Everyone knows the New Yorker cartoons, but less certain are the stories of the people behind them and how they actually get in the magazine.
One of the more recent cartoonist sensations in the magazine is Liana Finck. She’ll be on-hand for the Wind-Up Fest screening of the documentary film “Very Semi-Serious,” which visits behind the scenes at the New Yorker, specifically focusing on its cartoons and editor Bob Mankoff and making sure to spend a little time with veteran cartoonists and aspiring ones.
“I think I was 26 the day that they were filming, and there were hundreds of people there,” Finck said. “I felt so at home because everyone else was new also. It was like magic.”
Finck has since been selling cartoons to the New Yorker, as well as making appearances at film festivals. Cartooning has been more than a creative journey for her. Her effort and career has been wrapped around an emotional path as well, one that has helped her understand her work better in an effort to move more toward the work she has always wanted to do.
“It’s become a lot more communicative,” Finck said. “All my work is going in that direction. The New Yorker has helped me get more like that with my comics. I stopped feeling like everything is a test and I started feeling like I’m just trying to entertain Bob and myself, and — if the cartoon sells — the world.”
Finck drew constantly as a little kid, drawing narrative stories about aliens and teddy bears that somewhat resembled comics. As a teenager, she switched to poetry and, realizing she missed drawing, began to incorporate her pictures into that form. Her interest in New Yorker style cartoons began when she was about 12, with her family’s subscription to the magazine and a fascination with several of its regular contributors — Saul Steinberg, William Steig, Roz Chast and Myra Kalman.
“I said to myself, maybe I can pretend to be a gag cartoonist just because it’s close to what I really do,” said Finck. “Maybe I’ll figure it out and it will be a step to driving the thing I really do towards an audience. Both things in a way were true but also as I did them more, I came to realize that there’s not as much of a difference as I thought. I really do love the gag cartoons now.”
Finck had several near misses with the New Yorker over the years, sending in her first submission when she was 16.
“I probably sent one in and they knew it was bad, but I’m not good at giving myself directions,” she said. “I thought my real doodles were better, but I couldn’t show them to anyone, because they were private, but I sent that in and I didn’t get an answer.”
Every couple years, she would try another submission with no success, which lead to an emotional struggle inside about her capabilities that she was finally able to move past once she began to get work with them.
“The New Yorker cartoons were very hard for me for the first few years because it was similar but so different,” Finck said. “It was really hard to take this thing that comes naturally and try to train it, but I feel like I’ve had a series of breakthroughs and it gets easier and easier.”
But the work also gave her the chance to translate her childhood desires into adulthood by leaping on real world opportunities and making everything work. As Finck says, drawing is her identity, and she’s happy to be in a place where it can grow as part of her and also the world.
“I’ve always drawn, it’s always been the thing I do and I’ve always wanted to have people look at my drawings, to have an audience, and to have a reason to draw,” she said. “I’ve known since I was a kid that this is my identity and it’s strange to have to fight for it and scheme for it, the thing that you actually know is obvious. But the comics have been part of the scheming, maybe this is a way I can plug in this thing that I do into the larger world. And the New Yorker has been the same way.”
Originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle.