OK, so I didn’t get lucky yesterday. I CAN HANDLE IT! I’m fine, really.
Rejection is a big subject among magazine cartoonists. All those stories about getting so many rejection slips you can use them to wallpaper your studio, etc.
One of the older guys told me when I first came to New York about his early experiences with rejection. There were several magazines then that used cartoons, and the guys (They were almost all guys, then) made the rounds one day a week on “Look Day”, dragging their weekly efforts around in big, black portfolios or stuffed into manilla envelopes, from one cartoon editor to the next. The guy told me he went up to the New Yorker offices and was allowed to go in to see the cartoon editor, maybe for the first time. He sat there when his turn came, sweating it out in the editor’s office in a chair in front of the the man’s desk. (An arrangement still practiced for in-person looks with Bob). The editor then was a crusty old guy with no pity in his heart. He glanced at the guy’s work and gave it all back to him. My friend said he went out of the office, down the elevator, and outside the building, then promptly threw up all over 42nd Street.
When I got to New York the arrangement was still the same at the magazine, but it was just about the only magazine left in town that used cartoons, which had been designed out of other publications by art directors who didn’t want our nasty little black and white drawings interrupting the visual flow of their new, slick layouts. The deal was, you went up to the offices on Wednesdays at around 11 am. When you stepped off the elevator, you found yourself in a small, ugly room with florescent lighting and a couch. At the business end of the room was a glass window with a slot at the bottom and a hole in the center to speak through, like an old movie theater ticket-booth. Inside sat a stern-looking woman with a telephone and a typewriter. Beside her window was a door. If you were like me, a non-contract artist, the procedure was to slide your manilla envelope of roughs through the slot. The woman would wordlessly take the envelope and slide your last week’s envelope back out. Inside were usually your roughs from the previous week and a rejection-slip, though occasionally some of us would get notification of a sale, which took the form of a small penciled circle in the upper right-hand corner of the drawing which had gotten the OK. Contract artists and other regular contributers were acknowledged and allowed through the door into the Inner Offices, a process accompanied by a loud buzz and a pronounced click.
I had sold one cartoon to the magazine before moving to New York from the West Coast. One Wednesday when I was stepping off the elevator with my manilla envelope, I encountered the cartoonist I mentioned above, the one who had told me the story about throwing up on 42nd Street. He said, “You’ve sold a cartoon to the magazine, right? You have the right to go in”. He then disappeared into the elevator, leaving me there alone in the ugly room, clutching my envelope and trying to decide whether to take the chance. I approached the window and started to slide my envelope through the slot, then stopped. I spoke before I knew it, asking the woman if I could be buzzed in, please. Without looking up from her work or appearing to even move, she pushed a button and I heard the buzzer go off next to me, sounding stern and impatient. Now was the time! I went through and the door clicked shut behind me.
I found myself in a yellowish, dimly-lighted hallway. People came and went, most carrying folders and manuscripts. I thought I recognized some of them, who I imagined to be famous writers and editors. There were framed cartoons on the walls and as I recall, some Thurber drawings which had been sketched directly onto one. At the end of the hall was an open door, from which I swear I saw an unearthly, greenish glow emanating. As I approached it, I heard laughter and conversation. Suddenly I was there at the doorway. Inside I saw about a dozen famous cartoonists sitting on couches and chairs, chatting and gesturing. They stopped briefly when they saw me, then continued. I knew some of them and sat down with Jack Ziegler and Roz Chast, a couple of the newer artists at the time. I think Bob Mankoff was there that day, too, at the time just another struggling cartoonist trying to sell his wares. Everyone was full of nervous energy and jokes, but I was pretty much frozen with terror. One by one each artist was called into the adjacent office to show their work to Lee Lorenz, the then cartoon editor. When everyone but me had been in and had left or were leaving, Lee stepped into the room and looked around. His gaze landed on me, who he didn’t recognize. “Have I seen you?” he said, probably thinking “Who the hell are you and how did you get in here?” I replied “No.” He motioned me inside and I sat in The Chair across from him as he went through my stuff. He recognized my work, if not me. He held a few of my roughs and handed the rest back to me, then very politely said, “We’re very busy here on Wednesdays. Please check with the receptionist from now on.” We shook hands (Easy for me, since mine was shaking already) and I left. I went back down the hall, through the door into the ugly room, and down the elevator. I managed not to lose my breakfast on 42nd street, but it took about an hour or so of circling the block before I could untie the knot in my stomach.
(A comment here from Julia Suits, which didn’t get submitted directly to the blog and came via email instead:)
“Right out of the gate your posts are 100% engrossing. I will enjoy this! You made my day, opening this door.
Also a response from Charles Barsotti, who tells me the heartless editor I described in this post was actually not a bad guy at all. In his experience, Mr. Geraghty was “very supportive and warm”. I stand corrected!