Monday, November 16th, 2015

Very Semi-Serious

After watching Leah Wolchok’s fascinating look behind the scenes of The New Yorker’s celebrated Cartoon Department and having this mini crash course into its workings, it makes you have a great deal of respect to all the rather eccentric men (and a few women) whose lives are solely all about getting their ‘funnies’ published  in this prestigious journal. Every Tuesday Robert Mankoff the Cartoon Editor holds an ‘open call’ for any artist and aspiring cartoonist to turn up and show him their work. And they do in droves from old-timers like George Booth who sold his first cartoon to the magazine in the 1960’s,  to very nervous newcomers such as Liana Finck. who professes that she may have Aspergers which would account for her own quirky take on life that end up in her work.
Mankoff, himself a successful cartoonist, is polite but brusque as he speeds through their submissions at a seemingly indecent pace lashing out his critiques or outright dismissals as they sit watching him. Veteran contributors are well used to this and will occasionally pitch in with their own comments in the hope of changing Mankoff’s mind, but the newbies sit there somewhat dazed and try and take on board his opinions. To be fair to Mankoff he tries to not only ensure that he just doesn’t give a good crack of the whip to his regulars, but he purposely strives to encourage up and coming new talent as well. One of these is Ed Steed a painfully shy ex-shepherd who had never even heard of The New Yorker until he was backpacking through Vietnam, but who has very quickly become one the magazine’s most unlikely new stars.
The final word about what cartoons actually get bought and published lies with editor-in-chief David Remnick whose personal mandate is to encourage both young and diversified talent.  Whilst they are making great strides on the former, we could see in the film that asides from the few women, the rest are old white men.
When Wolchok profiles some of the more prominent cartoonists we learn that in the past it was actually possible to make a comfortable living doing this.  Now as all the magazines that once employed them have either closed, or just simply stopped including cartoons, the New Yorker has become even more important to them. So much so that they are prepared to accept that it may take years to even break through and sell their first one.  Many of today’s cartoonist also have a serious day job such as copywriter, furniture mover and even TV sitcom writer, reinforcing the idea that now it is much more of a passionate pursuit.
Mankoff himself is a complex character and Wolchok shows him not just in his role as professional arbiter, but also at home with his family who are still grieving from the recent death of their son. There is an added layer of poignancy too near the end of the movie as The New Yorker moves to its new home at One World Trade Center at the very same time as Paris is still reeling from the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

We never really quite learn the criteria as to why one really funny makes the ‘out’ tray whilst a very similar one gets published.  What we do learn however, and really appreciate,  that every one is the result of a combination of a remarkable talent and single-minded determination to make us laugh.  Seeing the journey it must take to be succeed is captivating and will make you want to read The New Yorker  with so much more respect henceforth.

Posted by queerguru  at  19:01

Genres:  documentary

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