Of all the behind-closed-doors creative departments out there, the New Yorker's cartoon desk has inspired as much idle speculation as to what actually goes on in there. Filmmakers Leah Wolchok and Davina Pardo wondered the same thing, and they hope to shed some light on the situation with Very Semi-Serious, a mostly-produced and to-be-edited documentary for which they're seeking funding on Kickstarter.
VERY SEMI-SERIOUS is an offbeat meditation on humor, art and the genius of the single panel. The film takes an unprecedented behind-the-scenes look at the New Yorker and introduces the cartooning legends and hopefuls who create the iconic cartoons that have inspired, baffled—and occasionally pissed off—all of us for decades.
I couldn't help but notice that the trailer evokes Wordplay, Patrick Creadon's 2006 doc about New York Times' Crossword Editor Will Shortz (which, by the way, is quite good), and it so happens that they "even filmed a killer Ping Pong match between [cartoon editor] Bob Mankoff and PuzzleMaster Will Shortz." Go figure.Mankoff himself is (unsurprisingly) wont to get a little meta on his appropriately self-referential blog on the New Yorker website, where he elaborates on topical humor from current issues as well as plumbing the depths of the publication's vast archive of cartoons past. I'm sure many of you will also recall that the highbrow esotericism of the magazine's inscrutable cartoon department was duly immortalized (via reductio ad absurdum) in the 169th episode of Seinfeld, which Mankoff explored at length in a blogpost from last July.
The project, which has been some six years in the making, started with what Wolchok cites as an all-too-common habit: "The issues piled up, week after week, all the incisive reporting and impeccable fact checking, all the umlauts and em dashes, wasted on me. The only thing I consistently read cover to cover was, of course, the scattering of cartoons. I was a classic Cartoon Firster." (As someone who completely relates to her woes, I've come to regard my growing stacks of back issuesa as an idiosyncratic exercise in self-discipline—I read them from cover to cover, not allowing myself the pleasure of reading a cartoon until I've finished the rest of the page.) I can't speak for everyone, but I also clipped the felicitous Bob Eckstein cartoon that they include on their Kickstarter page:
Let's just say we've come a long way from this.
Wolchok and Pardo have raised just over 10% of their $75,000 goal as of press time; check out the Kickstarter page for Very Semi-Serious for more details.
Hat-tip to Mark Lamster