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The best cartoons? All of them

THE COMPLETE CARTOONS OF THE NEW YORKER, ed. by Robert Mankoff, foreword by editor-in-chief David Remnick, Black Dog & Leventhal, 656 pages, $60, oversize.

Everyone knows The New Yorker has the best cartoons —the ones you enjoy clipping and hanging on the fridge or on the bulletin board. So how is it possible to resist a magnum opus titled "The Complete Cartoons of the New Yorker"?

This splendid book is designed to help celebrate the approaching 80th anniversary of The New Yorker, which has published 68,647 cartoons since 1925. The editor left out about 40,000 cartoons — but redeemed himself by attaching two CDs containing every cartoon ever published in the magazine.

The cartoons are introduced by some of the New Yorker's most appreciated writers, including Roger Angell, Lillian Ross, John Updike and Calvin Trillin. Bob Mankoff, current cartoon editor of the magazine, compiled and selected those in this book, which are organized by decade in an effort to capture the nature of the American psyche during each 10-year period.

The book is billed as a "history lesson framed by laughter," which is an apt description.

The cartoonists who created this work are many — Peter Arno, George Price, Charles Addams, Alex Gregory, Matthew Diffee, Bruce Eric Kaplan Charles Barsotti, Roz Chast, Jack Ziegler, George Booth and hundreds of others. Their talents are legendary. Clearly, the ability to create a cartoon that immediately produces a hearty chuckle is a rare gift.

This is a book you cannot possibly read in one sitting — but you will enjoy it over weeks and months, especially as you recognize the differences in themes of each decade, and how humor has changed. Here are some examples:

— A cartoon from 1940 shows a millionaire saying to his lawyer, "Now Read me the part again where I disinherit everybody."

— In 1971, a man opens his door to get the paper and finds a huge copy of the New York Times covering his entire lawn.

— In 1988, two women sit visiting in a living room while a cat pokes holes in a table leg with an electric drill, as one woman says, "We had her declawed but she's still impossible."

— In 2003, a man behind a desk says to a man standing before him: "I'd like your honest, unbiased, and possibly career-ending opinion on something."

— In 2004, two men sit inside an elite club and one says, "I approve of the way he's mishandling the economy."


E-mail: dennis@desnews.com