One morning in fall 2016, Lars Kenseth rode an elevator to the 38th floor of One World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan. After signing in with other cartoonists, he sat in the waiting room, clutching a small selection of his best single-panel gags. His knees were knocking. He worried he might even pass out from nerves and wake up in the hospital. Kenseth had already found success pitching animated shows to bigwig TV executives on the West Coast, but this was different. This was The New Yorker. And he’d been dreaming of this moment since he was a child.
“I was probably 6 or 7,” recalls Kenseth, “when my dad foisted this Charles Addams retrospective on me. It was way too dark for me to even comprehend, but I fell in love with the weirdness and cleverness—they’re the quintessential New Yorker cartoons.” Kenseth spent much of his childhood doodling, but when he got to Dartmouth he didn’t draw cartoons. Instead, with the encouragement of film and media studies professor David Ehrlich, he found his calling in the world of animation.
Kenseth moved to Los Angeles shortly after graduation. He eventually worked on animated shows for Fox and MTV, including Lifers and Popzilla. In 2016, inspired by a documentary about New Yorker cartoonists, he started producing gag cartoons again in earnest. “I got into the routine of doing 10 per week,” he says.
“Lars has a great work ethic,” says Matt Diffee, head of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Cartoonists Society. “He also has the ability and the confidence to do really absurd, nutty jokes.” Diffee recognized Kenseth’s potential and helped secure a meeting with Bob Mankoff, then the cartoon editor for The New Yorker.
When Mankoff finally called Kenseth in from the waiting room to review his submissions, he praised the young cartoonist’s sense of humor. He also derided Kenseth’s drawing style, which featured sinister-looking characters with long, pointy noses. “Mankoff told me to ‘get rid of that avian proboscis,’ ” says Kenseth. “So I went back to the drawing board.” A few weeks—and a few design tweaks—later, Mankoff bought two submissions.
Beyond his cartoon work, Kenseth continues to produce the animated show Chuck Deuce for Adult Swim, has multiple scripts in development for other projects and will soon take the reins of the local Cartoonist Society chapter from Diffee. “I don’t know anybody who’s working harder than Lars. He’s in a great position, and I think the road is upward for him,” says Diffee. (Kenseth, a fan of Keggy, the unofficial Dartmouth mascot, also created the “Sketchbook” illustration for this issue.)
Kenseth’s first New Yorker cartoon—featuring a creepy clown peering through a window into a psychiatrist’s office—ran in the November 14, 2016, issue. In the months since, he’s sold more than a dozen to the magazine. Still, for every cartoon bought by The New Yorker, many more are turned down. Here’s a selection of single-panel gags from Kenseth’s pile of rejects.