NEW YORK — There was symbolism at work when the new cartoon editor of The New Yorker, Robert Mankoff, gathered with his fellow artists recently at a studio on Manhattan's West Side for a group photograph.
Five years ago, when editor Tina Brown took over The New Yorker, the venerable magazine's cartoonists were concerned that her commitment to change - including the introduction of photos - meant their wry, single-panel drawings would follow the magazine's signature 20,000-word articles out the door.
"A three-page spread of photographs or illustrations represents, in the magazine, maybe [space for] 12 cartoons," notes cartoonist Lee Lorenz, who was The New Yorker's art editor from 1973 to 1993 and then cartoon editor until earlier this year.
But when the new portrait of the New Yorker cartoonists runs in December, it won't take any cartoon space. That's because it is planned as part of the magazine's first-ever Cartoon Issue, an edition that will stand New Yorker tradition on its head.
As Mr. Mankoff puts it, instead of featuring "cartoons bobbing on a sea of text," the issue will have "text bobbing on a sea of cartoons." More than anything, he says, the special issue represents The New Yorker's "renewed commitment to its cartoonists and its cartoons."
That sort of confidence did not exist in June 1992, when Ms. Brown first met with the cartoonists and was greeted by what she recalls as "a roomful of faces glowering at me."
But Brown had no intention of jettisoning cartoons. She says now she considers them "signature parts of the magazine," as untouchable as The New Yorker's distinctive typeface and illustrated covers.
The December issue will celebrate that heritage and will include a foldout cover that brings together, in one riotous scene, the distinctive drawings of the magazine's best-known cartoonists.
"New Yorker cartoons are evergreen," Mankoff told his fellow cartoonists at a lunch after the photo shoot. "They represent, in a glitzy world, an absolute authenticity."
Brown notes that Mankoff isn't afraid to give New Yorker cartoons "an edge."
"I don't view myself as a custodian," he says. "I view myself as someone who respects the past, then innovates and changes."