Mort Gerberg: The person who pushes the pen

Mort shows his T-shirt.

Mort Gerberg and I met in 2017, in a stuffy meeting room/waiting room at the office of The New Yorker. We were among the group of about twelve people hanging around that day and each of us waited our turn to show our drawing to the cartoonist, Emma Allen.

I had just sold my first cartoon to the magazine; Mort, who had started contributing in 1965, had sold hundreds. In that room, Mort was a legend, but he wore that status lightly: funny, curious, and friendly to everyone, including newcomers like me. We got to talking about life drawings, and soon, despite the sixty years between us, we were fast friends.

Today, at the age of 93, Mort still regularly contributes cartoons for The New Yorkeras he has done for the past 59 years. He and his wife, Judith, have since moved from Manhattan to Denver to be closer to family, but we still talk regularly, exchanging updates on life, work, and the other cartoonists. This is my first visit to his new home: I’ve come to interview him about his long career, and to ask for his advice.

Mort and Sofia talk at a table.
Mort and Sofia talk at a table.

Doing justice to Mort’s personal history is a monumental task. To make a long story impossibly short: Mort was born in Brooklyn, in 1931. He grew up with a small frame, poor eyesight and a keen interest in three things: music, drawing and stickball.

Mort and Sofia talk at a table.

Immediately after graduating from City College, he was drafted into the Army, where he served in the public information department.

The finger is pointed at an old newspaper article.
Sofia and Mort look at an old newspaper.

He spent the rest of his twenties in boring jobs in advertising and promotions, until a dramatic incident involving a knocked-over desk and a nearly severed finger led him to leave everything behind and move to Mexico, where he spent a year reinventing himself as a cartoonist.

It worked. By 1963, Mort was selling cartoons and illustrated spreads to several smaller magazines. With some encouragement, he began submitting to The New Yorkerand spent a year or two dropping off cartoons at the receptionist's desk without any further interaction, which was common practice at the time.

Young Mort hands the entries to the receptionist.
Mort makes a gesture.

Finally, in 1965, the cartoon editor's assistant came into the lobby—

The cartoon editor's assistant holds one of young Mort's submissions.
Young Mort begs the Cartoon Editor's assistant.
Sofia and Mort are sitting at a table talking.

After some more back and forth with the editor, Jim Geraghty, the cartoon below was published as a full-page illustration in 1965. It was the beginning of a long and illustrious career.

Two ladies look up at the vaulted ceilings of a large Gothic church. They stand in the middle of the nave.

October 30, 1965

Sofia talks to Mort, who is rummaging through drawers for pens.
Sofia talks to Mort, who is rummaging through drawers for pens.
Sofia talks to Mort, who is rummaging through drawers for pens.

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