Personal History: From Zero To Sixty
In the summer of 1977, with college behind me and the demands of school work finally over, I was able to focus all of my attention on getting into the New Yorker — my New Yorker or Bust phase. I’d begun sending the magazine work when I was still in high school, and then all through college, with no luck whatsoever, and an ever-increasing pile of rejected work.
For some reason, during that summer, I thought it would be smart to make a few stabs at being organized, and so I began a ledger, recording what I sent in to the magazine every week. In those days there were a bunch of other magazines buying cartoons — a ledger would help me keep track of what went where; it became routine to send my New Yorker rejects out to them (I’d somehow learned that’s what the professionals did). By mid-August I’d yet to to sell a single cartoon anywhere; I hadn’t made a penny from my work (think Beatles: “Out of college, money spent, see no future, pay no rent, all the money’s gone, nowhere to go”) — even something called UFOlogy was rejecting my drawings.
Everything changed when the August 22nd batch — seventeen cartoons — was submitted to The New Yorker. That week I went from having sold zero number of drawings anywhere to any publication to having my work accepted at The New Yorker (it was a drawing of a fortune teller speaking to a customer, saying,“Nothing will ever happen to you”). As momentous a moment as that was for me — my foot finally in the door at The New Yorker! — the magazine was buying the idea (the caption) and handing it to veteran contributor Whitney Darrow, Jr. to execute. As noted in the ledger, it appeared in a December issue of the magazine — December 26th, to be exact.
By 1977, Mr. Darrow had been with the magazine 44 years. It had long been a practice at The New Yorker to supply artists in need of fresh ideas with work sent in from the outside (like me), or from other cartoonists at the magazine, or from the art department staff. There were even a few idea men contracted to do nothing but think up ideas for the artists.
I knew nothing about that system when the fortune teller cartoon made it through The New Yorker‘s editorial hurdles and was bought. I received a check for $150.00 — the first time I was paid for what I wanted to do for a living. When I look at the list shown above it’s a little frightening how empty the page is — all those empty squares, all those rejected drawings. Only two other sales on the page: both New Yorker rejects from that same August 22nd batch: one to Dawn Dusk magazine, and the other to the about-to-be-refurbished Esquire magazine (Esquire never ran that drawing or others of mine it later purchased — they changed course on running cartoons before the maiden issue under Clay Felker appeared on newsstands).
As summer turned to winter, my initial luck with The New Yorker seemed to have run out. Weeks and then months of empty ledger boxes. In early 1978, justlikethat, The New Yorker bought another from me (this time the drawing they published was mine). Oddly, I abandoned the weekly ledger just before that second drawing was taken. I think all those empty boxes were beginning to get to me.
David Sipress on dinosaurs and stress. Mr. Sipress began contributing to The New Yorker in 1998.
…And Yesterday’s Daily Cartoonist & Cartoon
Elisabreth McNair on when it’s safe to go out again.
Ms. McNair began contributing to The New yorker in July of 2018.