Magazine article Moment

A Life in Pictures Bobmankoff: The Dotted Path to Cartoon Heaven

Magazine article Moment

A Life in Pictures Bobmankoff: The Dotted Path to Cartoon Heaven

Article excerpt

Bob Mankoff was born in 1944, while his father Lou was away in World War II. Bob lived on the second floor of a house in the Bronx with his mother Mollie and 11 family members. "My mother doted on me," he says. "I was the precious child it took a while for them to have. She used to put a mirror to my mouth to make sure I was breathing. That's why I am a hypochondriac today."

When Lou came home from the war, he moved the family to "the country"--that is, Queens ("We never spotted any cows on the front lawn," says Bob), and went into the wall-to-wall carpeting business. The timing was right--wall-to-wall was the symbol of middle-class luxury at the time, making it possible for the family to indulge in middle-class luxuries of their own such as vacations to Brown's, one of the Jewish resorts in the Catskills.

During the 1950s, the Borscht Belt was a hotbed of Jewish comedy. "I saw Jerry Lewis and Buddy Hackett," recalls Bob. This caricature of Lewis was featured on billboards on the road to Brown's with the slogan: "Brown's is my favorite resort." Like lots of kids, Bob loved to draw and copied his favorite cartoon characters, such as Bugs Bunny and Donald Duck. "That's how you start everything creative, you see something you admire and then try to do what they do," he says. "Creation is always re-creation of something that came before."

* Bob memorized his haftarah for his 1957 bar mitzvah from a record but promptly erased it from his memory to make room for baseball trivia. "The Yankees were my real religion," he admits, guiltily, adding that he does "observe" Jewish culture. His parents threw a big shindig for him at the Pierre Hotel in Manhattan where he was fascinated not by the rabbi but by the entertainer: "He was a funny and creative tummler who played the piano upside down, plus he had a hot wife," says Bob. "I realized if you were Jewish, you didn't have to be a lawyer or accountant or dentist."

After dabbling in drawing in high school, Bob headed to Syracuse University, where he majored in long hair with a minor in facial hair. To avoid the draft after graduation, he enrolled in graduate school in 1967 to study experimental psychology (first at an all-black university in Atlanta, eventually at City University of New York). "I am A.B.D. (All But Dissertation). I quit to become a cartoonist" He launched his new career in the New York Public Library where he looked at all New Yorker cartoons since the magazine's inception in 1925. "I wanted to know what made a New Yorker cartoon special. I found out that there is no one element. You just know when you see it. No single cartoon tells you, but when you look at all of them, you start to understand the sensibility that goes with the magazine. …

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