The Best of the Rejection Collection: 293 Cartoons That Were Too Dumb, Too Dark, or Too Naughty for The New Yorker
by Matthew Diffee
It’s the best of the worst: 293 of the funniest cartoons rejected by The New Yorker but luckily for us, now in paperback and available to enjoy. The Rejection Collection brings together some of The New Yorker’s brightest talents—Roz Chast, Gahan Wilson, Sam Gross, Jack Zeigler, David Sipress, and more—and reveals their other side. Their dark side. Their juvenile side. Their sick side. Their naughty side. Their outrageous side.
And what a treat. Ventriloquist dummy cartoons. Operating room cartoons. Bring your daughter to work day cartoons (the stripper, the prison guard on death row). Lots of couples in bed, quite a few coffins, wise-cracking animals—an obsessive’s plumbing of the weird, the scary, the off-the-wall, and done so without restraint.
Every week The New Yorker receives 500 cartoon submissions, and rejects a great majority—mostly, of course, for not being funny enough. There’s no question why these were rejected, and it’s not for lack of laughs. One can almost hear Eustace Tilley sniffing, We are not amused.
The New Yorker is known for its top class gag cartoons; every cartoonist aspires to be published in there. And there’s an iceberg involved. At the lower, bottom-heavy end, there’s all the dross that doesn’t even make it into any cartoonist’s list of possibilities. Then, nearer the top, comes the list of what a cartoonist might pitch to The New Yorker. And then, at the very top is the 1% of the 1% of the 1% of the 1% which make it into print.
The New Yorker, has stringent quality standards and not only must cartoons be funny and skilfully drawn, the cartoons must also avoid subjects which are “too dumb, too dark, or too naughty for publication in this esteemed organ”.
But cartoonists, by the very nature of their psyche, are often mischievous, dumb, dark and naughty. So, what do they do with their rejects? One possibility is to publish them elsewhere, including in one of the earlier collections of The New Yorker’s rejections. These collections are worthwhile in themselves. But this particular book consists of the very best of them.
Collated (and rescued) by Matthew Diffee, himself an admired but oft rejected New Yorker cartoonist, these are brought together alongside potted bios of the cartoonists featured. The format of the book revolves around asking questions, from straightforward ones such as “Where do you get your ideas?” – probably the most despised question which all cartoonists face – to inviting them to fill in a blank pie chart to visually depict their life.
This adds a great deal of insight and humour to the book and gives it more depth, rather than a simple book of gag cartoons. However, a small weakness of this format is that each cartoonist was asked (more or less) the same set of questions and, given that some of the answers weren’t really all that funny, it introduced a tiny bit of repetition to the book. This probably wouldn’t have been as noticeable for someone dipping into the book but for someone reading it from cover to cover in one sitting, as I did, it became a wee bit wearing.
Overall, I thought that this was a terrific book. Inevitably, some of the cartoons were funnier than others, and some are funnier than many of the cartoons in The New Yorker itself. Without the restraints, the cartoonists can tackle their gags in a less subtle and often more vulgar way, thus often resulting in freer and funnier gags. This book would be ideal for a gift, good for a guest room, and perfect for the smallest room in the house.
If you’d like to buy the book, please use the links below.