The Ink Spill Interview: Mort Gerberg
October 29, 2021

                Sam Gross, Mort Gerberg, and Edward Koren. NYC, Spring, 2017.  
                                The Ink Spill Interview: Mort Gerberg
This week marks the 56th anniversary of the publication of the first cartoon Mort Gerberg sold to The New Yorker. The cartoon was not the first of his published – that honor goes to the April 10th 1965  drawing of a trio of folks on a bench in Washington Square Park. The first drawing sold to the magazine has, as you would expect, a special place in every New Yorker cartoonist’s heart. Mort’s first sold, shown directly below,  “I’ve always been partial to high ceilings”  was published as a full page, half a year after its purchase, in the issue of October 30, 1965.
I thought this anniversary would be a great time to visit with Mr. Gerberg, who only recently moved out west from his long time residency in New York City. I caught him as he was trying to get hold of a piano mover (Mort is an accomplished pianist, with a preference for what he calls “old timey 20s music”).
 What follows is an edited version of our phone conversation that covers the sweep of his New Yorker career. For those wishing to read about and see more of his work outside of The New Yorker I highly recommend Mort Gerberg On The Scene: A 50-Year Cartoon Chronicle, published by Fantagraphics in 2019. There is also, of course, his website. 
 We spoke the day after Facebook went down around the world (October 4th), and our conversation begins with him referencing it.
Michael Maslin: Mort! How’s everything?
 Mort Gerberg: I’m in the middle of this huge torrent of technological difficulties and all kinds of other stuff everyone else is experiencing…I’m lookin’ to move my piano, and we have to move again – it’s one of those days.
 MM: Would you rather we do this another day that’s less crazy?
 MG: No, let’s just do this because it’s gonna get worse.
MM: That would make a good book title.
MG: Yeah, It’s Gonna Get Worse. Yesterday I was putting things up on social media and helping with this Gold Medal thing [ Mort was awarded the National Cartoonists Society’s Hall Of Fame Gold Key award] I was trying to deal with stuff and I couldn’t get onto Facebook, and Instagram and I didn’t realize that it was at that moment all over the world.
 MM: You, and three billion other people were having problems.
MG: Well you know, everything revolves around the self. It was just one additional thing the Gods  were pouring on me.
 MM: So, okay, first question, and it goes way back to your professional start: was your first published cartoon in Esquire, in 1960?
MG: Aaaah, Well, I’ve led a complicated life. One of the reasons I’ve been doing all this stuff…I had a career before I really went into cartooning. At one point after I got out of the army I had a job writing publicity stuff for an agent, and then I worked for a newspaper reporter. I was a newspaper reporter. And after being a newspaper reporter, I got a job at Cosmopolitan in promotion. And after that the headhunter came and I got a big job at Ziff-Davis; all this time I was futzing around with trying to do cartoons. And some place in the middle of all that I was going to school – I wanted to go to journalism school. And I decided to try to do some cartoons. Maybe because I was working for Cosmopolitan I tried to selling some things to them. I think there might have been minor things – not minor things, spot things in Cosmopolitan, maybe in 1958. Ah, I remember what it was: it was a golf course, captionless, and the guy has just done a putt. And out of the hole that he has putted into, a hand has reached out of the hole and thrown the ball out. That was sometime in ’59.  I mark the first real attempt in Esquire as the 9 panel in Mexico; I sent it from Mexico. And that’s really when I made my commitment [to being a cartoonist]. They printed it sometime later.
.                          Above: an early Gerberg cartoon in The Realist
Other people mark my beginning from when I was with Krassner, in The Realist, when I got back from Mexico in the 1960s…’61.  I know you want to be accurate, but I’d have to do a huge amount of personal research. 
 MM: No, no – it’s okay.  You’re the source of your own history…
MG: [laughing] Of my own life. I can say anything I want. Most of the people who would argue with me are probably dead by now [laughing].  It’s one of the things that I think is great about being older  — you outlive everybody who would be your critic.That’s my intention. I going to live to be 120. People like you will be long gone, and won’t be able to say that anything I said was wrong.
 When I came out of the army…63, 64…65 I’m back in the city, doing civilian stuff, and I’m always playing with the idea of being a cartoonist, and always dissuaded from going into this. And at some point I had the G.I. Bill, and I said well, I’ll take some classes at Cartoonists & Illustrators. So I went there and Charlie Strauss was a teacher, and I also had Jerry Robinson as a teacher.  But after about 6 months or so I didn’t like what they were teaching me. They were having me draw in a stupid way, like putting pencil down and then going over it. Then a blue pencil, and tracing it. I couldn’t deal with that. 
  MM: Let’s talk about your earliest New Yorker art editors: James Geraghty [The New Yorker‘s art editor from 1939-1973] and Lee Lorenz [the magazine’s art editor from 1973 -1993, and its cartoon editor from 1993-1997]
 MG: You’re talking about olden times. It was really very formal and very aggressive in a certain sense of  following certain regulations. I don’t know how many times Lee would look at drawings of mine, finishes that came in…some people obviously draw better than others…and so Lee was able to modify his approaches, and say “do this” and “do that.”  I got a whole fistful of them [suggestions from Lorenz].  For example: a post office box: he’d say, “Mort, that’s not right.  You can do better than that.” And he would force me to go out and make a sketch of a post office box. It was wonderful. I loved him for that.
 One of my personal favorite cartoons is the 18th century kids and they’re out on the street holding their instruments. There’s a cello in there, and flutes, and things like that, and they’re calling out to the apartment where this woman has opened the shutters and she’s looking down at them.  And one of them, holding the cello, shouts up to her and says, “Can Wolfgang come out and play?”
Lee looked at that drawing with those gimlet eyes and he said, shockingly, because we had strong connections with music, “Mort, the opening on this cello is in the wrong place – it’s much too high.”  If you look at it, you’ll see it’s a heavy wash drawing and there’s a lot of wonderful things in it that I love to do. My first reaction was: Oh my god – I’m going to have to do this all over. It was in those days before I had heard about Photoshop. So I said to Lee, “I have to do this whole thing over again?” And he said, “No… don’t worry about it –we’ll fix it in Photoshop.”  And they did.
When I did my interview with [Charles] Saxon*, Chuck [ told me how he] worked on his drawings. Incredible.  Version after version after version. He’d hang it on the wall and look at it for three days. And if it didn’t look right, he’d take it back and start over again. His process was very demanding. Chuck sat with me in the Algonquin for hours and explained to me how he did those drawings.
 MM: Beautiful work, beautiful drawings. You can maybe see some Saxon influence in your full page cathedral drawing.
MG: Well that was well before I ever met Saxon.
 MM: But I’m sure you’d seen his work.
MG: Oh my god, yes. That’s right, there was that certain looseness that he did. [Edward] Sorel works like that also. Ed’s another master.  That’s what I used to teach: draw from your armpit.  Don’t draw from your fingertips. I watched Ed draw for awhile. He’s got this gigantic drawing board, and truly, he did it from the armpit. I mean, it was just amazing [photo: Mort Gerberg and Edward Sorel, NYC, 2017]
MM: Yeah, Ed’s a master.
 MG: I never had the guts to go as far as he would go.
 MM: Let’s discuss the very first drawing you sold to The New Yorker [James Geraghty was The New Yorker’s art editor at that time].
Photo below: Barbara Nicholls, Charles Saxon, and James Geraghty at the New Yorker, 25 West 43rd St., early 1960s. 
MG: Geraghty was a gruff man, a nice man – I liked him very much, and he liked me.  But if he wanted something that was different or a change, he was not able to communicate that to me. In the case of the cathedral drawing, they wanted to buy the idea. Barbara Nicholls [Geraghty’s assistant] came out [from Geraghty’s office into the cartoonists lounge] and was holding my rough and said they wanted to buy it. And I was ecstatic. My god – my first sale!  And I said, what do I do. So naïve, I hadn’t a clue about what to do. And I said to her, “So I just do another drawing, and fix it up?” Because it was a rough. And Barbara said, “No, no, no — you can’t draw it.”  And I said, “Yes, I can draw it.” I didn’t understand they didn’t want me to draw it. Well I kept pushing to draw it, and finally she said, “Oh, well, draw it.” So I went back home and did a finish, using photographs as references, and brought it back the next week and dropped it off because I wasn’t allowed in the back. And it was rejected. Geraghty asked me to come and see him and told me that I had to make the drawing more beautiful, whatever that meant. So I got the idea to take my sketch book and went to St. Patrick’s cathedral and sketched this scene that they eventually bought. 
 MM: It all worked out…
 MG: Yeah, well I started out with the $3 and $5, $15-a-cartoon magazines, and then The Saturday Review and finally I got to the top, and finally got to be in The New Yorker.  And I was also simultaneously with Playboy. I started doing the color there. Hef [Hugh Hefner, the founder and first editor of Playboy] at first wanted me to do the back of the book social commentary black and white, and then I realized, schmuck, all these other guys were doing color and getting paid a lot more. I finally sold a one color drawing, with a blue overlay, and he [Hefner] liked it so I started doing the full color ones – single panels.
All this other stuff [I’ve done] was an outgrowth of that.  Cartoonists do all of those things: we’re playwrights, we’re writers, we’re actors, and we’re all doing it in one panel.  If you take any of these things out of the panel you can have a whole career out of that. Peter Steiner is doing these great novels – I love his stuff. His writing is wonderful. And he had that great line, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” That’s great writing.
 MM: You know… you, and Peter, and Bob Eckstein and a few others are role models for what other work can be done outside of The New Yorker.
MG: I’m very grateful for this [National Cartoonist’s Society] gold medal because it’s finally showing and noting I’m not just a New Yorker cartoonist but I’ve done all these other things: writing, the animation, the children’s books. I never knew people were taking cognizance of that.
MM: Well you’re On The Scene book is really good at letting people know what the heck you’ve been up to. It’s been helpful to me when I’ve researched you. This is your life — this is your life, Mort Gerberg!
MG: I’m very very pleased with On The Scene. They did a great job. They allowed a lot of input from me.
MM: Now this is something I did when I interviewed Dana Fradon. I’m going to go down a list of New Yorker colleagues and see what you might have to say about them and/or their work. I’ve met some of them, and maybe you’ve met some of them, but I’d like to hear your thoughts. Let’s start with Chon Day…
MG: Never met him.
 MM: Stan Hunt.
MG: Maybe, but…I never had anything to do with him.
 MM: Mischa Richter? [shown below]
MG: I loved Mischa. Mischa was wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. I loved a number of things about him. First of all, his enormous energy. I loved the way he drew. I think I wrote someplace that Mischa Richter did his pen & ink drawings, but he used a stiletto. He was direct, he was from armpit, he was just slashing with his drawings. He was terrific. And very very generous. We used to visit him up on the Cape. He had a great  house in Provincetown.  He had two lots, so that people that drove up to see him would have some place to park. His house was back on the bay and these big waves would be crashing on the rocks behind his house. Mischa would go out every morning, bare-chested, and go in the sub-zero temperature bay.
 I interviewed him a couple of times for the book [Cartooning: The Art & Business], and I said, “Y’know, Mischa, people come to you because you’re on the top of the crowd, the top of the heap… the best.  People come to you and say, ‘Look at these drawings I have done, Mischa. Should I be a cartoonist?’ — what would you say to them? “And Mischa would say: “If you have to ask, you should not be a cartoonist.”  I’ve appended that: you don’t choose to be a cartoonist – cartooning chooses you.
MM: How about Al Ross? [shown right]
MG: Al Ross was wonderful also. He was another one of these guys that just drew immediately. He lived in the Bronx. I rode down with him once on the subway to The New Yorker, and he was doing his roughs on the subway; some of them while he was standing up holding onto the strap. He was absolutely phenomenal  — he was terrific. He was one of four brothers that were artists. [The Roth brothers were Al, Ben, Salo, and Irving]
MM: Al was always very nice to me – I liked him a lot. Always had a smile on his face.
…and how about Barney Tobey? [shown directly below]
MG: Loved Barney Tobey. A true gentleman. His drawings were lush and rich, detailed, with lovely washes. He did this one incredibly gorgeous drawing of some tourists coming down from a Mexican pyramid, shrine…it’s an amazing drawing. Not anything forced, not anything obvious. I loved him very much.  He was very encouraging to me.
 He was in the office when I’d brought in my finish of the cathedral drawing. [Geraghty] wanted to look at my redrawn version. He held it on his lap — my feeling was that it was a week that he was looking at it. And I’m thinking: what in the hell? Does he like it?  Geraghty pointed to the two women who are in the center. And this is the only thing he said to me – he pointed to the two women, and said: “These women. Move them to the center.”
MM: I have the drawing in front of me. 
MG: You see the women in the center? Originally they were over on the left.
Left: “Move them to the center.”
MM: Oh, I see what he was saying.  It has, oh, I don’t know…more majesty with them in the center…
 MG: Yes, well. That was the only thing Geraghty said, and then he handed it back to me. And I was dismissed. I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. The drawing is a mass of tones and things. How can I possibly do this all over again with these angels and stained glass windows, and vaulted ceilings. That’s crazy.
So I came walking out from the back room [Geraghty’s office] and Barney Tobey’s sitting there, this gentle soul looking up, and he sees this stricken young punk, and he said: “Patch it.” I had no idea what he was talking about. And then he told me you draw something and then you put it on top of [the existing drawing].
If you have a magnifying glass you might be able to see that I cut the patch in such a way that the lines were aligned with the line of rows of the pews.
MM: What about Otto Soglow – he was around into the 60s, 70s.
MG: No, never met him. 
MM: [Saul] Steinberg:
MG: No.
MM: [William] Steig?
MG: I met Bill glancingly, but in crowds…at one of those lunches Geraghty had.
MM: I know you met Charles Addams [shown directly below] because of the Linda Davis Addams biography…
 MM: Charlie was very generous when I interviewed him for The [Cartooning:] Art and Business book. I asked him, “Like everybody else, Charlie, I’m asking you two questions people always ask of cartoonists: What kind of pen do you draw with, and where do you get your ideas?” 
He answered, “I don’t know – I’m like a cow. I just give milk.”  
MM: I know – well, actually I don’t know: did Addams ever do one of your ideas?
MG: At the very beginning. It was a subway train. It was early on – I have no idea if they used it.
After I’d been in the magazine, Lee asked me if they could give one of my drawings to George Price. Television had begun a new trend – something they called “Family Hour”…y’know, I fed off these things, that’s where I got most of my juices from. Things that I thought were stupid. I had an idea of a large family watching this television set, and like on the bleachers they were all over the place.  Lee called and said, “Would you mind if we gave this to George?” And I realized it was perfect for him. He had that kokamamie family…he did a hilarious drawing. But I was given to say “no” most of the time [to letting ideas be done by others].
  MM: So it was very rare for them to take an idea from you? 
MG: A couple of times they asked, and I said I’d rather not.  Well I didn’t know when I was starting up that that was a practice, so it was kind of a strange reversal at this time, but it was a phone call from Lee, would you do this.
I got another call from Lee, we want to use a drawing of a movie theater for “A” issue, and we need it right away. And I said, “Alright, I ‘ll get it done right away.” And he said, “No, you don’t understand: we need to ship it out today. Would you mind very much I  put the wash on your drawing?”  And I said, “Are you joking? You’re the best brush man in the world. Please!”  And so he did, and it ran, and it looked gorgeous.
 MM: Was that the drawing of yours of a guy outside a movie theater selling “Good” and “Evil” pennants. It was an early drawing [November 5th, 1966]
MG: No no, that one was my fourth drawing.
MM: Wow, you have a great memory.  That was your fourth drawing! 
MG: The movie cartoon of mine that Lee put the wash on ran in the magazine January 25, 1988 [shown above]. I think I was inspired by my anger at the continuing, rapid increases in the price of movies…seemingly every week. In 1987, the cost of a ticket in NYC rose to about $5….and in the new year of 1988, it was up to $7 ..and still rising. Which is probably why they wanted the cartoon to run immediately, and chose it as “A” issue, which is why Lee needed to get it to the printer the day he called and told me he was in such a rush, if I didn’t mind, he would put a wash on my rough. What I loved, when I saw it in print, was his artistic decision that, given the looseness of my drawing, and the idea, less would be more. I might have been more heavy handed, perhaps undermining the cartoon. Thanks again, Lee.
MM: I was looking through your work on The New Yorker’s Cartoon Bank site yesterday and came upon a few that were unpublished.  One in particular — and I don’t know when you did it – could’ve run now. It’s of a woman out on the sidewalk holding her hand up to her ear as if she’s talking on a cellphone — except there’s no phone in her hand. And she’s saying: “I can’t hear you, Sheila. Someone seems to have stolen my phone.”
MG: [laughs] I don’t know when that was done or where it went.
MM: That could run this week – it could run right now.  
MG:  The New Yorker was always very very sensitive [with political stuff]. The only one who was really doing that was Dana [Fradon], and I admired that he was able to get some things in.  He had just the right touch of naivete and simplicity in his drawings — that took the edge off a lot of the ideas he had.
Left: Dana Fradon
MM: Saying things without saying them, really — but he was saying a lot.  Let me ask you about a few more cartoonists.  I know I’ve had you on the phone a long time.
MG: It’s okay, that’s okay.  I have a lot of phone calls I’d rather not make.
MM: Robert Kraus?
MG: I met Bob a few times. He was a toughie. I couldn’t quite figure him out.
 MM: How about Herbert Goldberg? No one seems to know much about him.  He seems to have disappeared.
MG: He didn’t disappear – he was a huge seller at The Saturday Review. He was in with Norman Cousins very very tight.  I met Herbie there, not at The New Yorker.
MM: How about Joe Mirachi? You must’ve known him.[Photo: Joe Mirachi, NYC, 1984]
MG: Joe! Oh yeah, I liked him. He was from Jersey. I see him as a mechanic in a garage. He was always one of the first people in the office – you’d see him wandering around.  Again, I liked him a lot because of his roughness; he was not a guy wearing a three-piece suit. And he drew that way too. He was a tough guy with big hands — he drew strongly.
MM: You look at his style…no one else drew like that.
MG: It was very very aggressive. Dark, and nothing fussy about it.
MM: I’ve looked at all your New Yorker cartoons, and seeing them, there are, of course, the drawings playing off of something topical, but I want to talk to you about some others. One is a drawing of Robin, of Batman & Robin. It looks like Robin’s gone for a job, he’s sitting across from a guy at a desk, who says to Robin: “Do you have any references besides Batman?” It was in The New Yorker, but it could also run now.
 MG: I was asked to help put together an exhibition at the New York Historical Society called Superheroes In Gotham.  It was a great big wonderful exhibition. I was able to get a couple of originals from Jules Feiffer and a couple of other people. It was based on a lot of cartoonists in NYC drawing superheroes.
  …What was it about that makes you think it could run now?
 MM: The real deal is always of great interest. You didn’t draw just any Robin — you drew Classic Robin.
MG: Well I must confess, I looked him [Robin] up – I tend to like to check things out, and I asked Jerry Robinson [the co-creator of Robin]…
 MM: …Go to the source, why don’t you…
 MG: I did! And I said to Jerry: “Which is the best Robin?” and that one met with his approval.
MM: Another one, I think is interesting, and I’m not sure where this falls, but it’s of the man leaving tread marks on the beach. What is that?
 MG: It’s a New Yorker one.
 MM: Yes, 2008.
 MG: It’s one of these simple abstract kind of things.  It’s mixing metaphors – everybody does that in one way or another. One of the really popular drawings that I like a lot is my drawing of Sisyphus pushing a baseball, and there’s a batter on the top of the hill. Weird stuff. I used to do a lot of stuff that had to do with the so-called classics. The Mona Lisa coming up out of the cake.
MM: Well you’ve got that cartoon mind.
MG: Well, alright.
MM: And your drawing of a man stumbling out on the balcony. He sees the earth up in the sky…great drawing.
MG:  I did another similar drawing… for Playboy. A guy is standing outside on the balcony looking up in the sky and he sees a golf ball.  His girlfriend says to him, “A penny for your thoughts.” These are what I call very usable cliches.
 — At this point we began discussing Robert Gottlieb as editor of The New Yorker, and how sizing of cartoons in the magazine changed during his time there.
 MG: Under Gottlieb there were differences between Lee and Gottlieb about space [for the cartoons]. Gottlieb did not like to have any white space in drawings, according to Lee.  and one of these had to do with a cartoon of mine.  I did this drawing about John Updike…
MM: …Oh yeah – I liked that one. Rabbit…
MG: Rabbit at Rest.  So the way I did that drawing originally, the turtle is all the way over on the left, with a great amount of space in the middle.  And then all the way over on the right is the rabbit under the tree. I do the drawing, and Lee says, “This is terrific.” I go back the next week and Lee says, “Gottlieb hates this drawing You gotta take out some of this space.” [laughter] There was a back-and-forth for a week and-a-half after that. What you saw in the magazine was a compromise. I cut out some of the space, but not all of it. I’m sure we all have stories like that. I venerated Lee because he was fighting for that drawing. He understood it.
MM: Here’s a final question. What about now?  When we were emailing earlier this year about officially announcing your move [out west] you said you were altering your focus on work.  Has your focus altered your work?  Are you working on batches? What’s going on with you right now, besides looking for a piano mover?
MG: Y’know, I’d love to play the piano more.  It’s one of the things I do. One of my proudest accomplishments was giving a recital at the New York Historical Society [laughing] playing on Cole Porter’s piano. I don’t know if you noted that [on Ink Spill].
MM: I noted the exhibit; there was a film… a video of it.  I connected all that.  
MG: I don’t think they had a video of the piano playing.
MM: No, no, but they had a video of you on stage with Marisa [Acocella]
MG: Oh, that was for the book Last Laughs.  
MM: Okay, I didn’t realize it was that far back.
MG: It was about aging and retirement. And [that event] was at the New York Historical Society, and yes, I played piano behind the curtain before they introduced me. Marisa, and Jack [Ziegler] were up on the stage with me. That was videoed. I think it’s on my website.
As far as my work is concerned, I’m really going through a lot of stuff.  I’m so glad you like the On The Scene book. [Because of putting it together] I’ve rediscovered a lot of things I forgot  I did. One of the physical things is trying to deal with all these drawings. One of the reasons I went back in New York recently was that I have these two lockers full of stuff that goes all the way back, including work from childhood, school. I’m donating a lot of stuff to a couple of places, and so that’s a huge logistical mess. It’s not only the thousands of cartoons  — the single panel collections; I don’t even come close to Sam [Gross. Mr. Gross has cataloged every one of his drawings over his long career] or Sid Harris – they have like 40-50,000 cartoons. Or Ed Koren.
MM: I just talked to Ed the other night…
MG: …He and I go way back. I was a part-time cartoon editor for a men’s magazine, and so I wrote to all these people I thought were terrific, and Ed came down, and that’s how we first met, and we bonded that way.
…Anyway, the work: I’ve been drawing less, because of my eye accident, and writing more.
We have the grandkids here, and we’re settling in, and beginning to make use of these great spaces. So maybe I’ll try to do some sketching – I don’t know. I’ve gotten…uh, I was about to say I’ve become tired of doing the cartoons, but that’s not true [laughs]. Something happens, and I find myself scribbling something in a book, a cartoon about some totally topical thing. Pieces of paper are still all over the place.
Here’s a great quote from Frank Modell, who was the best of the best of the best.  He really was the ultimate. I loved him so much.
MM: Yeah. He was terrific terrific guy.
MG: He would say, “A cartoonist is a person who walks around all day long with half-finished ideas and cartoons in his head.”
Photo: Frank Modell
When I was doing Last Laughs, I used to go over to visit him when he lived on Central Park West;  he had an easel set up by the window, overlooking the reservoir, and he was painting, with these great wonderful strokes. And I said, “Frank, I’m doing this book, Last Laughs, cartoons about aging, retirement and the great beyond, and you’re the oldest cartoonist around ( I think he was 91 or 92). You’re the one that should be doing this. He said, “I’m retired. I’m not doing cartoons anymore.”  So I told him I’m closing the book on Friday.  I’m at the eye doctor on Wednesday, and my phone rings, and it’s Frank. He says, “That book of yours: did [Robert] Weber give you any cartoons for it?”  And I said yeah, he gave me a lot of cartoons. They’re terrific. There was a pause, and then he said: “Alright, come over to my apartment tomorrow.”  
I went over and gave me like 25 cartoons. I used more of him than anyone else. And look at those drawings he did when he was like 90 whatever he was. By the way, Frank was the one who got me to do the class [Mort taught a cartooning class at Parson]. He had been teaching the class himself, but said to me, “I’m too busy…you can do it.”  
MM: Frank was just through and through a cartoonist… there was just something special about him. You mentioned Bob Weber [shown below].  He’s revered by so many. Any thoughts on him?
MG: I admired him more than any. When I interviewed him, he was the one made me realize how tough it was to get into The New Yorker. He told me, in these interviews, that he would send in a dozen or fifteen cartoons, every single week for over a year. It took him two years before they said to him, “Well, we like these five ideas, we’d like to buy them;  you can draw two of them” [meaning the magazine would give the other three ideas to contract artists].  And then of course, he started selling. I had seen his work and loved what he did with those very soft, thin imported charcoal sticks. I didn’t know what they were until I met him for the first time.  Bob was subletting a space from a mutual friend. I was there, talking with my friend when these doors that led out to a terrace opened. A guy walks in and he’s wearing a breathing mask. My friend introduces us and says, “This is Bob Weber.” Bob was standing there with a can of fixative. He had to spray every time he put another layer of charcoal down on his drawing paper. Again, the kindest man I ever met. One of the finest artists. He would draw vertically, across the page from left to right, because if he put his hand back again, he might smear something. He saw the whole drawing in his head and then he just drew it.
MM: How about Arnie Levin…
MG: Arnie had wonderful wonderful ideas. I used a lot of his work in the cartooning book [Cartooning: The Art and the Business]. He explained how he took the visual things, because most of his stuff was so visual [i.e., not captioned]. I loved the one of his with the sloth hanging upside down on a tree, and beneath him on the ground was a watch, lip balm, change. and keys.
 At the bottom of all of this is a sensibility which is common to these crazy people who do this thing; what it used take to go from months to years without even getting close [to selling a drawing]; not even being invited in the back room. It got to be a strange thing – who was going to be first going into see Geraghty.  I remember meeting Donald Reilly on 44th Street. Both of us were beginning at that time.  They loved Donald – he was really great.  So we were walking east to the magazine from 5th Avenue, and Donald said, “I just want you to know I was on 44th Street before you were.”
Donald, of course, was the author of the greatest caption ever written.
MM: Oh! What caption is that?
MG: Ah,  well you know the cartoon. You’ve seen it a million times.  It’s the evil Lord who comes in to the studio, where there’s an artist…
MM: Oh yeah — I know where you’re going. That is an incredible drawing.
MG: I do lectures on that caption. 
MM: A highly memorable drawing.
MG: One final thing: Lee always played with his group down at Arthur’sTavern. He was probably one of the best jazz cornetists in the country at one point. I went down there with Judith [Mort’s wife] and watched him play.  The next week I went into the office with my batch, and Lee said, “It was so great that you and Judith came down to see me play.” 
I said, “Are you kidding? I would kill to be able to play like you guys play… play gigs…”.
And Lee looked at me and said, “Yeah, you’d play gigs. And then you’d have two careers you couldn’t make a living from.” 
More information: 
Mort Gerberg’s Website (includes his books, and a variety of cartoons from different areas of interest throughout his career)
Video:.The NCS Gold Key Award video: Mort interviewed in 2021 by NCS (and New Yorker cartoonist) President Jason Chatfield.
*When Mort refers to interviews he did with Charles Saxon, Arnie Levin, Mischa Richter, and Robert Weber, he’s referring to his research for Cartooning: The Art and the Business — the book of which he says he is most proud.   
Group photo of Gross, Gerberg, and Koren; photos of Robert Weber; Frank Modell: courtesy of Liza Donnelly.
Photo of Mischa Richter; photo of Barbara Nicholls, Charles Saxon ,and James Geraghty, courtesy of Sarah Geraghty Herndon.
Photo screen grab of Joe Mirachi: Village Voice, 1984. 
 New Yorker Drawings (all by Mort Gerberg, unless indicated):
“I always liked high ceilings.” October 30, 1965
“Can Wolfgang come out and play?” August 26, 1996
“Do you have any references besides Batman?”  July 7, 1997
captionless: Man leaving tread marks on the beach. July 7, 2008
captionless: Sisyphus pushing baseball up hill. July 6, 2009
captionless: Man sees planet Earth up in sky. October 29, 1990
captionless: Rabbit reading Rabbit At Rest. October 15, 1990
Donald Reilly’s “best caption ever” New Yorker drawing appeared December 31, 1966. 
George Price’s “We’ll call you back after nine. We’re in the middle of Family Hour.” October 20, 1975…idea by Mort Gerberg.
From Playboy (date unknown): “A penny for your thoughts.” 
Friday Spill: Latest Cartoon Caption Contest Podcast Guest…Paul Karasik; Article Of Interest: Pat Byrnes; Daily Cartoonists & Cartoons
Weekend Spill: Happy Halloween!: An Ink Spill Interview Compendium; The Tilley Watch Online, October 25-29, 2021; Catching Up With Two Fave Blogs: A New Yorker State Of Mind & Attempted Bloggery
David A Fay says:
October 29, 2021 at 3:28 pm
Great interview – WOW he was/is a genius
Larry Trepel says:
October 30, 2021 at 2:08 pm
Not mentioned here is that Mort was a wonderful teacher at the New School for a number of years. Taught me much about setup, construction, and the essence of how a panel cartoon works during the years I took his class in the late ’80’s. Will always be grateful to him.
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *
Name *
Email *

© 2020 Michael Maslin