It's a familiar office scene. Outside the windows, a city's buildings climb into the sky. A cartoon businessman, dressed in a suit, points to a planner on his desk as he talks on the phone, saying, "No, Thursday's out. How about never—is never good for you?"
Cartoonist Bob Mankoff has drawn more than 900 cartoons for The New Yorker, but this one, published in 1993, remains his most famous. And when it comes to ending his tenure as the magazine's chief cartoonist, it seems this week is good for him.
After 20 years, Mankoff is stepping down as The New Yorker's cartoon editor at the end of April. He will, however, continue to contribute cartoons to the publication.
In 2014, correspondent Morley Safer profiled Mankoff in a behind-the-scenes look at how cartoons get selected at The New Yorker. It's a rigorous process; Mankoff himself submitted about 2,000 drawings to the magazine before ever selling one. His experience made him a sympathetic editor when it came to doing the rejecting.
"I know what it feels like," Mankoff told Safer. "It feels a little bit like a punch in the stomach. It always feels bad."
David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, makes the final decisions on which cartoons get published and which don't. Remnick told Safer that, even though the material was comic, Mankoff was always very thoughtful about the process.
"I have to say when it comes down to it, he takes humor very seriously," Remnick said.
Mankoff's education in humor began as an only child in New York City, where he was, as Safer describes, "smothered with love and pierced with sarcasm." As a kid, he frequently talked back to his parents, developed a talent for one-liners, and imitated Jerry Lewis.
"One of the first comic things that you do is imitate," Mankoff said.
After decades of honing his humor — he's studied every cartoon the magazine has ever published — Mankoff found comedy to be humans' way of coping with the world around them. So it may be no surprise that the Grim Reaper frequently guest starred in cartoons Mankoff selected.
"Illness and death, primary sources of anxiety," Mankoff said. "One way of dealing with anxiety is to laugh at it. Grim Reaper's going to get the last laugh. Until then, it's our turn."