Very Semi-Serious | Chicago Reader

Very Semi-Serious

The gold standard for single-panel cartoons, the New Yorker considers about 1,000 submissions a week but publishes only 15, which should give an idea of the cutthroat competition. In this documentary by Leah Wolchok, such longtime contributors as Mort Gerberg, Farley Katz, George Booth, and Roz Chast share their experiences placing work with the celebrated magazine, though the primary focus is Bob Mankoff, the highly discriminating cartoon editor since 1997. Making him the central figure yields good results when Mankoff is at work, reviewing submissions and explaining what makes a good cartoon, but backfires at home when Wolchok, in search of a "laugh to keep from crying" angle, gets him and his wife to open up about the recent death of their son. This is most interesting for its office politics: as editor in chief David Remnick explains, he has to "prod" Mankoff to diversify his long-standing club of Jewish men, and there's some provocative commentary from women cartoonists such as Emily Flake and Victoria Roberts, whose comic sensibilities don't always gibe with Mankoff's punch-line aesthetic.

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