The Synopsis

frank-modell-with-drawingCartoonists look like the rest of us, but they are not. They are uncommon commoners, who possess the ability to reflect our world back to us in unique and delightfully unexpected ways. This film travels into the studios of some of the most celebrated cartoonists to date – artists like George Booth, Roz Chast, Ed Koren, and Sam Gross. It provides unprecedented access to the lives and work of these creative characters, who often hide behind their art. It explores the talent they share, the visions they each offer, and the responsibility they all feel for carrying on an artistic tradition, especially at The New Yorker magazine, long considered the crème de la crème of the cartooning world. It appeals to anyone curious about the process of art, who appreciates humor, and who, after viewing cartoons, is left wondering “how did he/she come up with that?”

The director, Lyda Ely, grew up at the knee of Charles Addams, one of the most well-known and respected artists for The New Yorker magazine. He was a constant at family gatherings, and more than anything Ely’s mother, a budding cartoonist, wanted to be just like him. When she died before realizing her ultimate dream of publishing her work in The New Yorker, Ely began a quest to fully explore the field. What does it take to publish at this highly regarded magazine? Who are the people who have succeeded time and time again?

Through in-depth interviews both at the artists’ homes and studios, plus personal photos, unexpected portraits are revealed of the cartoonists who make us laugh. One plays piano, another rides a Harley, and yet another is afraid to drive. All are highly supportive of one another, an unusual trait in an artistic endeavor, which says a great deal about the kind of people drawn to this field.  Dozens of cartoons, some selected by the artist themselves, help show how an artists’ personality is integral to the work, and the importance having a unique “voice” in getting published.

The artists, bent over their drawing tables, show how exacting an art form it is – one that is often taken lightly because of its light content. From generating ideas, to drawing “roughs” and “finishes,” week after week, cartooning requires considerable commitment, and the artists who have succeeded continue to recreate themselves in a constantly changing market place. Their tenacity (as well as sometime neuroses) in the face of constant rejection is celebrated.  The cartoonists’ portraits are interwoven with the weekly meeting that takes place at The New Yorker magazine  — when old and new come to show their material. The director’s personal connection to the art and artists (via her mother’s interest and ambition) weaves in and out of the story as appropriate. The 11 cartoonists profiled are a mix of ages, and personalities. All have provided considerable access to personal photos, and sketches, and have been filmed in unexpected settings to help viewers travel beneath the surface of an unexplored topic, and capture the humor and humility of this varied band of characters.

What begins as one daughter’s quest for answers reveals the larger need for all artists for find a home where their chosen art form is applauded and understood.


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