we took our seat. The conversation was more relaxed than at the office. I sat next to David Sipress, one of my favorite current New Yorker cartoonists, who told me he submitted for 25 years before he cracked the pages of The New Yorker. "If you are a gag cartoonist and after a while you are not in The New Yorker," he said, "you begin to feel like a failure."
I didn't feel like a failure, but, listening to Sipress, I did suddenly feel like a fraud. This wasn't where I belonged as a cartoonist, and if by some miracle I were able to sell one of my 50 cartoons, I would be taking a slot away from someone more deserving. There would be no more submissions. I had already wasted enough of everyone's time.
I started the drawings for the right reasons, but in taking them to The New Yorker, I was looking for a feather for my cap. Mankoff was right: There wasn't anything unique and distinct about my gag work. I was in the neighborhood, just visiting, not willing to stay there long enough to become a full-time resident.
At the end of the meal, each of us gave Sam Gross 20 bucks and headed our separate ways. I got my car out the garage and headed back to Vermont. My affair was over, and I was ready to go home.