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Working for The New Yorker: An Interview with Cartoonist Victoria Roberts

Nona cartoon 2

By Irma Kirkenstein

Every week, Victoria Roberts, a cartoonist under contract to The New Yorker magazine for over 30 years, sends 10 ideas into the magazine in the form of rough drawings.

She used to draw them in pencil and take them into the magazine in person. Now a San Miguel resident, she draws them in pen and scans them with her phone, using an app called Turboscan.

In New York, you could go in to see the cartoon editor, Lee Lorenz, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays; you were allotted a day. Victoria’s day was Wednesday, when more of the old-time cartoonists went in—Ed Fisher, Dana Fradon, Arnie Levin, and Jim Stevenson. The Tuesday group was “groovier,” with Mick Stevens, Roz Chast, and Jack Ziegler in attendance.

Before she had any cartoons accepted by The New Yorker, Roberts used to drop off her drawings in a manila envelope.

“You dropped them off at reception. You weren’t allowed into the office,” she explains. “The receptionist, whose name escapes me, had dark hair, wore a fair bit of makeup, and had a pet ferret.”

When you dropped off your drawings, you picked up your drawings from the previous week,

which were usually accompanied by a cream-colored printed rejection note, with a silhouette of Eustace Tilly, the magazine’s monocled mascot, and a form letter thanking you for your submission.

How did she cope with rejection?

Sometimes, Roberts says, she would cry, placing the envelope of cartoons in a garbage bin at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 43rd Street.

“Where do you get your ideas? Which comes first, the caption or the drawing?” I wondered.

Victoria has no answer to either of these questions because for the most part, she says, “I don’t know what I’m doing!”

It wasn’t until her nephew, Jake Blanc, asked his father, “What is happening to Grandpa Bob in the magazine this week?” that Roberts realized she had been drawing her stepfather Bob Benjamin and mother Inés Roth (former San Miguel residents) for many years!

Bob was a New Yorker who lived in México City. He had a library with a small bathroom off it,

with blue tiles, where Roberts would hide and go through a stack of New Yorkers.

What made her keep going? In March 1986, she picked up her manila envelope and on the rejection slip was scribbled in pencil please try us again. It was a green light.

In June, she found another scribble on the rejection slips in Lee Lorenz’s almost indecipherable script, saying, holding one. A inspection of her returned drawings revealed that one was missing. What did this mean?

She called the office and got to speak to Lee on the phone. “We’ve bought it,” he said, “please come in next Wednesday.”

 

Theater

The Nona Show by Victoria Roberts

Thu–Sat, Jul 25–27, 7pm

Sun, Jul 28, 3pm

San Miguel Playhouse

Av Independencia 82

Tickets

200 pesos

Online and at Solutions

 

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