Why do cartoons feel like a quintessentially Jewish art form? From comic books to graphic novels, Jews have blazed a trail in illustrated storytelling. The single panel cartoon—a few squiggles and even fewer words—enlightens, maddens, confuses and delights. Like the shortest short story or lyrical haiku, it strips humor to its most bare. And nowhere does that art form soar higher than in the New Yorker magazine. According to cartoon editor Bruce Mankoff, cartoons make the strange familiar and the familiar strange. Watching Very Semi-Serious is like getting together with someone else’s crazy relatives; we see ourselves in them, but we’re glad we don’t have to go home with them. Famed and would-be cartoonists return week after week to vie for the approval of the acerbic, egotistical, wildly funny and deeply human Mankoff. From the inimitable neurosis of Roz Chast to the insane drawings of Farley Katz to the offbeat musings of BEK (Bruce Eric Kaplan), this cast of characters draws us into their eccentric views of what it’s like to be human. Filmmaker Leah Wolchok’s peek behind the curtain reveals the people and pain that makes the humor poignant. Like binging on a year’s worth of New Yorker cartoons, Very Semi-Serious delights and leaves you wanting more.
Leah Wolchok grew up in Jacksonville, Florida and moved to the Bay Area in 1999 after a brief stint writing textbooks in Taiwan. While living in San Francisco, she created an animated series about science of teenager girls and produced three short documentary segments for Oxygen TV. Most recently, she worked as an associate producer on a series for the Travel Channels and a hour-long documentary about industrial design for Discovery. Currently she is a graduate student in the documentary film and video program at Stanford. She received a BA in English from Yale.