For almost a century, readers have turned to The New Yorker for its award-winning journalism. But the magazine’s cartoons are what have left the most lasting impression on our walls, refrigerators, and cubicles.
Behind those cartoons is 34-year-old Emma Allen. She is the youngest cartoon editor in the magazine’s history, who has selected cartoons ranging from the serious and high-minded to the silly and just plain funny.
She took over the role in 2017 when she replaced longtime cartoon editor Bob Mankoff. Allen described to “CBS Mornings” co-host Tony Dokoupil some of the advice Mankoff left her.
“You pick what’s funny. And you get rid of what’s not funny. And fundamentally, that is all there is to it,” she recalled.
She was already doing that with words—editing humor articles on the magazine’s website—when Remnick suggested she try pictures, too.
She took on the role when she was 29 years old, but had prior experience as a humor columnist in college, and before that, as a little kid who collected New Yorker cartoons.
“I guess for all the ones I understood, I thought they were hilarious. And for all the ones I didn’t understand, I sort of wanted to unpack them or grow up enough to be able to understand them,” Allen said.
She said that she “laughs out loud four times in the entire process of looking at 1,000 cartoons.”
“The thing that really will sell a cartoon is an element of surprise. I’m in this dead-eye infinite scroll mode. If something shocks me, out of my stupor, then that is — it’s in, or at least it’s gotten to the next stage, where [The New Yorker editor] David Remnick has to also be surprised by it,” she said.
Allen believes she was hired because of the “imprint” she could put on the magazine and the new voices she would find and promote.
She has been recruiting cartoonists like Ellie Black and Suerynn Lee, who have been impressed by Allen’s leadership abilities.
Black told Dokoupil, “how fortunate it feels to be able to share your work with somebody who takes it seriously and listens to you,” Black said.
Both say they feel supported by Allen, who not only encouraged them to submit their work into competitions but has provided helpful feedback on cartoons.
In a show of respect, Lee shared a cartoon of Dokoupil interviewing Allen.
Allen said by bringing in a new generation of cartoonists, the hope is a new generation of readers will follow—not only for the articles but for the laughs.
“Part of the joy of it is that you can run a New Yorker cartoon that is a very unsophisticated, dumb…joke. And you can run a New Yorker cartoon that alludes to a relatively obscure line of poetry. And both of those things can exist in the same place,” she said. “And is every single person who reads The New Yorker going to like both of those? No. But I want there to be an accessible point for anyone who is coming to New Yorker cartoons and wants to have a laugh, see a bit of their life represented.”