PLAYING AROUND

Filmmaker Focuses on New Yorker Cartoons

Jacksonville native created a Kickstarter campaign to fund the project

Some of the cartoonists featured in "Very Semi-Serious"
The "Very Semi-Serious" crew after a great day filming at the home of Roz Chast.
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• Donate to the Kickstarter campaign by June 28.

• Visit the Facebook page.

The decline of printed publications is old news; the age of computers has been upon us for quite some time. As magazine sales and subscriptions drop, elements and techniques used in print have evolved to accommodate the shift into a digital world — but not all of them. Print cartoonists are among those now asking themselves a question: How can a craft evolve in the digital world without sacrificing tradition and technique?

"Very Semi-Serious," directed and co-produced by Jacksonville native Leah Wolchok, takes a quirky look at the humor, art and genius of the single panel cartoon. The documentary homes in on the 88-year-old New Yorker magazine and the artists who have helped make it what it is today.

There is a unique likeness between documentaries and cartoons: Both seek to uncover truths about society in an engaging, witty and sometimes confrontational way. Drawn to filmmaking in college, Wolchok said, "it was the beauty of the reality of documentary form that captured my attention."

Diving into this project and interviewing dozens of artists has revealed a lot of hard truths about the nature of the cartoon business, she said.

"Cartoonists face extreme rejection. One out of 15 pieces will be sold, maybe — if they're lucky. It's not uncommon for artists to go weeks at a time without any sold."

The fierce competitiveness of the industry reflects the importance of cartoons; they are no laughing matter.

"Over the last 90 years, the cartoons have represented a chronicle of the world's political issues," Wolchok said. "New Yorker cartoons have provided snapshots of social movements, cultural events and historical controversies for decades."

They are not always laugh-out-loud funny, nor do they always make readers comfortable. Cartoons — specifically those published in the New Yorker — can be subtle, edgy, political statements that shape and express the opinions of generations. 

"People feel a really personal connection to the cartoons in the New Yorker," Wolchok said. "To back the film, we had a lot of private donors. The Kickstarter project includes New Yorker fans in the process of making the film."

By taking a behind-the-scenes look at the cartoonists of the New Yorker, Wolchok aims to reveal the art form and its struggles in the midst of a dying print culture and the birth of the digital age. True to its name, this documentary is a grave topic wrapped in wit, focusing on past and present generations of cartoonists, and where future generations are headed.

"We want the story to be funny. Humor is a way for people to cope with the frustrations they have about things in life. It's a way of loosening everyone up."

"Very Semi-Serious" is currently in production with a target release date of winter 2014.

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