It's the magazine that raises eyebrows when one weakly insists, "I buy it for the articles." Because everyone knows that what people really love about The New Yorker is its cartoons...

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“The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker”

Edited by Robert Mankoff

Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 656 pp., $60 (includes two CDs of all the cartoons)

It’s the magazine that raises eyebrows when one weakly insists, “I buy it for the articles.” Because everyone knows that what people really love about The New Yorker is its cartoons.

Now, to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the magazine, The New Yorker has collected eight decades of its cartoons into a massive, nine-pound book, suitable for only the sturdiest of coffee tables. The collection was edited by the magazine’s cartoon editor, Robert Mankoff (who will talk about the book and The New Yorker at Town Hall Tuesday night), and is interspersed with delightful essays from such New Yorker contributors as Roger Angell and Calvin Trillin.

The book’s heft is initially off-putting, as is the nagging feeling that The New Yorker has flogged its cartoon franchise within an inch of its life, marketing desk calendars, dog-only and cat-only collections, and many other subsets.

But spending just a few minutes with this book, which is organized into chronological chapters, is a chance to lose oneself in literary history. Everyone will find favorite artists here, from the art nouveau stylishness of Peter Arno and the surreal gothic prism of Charles Addams to the decidedly ’90s neuroses of Roz Chast.

“THE COMPLETE CARTOONS OF THE NEW YORKER”

The decades are further divvied up by topic, including “war,” “television,” and the perennially popular “drinking” and “money.” The essays help capture the era inside The New Yorker’s offices as the works we see were being created and selected. Current editor David Remnick tells wry stories of the excruciating micromanagement by legendary New Yorker editor Harold Ross, who marked up every cartoon with notes and suggestions to be trotted back to the beleaguered artists. One anecdote Remnick dryly recounts happened in 1933: “Ross came to a drawing by Carl Rose with the caption ‘Speak, Mr. Pennywhistle, speak to me.’ Thanks to the archives, we have his notes to Rose as dictated to [his assistant] Miss Terry: ‘Reduce Mr. Pennywhistle and make him concave.’ ”

“The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker” is an investment, both in money and living-room real estate, but if you think of it as eight decades of a cultural encyclopedia condensed into one volume, it begins to feel like one that will pay off over time.

Anne Hurley is The Times’ pop-culture editor: ahurley@seattletimes.com