OPUS 208 (July 22, 2007). What with the annual convention of editorial cartoonists and the death of Doug Marlette, most of this edition of R&R is devoted to political cartooning, past, present, and, perhaps, future. We also review a truly stupendous (that’s good, kimo sabe) book, Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend, just out, and toss out a few other tidbits. Here’s what’s here, by department:
NOUS R US
Morrie Turner at Sandy Eggo
Jerry Robinson, Playwright
Comics on Cell Phones
Out of the Gene Pool Changes Its Name
Bo Nanas Ceases
Schulz Bio in October
Classical Comics Does Shakespeare In
Sundays with Walt and Skeezix
A Colossal Dream of the Rarebit Fiend
Scooter Becomes a Folk Hero
COMIC STRIP WATCH
Excellent Sampling for Readers
EDITORIAL CARTOONISTS CONVENTION
The Founding 50 Years Ago
The Plight Then and Now
The Guest Speakers
Cartoonists’ Rights Menaced Around the Globe
How Many Editoonists Are There, Actually?
Steve Bell Rings in Britain
FUNNYBOOK FAN FARE
WE’RE ALL BROTHERS
And We’re Only Passing Through
Obits for Doug Marlette, Buck Brown, Howie Schneider, J.B. Handelsman, Silas Rhodes
And our customary reminder: don’t forget to activate the “Bathroom Button” by clicking on the “print friendly version” so you can print off a copy of just this lengthy installment for reading later, at your leisure while enthroned. Without further adieu—
For the next month, you’ll notice a certain irregularity in our usual bi-weekly visitations. And the visits themselves will be lacking, somewhat, in the usual plethora of newsy bits. That is because the Rancid Raves Intergalactic Wurlitzer is entering upon a new plane of existence. In short and without any more of our customary linguistic tripe and rhetorical embroidery—we’ve moving. We’re moving from Champaign, Illinois, where we have resided for over 30 years, to Denver, Colorado, where it all began with the Happy Harv (in the tiny hamlet of Edgewater, as it happens—Nell Brinkley’s hometown). Quite apart from the difficulties imposed upon Your Conscientious Chronicler who will not have his Vast Research Library and Emporium available to him—that is, unpacked—for some weeks, there are the Mysterious Questions surrounding hooking up to the Internet. And getting a new Email address. Trepidation and trembling. And all like that.
While you may be feeling deprived at the prospect of this peradventure descending, willy nilly, upon you, unbidden and, surely, unwanted, we hasten to reassure you: in the interim, as we unpack boxes and hook up wires, you will be shipped regular doses of cartooning lore and history and a few timely book reviews, too. Here’s what we have planned for the next few weeks:
John Held, Jr.
Excerpt from the Milton Caniff biography
The True Story of Tony the Tiger
Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s Abandon the Old in Tokyo
Eddie Campbell’s Black Diamond Detective Agency
The Professor’s Daughter
The Artist Within, the best photos
Plus—plus we’ll have an assortment of Rare Old Cartoon Art, culled from the Compendious Vaults in the Rancid Raves Grotto. Don’t miss it if you can.
And now, we resume our regular programming—
NOUS R US
All the News That Gives Us Fits
When the San Diego Comic-Con debuted in the early 1970s, syndicated comic strip cartoonists were as large a presence as comic book ’tooners. As time unraveled, however, the strippers receded into the considerable background; and then when the longjohn legions of comic books took to cavorting on the big screen, Hollywood invaded the Con, displacing all other considerations. But a remnant of those dear old days when cartoonists ruled the Con—cartoonists, by nature, being directors, producers, screen writers, actors, and extras all in one creative consciousness—is the annual Syndicated Comic Strip Cartoonist Appearance wherein one cartoonist is called upon to represent the entire enterprise. This year, July 26-29, it’s Morrie Turner, billed, correctly, as “America’s first African-American syndicated cartoonist, creator of Wee Pals, Dinky Fellas (his earliest effort, inspired by Charles Schulz’s Peanuts) and ABC-TV’s ‘Kid Power.’” He also coined the expression Rainbow Power to describe the harmonious fellowship enjoyed among the multi-cultural multi-racial kids in Wee Pals. Turner’s strips have been syndicated for over 30 years and appear, it sez here, in 110 newspapers. Turner will be interviewed on stage by Sergio Aragones and will subsequently present his celebrated chalk talk.
Jerry Robinson has done a whole lot more than invent Batman’s arch foe, the Joker, and name the Caped Crusader’s Boy Wonder sidekick “Robin,” the achievements that are usually draped across his shoulders every time he appears in public or in the press. He was also a syndicated cartoonist and founded, and is still president of, an international syndicate, Creators and Writers Syndicate, which distributes the work of more than 550 artists from 75 countries. Robinson, 84, may also be the only cartoonist to be president of both the National Cartoonists Society and the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, and, not content with all that, he’s also a playwright: the musical he co-authored with Sidra Rausch, “Astra: The Manga Musical about Meteor Girl,” ran at the Warehouse Theater in Washington, D.C., July 7-8 and 11-13, as one offering in Laptop Ladies Playfest, a fortnight of plays from Washington Women in Theatre, a festival dedicated to nurturing original plays by women writers. Astra is a female superhero, who, encouraged by her mother (in what Rausch and Robinson claim as one of the Jewish motifs in the story), battles an evil corporate villain, Dr. Light. According to Lisa Traiger in Washington Jewish Week, “Robinson sees in Astra a Jewish propensity to repair the world, although he won’t go so far as to bring up the Hebrew principle of tikkun olam” [which means “repair the world”]. Robinson is also a noted historian of comics and is presently revising and up-dating his landmark 1974 opus, The Comics: An Illustrated History of Comic Strip Art for Abrams.
As cell phone hardware and the networks they operate improve, entrepreneurs are gearing up to expand the amount of comics content that will be available. Tokyopop Mobile already offers eight manga titles, mostly adapted from print originals; but the company is exploring options that will incorporate sound as well as motion in a new form of comics storytelling. “They represent a new form and look very different from the traditional ways of bringing comics to life,” according to Jeremy Ross, Tokyopop’s director of new product development, quoted by Trevor Sopoinis in Publishers Weekly online. DC and Marvel haven’t jumped into this stream just yet although DC’s investment in Flex Comics, a new Japanese manga production company, effectively announced DC’s intention to wade out there.
At the Nashua Telegraph online, a letter to the editor, after noting that the paper “hesitated” to continue B.C. and Wizard of Id after the deaths of Johnny Hart and Brant Parker, wondered whether it wasn’t time to “retire the work of the ‘second highest paid deceased person in America’ (Forbes Magazine), Peanuts, and give some other aspiring artist a chance.” ... Harlan Ellison has abandoned his lawsuit against Fantagraphics; with their lawyers in tow, the opposing parties met and arrived at a resolution, the details of which the resolution forbids the parties to reveal. ... Hugh Hefner will be the subject of a new bio-flick, entitled, coincidentally, “Playboy,” and directed by Brett Ratner, whose previous movies include “Rush Hour” and “X-Men: The Last Stand.” Ratner sees plenty of drama in Hef’s life, which, while not a rags-to-riches tale, is certainly a Puritan to libertine epic. Hefner, now 81, qualifies as “an old roue.” ... Matt Brady at forum.newsarama.com tells us that Brian Bendis has renewed his exclusive contract with Marvel Comics for another ten years, saying that “the company been really outstanding to me, allowing me to write how I want to write and letting me work with who I want to work with.” He will continue with the Avengers and the Ultimate Spider-Man and take on some new projects. ... A judge in Napa, California, temporarily barred a local middle school from enforcing its “appropriate attire policy” that prohibited a seventh-grader from wearing Winnie the Pooh themed socks; meanwhile, AP tells us, the judge will ponder whether the policy is legal.
George Zeleski, 86, who has been drawing cartoons about his hometown, San Clemente, for the Sun Post News for 20 years, had to put his pens down recently due to failing eyesight. Zeleski had a career in the meat industry, and after retirement from that, he took up cartooning for amusement, landing, eventually, at the local paper. But last year, he developed macular degeneration. Andrew Good at the Sun Post News finishes the story: “His doctor had given him an eye chart with straight lines on it, instructing him to check it every day. When the lines appeared wavy one day, Zeleski realized it was time to put his pens away. Well, not completely. He said he’ll probably continue drawing for pleasure.” Recently, he’s tried a new drug which has enabled him to read again, and if that works, he speculates, “I might start drawing again” for the paper. ... A press release online announced that Stan Lee is the subject of a video biography from Peoples Archive. Drawing upon more than three hours of footage of Lee reminiscing about his life and career and the state of comic books yesterday and today, the video is divided into 42 “stories,” all of which are apparently free for viewing on the Peoples Archive website; there’s also a DVD-ROM for purchase. ... Incidentally, Stan Lee has now doubtless achieved his heart’s desire—a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; he or his sponsors paid $25,000 for it. Oh, and there was some sort of selection process, too. ... From Reuters, we learn that a Hamas tv station last week killed a Mickey Mouse character that had been instructing young viewers on Hamas’s militant brand of Muslim piety, urging children to support armed resistance against Israel. An actor wore a Mickey Mouse costume, and the last week in June, the character was beaten to death by another character posing as an Israeli. I don’t suppose that will improve relations between Palestinians and Israelis, but the Disney empire might rest easier. ... Daryl Cagle’s “massive editorial cartoon website,” Editor & Publisher notes, has added to its roster: Mike Luckovich rejoins the line-up after a four-year hiatus, and Jeff Darcy of the Plain Dealer, alternative ’tooner Tim Eagan, and the conservative team of Allen Forkum and John Cox also climbed aboard lately.
On July 30, the comic strip Out of the Gene Pool will assume a new name, Single and Looking, reflecting the ambiance of the strip as it has morphed during its first few years. The cast will be the same—divorced mom Jackie and her son Travis, 20-something bachelor Sam and his obnoxious roomie Zoogie, and the irrepressible Madame Red—but the emphasis will be on “single-hood” and the perpetual search for a suitable mate. Many strips evolve into something somewhat different than their initial conception, but few take the next logical step and don a new title. Polly and Her Pals is a classic example: although envisioned as a strip about a young “New Woman” of the nineteen-teens, cartoonist Cliff Sterrett got more involved in Polly’s father’s reactions to modern times than in Polly’s fate or that of her alleged pals. The strip was very quickly more about Paw Perkins than it was about his daughter or her cohorts. Steve Canyon was always Steve Canyon, but for the last 10-15 years of its run, Steve was on stage only a few months every year; the rest of the time, the spotlight shifted from one member of the repertory cast to another. But Milton Caniff didn’t change the title to fit. Other mutants, however, have adjusted to their new realities. Barney Google became Barney Google and Snuffy Smith and then just Snuffy Smith. Fritzi Ritz became Nancy when the statuesque Fritzi was upstaged by her fire-plug shaped young niece. Matt Janz, the creator of Gene Pool, describes a similar change that took place in his strip: “This is a natural progression from Out of the Gene Pool,” he said. “Over the past five years, some of my characters moved to the forefront while others faded into the background. I started focusing on the lives of my most popular characters and, since most of them happened to be single (and looking), I found myself writing more dating-oriented material.” The shift in focus and title incidentally makes for sound marketing. Said Writers Group Comics Editor Amy Lago: “When we looked at the marketplace of comic strips, there seemed to be all kinds of single-parenthood strips, family strips and relationship strips, but nothing that really spoke to the millions of people out there still searching for ‘the one.’” Now there will be.
Lago also announced the end of John Kovaleski’s Bo Nanas, a strip with a monkey as its eponymous protagonist, drawn in an attractive quirky style with a simple bold line. The last strip is July 28's. “It was a financial decision,” Lago explained in a press release, “—John has a number of other projects that are requiring more of his time.” But my guess is that he wouldn’t need the other projects if the circulation of his strip had been enough to pay some of his bills. It’s too bad because Bo Nanas was almost unique, a non-niche strip, rare in this age of intense demographic targeting, and it was well done. It was also the scene of nearly unprecedented action. Said Lago: “Kovaleski proposed to his future wife in the strip on July 6, 2004, and even had Bo attend a comic strip version of the wedding the next spring.” The strip started in May 2003 after Kovaleski had worked for a year in WPWG’s “FineToon Fellowship” for aspiring cartoonists. “The final week of the strip, July 22-28,” Lago said, “will wrap up the last four years and show a bit of Bo’s own wonderful life, particularly his influence on the lives of his friends—the strong, silent Hot Dog Guy, Brittany the Squirrel Scout, and, of course, his landlady, Mrs. Yannes. Bo will be missed.”
Larry Doyle, who teamed with Neal Sternecky to write the revival of Pogo in the early 1990s, reprising a writer-artist relationship they’d established on the campus newspaper at the University of Illinois, has just published his first novel, I Love You, Beth Cooper, and is featured in the June 15 issue of The Week, listing his “best books,” among which is “the funniest book ever written,” The Dog of the South by Charles Portis, who also wrote True Grit. The strip Doyle and Sternecky produced at the U. of I. 1981-84 was Escaped from the Zoo, a funny animal strip completely unlike Pogo. After leaving Pogo, which Sternecky then produced solo for nearly a year, Doyle went to Hollywood, where he wrote for “The Simpsons” among other things.
Fascinating Footnote. Much of the news retailed in this segment is culled from articles eventually indexed at http://www.rpi.edu/~bulloj/comxbib.html, the Comics Research Bibliography, maintained by Michael Rhode and John Bullough, which covers comic books, comic strips, animation, caricature, cartoons, bandes dessinees and related topics. It also provides links to numerous other sites that delve deeply into cartooning topics. Three other sites laden with cartooning news and lore are Mark Evanier’s www.povonline.com, Alan Gardner’s www.DailyCartoonist.com, and Tom Spurgeon’s www.comicsreporter.com. And then there’s Mike Rhode’s ComicsDC blog, http://www.comicsdc.blogspot.com
Persiflage and Badinage
“A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.” —Winston Churchill
“Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.” —Oscar Wilde
“The very word ‘secrecy’ is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings.” —John F. Kennedy
“A cultured person is one who can entertain himself, entertain guests, and entertain ideas.”—Lawrence J. Peter of The Peter Principle
The definitive biography of Charles Schulz, six years in the making, is due in October from HarperCollins. Written by David Michaelis, author of N.C. Wyeth: A Biography, the 600-plus page volume, Schulz and Peanuts, is based upon more than 200 interviews and Michaelis’ unrestricted access to the famed cartoonist’s archives and files. I’m only a few pages into an advance copy of uncorrected proofs, but I’ve already discovered details about Schulz’s first negotiations with his syndicate that I’m sure have not surfaced before. Editor & Publisher reports that a PBS documentary of the cartoonist’s life, “Good Ol’ Charles Schulz,” is scheduled to air coincident with the book’s release; it will include an interview with Michaelis.
A new book, Brush Strokes with Greatness, by Tim Lasiuta covers the 56-year comic book career of Joe Sinnott, who, among many other achievements, inked Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four for 48 issues, beginning with No. 44; he’d done No. 5 earlier. Said Papul Sebert in the online Herald-Dispatch: “While Lee and Kirby remain the most celebrated creators of their era, the work of Sinnott and other inkers has sometimes been overlooked. Lasiuta has paid a worthy tribute to one of the hardest working talents of any era.”
In England, Classical Comics is poised to begin its series of comic book adaptations of famous literary works in October with the publication of its version of Shakespeare’s “Henry V.” Penciled by Neill Cameron and inked by Bambos, the 132-page paperback in full color will be available in three versions: original text (full and unabridged—and in only 132 pages?), plain English (Elizabethan usage modernized), and “quick text” (the Bard abbreviated). Anything but the original text seems to me an unqualified desecration: Shakespeare is language, and therefore to change the language is to destroy Shakespeare. What’s left is the story, but the story isn’t Shakespeare. On the boards for next year are Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. The latter is being illustrated by John M. Burns in a painterly manner; sample pages at classicalcomics.com are spectacular.
Peter Maresca, whose Sunday Press Books brought forth that stunning life-size reprint of Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland, has assembled a selection of the best of Frank King’s Gasoline Alley Sunday strips 1921-1925, starting with the first one. Designed by Chris Ware, Sundays with Walt and Skeezix costs not quite a dollar a page—$95 plus p&h for 96 16x21-inch pages in full color—and features an introduction by Jeet Heer, who is making a career of Gasoline Alley and King. The book will be available August 15. Those who pre-order through www.sundaypressbooks.com will receive a poster-size 20x27-inch facsimile of the Sunday strip for August 19, 1934, reproduced from King’s hand-colored original. In November, Maresca will bring out his collection of all of McCay’s color Sammy Sneeze pages, which, Maresca says, “will feature the ‘B-side’ comics from the New York Herald of 1904-05 printed on the back of each Sammy page. This includes McCay’s Hungry Henrietta pages”—all in the “original half-page size, 11x16 inches.”
And, while we’re on the subject of McCay and stupendous undertakings, here’s Ulrich Merkl’s complete Dream of the Rarebit Fiend, a giant 464 17x12-inch pages, 139 in color, hardcover, handbound, weighing almost ten pounds. It reprints 369 of the “best” strips, and all the remaining 452 appear on the accompanying DVD. The book qua book is a masterpiece, a spectacular example of the book designer’s art. A masterpiece for a masterpiece—how apt. Rarebit Fiend remains today almost as famous an exemplar of cartooning artistry as Nemo. In both strips—and in Sammy Sneeze as well as Hungry Henrietta— McCay explored the capabilities of the new comics medium, and in Rarebit Fiend, his purely playful experimentation reaches an almost giddy apogee as he examines the humorous potential in metamorphosis. In each strip, a person, different in each episode, falls asleep after partaking of a melted cheese dish (welsh rarebit) and has a nightmare in which some ordinary happening turns vicious or some everyday object is animated into a menacing monster. The dreamer awakens in the last panel, vowing never to eat rarebit again. In one strip, a father gives his infant son a teddy bear; the bear becomes real, first a cub then an adult, and then the creature eats the infant and turns on the parents. In another, a man’s big toe swells up until it is the size of a small sofa. In these visual extravagances, McCay indulges a fascination with the sequential progressions that comic strips encourage, metamorphosis being just another way of engaging with such a progression. He also displays an intuitive awareness of the psychology of dreams. Some of the rarebit fiends’ dreams are frighteningly authentic: one dreams of being buried alive; another, of being nearly suffocated by birds building nests in his mouth and nose.
Merkl’s book is more than an sampling of the adventurous playthings of a cartooning genius’s imagination. It is also an exhaustive essay on the Rarebit Fiend. The first 100 pages are devoted to a copiously illustrated chronology of McCay’s life and work, sources of inspiration, visual curiosities to be discovered in his oeuvre, essays by McCay on various aspects of the art of cartooning, and other ephemera either vital to an understanding of the cartoonist or oddly insightful (lists of prominent persons depicted in Fiend, for instance), concluding with two articles: “Dream Travelers 1900-1947: Precursors and Epigones of Winsor McCay” by Alfredo Castelli (20 pages) and “A Dreamer with His Feet Planted Firmly on the Ground” by dream worker Jeremy Taylor (8 pages), detailing some of the archetypal symbolic aspects of Rarebit Fiend. Here are pictures of one of the illustrated chronology pages and a page displaying various transformations McCay effected in drawing, in this case, circus animals.
Then follows the Rarebit Fiend reprints, 80 of which are reproduced either from the original art or from reproductions of the original art (not, in other words, from newsprint pages). And the piece de resistance: commentary on each strip, explaining references that are now obscure, including customs and costumes of the period. Quoting from a press release (because I think it is an accurate description and one I not only agree with but applaud): “Apart from the strip’s fascinating content and outstanding graphic qualities, Dream of the Rarebit Fiend is also an important source of information about everyday culture in the United States during the early 20th Century. It was here, and only here, that McCay incorporated real daily life into almost every episode—from fashion, sports and politics through work, architecture, technical progress and celebrities. One could view the feature as an encyclopedia, or a mirror on the United States in the early 20th Century.” The book is a mesmerizing tour of a gallery of superb cartooning and of American society, its culture and customs, at the time the strips were originally produced. The book is not available through ordinary bookstore channels or from comic book shops: it can be obtained only from the author/publisher and a few selected booksellers—online, go to www.rarebit-fiend-book.com. By limiting sources, Merkl explains, he has eliminated the percentage usually taken by wholesalers, thereby keeping the cost as low as possible—$114. A treasure at bargain prices.
Finally, not to neglect an opportunity to flog my own efforts in the McCay realm, for someone not yet ready to spring for $114 because you’re not familiar with the genius of McCay, you can become familiar, albeit not as intimate as Merkl’s book and Maresca’s will make you, by purchasing, for a modest price, my book, The Genius of Winsor McCay, a sort of “introduction” to McCay; for more about it, click here.
LATE BREAKING NEWS
I don’t know who wrote this. It just came over the Internet transom. And I suspect its imagined target is a little off-base. It’s probably not the Bush League’s position on immigration—which is in support of the alleged “amnesty”—but the conservative right wing of the Republican party whose position on immigration might be affected. Whatever (as everyone these days is saying, so helpfully), here ’tis (thanks, Roy):
Illegal Immigrants Seek Scooter’s Deal
‘El Libbre’ Becomes Folk Hero, Beacon of Hope
In a development that could complicate the Bush administration’s position on immigration, millions of illegal immigrants over the past few days have sought an amnesty deal similar to the one obtained by the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Just hours after President George W. Bush commuted Mr. Libby’s prison sentence, news of the deal spread like wildfire through the illegal immigrant community, inspiring many who have sought amnesty to view Mr. Libby as a beacon of hope.
According to reports, immigration officials across the country have been deluged in recent days by illegal aliens willing to plead guilty to perjury in exchange for a deal similar to Mr. Libby’s. The former chief of staff’s story has become so compelling, in fact, that Mr. Libby himself has become something of a folk hero to illegal immigrants across the U.S. At a café in El Paso, Texas, illegal aliens referred to Mr. Libby reverentially as “El Libbre,” loosely translated as “the free one.”
“If I get an amnesty deal, I will owe it all to El Libbre.” said Juan Carmelo Gutierrez, 35, who plans to plead guilty to perjury this week.
But “not so fast,” says White House spokesman Tony Snow, who today tried to pour cold water on the plans of illegal immigrants hoping to follow in Mr. Libby’s footsteps: “Before these folks expect to get Scooter’s deal, they should ask themselves, ‘Can I cut a check for $250,000?’”
Elsewhere, people with no lives have stopped waiting in line for the iPhone and started waiting in line for the new Harry Potter book.
COMIC STRIP WATCH
My hometown newspaper, the News-Gazette, which has maintained a solid comics section for years and studiously re-assesses it at comparatively frequent intervals, is doing it again. “We’re looking to replace some of our current comics that may be past their prime,” reads the blurb that introduces the “Guest Comics” feature by which the News-Gazette aims to familiarize its readers with an assortment of strips it is considering running in place of those it will determine are “past their prime.” John Beck, the executive editor, told me: “We are going to sample 9 to 12 strips over the next several months, 3 at a time for a month.” That seems to me an eminently fair sampling of candidates. “Several months.” “Three at a time” for a month each. After that, the paper will conduct some sort of poll or print ballots in the paper. Readers will be asked to vote on their favorite among the “guests” of the past several months; and, presumably, they’ll also get to vote on their least liked strip in the paper’s present line-up. Here’s how the paper presents its try-out strips every day.Last time the News-Gazette did this, it dropped a couple strips, but it added more than it dropped: the comics section is larger now than it was. Maybe that’ll happen again. (And just when I’m leaving town, too, drat.)
“I always wanted to be somebody, but I should’ve been more specific.” —Lily Tomlin
“If you’ve been in the game for 30 minutes and you don’t know who the patsy is, you’re the patsy.” —Warren Buffett
“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”—John Maynard Keynes
THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY CONVENTION OF
THE ASSOCIATION OF AMERICAN EDITORIAL CARTOONISTS
The AAEC celebrated its golden anniversary by returning to its birthplace, Washington, D.C. Hovering over the July 5-7 meeting at the historic Mayflower Hotel was a fresh manifestation of the same ominous cloud that prompted the founding of the organization in the spring of 1957—namely, the impending extinction of the profession and the art form. It was to protest against reports, then somewhat rampant, of the deterioration of political cartooning in America that John Stampone, at the time editoonist for the Army Times in Washington D.C., rummaged around to drum up a cadre of cohorts to proclaim the contrary. And editoonists have been contrary ever since.
In the dead of that winter of 1957, Stampone had read an article from the Saturday Review entitled “The Rise and Fall of the Political Cartoon.” The author of the piece was Henry Ladd Smith, a professor of journalism at the University of Wisconsin and co-author of the Prentice-Hall standard history of American journalism, The Press and America, who, by virtue of his credentials, ought to know whereof he speaks. But Stampone begged to differ. Actually, he thundered his disagreement by engineering the founding of the AAEC.
The Spur to the Founding
Smith’s incendiary article was published three years before Stampone read it—in the May 29, 1954 issue of the Review—but Stampone probably hadn’t read it when it came out. He said he read the article in his office, which, if it were a typical editoonist’s office (and why wouldn’t it be?), was likely heaped up with empty coffee cups, dirty ash trays, dried out brushes, and scraps of paper in addition to stalagmites of magazines, newspapers, and miscellaneous clippings, all waiting to be read. Some doubtless never would be read. But Smith’s was. Smith began by alluding to the glory days of American political cartooning when “almost every self-respecting daily newspaper” had its own staff editoonist and published his daily iconoclastic imagery on the front page, where a glimpse of it on the newsstand would so incite the citizenry that they’d buy the paper in huge clumps. In those dear dead days of yesteryear, newspapers delighted in making waves: they were always going on crusades either to establish Good Things or to demolish Bad Things, and they did it at the top of their lungs, deliberately provoking readers, making them angry enough to Take Action (an unheard of strategy these days, when no editor wants to make anyone angry). Not at all incidentally, this sort of muckraking reportage sold newspapers, by clumps, as I said.
But the free-for-all glory days began to fade in the 1920s, and by the 1930s, Smith said, three developments had changed the front pages of newspapers dramatically. First, public issues became complicated, too complex to be easily explained in the daily doses of traditional newspaper journalism. Screaming headlines vanished because they misled readers, and editors, prompted by the third circumstance (below), wanted their readers to trust them over all other sources of information. Second, journalism became standardized: in every city, newspapers relied upon the same wire services for newsstories and photographs and feature material. News reports distributed nation-wide had to be fairly tepid in their political and social views in order to secure newspaper clients in every hamlet, subscribers whose views might vary but who would eagerly purchase luke-warm material that wouldn’t offend any reader’s sensibility. And third, in virtually every city, only one newspaper remained in business. These three factors combined to reduce the heat that newspapermen once wanted to generate with their papers. And as editors sought a suitable tepidity, the political cartoon lost its bite.
“The modern publisher is likely to be the owner of the only newspaper in town,” Smith wrote, assuming a professorial tone. “He has competition he never knew before, from radio, television, news magazines and home-delivered regional dailies, but he must presume that his readers depend upon him for information and that his views must be secondary in importance, and above all, temperate. Editorials express opinion, perhaps, but usually with qualifications. Temperance and compromise are seldom exciting, and so the editorial began to decline in emphasis and appeal. So did the cartoon, and for the same reasons. The cartoon is strictly an offensive weapon. Even when the cartoonist defends his hero, he usually does so by attacking the hero’s enemies. Like any good fighter, he must put his heart into the battle. Asking a cartoonist to attack delicately is like arguing with a cannon to do its work without so much noise.”
In the trend towards timidity that Smith saw all around him—then, in 1954—there was no place for the essentially one-sided opinion mongering that is the forte of the political cartoon. Only in a few newspapers, he claimed, could one find strenuous political cartooning. “But who can name the cartoonist of the New York Times, which emphasizes coverage, rather than opinion, and never raises its voice?” So is the decline of the political cartoon of any consequence? Nope, saith Smith: “For the political cartoon is a caricature—an exaggeration, or inaccuracy, which should have no place in responsible journalism. The cartoonist must tell his story in black and white, literally and figuratively. He cannot qualify without weakening impact, and impact is everything to a cartoonist. Yet we know that the complex issues of today can seldom be presented in terms of black-and-white. Too much misunderstanding has been produced by spokesmen who refuse to qualify charges. If our press is concerned with producing light instead of heat, then the political cartoon doesn’t deserve better.”
Smith also decried the editoonist’s use of threadbare symbols “to tell his story quickly”—the GOP elephant, the Democrat donkey, Uncle Sam “are a few of these overworked symbols used to describe complicated institutions at a glance. The cartoonist manipulates these symbols, or stereotypes, as though they were puppets. He cannot modify his puppets without destroying the meaning he has built up around them. And so the cartoonist ends up as the prisoner of his own creatures.” Only one task remains legitimate for the editoonist: social satire. But, concludes Smith, that field has already been invaded and is fully occupied by comic strip cartoonists. And so the political cartoon is as good as dead.
Stampone, understandably, was enraged by this premature obituary. That winter, with the backing of his publisher, Melvin Ryder, he contacted other D.C. editoonists, touting a proposal to form an association that would “encourage, develop, and promote a greater public understanding and appreciation of the editorial page cartoon and to sustain, encourage, further, assist, aid, promote, foster and create a closer contact among the editorial cartoonists through mutual interests.” Everyone he talked to was enthusiastic; thus encouraged, Stampone sent a letter to every editorial cartoonist for whom he could find an address. By mid-February, he knew he had a winning proposition in hand, and on February 28, 1957, he met with attorneys to incorporate an organization to be named the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. And within a month, Stampone issued to fellow ink-slingers an invitation to the first meeting of AAEC, the weekend of May 17.
Thirty-four of the 84 charter members massed at the Statler Hotel in D.C. Only six of the roster of 84 founders are still alive, and three of them, all now retired from their newspapers, attended the 2007 gathering: Hy Rosen, Times Union (Albany, NY); Jim Lange, The Oklahoman (Oklahoma City); and Jim Ivey, Washington Times, St. Petersburg Times, San Francisco Examiner, and Orlando Sentinel. Paul Conrad of the Los Angeles Times was too ill or too antique to attend, as were the other two, Bob Artley, Des Moines Tribune (who, according to his son Steve, is 90 and still drawing), and Jon Kennedy, Arkansas Democrat.
Yet More Criticism circa Mid-fifties
Ivey, curator of the Cartoon Museum in Orlando and elsewhere, editor of cARToon, and founding chairman of the Orlando Comic-Con (1973-95), also played a role in shaking American editoonists out of whatever complacency they might have otherwise enjoyed in that bosky summer afternoon of the Eisenhower Years. Others besides Smith had found fault with editorial cartooning in the U.S. In a review of the 1955 volume, Herblock’s Here and Now, the New Republic emphasized Herblock’s superiority to all other contenders in his profession, implying thereby the staggering inferiority of all other contenders. And in its issue for November 23, 1957, the Saturday Review launched again into an attack on editorial cartooning with a piece by Pierce Fredericks entitled “The Cartoonist’s Bite,” which, the author contended, was mostly nonexistent. Ivey’s contribution to the furor was conveyed in a Newsweek report entitled “A One-Man Crusade” that appeared in the magazine’s issue for September 14, 1959. Although the report was published well after the founding of AAEC, it continued to rub salt in the old wound.
Late in 1958, Ivey had earned a Reid Foundation fellowship that sponsored him for an eight-month European tour in order that he might examine and assess the state of political cartooning in the Old Countries. He traveled 25,000 miles, visited 11 nations, and interviewed 55 of Europe’s best cartooners. When he got back to the U.S., he wrote a report of his study, which Newsweek summarized. In describing European editooning, Ivey contrasted it often to the American brand, and the Americans didn’t come off well in comparison, which Newsweek eagerly pointed out: “European cartoonists emphasize sharp, black-and-white contrast and simplicity of line. ‘Their cartooning,’ Ivey said, ‘has a crisp, modern look,’ contrasted with the hoary cross-hatched traditionalism of most of the editorial-page work in this country. Europeans make more use of caricature, and invent ‘new, imaginative symbols. In Athens, for example, the cartoonist Demetriades draws minor politicians with blank faces to symbolize their lack of power.’ Fewer labels are employed in their cartoons, and they often use none at all. As French cartoonist Jean Effel told Ivey: ‘A Frenchman would feel insulted by all your labels.’ In contrast to the dead seriousness of many U.S. cartoonists, European cartoonists often make their political points ‘under a layer of laughter.’ The London Observer’s A.M. Abraham (Abu), rated by Ivey as Europe’s ‘most promising’ young cartoonist, explained: ‘Humor is the best weapon. It softens your opponent and makes him easier to convert.’”
Among Ivey’s other discoveries: The average European cartoonist’s work appears only 3-4 times a week, which gives cartoonists time to develop strong ideas instead of forcing them, as London’s Michael Cummings said, “to use weak ideas to fill the space.” Europe has a “great tradition of caricature,” Ivey noted, “and the average cartoonist is a very good caricaturist.” They don’t use symbols. “Why the use of old, out-of-date symbols?” David Low asked; “Uncle Sam is gone, as our John Bull is gone. They are figures out of the past.” Ivey reported that he heard quite frequently the question: “Why hasn’t the high quality of U.S. social cartooning reflected itself in U.S. political cartooning?” There is little political cartooning in Spain, Portugal and Turkey: the cartoonists in those countries operated under strict government control. But in most countries, the cartoonists had greater editorial freedom to express themselves than their American counterparts enjoyed. England’s Victor Weisz (“Vicky” of the London Evening Standard) wondered: “By-lined columnists are given freedom to state their opinions in America, why not cartoonists?”
In England, Ivey found the “joke” cartoon had gained popularity—a cartoon that uses a political event “as an excuse for a joke rather than making a comment or taking a stand on the issue.” Many British cartoonists alternate “joke” cartoons with political statements “for a change of pace,” Ivey supposed. “A Daily Mirror editor told me that ‘newspapers are in the entertainment business’ and that applies even to the political cartoon. David Low said, ‘The joke cartoon came into being because no one turned up with a political sense, with a real grasp of politics—without which you have no genuine political cartoonist.’ Leslie Illingworth wonders if political cartooning might not eventually become all ‘joke’ cartoons.”
As a group, English cartoonists are very well paid, compared to their compatriots on the Continent. “The top men are so well paid that, when taxes make further raises ridiculous, publishers woo them with Rolls Royces, mortgage payoffs or even farms,” Ivey observed. In other countries, editoonists typically work for several publications and/or hold day jobs to put bread on their tables. “Financially,” Ivey concluded, “the American political cartoonist [who usually holds a salaried staff position on his newspaper] is in a better position than most of his European colleagues.”
By the time he had traversed several European countries, Ivey had concluded that the American political cartoon was, comparatively speaking, in decline. He asked the Europeans why. In Greece, Demetriades said: “Perhaps Americans are not so interested in politics. When in New York, I noticed people read the sports page, the comics, the headlines, and then toss the paper away.” Britain’s Illingworth “suggested that political cartooning is dying everywhere. With fewer partisan papers and with huge circulation papers trying to please everyone, strong, gutty political cartooning is getting scarcer all the time.” David Low chimed in, speaking of the political cartoonist “on two levels: the artist (good caricature is good art) and the politician (the idea, the stand). He believes that the first, the artist, is disappearing. ‘The weakness of the daily paper is that it’s concerned with the distribution of ideas, not art,’ Low said. ‘Good caricature is art. With this accent on ideas, we’ve produced a generation that can’t draw.’”
On another occasion, quoted by Ivey, Low elaborated, suggesting that “art” in political cartooning is more than pictures: it is also satire. “On balance,” Low said, “this association of the caricaturist and the popular press is perhaps an unhappy association, tending to emasculate and stultify his art. There are still some worthy descendants of Gillray and Daumier—though they are lamentably few in comparison with the numbers of tame cats. Fortunately, it lies within the bones of a caricaturist himself to decide whether he will be a mere drawer of funny pictures or a worthy satirist; whether he will dispense cheap laughter or the ridicule that kills; whether beneath the surface of his cartoons lies nonsense or the visible operation of human intellect in the presentation of truth.”
Ivey rehearsed the substance of his report in an article in Editor & Publisher on September 26, 1959; and he repeated it again in other articles over the next few months. In short, he made as much of crusade as he could.
Ivey’s adventure was not without an ironic punchline, which Newsweek was prompt in pointing out, concluding its report: “Last week, Ivey learned that a prophet can be without honor right in his own back yard. Preparing to return to the St. Petersburg Times after his sabbatical, Ivey—the paper’s full-time cartoonist since 1953—was told by owner Nelson Poynter that he would have to restrict his cartooning to local topics and handle routine art department chores, too. With his eye on wider horizons, Ivey promptly quit.” He was soon in San Francisco, cartooning at the Examiner.
Reading Ivey’s report, I was mildly amazed at how contemporary some of it seemed. So many of the conditions under which political cartoonists worked in 1959 still obtain today in the American press. Equally amazing is the odd fact that today almost none of the criticisms Europeans leveled at their American brethren still apply: it is as if American editoonists took European comments to heart and reformed completely along the lines the appraisal suggested. American political cartoons, Ivey believes, are no longer the enfeebled brand he once joined European colleagues in criticizing. At the banquet that closed this year’s festivities, Ivey joined the other two attending founders on stage for brief remarks. Ivey opined that the editorial cartooning profession is, at present, in good shape. “Not in numbers,” he said, “but in the work. Great art, great caricatures, and a strong bite.” And later, he wrote me: “I caught hell for my European cartooning report in 1959, but everything I endorsed then is happening today: good art, good caricature, few labels, strong ideas, and more freedom! U.S. editorial cartooning is in good hands!”
Today, some of the younger generation of editorial cartoonists, Ted Rall most notably, have scoffed at the traditional political cartoon with its ancient symbols and labels—the GOP elephant, the Democrat donkey, Uncle Sam, and so on—opting instead for highly verbal cartoons. While Rall (incoming president of AAEC, by the way) and Tom Tomorrow and their ilk are undeniably witty commentators, they traffic pretty heavily in irony and sarcasm, and neither irony nor sarcasm work well in a mass market as expressions of opinion. Both can be easily misunderstood, and American readers, on the average—taken en masse—are prone to misunderstand. As a class, they haven’t the sophistication to grasp such esoteric devices. This is the nation, remember, that elected George W. (“Whopper”) Bush. Twice. The traditional device of the mainstream editorial cartoonist, the visual metaphor and the memorable image, are blunter instruments, but they tend to lurk in the minds of readers longer than a witticism. Herblock gave Richard Nixon a five o’clock shadow to suggest his incipient villainy, branding Nixon forever. Ditto Joseph McCarthy. These days, GeeDubya appears frequently as a tiny figure surrounded by menacing giants, an image that takes the measure of his incompetence. It isn’t by accident that Rall and Tom Tomorrow thrive in the pages of alternative newspapers, the ones with a readership presumed to be more discerning than that of the mainstream press, but even so, the most memorable of Rall’s comments are those that involve his image of Bush as a dictatorial general in a banana republic.
Despite the implication of Rall’s remarks—that editoons today are still too populated by pachyderms, domesticated asses, and top-hatted old gents with a wispy beards—few of the mainstream press’s cartooners use these tired symbols. And that flutter of paper labels attached to symbolic figures like “Kick Me” placards has also diminished noticeably. In fact, as Jim Ivey observes, today’s crop of political cartoons looks remarkably like those European specimens that he admired five decades ago. No wonder he approves.
Alas, professional polish and quality do not, in the marketplace of a capitalistic society, assure survival.
The Present Predicament
Yet Another Chapter and Verse in the Same Old Song
Much of what Smith alleged a half-century ago about timidity (which he called responsible objectivity) in American newspapering—reflected not only on the papers’ front pages but on their opinion pages in both written and drawn editorials—remains true today. Reading his 1954 essay is a startling experience in finding the present foreshadowed precisely in the past. Today’s editorial cartoons, however, are not, as I’ve said, quite the whimsical superfluities Smith thought them to be. They have as much bite today as newspaper editors allow them. Which sometimes isn’t much more than a nibble but sometimes is quite a mouthful. It is not for artistry or argumentativeness that editorial cartoonists are in dire straits today.
Political cartooning as a profession is in trouble, but it’s economic not creative trouble. As a profession, cartoonists are more accomplished these days than ever: they wield the weapons of their craft, visual metaphor and imagery, with great skill and panache. And not since the early days of the 20th Century has so much variety in drawing style and graphic technique been on display. But the economic peril is pervasive. Full-time staff political cartoonists are an endangered species. Every time a newspaper loses its staff editoonist—through death or retirement—the almost universal expectation among the inky-fingered fraternity is that the position will not be filled. Staff cartoonists are increasingly seen by publishers as costly luxuries. Although daily newspapers still create a profit of 20-25%, higher than nearly every other industry, newspapers tend to be owned by corporate entities these days, entities on the stock market with legions of investors. Investors want ever spiraling profits, not steady income. And newspapers, with slowly evaporating circulation and declining advertising revenues, cannot hope to generate increased profits; the best they can do to enhance their bottom line is to reduce expenses. And the salaries of staff editorial cartoonists mark the most obvious place to begin cutting expenses. To many editors, cartoonists are the most superfluous of staff members. Newspapers still value editorial cartoons enough to flag their opinion pages with them, but they can get all the cartoons they need for that purpose by buying packages of syndicated cartoons, which they can do at a cost ridiculously lower than salaries and benefits for staff members. A package of syndicated cartoons has other advantages for editors: consisting, usually, of the offerings of several cartoonists, they provide newspaper editors with a range of opinions and topics to choose from. And—an incidental benefit—since syndicated cartoons focus entirely on national issues, none of the community moguls in a newspaper’s circulation area are likely to be offended by syndicated cartoons.
Cartoons on local issues are traditionally—and historically—more incendiary than cartoons on national issues. Draw a cartoon ridiculing the mayor, and the mayor’s office phones; draw a cartoon about the president of the U.S., and no one phones: the White House remains mute. A newspaper giving up its staff political cartoonist forfeits a powerful voice in commenting on local issues; but, as compensation for the loss, editors don’t have to spend any time placating irate neighborhood businessmen and politicians. Under the circumstances, it is not surprising to learn that the number of full-time staff political cartoonists is smaller today than twenty years ago. Some enthusiasts say that there were 250 full-time editorial cartoonists in the 1970s and 1980s; and today, there are less than 80. Both numbers, I suspect, are somewhat exaggerated. Probably we never had more than 200 full-time staff editorial cartoonists in recent decades; and today, the number is closer to 90 than it is to 80. Still, the number is declining, whether by leaps and bounds or by dribs and drabs. In a publication environment of about 1,500 daily newspapers, even if full-time staff political cartoonists numbered 100—or 200—the profession scarcely looks healthy. (See “The Numbers Game” down the scroll.)
The faux economy of firing a staff political cartoonist achieved unintended satire in the fate of conservative cartoonist Michael Ramirez, who was fired from the Los Angeles Times, ostensibly to save money, but was then promptly hired by the Investors Business Daily. A scrumptious irony.
Despite today’s dire circumstance for political cartoonists, many newspaper editors value highly their staff cartoonist. The Washington Post, for instance, took a long time to find a replacement for the legendary Herblock, but find a replacement it did: the paper clearly wanted the editorial page clout that an outstanding editorial cartoonist could provide. Tom Toles isn’t the draftsman that Herblock was, but Toles hits hard. The Chicago Tribune, on the other hand, has never replaced Jeff MacNelly, who died in 2000. But even among newspapers without staff cartoonists, the political cartoon is a fixture on the editorial page: it’s the flag, the signal, that the newspaper’s opinions can be found here, under this graphic banner. The power of the political cartoon has never been seriously in question. Every editor knows how effective his cartoonist is when, after publishing a particularly blunt cartoon on a local issue, the phones start ringing. Perhaps the most compelling testimony to the power of editorial cartooning took place in the aftermath of 9/11. Nearly every editorial cartoonist commented on the disaster, creating powerful and memorable images. And newspaper readers responded by phoning their newspapers and asking for copies—for prints—of the cartoons. Newspapers ran off thousands of copies and sold them, turning over the profits to charities for 9/11 victims. I haven’t heard of a single newspaper that experienced any demand whatsoever for prints of photographs of the horrific event. Cartoons combined a visual commemorative with an opinion, and no other medium can achieve this effect as powerfully.
AAEC Seeks Solutions to the Profession’s Dilemma
The shadow under which AAEC convened this year is not quite the same as the shadow that attended its birth fifty years ago. Then the profession was fighting for its good name; today, it is scrambling for its very survival. And the weekend program aimed to confront the problem with a two-part “Town Hall” meeting. The purpose of the event was not to whine and complain about the present state of the job market but to explore ways out of the predicament—or ways to live with it. On Thursday, cartoonists were invited to brainstorm ideas; on Saturday, they reconvened to assess the ideas and to determine which of them the AAEC could adopt as a plan of action.
Among the ideas deemed the most workable were these: Commission a poll to discover how popular editorial cartoons are with newspaper readers; no editor, it is assumed, would willingly cast aside a highly popular feature. Assemble a barrage of talking points for members to use in interviews so that the case for editorial cartoons will be made consistently and repeatedly. Individual editoonists should meet with their editors and publishers to discuss what they, the cartoonists, can do to best help the newspaper, thereby enlisting all concerned parties in a common cause. Conjure up website money-making programs (selling merchandise—caps, t-shirts?) on the supposition that “money equals power,” and with power, AAEC could achieve more. Devise several “outreach” strategies: invite newspaper editors to the annual AAEC convention; make presentations at the conventions of editors and publishers; make presentations individually before educational groups and at schools (particularly at journalism schools); solicit comments of support from prominent personages outside the profession (Paris Hilton? Does she read?); give an annual award to an editor or publisher who best demonstrates an appreciation for what political cartoons do in the journalistic enterprise. AAEC already supports a “Cartoons for the Classroom”effort at its website (www.editorialcartoonists.com) wherein suggestions are made about how political cartoons can enrich teaching in classrooms at various levels.
Many ideas assumed that it is the general public, or the newspaper reading public, that needs to be educated about the worth of editorial cartoons. With that in mind, individual cartoonists were urged to see that their newspapers publicize any beneficial effects on the community produced by a series of editorial cartoons. Some suggested that AAEC hire a public relations person to tout political cartooning. Another suggestion was based upon the “Cartoonapalooza” event held the evening before the convention—a panel of editoonists made presentations to an general public audience and responded to questions. Despite faulty publicity, the event was well attended by an enthusiastic audience. Which seems, on its face, to indicate such efforts to involve the general public are pointless: we already know this body of people likes editorial cartoons—what’s the education to achieve? And even if the general population weren’t already fans of cartoons and emerged from such events as enthusiastic fans, what could they do for editoonists in a newspaper environment that is being run by bean counters and Wall Street investors? Would even a public fanatic about editoons achieve the objective imagined by Kevin “KAL” Kallaugher of the CAI/New York Times Syndicate, who noted wryly: “At the end of the day, when a newspaper has only five people working for it, we want one of the five to be a cartoonist.”
The appeal of the political cartoon has never been at issue in the current crisis. Every editor knows that cartoons—specifically, comic strips—are a vital ingredient in the newspaper. The comics page has been, since its inception over a century ago, one of the most popular of a paper’s pages. A newspaper could achieve a substantial saving by simply giving up its funnies. A week’s worth of comic strips—say 30 individual titles—dailies and Sunday, cost a minimum of $30,000 a year for a newspaper of modest circulation; the big city newspapers budget three times that figure for a comics section. Yet none of these papers have, yet, contemplated discontinuing comic strips: what with the popularity of comics among readers, giving them up would be nearly suicidal. It’s only the staff editorial cartoonist who is being killed in the current economic maneuvering. But the popularity of the cartoons he/she produces is not much in question; if it were, none of those syndicate packages would still be around.
Suspiciously, none of the “Town Hall” suggestions came face-to-face with that 8,000-pound primate skulking in the hallway—the syndicated political cartoon. No one suggested that a solution to the problem of the shrinking ranks of editoonists could be found by exploiting a hoary economic mechanism, the relationship between supply and demand. The way to enhance and preserve the staff position of editorial cartoonist is to increase the demand for the staff editorial cartoonist. And one way to increase the demand is to dry up the supply that encroaches from places other than the drawing board of the staff editoonist—namely, nationally syndicated political cartoons. If a newspaper editor could not obtain a suitable editorial cartoon from a package of cartoons sent to him by a syndicate, he would have to resort to his own staff, among which, he’d be likely, under the circumstance we’re imagining, to include an editorial cartoonist. Nobody mentioned this otherwise obvious tactic because the room was full of staff editorial cartoonists who are also syndicating their cartoons nation-wide. Most of those who are syndicated think of syndication as one of their profession’s career goals: an editoonist who achieves national syndication gains a little extra money and a measure of prestige. Syndication becomes, in effect, a stamp of approval, a badge of acceptance and status. Why would anyone give up the added prestige that national circulation yields? I have no answer for that; and neither did anyone in the room. Wiley Miller once suggested (see Opus 174) that if syndicated editoonists would not give up syndication, they should at least conspire with their syndicates to increase the fees that subscribing papers pay. At present, newspapers can obtain a package of several cartoons a week for pittance, $30, $50, even $200-300, depending upon the paper’s circulation and the fame and status of the cartoonist whose work is being rented. Even at the higher end of the pay scale, the rate is low. If a paper had to pay more, then the economic compulsion to abandon a staff editoonist in favor of a cheap assortment would be reduced. Not eliminated, alas, but reduced. Probably, however, the reduction would not be enough to stem the tide of editors abandoning staff editoonists in favor of syndicated “employees.”
It may be impossible to increase the demand for a staff editorial cartoonist by reducing the supply of extra-mural cartoons, but all is not lost: it is possible to enhance the value of the staff editoonist—or at least sustain the value of the position— without tinkering with the laws of supply and demand at all. And as it happens, cartoons are constituted in almost exactly the ways that lend themselves easily to heightening their value to a newspaper. But newspaper people would have to change the way they think about the Internet Crisis in order to realize that enhancement.
Print media have reacted to the advent of the Internet by using the Web as a supplementary adjunct. Newsweek and other national magazines—and newspapers—almost routinely include notices attached to various articles that tell readers they can find out more about the subject at hand by visiting the publication’s website. Print media think they are adapting to the future with this tactic, but the mindlessness that results in this reaction to a new and menacing technology is boggling. Newspapers and all print media are threatened by the Internet, so the sensible reaction is to refer their readers to the Internet? What’s sensible about that? At a time when print media verges on the brink of extinction, the print media react by encouraging the use of the technology that threatens it. A more sensible—and strategic—reaction, it seems to me, would be to use the Internet to refer interested persons to the print vehicle. Since “everybody” is using the Internet as the chief source of news and information, the strategy ought to be to treat the Internet as the gateway to the print medium, to capture the Internet users and re-direct their attention to print. “If you want to find out more about this topic, buy a copy of Name of Local Newspaper, where we are devoting pages to a discussion of this subject.”
The cartoon is wonderfully suited to fit into such a strategy. An editorial cartoonist could produce, say, a four-panel cartoon—a comic strip with a satirical message; the first three panels could be available on the newspaper’s website, but to see the last panel, the one with the punchline, the viewer would have to get the day’s paper, wherein the whole four panels would be published. A single-panel editorial cartoon could be devised with the same tactic: put the picture up on the website, but the verbiage, the text that explains the picture and gives it its satirical impact, would appear with the picture only in the print venue.
A species of low-tech light-labor animation could also be deployed to seduce readers into buying the print version. Once the cartoonist has produced the “print version,” he then puts a piece of tracing paper over it, and traces the outlines of the drawing. Periodically, as he draws, a camera records the emergence of the lines on paper—photographing just the changing linear image, not the cartoonist’s hand. Almost everyone is fascinated by the act of drawing and loves to watch an artist draw, so this maneuver would capitalize on this fascination by presenting, in effect, a drawing that is drawing itself as we watch. But when the outline is completed, a faux caption appears: “To see how this drawing is captioned, consult today’s Name of Newspaper.” Animation and seduction in the same maneuver.
But it’s likely to be a while before any such mechanisms are in place. It’ll be a while before we recognize the flaw in the ointment of the website adjunct. We are not, as a culture—or as a cartooning profession, embedded in that culture—likely to see the suicidal hazard of sending readers of print media to the Internet for “more information.” We tend not to see the obvious. It took a century for us to see the folly in the manufacture of train locomotives. For generations, the makers of locomotives put the steam-generating boiler at the very front of the vehicle. With the need for more power, the boilers got larger and larger. Finally, they were so huge that the engineers steering the train could not see the tracks in front of them because the massive boiler blotted out the view. And so the cabins for locomotives were designed to stick out on the sides, so engineers could see “around” the boiler in front of them to the tracks beyond. A solution, yes, but awkward in the extreme. Finally, some gifted soul realized that the boiler didn’t need to be at the front of the locomotive: steam-generated power was powerful enough to pull the train even if its boiler were located behind the engineers’ cabin in the locomotive. So the engineers’ cabin was moved up to the very front of the locomotive, where it ought to have been all along, where engineers would have an unimpeded view of the track ahead of them. And why wasn’t the giant boiler located behind the cabin to begin with? Because of horses. In a horse-drawn society like that which was invaded by the railroad’s locomotive, the horse—the pulling power—was in front of the load. That’s the nature of a horse-drawn society. In some crucial ways, we’re still in a horse-drawn society. So, it wouldn’t surprise me if newspapers took awhile yet to realize that they’re committing suicide every time they send readers to their websites.
The Rest of the Program
This year’s AAEC convention was attended by 132 of the association’s 392 members, or exactly a third of the membership—a more than respectable turn-out. A sterling performance. By comparison, at the convention in May of the larger cartooner group, the National Cartoonists Society (548 members strong), only 145 cartoonists were pre-registered—or 26%, a respectable showing in the world of membership organization conventions but nothing to rave about. In both meetings, the membership attendance is doubled by accompanying wives and children; at the D.C. AAEC gathering, the total reached almost 250 persons.
“The real legacy of the AAEC is its conventions,” said Rob Rogers, the current president, who editoons for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Most of us work in one-newspaper cities with one staff cartooning position. There aren’t a lot of chances to bond with other cartoonists during the year.”
The bonding, this year as in previous years, takes place in an assortment of social gatherings and formal presentations over the three-day convention. In sessions during the days, editoonists considered a variety of topics from stereotyping with caricature to blogging to the so-called “war in Iraq” to animating political cartoons on the Web. And at a special adjacent event, the annual dinner of the Cartoonists Rights Network, a South African cartoonist was given the Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award, and at the banquet finale on Saturday evening, Dick Locher, who does political cartoons and Dick Tracy for the Tribune Media Services, presented the Locher Award for excellence in college editorial cartooning.
Many cartoonists now spend time blogging. Tom Tomorrow (aka Dan Perkins), one of the first to start blogging, believes a blog builds a “personal relationship with an audience,” but he also regrets the hours that blogging can consume, taking him away from his drawing board. Lee Judge (Kansas City Star) runs a blog of mostly the rough sketches for the cartoons that were rejected by his editors.
At a session on stereotyping with caricature, the typical American cartoon portrayal of Arabs and Muslims was decried. The image of Americans has also suffered throughout the world, due, chiefly, to the Bush League’s warlike action in the Middle East. Joe Szabo, president of Witty World International Features, reported on an informal survey he’d conducted, asking people to list “good” and “bad” words for Americans; among the latter, “expansionist,” “hypocritical,” “materialistic,” “self-absorbed,” “landfill,” and “political whorehouse.” In many Muslim countries, he added, the U.S. is seen as a pawn of the much-hated Israel. Mideastern cartoonists typically portray the U.S. in grossly unflattering terms, Szabo said, citing as examples an image of the Statue of Liberty stomping on a globe of the world and a picture of U.S. soldiers dragging one of their victims along the ground, his blood forming the stripes in the American flag.
At the same session, Flemming Rose, the Danish newspaper editor whose commissioning of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad precipitated rioting and bloodshed in the streets of Islam, made several pungent comments about the state of journalism and cartooning. “The only right we don’t have,” he said, emphasizing the negative, “is the right not to be offended.” He said a distinction must be drawn between “good manners” and “self-censorship,” but “by not publishing the Mohammad cartoons [once they had become news], U.S. newspapers gave the impression that the cartoons were far more offensive than they were.” Journalism was not well served by such timidity. One American editor told Rose that he didn’t print any of the cartoons because he had reporters in the Mideast, and he didn’t want to risk their becoming targets for extremists. The principles of journalism would be better sustained, Rose said, if the editor had given that as his reason for declining to publish the cartoons—instead of claiming his paper was simply exercising good taste out of a desire not to offend devotees of another religion.
Another panel presentation was entitled “What’s So Funny about War?” Cartoons done by cartoonists in the Mideast continued to portray the U.S. in quite unflattering ways. One cartoon showed Uncle Sam painting a portrait of two people standing before him—one is holding a pistol to the other’s head; in Uncle Sam’s portrait, the pistol has been transformed into a flower. A powerful visual indictment of the duplicity of the Bush League propaganda machinery. Signe Wilkinson (Philadelphia Daily News) showed slides of some of her cartoons—all bitterly anti-war. In a two-panel cartoon, the first panel depicts GeeDubya saying, “We shoulder every cost, bear every burden, to bring democracy to Iraq!” In the next panel, a soldier carrying a wounded or dead comrade on his shoulders, says, “Umm ... when you say ‘we’...” In another cartoon, a busload of tourists taking the “Taliban Tour of Afghanistan” is being lectured by the tour guide, who says, “Unlike you in the decadent West, we don’t need to bomb abortion clinics.” As he talks, the bus drives by a mound of rocks upon which is posted a sign: Stoned for Adultery. In another, a pencil sketch, a character proposes a toast heavy with contradictory irony: “Here’s a health to the next one that dies.”
Another of the panelists at the same presentation offered a somewhat different view. David Axe, whose graphic novel War Fix reveals him as unabashedly addicted to war, now bills himself as a war correspondent and is doing gag cartoons about soldiers in Iraq. If he doesn’t think war itself is funny, he is nonetheless able to find humor in this most bleak and grim of human conditions. So did Bill Mauldin, but Axe is not Mauldin: Axe writes the cartoons; he doesn’t draw them. Ted Rall, who rounded out the panel for this session, is another outspoken critic of the Iraq fiasco and is angry at Americans generally for their nonchallant acceptance of the war and their ignorance of its conditions and the cultures it is disrupting.
Not in attendance for the panel presentation but present nonetheless was Vaughn Larson, a cartoonist at The Review in Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, who is currently deployed as a platoon sergeant with his National Guard unit in Iraq. Rob Rogers interviewed Larson, transcribed it, and passed out copies of it during the session. In his spare time, Larson does cartoons for his paper and occasionally gets into Stars and Stripes. “My original intent,” he explained, was to depict ‘soldier moments’ from our deployment, similar to what Bill Mauldin did with Willie and Joe.” But he finds himself so close to some issues that he’s afraid he’ll sound strident. “It’s hard not to take some issues personally, like Congressional maneuvers over funding or timelines on the war, or U.S. Senator Harry Reid declaring that the surge has failed just as all the soldiers have been put in place.” Cartooning is a form of relaxation for him, Larson said: “when I am on multiple-day missions in Iraq, I bring a small notebook to sketch ideas in. When I have time later on, I try to flesh those ideas out into cartoons. Keep in mind that I don’t see much of the Iraq War that you draw in your cartoons,” he continued, addressing his civilian brethren. “The enemy I know is cowardly and not prone to face us on a traditional battlefield. He will dress as a civilian, or coerce civilians into placing his roadside bombs to hurt or kill U.S. and coalition troops. The enemy is not stupid, but he is not honorable, either. Also keep in mind that a gripe from a soldier, sailor airman or Marine is not necessarily indicative of sentiment at ground level. This is a tough job, if for no other reason that it puts us in a hot desert far away from family and friends. Many of us will complain about the food or living conditions (which are pretty good for the most part, by the way) and express a strong desire to be back home (can you blame us?), but that is not the same as being critical of the decision to be here. We agreed to serve in the military for a number of different reasons. We understand that we don’t gt to pick and choose the military conflicts we serve in. Most of us just want to do a good job and go home in one piece. Most of us are proud to be in the military, and to serve our country. So please be careful when you assign troops as proxies for your own opinions in your cartoons.”
Larson also suggested that editoonists cut back on the use of flag-draped coffins as visual metaphors. If used too often, the metaphor loses its power. But flag-draped coffins also means something more than death to soldiers in the field. “It may sound like that Vietnam War cliche—‘You weren’t there, man; you don’t know!—but veterans recognize and honor the sacrifice involved in being at war. There can be resentment even toward other members of the military who served honorably but never set foot in a theater of war, or never ventured onto the battlefield. And there is a definite gap in perspectives between veterans and many cartoonists—for example, my beef with the flag-draped coffin cartoons has just as much to do with the fact that I, or someone I know, may still go home in one as [it has with] my empathy for the families and friends of the fallen.”
Larson’s unit conducts convoy security missions, and he has seen his share of comrades wounded by roadside bombs. But he soldiers on. “My overall opinion on the war has not changed,” he said, “we need to finish the job we started. Granted, that job has become more difficult, but quitting is not only dangerous: it would be dishonorable.”
For many editoonists who see their profession on the brink of dissolution, the Web is seen as the last refuge of the species. And the Web means animation. During a panel on animation, three cartoonists presented samples of their work. Mark Fiore, called by fellow panelist Walt Handelsman, “the Jeff MacNelly of our day,” was perhaps the first editoonist to animate political cartoons and subsequently make a living at it by self-syndicating his work to a small list of newspapers that use his cartoons on their websites. “I’ve always loved animation,” he said, but he disliked the layers of laborers that typical animation studios breed. “Then I stumbled into Flash animation,” he said, “and found that I loved doing that more than print cartoons.” With Flash animation, Fiore is virtually a one-man show.
He produces one animation a week, aiming for Wednesday delivery. He begins with a storyboard, then goes to final art—which is produced the old-fashioned way, with a brush on paper; then scanned into his computer. Along the way, he engages friends to voice the cartoon and, very often, adds music and sometimes song lyrics, which he must write himself. It’s a complex creative challenge for a single artistic intelligence, but much as he enjoys the challenge, Fiore can see down the road that he might be employing others if the demand for his product grows. Noting that many newspapers want their editoonist to try animation, Fiore cautioned against doing it “unless you love it.”
“Mark is a trailblazer,” Handelsman said. He taught himself to use Flash while also doing a cartoon for print at Newsday, and the portfolio he submitted to the Pulitzer committee last winter included several animations. When Handelsman won, many saw his win as a foot-in-the-door for animated political cartooning. His animations, like Fiore’s, were both funny and inciteful (pun intended) satire.
The third panelist, Kevin “KAL” Kallaugher, who accepted a buy-out in lieu of being laid off at the Baltimore Sun last year, went into motion-capture technology with his “digital Dubya” puppet. David Astor at Editor & Publisher described KAL’s method: “The cartoonist first sculpted an image of George W. Bush using clay and other material, after which the image was scanned and painstakingly digitized. The presidential puppet can be animated in real time: at a 2006 ‘press conference,’ KAL and assistants manipulated joysticks that made Dubya ‘answer’ questions. All this time, quipped KAL, Bush thought Karl Rove was his puppeteer.” Because motion-capture animation permits “real time” performances, it’s possible to produce a weekly show, and KAL is now working up a half-hour satire for television.
The Distinguished Guest Speaker Roster
The AAEC program included several events at which notables who are not cartoonists spoke. At Thursday’s luncheon at the offices of the Washington Post, Dana Priest, one of the reporters who broke the story of neglected outpatients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, thanked cartoonists for keeping the scandal in the spotlight. “Your work provided the cultural cement that embedded the story in the country’s psyche,” she said. “You put the punctuation mark on the sentences we constructed.” As reported in E&P, she also said she regretted the failure of the press to be more skeptical of GeeDubya’s war plans in 2002. “Look what happened when we didn’t push hard enough on WMD before the War,” she said.
That evening, AAEC convened at the American University’s Katzen Arts Center where a display of Dubya attack cartoons was on exhibition under the title that looked suspiciously as if it had been misapprehended from This Colyum: “Bush Leaguers: Cartoonists Take on the White House.” The speaker, Helen Thomas, once the queen of White House correspondents and now a syndicated columnist, minced no words in her scornful description of the Bush League, which, she said, is now “running on empty and heading for collapse.” The invasion and occupation of Iraq, “—which didn’t attack us—was illegal, immoral, and unconscionable. George W. Bush struck a match inflaming the whole Mideast, and no one has laid a glove on bin Laden.” In Astor’s E&P report, she said, “I can’t think of one good thing Bush has done,” adding that she’s appalled that Bush doesn’t seem to be losing sleep at night about how disastrous things are in Iraq. Thomas didn’t spare the news media either. “I do believe journalists have let the country down. They were cowed, and afraid to be called unpatriotic. The real journalists are the editorial cartoonists who don’t fear the truth.”
During a short question-and-answer period, Thomas was asked why she thought more Americans weren’t outraged about Bush. “There’s no draft,” she said. “People don’t feel personally affected by the war.”
In response to other questions, she told several anecdotes about the Presidents she’s covered in decades of Washington journalism. She recalled the time that Lyndon Johnson, who affected a simple country boy persona, was presented with the draft of a speech that included a quotation attributed to Voltaire. Johnson scratched out the scholarly attribution and wrote in “as my dear old daddy used to say.”
At the luncheon the next day, columnist Mark Shields riddled the room with one-liners in a practiced stand-up fashion. He joked that his fellow political pundit, Robert Novak, with whom Shields has had a long association on CNN, couldn’t be with him at the AAEC meeting because “Friday is his day to get his rabies shot.” About John Kerry as a presidential candidate, Shields quipped that he “was so unexciting that his Secret Service code name was John Kerry.”
But Shield’s thesis wasn’t funny. “This is singularly the most incompetent administration across the board,” he said of the Bush League. “No one who has served in this administration has been enhanced by the experience.”
He continued: “Those in power today are totally divorced from those in peril.” Only one of the 500-plus members of Congress has a child in the enlisted ranks. “War demands equality of sacrifice,” Shields went on, quoted in E&P. “This is the only war in history fought without a draft and with six tax cuts. We should be ashamed that all the burden and suffering are being borne by less than one percent of the population.” And this observation led Shields to Darth Cheney, who enjoyed five deferments to avoid serving in Vietnam but who seems the most bellicose of the Bush Leaguers. “The Bush administration was guilty of a lack of planning on Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq War,” Shields said, “but when it comes to bird flu, the Vice President has a solution—bomb the Canary Islands.”
Americans, Shields said, are typically both optimistic and pragmatic, but he finds the optimism fading. “For the first time, a plurality of Americans believe their children’s lives will not be as rich and full as their own lives.” But they will look at the 2008 presidential candidates and hope to find an optimistic pragmatist. Hillary Clinton, Shields said, represents for many a pragmatic politician; Barack Obama seems to embody optimism.
Ronald Reagan was the most optimistic politician Shields could remember. If Reagan were brought into a room full of manure, the columnist averred, he would immediately grab a shovel and start digging—knowing that there would be a pony under all the shit.
At Saturday night’s banquet, the guest speaker was presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, a liberal Congressman from Ohio and former boy mayor of Cleveland. His speech pleased editoonist and syndicate mogul Daryl Cagle, who wrote appreciatively: “I was surprised and impressed with Kucinich because his whole speech was written for the cartoonists. That might seem to be a natural thing to do when speaking to editorial cartoonists, but almost all of the politicians who speak to us only say a couple of sentences about cartoons and then launch into their regular stump speeches. Kucinich clearly was a political cartoon fan; he knew his cartoons and cartoonists, and he showed respect for and interest in our profession that we seldom see from politicians.” Moreover, after the banquet, “he came up to the hospitality suite with us as we drank ourselves into our nightly ’toon-stupors—another thing politicians rarely do after their speeches.”
At the beginning of his speech, Kucinich promised that if he is elected President, “I’ll ask Congress to pass a law requiring every newspaper to hire an editorial cartoonist.” Quoted in E&P, he said he had seen a secret document indicating that Cheney wants to amend the Patriot Act to get ink, pens, and paper classified as weapons of mass destruction. “He knows what you’ve been doing,” the Ohioan said, “—I can protect you!” Lagging significantly in the polls, he begged the assembled ’tooners to draw cartoons about him
In the Q&A session afterwards, Kucinich was forced to be serious by the questions. Steve Kelley (New Orleans Times Picayune), who claimed to be only one point behind Kucinich in the polls—“and I’m not even running”—asked why Kucinich feels he should be in the White House. Kucinich reminded us that he has 40 years of political experience, including more than a decade in Congress, plus his term as mayor of a major city. In answer to another question, Kucinich said he believes in “security through peace.” Astor’s E&P report summarized: “He said the U.S. needs to defend itself when necessary, but also needs more diplomacy and less ‘us versus them’ saber-rattling. He added that Americans and their government leaders need to remember that the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed since the U.S. invasion were human beings with the same hopes and dreams as everyone else.” And he referred to his recent trip to Iraq during which he met Iraqis who took him to the graves of their sons and daughters, killed in the hostilities. “The world is ready for an America that will open its heart again,” he said.
Earlier in the evening, Dick Locher presented the John Locher Memorial Award (named for Locher’s son, a promising artist, who died too young) to Kory Merritt of the State University of New York at Brockport. Later, asked what had become of the previous winners, Locher said that 13 of the 21 winners have full-time jobs as editorial cartoonists, an astonishing statistic that suggests the profession isn’t in as much trouble as nearly everyone in it says it is.
Other awards that evening included the coveted Ink Bottle Award for good deeds and the Golden Spike Award for the best cartoon killed by an editor. The Herb Block Foundation received one of the former in recognition of the grants it has extended to AAEC; another Ink Bottle was awarded posthumously to Jay Kennedy, the King Features editor who drowned a few months ago. The Golden Spike went to Nate Beeler of the Washington Examiner, whose cartoon depicted GeeDubya saying that “artificial deadlines embolden the enemy,” accompanied by a drawing of several soldiers with artificial limbs, which also embolden the enemy.
Preserving Cartoonists’ Rights Around the Globe
On Friday evening, most of the AAEC membership donated to the coffers of the Cartoonists Rights Network, International, by buying a ticket to the CRNI’s Annual Awards Dinner, held this year at the National Press Club. CRNI was started in about 1992 by Robert “Bro” Russell, whose travels around the world to various trouble spots made him aware of the plight of editorial cartoonists in many countries where oppressive regimes seek to silence all dissenting voices. Cartoonists are particularly vulnerable because their “damned pictures” can speak to the masses of often illiterate audiences in Third World countries. Russell found that cartoonists are frequently threatened, intimidated, beaten, imprisoned, “disappeared,” and, on occasion, assassinated for expressing their opposition. Russell slowly formed CRNI in the fashion of Doctors Without Borders and a kindred group, Journalists Without Borders. A sort of counter-pressure group, CRNI has monitored and been active in the resolution of over 47 cases of free speech abuses against editorial cartoonists in 14 countries since 1992. The chief strategy has been to publicize cases in which cartoonists have been threatened and attacked in the conviction that an authoritarian government is less likely to proceed against a cartoonist if it knows it’s being watched. In 2000, CRNI created the Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning “in order to bring the world’s attention to the dangers many editorial cartoonists face every day int heir fight to freely express their opinions.” Russell is CRNI’s Executive Director, and its Board of Directors includes notable American editoonists Joel Pett (President; Lexington Herald Leader), Keven “KAL” Kallaugher, Signe Wilkinson, and Steve Benson (Arizona Republic). This year the Courage Award went to South Africa’s Jonathan Shapiro, “Zapiro,” of the Cape Times.
Zapiro’s crime was to ridicule the former Deputy President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma. Zuma is virtually assured of the Presidency in the 2008 election if he gets the nomination of the famed ANC party, which dominates South African politics. Unfortunately, in 2006, Zuma became embroiled in a scandal when he was arrested and charged with rape. During testimony at the ensuing trial, it seems the woman Zuma allegedly attacked was HIV positive. When Zuma was asked by the court if he was worried about getting infected himself, he said, No—that he had showered after having sex with her. He was eventually acquitted when the court determined that the woman hadn’t struggled enough to be able to claim she’d been forced to have sex. Zuma resigned as Deputy President and is awaiting court appearances on charges of corruption, but he is still seeking the ANC nomination for President. While the rape trial was taking place, Zapiro drew cartoons ridiculing Zuma. One of them showed Zuma naked but “wearing” a shower head that sprinkled him as he wandered around, brandishing an automatic rifle. Zuma was enraged and, maintaining that his reputation had been besmirched by the cartoons, sued Zapiro’s paper for $25 million. Zapiro was scarcely fazed, and neither was the Cape Times: after the lawsuit had been filed, Zapiro did a few more cartoons making fun of Zuma. (The accompanying images are not, regrettably, very clear: I am using photographs I took of a display at the dinner. Probably the lettering is clear enough in the first one: Zuma is saying, “I’m suing for damage to my reputation!” to which Zapiro, at his drawing board, says: “Would that be your reputation as a disgraced chauvinistic demagogue who can’t control his sexual urges and who thinks a shower prevents AIDS?” In the second, Zapiro employs the “Emperor’s New Clothes” metaphor; and in the third cartoon, too illegible, alas, to attempt to show here, Zuma is throwing a boomerang labeled “Damages Suit,” which then comes back to hit him.) Were Zapiro cartooning in the U.S. or Britain, his persistence in ridiculing Zuma would not be extraordinary. But in South Africa, the cartoonist risks much. Zuma, although no longer Deputy President of the country, is still Deputy President of the ANC, where he retains great power. Zuma has made it clear that freedom of expression and freedom of the press will be limited should he assume the country’s Presidency, and Zapiro’s cartoons and Zuma’s subsequent lawsuit have put the issue plainly before the public. For his persistence in the face of official displeasure, Zapiro received this year’s CRNI Courage Award. In the years of apartheid, Zapiro was an anti-apartheid activist and was arrested often, even while serving in the army; ironically, he was an enthusiastic supporter of the ANC.
During dinner, I sat next to Nik Kowsar, an Iranian cartoonist now living in Canada. Although educated as a geologist, Kowsar made his living in Iran as a cartoonist—and a good living it was: the equivalent, he told me, of $100,000 a year. He drew for three different newspapers, going every day from one office to another in succession. Five years ago, he was arrested. Because of the views he expressed in his cartoons, he was suspected of being in a cell of revolutionaries. “Being arrested in Iran is not good,” he said, eyebrows raised quizzically. He was tortured to divulge the names of the others in the dissident cell he was alleged to be a member of. Since he wasn’t in such an organization, he could reveal nothing. But when he was again at liberty, he was so fearful for his life that he fled the country, and CRNI was instrumental (in some unspecified way) in getting him to Canada, where he is now working on a newspaper and taking courses in journalism. Kowsar received the CRNI Courage Award several years ago, and his story has, for the moment, a happy ending: he was particularly jubilant during our conversation because he and his family, his wife and children, have just been reunited in Canada—“after four years,” he kept saying, holding up four fingers.
Here are some of Your Reporter’s scribbles, made on-the-spot, and some photographs of the attending dignitaries.
THE NUMBERS GAME
About a hundred years ago when the number of daily newspapers was more than twice today’s total of 1,500, many ran political cartoons on their front pages. But my guess is that the number of full-time staff political cartoonists never approached 3,000. The key qualifier is “full-time”: many of the front page cartoons in yesterday’s newspapers were drawn by staff cartoonists whose assignment included a wide range of decorative and artistic endeavors, and they did an editorial cartoon occasionally as one of those many assignments.
The diminishing number of full-time staff editorial cartoonists has been rumored in alarm more often than proved with facts in recent years. But just as it was openly acknowledged on the front page of USA Today for June 14, 2005 that global warming is a scientifically demonstrable fact no longer just a politically sponsored urban legend, so is it a demonstrable fact that there are fewer editoonists working full-time today than, say, five years ago. The exact number of this endangered species is still at issue, but the number is surely smaller now than it was. Writing in the Winter 2004 issue of Nieman Reports, J.P. Trostle, editor of the AAEC newsletter, The Notebook, and of the AAEC showcase collection of editorial cartoonist biographies and cartoons, Attack of the Political Cartoonists, opined that there were "fewer than 90 cartoonists working full time" as political commentators in American newspapers. However, if we consider the number of part-time editoonists (those who work in newspaper art departments and occasionally draw an editorial cartoon or whose cartoons appear in weekly newspapers), Trostle estimates the number at 234 "regularly published" editoonists. That's somewhat comforting, but is the number of full-timers smaller now than it has been?
V. Cullum Rogers, the estimable long-time secretary-treasurer of AAEC and a dedicated student of the medium, once attempted on the AAEC listserv an answer by reviewing various articles about the profession that appeared at intervals between 1956 and 2003. If an estimate in a Time magazine cover story about Bill Mauldin in 1957 (July 21) is accurate, Rogers calculated that there were "at least" 1,143 full-time editorial cartoonists in 1900. Time's estimate was the dubious assertion, without documentation, that "most" of the nation's 2,285 daily newspapers in 1900 had a staff editoonist, implying that the job was a full-time position—an implication that Rogers finds extremely doubtful. The 1,143 figure is one more than half—ergo, "most" or a simple majority. More realistically, we might guess that a quarter of the nation's newspapers had a staff editorial cartoonist, who probably also did other kinds of drawing in the paper; that's 571 'tooners, a smaller but thoroughly respectable number. Later in the article, Time asserts that there were, then, in 1957, 119 staff editoonists in the nation, an 80% reduction in the ranks over a half-century, again without giving any source for the figure. In 1956, the New York Times asserted that there were 275 full-time editoonists, again without citing a source. In a 1980 cover story about Jeff MacNelly (October 11), Newsweek claimed there were 170—still, without documentation. In 1997, Rogers himself tried to ascertain, for once and all, how many there were, drawing upon his knowledge of AAEC membership and various other factors; he determined that there were 154. By 2003, he'd adjusted the number to suit the facts as he then perceived them—dropping it to 100 "pure, full-time editorial cartooning jobs at U.S. newspapers" ("jobs" not cartoonists; so the number does not include Pat Oliphant or Ted Rall or Ann Telnaes, none of whom work at newspapers). The progression of the numbers, then, is as follows: 1900–1,143 (or, maybe, 571); 1956–275; 1957–119; 1980–170; 1997–154; 2003–100.
Whatever the exact numbers, it's inarguable that there are fewer today than there were a hundred years ago—or fifty years ago. Or, even, ten years ago. Editooner Milt Priggee, who has been freelancing for several years after losing his berth at the Spokane Spokesman-Review, maintains a website at www.miltpriggee.com where he posts the names of newspapers that haven't filled staff editoonist vacancies in recent years. The vacancies appear as a parade of coffins (click on Cartoons, then Animation, then Paul Revere). To-date, Priggee's posted nearly four dozen of these zombies—nearly four dozen fewer political cartooning jobs today than ten years ago. Among them, most conspicuously, the Chicago Tribune, where MacNelly's slot has been empty since his death in June 2000 despite the paper's claim that it is still looking for the perfect successor. In one of the grander ironies of the age, in January 2004, the Tribune mounted a "permanent exhibit" of MacNelly's work on the 24th floor of the Tribune Tower as "a reflection of the esteem in which Jeff was held here." To which Mike Ritter, AAEC president at the time, responded: "Putting up a cartoon show as a permanent exhibit but not hiring a new cartoonist comes off as a tombstone more than anything else." (A month ago, Ritter's paper, the East Valley Tribune near Phoenix, laid him off, and he hasn't been seen or heard from since.)
VISITING THE SEAT OF GOVERNMENT
On Sunday, I had a few hours in Washington before my plane was scheduled to leave, so I strolled along the Mall to the Capitol, thinking I’d like to go in, stand in the Rotunda and look up, and then visit the Hall of Statues to look at Charlie Russell again. Nothing extravagant. Just a sentimental visit. As I approached the front of the building, I noticed there were suspiciously few people in sight. Mostly security guards, looking furtively over their shoulders for marauding Islamic hostiles. I asked the security guard at the foot of the steps if I could go in. He said, No. The only way to get into the Capitol building these days is to be part of a tour group, he told me. Well, that’s it then: citizens can no longer just walk in whenever they want and see “their”government at work. So it’s effectively no longer “our” government, the government of the people, by the people, and for the people. It belongs to someone else, and it works unobserved. In secret. The terrorists have won.
A few weeks ago, I slipped through a sentence that glibly dropped an aside about how savage British political cartoonists are these days. Now comes the proof in the form of a sample of the oeuvre of Steve Bell, who cartoons at the Guardian. In the Preface to a 1994 collection of Bell’s cartoons, Tony Benn wrote: “In Steve Bell, we have a cartoonist whose instinctive radicalism places him clearly on the side of the poor and the oppressed, and against the might of the rich and powerful—be it the President of the USA or the Conservative Government. His cartoons are dark, pessimistic and cynical, a vision emphasized by his distinctive use of heavy shading, coils of black smoke, and bleak landscapes. ... Nothing is sacrosanct in Bell’s cartoons. The horrible image of the burnt corpse of an Iraqi soldier sitting upright in the turret of his tank is used to shocking effect; and Bell neatly epitomizes the irony of environmentally-conscious America as it sends missiles labelled ‘phosphate free’ and ‘not-tested-on-animals’ into the Gulf War. ... It is against the background of Thatcherism, the break-up of the Soviet Union and the ‘New World Order’ imposed by American power that Steve Bell—one of the most biting and successful cartoonists of his generation—has to be viewed.” The accompanying gallery comes from the Tony Blair era, not the Margaret Thatcher period, and by this time, Bell is using color dramatically, tinting every picture in blood, gore, and human excrement. Writing in the Guardian in November 2003, Bell said he experienced “no more ‘censorship’ than usual” during the Iraqi War. “The only thing I’ve been obliged to adapt slightly,” he confessed, “was the ‘turd count’ in my cartoon on the role of the U.N. ... I agreed to remove three splattered turds from the version that appeared in the printed edition of the Guardian. The version on the Web went out unaltered.” And I think it’s unaltered here, too: looks to be more than three turd splatters. What do you think?
Onward, the Spreading Punditry
The Great Ebb and Flo of Things
We learned, from his testimony on July 10, that former Surgeon General Richard Carmona was required by the Bush League to mention “President” Bush three times on every page of his speeches. Three times every page! Wondrous. Here we have yet another manifestation of the Big Lie strategy that has been enthusiastically practiced ever since GeeDubya was appointed to the office by the Supreme Court. Mentioning this Yalie cheerleader three times on every page of any speech Carmona gave necessarily did two things simultaneously. It made it appear that George W. (“Whopper”) Bush was a hands-on, in-charge President, in touch with every nuance of his administration’s administration—portraying him as an authentic hard-working leader of men, a master manager, which was the objective, I’m sure. But the other thing this tactic accomplished was probably unintended: in order to mention George WMD Bush three times on every page, Carmona (and every other member of the Bush League, presumably similarly instructed) had to attribute to GeeDubya activities or intentions or some sort of machination that GeeDubya hadn’t even imagined yet. There’s no way GeeDubya could have his finger in so many pies all the time: he could scarcely do so and still meet his daily work out schedule. Carmona simply had to lie, to make up things GeeDubya did—or to assume (and portray) an intellectual engagement that George W. (“Warlord”) Bush seldom exhibits about anything but exercise. Misrepresenting the facts is the same as lying. And every other member of the so-called “administration” who mentioned their Beloved Leader at every other breath did likewise. The Big Lie is alive and well in America. (Three times on every page—sheesh.)
As for the troop reduction we’re contemplating in Iraq, it is, alas, inevitable, regardless of how the debate in the hallowed halls of Congress proceeds. The Army’s formula for rotation of combatants— a year in the field, two years rest and relaxation at home (already modified for the Iraq fiasco)— is going to hit a mathematical impossibility by next spring, according to some reports, so we’ll either need a larger Army (and recruiting failed for the last two months to make its quota) or we’ll have to start bringing the troops home. As long as the politicians in Washington can make partisan hay out of the debate over withdrawal, this curious fact will remain obscure and, for all practical purposes, wholly unknown. I am reluctant to accept the prognostication that when we withdraw, the Iraqi landscape will be littered with bodies in an all-out sectarian slaughterhouse; this kind of alarmist talk appeals to the irrational rather than the thinking part of our citizenry, it seems to me, and so I am always tempted to see it as rampant demagoguery rather than serious discussion. But I am also mindful of what happened in 1948 when the British withdrew from Palestine: five Arab armies immediately sought to settle the partition question by invading and attacking the Israelis (see Opus 190 for more, if you want more). The British presence had forestalled Armageddon. Their withdrawal was regarded in some quarters as a betrayal of both sides. The Arabian culture has a long memory, and that makes me wonder just how effective Tony Blair will be as an envoy to settle matters in that sad region, where, as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said, “There are two mentalities—conspiracy and mistrust.”
FUNNYBOOK FAN FARE
Browsing the July issue of Previews, I bumped up against more than one picture that made me pause and smile. Here, for instance, is a x’ed-up version of a Norman Rockwell cover for the New X-Men, No. 42. At first, I thought Marvel and cover artist Skottie Young were attempting to pass off this obvious swipe as an original composition, and then I caught the imitation Saturday Evening Post cover design and the date, May 23, 1953, the date that Rockwell’s “Triumph in Defeat” appeared on the magazine’s cover. In Rockwell’s painting, the victor was a tomboy. Elsewhere, I was stopped three times by the same image, “not the final cover” of Marvel Comics Presents No. 1 by J. Scott Campbell in which the most endowed of the personages pictured seems entirely naked except for mask, gloves, scarf around her waist, and leather boots. Very fetching in a purely sexual excitation mode, this is seduction fashion. Then I realized that she’s wearing a flesh-colored body stocking, the latest, no doubt, in superheroine battle garb. On another page is a picture of Wonder Girl with the following caption: Donna Troy As Wonder Girl Bust. No, not exactly: Donna Troy also, it appears, has a head and shoulders as well as a bust, although the latter is the most spectacular of the images on display. Next, I saw that Dynamic Forces is selling Spider-Man comic strip originals, signed by the alleged writer, Stan Lee, for $299 apiece. Each selected “randomly” and framed. So you don’t get to choose. But at $299, framed, the offer is a bargain. Finally, in a field nearly dominated by zombies, vampires, supernatural spooks of all sorts, super-powered beings, and statuesque wimmin in their scanties, it’s not surprising that sex in all of its manifestations puts in appearances. Digital Manga Publishing, for example, offers several graphic novel titles featuring same sex love. Here’s Freefall Romance: “Renji and Youichi were nothing more than drinking buddies. But when a night of imbibing goes a little too far, they find themselves drinking buddies ‘with benefits.’ What begins as a drunken lark soon becomes a passionate affair. But Renji and Youichi aren’t really gay—or are they?” If that isn’t your cup of tea, perhaps the magazine Girls and Corpses is for you: “Ready for some hot girls and cold corpses? ... Each issue serves up photos of beautiful babes and bloated bodies along with comic art, insane celebrity and band interviews, horror movies, hysterical spoof ads and a crypt full of comedy that will make you laugh ’til you croak.” Bloated bodies. Sounds like fun.
WE’RE ALL BROTHERS, AND WE’RE ONLY PASSIN’ THROUGH
Sometimes happy, sometimes blue,
But I’m so glad I ran into you---
We’re all brothers, and we’re only passin’ through.
Old Folk Ballad Lustily Sung By Walt Conley in His Trademark Husky Rasp of a Voice at the Last Resort in Denver, Lo These Many Years Ago
It’s been a bad month for the inky-fingered fraternity: we lost a few irreplaceable confreres—so many, in fact, that I couldn’t do justice to an appreciation of them all. I managed Doug Marlette, who follows forthwith; but for Buck Brown, Howie Schneider, J.B. Handelsman, and Silas Rhodes, founder of the New York School of Visual Arts, I’m importing professional help.
DOUG MARLETTE, 1949-2007
Doug Marlette, a Pulitzer-winning editorial cartoonist, creator of the Kudzu comic strip, and, lately, novelist, died Tuesday morning, July 10, when the Toyota Tacoma pickup truck in which he was a passenger skidded off the rain-slick road near Holly Springs in northwest Mississippi and crashed into a tree. The driver of the car, John Davenport, was not seriously injured but was taken to a hospital in nearby Oxford. Davenport had picked up Marlette at the Memphis airport and was taking him to Oxford where he was planning to watch a highschool production of the musical based upon his comic strip. Marlette had just come from Charlotte, North Carolina, where he’d attended the funeral of his father, who died July 2.
Marlette was 57 and, since 2006, was the staff political cartoonist at the Tulsa World. Born in Greensboro and raised in Durham, Marlette graduated from Florida State University and took his first job drawing political cartoons at the Charlotte Observer in 1972. He joined the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1987, New York Newsday in 1989, the Tallahassee Democrat in 2002, cartooning from his home in Hillsborough, North Carolina, and then, in 2006, he shifted again, still working at home and sending his cartoon electronically to the Tulsa World.
While at the Observer, Marlette joined that small fraternity of editoonists who also do daily syndicated comic strips, launching Kudzu in 1981. Kudzu is the name of a pernicious plant that had been imported to the South during the Depression to control erosion, “but it got out of hand,” Marlette said, “and now covers barns, fields, trees, and slow-moving children. It grows a foot a night and nothing can kill it.” At its rapid rate of growth, kudzu, choking off all other plant life as it spreads, is more of a threat to the nation’s well-being than Islamic terrorists.
The strip features a Southern youth with the same name, Kudzu Dubose, who, like the plant, Marlette explained, “is something of a pest and is defined by its propensity to grow.” The eponymous Kudzu comic strip character pines for the Southern Belle-shaped Veranda Tadsworth and is counseled, occasionally, by the local preacher, a wannabe televangelist named with Dickensian extravagance, Will B. Dunn. These worthies and all the other denizens of Bypass, North Carolina, are “both singularly imagined and archetypal at the same time,” said novelist Pat Conroy in the Introduction to a tenth anniversary collection of Kudzu. Marlette’s strip, Conroy continued, “is the first to come out of the American South that celebrates the Southern experience.” Al Capp in Li’l Abner and Billy DeBeck and Fred Lasswell in Snuffy Smith ridiculed the rural South; but in Kudzu, “you are solidly placed in the New South in all its fullness and ludicrousness and its stumbling and hilarious attempts to fit into the modern world. The strip’s Southernness is both its glory and its built-in affliction. Marlette writes and draws about the South as though it were not a major crime to be Southern.”
A celebrated novelist of the Southern experience, Conroy was a close friend of Marlette’s. In addition to their Southerness, they shared a similar childhood: they both grew up in a military family. “My dad was in the Navy,” Marlette told the Christian Science Monitor in a 1983 interview; “we lived in little towns all over the South.”
Marlette’s grasping, self-serving preacher, a scathing indictment of televangelism, arrived just as Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority were emerging on the national political landscape to claim our attention and inspire satire. But Falwell and his ilk, although kindred souls, were not the direct inspiration for Marlette’s Will B. Dunn, as Marlette wrote in his autobiography, In Your Face. “He’s based on my own southern Baptist rearing and also to some degree on a funky preacher who married my wife and me and christened our child. Will Campbell is a self-described ‘bootleg preacher’ without portfolio (that is, sans steeple), who, like Will B. Dunn, wears an Amish hat and cowboy boots and carries a cane. But Campbell also farms and writes novels and tends to the spiritual needs of a flock that includes radicals, Kluxers, black activists, outlaw country singers, rednecks, and cartoonists. He is a very funny man and a natural performer who does a terrific self-parody of a pompous, pious, flatulent preacher.”
Against all reasonable expectations, the fatuous Will B. Dunn became hysterically popular, even in the South, and threatened to take over the strip; he starred in several reprint collections, one of which is aptly entitled There’s No Business Like Soul Business.
In his political cartoons, Marlette was “as tenacious as kudzu,” according to Linton Weeks at the Washington Post. Surprisingly in a person who grew up in the South, Marlette was a social liberal and militant about it in his editorial cartoons, but he went after politicians “across the board,” said John Shelton Reed at the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina. Quoted in the Washington Post, Reed remembered Marlette giving a slide show of his Bill Clinton cartoons when Hillary Clinton walked in. “She was not too happy,” Reed said. “He did awful things in his cartoons with Jesse Helms. But Helms’s office phoned and asked him for originals to frame. Doug was very disappointed.”
Three-time Pulitzer winner Paul Conrad said: “Doug was one of the very few talented cartoonists working today. He had a very different approach—all the good ones do—and a marvelous way of needling people, which was all too rare.”
Another Pulitzer winner, Mike Peters, agreed: “His cartoons would make you stand up when you were reading the paper,” he told Motoko Rich at the New York Times. Quoted by the Washington Post’s Patricia Sullivan, Peters said: “His cartoons were as strong as anything that Conrad could do, that Herblock could do. He had strong beliefs and he was able to put that into visuals. He would do humor, too, but when he got mad about something, he could do a devastating cartoon.”
Marlette amazed his editors at Newsday with his work ethic. “By 10 a.m., he knew what he would draw for the following day’s paper, colleagues recalled,” said Michael Amon and Carl MacGowan at newsday.com.
Steve Buckley, publisher of the Times-News in Burlington, remembered watching Marlette make a presentation four or five years ago. “It was right after one of his controversial cartoons had been published, and he was talking about how he got ideas for cartoons. He picked up a newspaper, selected a story, and drew a cartoon on the spot to demonstrate. It was amazing.”
Marlette was an articulate and thoughtful practitioner of his craft, and in his autobiographical volume, In Your Face, he provided ample insight into both editorial cartooning and comic stripping. It was Marlette who described editoons as ”unruly, impertinent, and bristling with attitude. ... A cartoon cannot say ‘on the other hand,’ and it cannot be defended with logic. It is a frontal assault, a slam dunk, a cluster bomb,” and he went on to pinpoint the reason political cartoons so often upset newspaper editors: “Journalism is about fairness, objectivity, factuality; cartoons use unfairness, subjectivity, and the distortion of facts to get at truths that are greater than the sum of the facts.” And it was Marlette who settled, for once and all, the question of whether editorial cartoons have any impact. When asked if his cartoons impinged at all upon the world they satirized, his reply was both short and simple (and typically satirical in a self-deprecating way): “Yes,” he deadpanned, “—I ended the Vietnam War.”
Marlette also used recent Islamic criticism of his cartoons to make a larger point: “What I have learned [from a 30-year career as a cartoonist] is that ... no one is less tolerant than those demanding tolerance. ... Despite differences of culture and creed, they all seem to share the egocentric notion that there is only one way of looking at things, their way, and others have no right to see things differently. ... Here is my answer to them: In this country, we do not apologize for our opinions. Free speech is the linchpin of our republic. ... Granted, there is nothing ‘fair’ about cartoons. You cannot say ‘on the other hand’ in them. They are harder to defend with logic. But this is why we have a First Amendment—so that we don’t feel the necessity to apologize for our ideas.” (See Opus 205 for more in this vein.)
About the shrinking ranks of editorial cartoonists, Marlette again spoke to the importance of the First Amendment in the winter 2004 issue of Nieman Reports: “It order to maintain our true, nationally defining diversity, it obligates journalists to be bold, writers to be full-throated and uninhibited, and those blunt instruments of the free press, cartoonists like me, not to self-censor. We must use it or lose it. Political cartoonists daily push the limits of free speech. They were once the embodiment of journalism’s independent voice. Today, they are as endangered a species as bald eagles. The professional trouble-maker has become a luxury that offends the bottom-line sensibilities of corporate journalism. ... We know what happens to the bald eagle when it’s not allowed to reproduce and its habitat is contaminated. As the species is thinned, the eco-balance is imperiled. Why should we care about the obsolescence of the editorial cartoonist? Because their cartoons push the boundaries of free speech by the very qualities that have endangered them. Because cartoons can’t say ‘on the other hand,’ because they strain reason and logic, because they are hard to defend and thus are the acid test of the first Amendment, and that is why they must be preserved. As long as cartoons exist, Americans can be assured that we still have the right and privilege to express controversial opinions and offend powerful interests.”
A deft wordsmith as well as a superior cartoonist, Marlette took up the novel in 2002 with the publication of his first, The Bridge; earlier this year, his second, Magic Time, came out. “You can get a whole range of emotions in a novel,” he said, deploying again his gift for a figure of speech, “—the complexities, contradictions, and bittersweetness of life. That’s harder to do in a cartoon. A good cartoon is like a slam dunk. A good novel is the whole basketball season.”
Judging from the comments on an Email list for editorial cartoonists, Marlette enjoyed the esteem, if not always the affection, of his colleagues. Writing in the Independent Weekly in Durham, V. Cullum Rogers, a stalwart in the ranks of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, said: “ My favorite memory of Doug Marlette dates from the 1981 AAEC convention in Nashville, Tenn. A group of us were closing down some dimly lit dive, and at one small table Marlette and Jeff MacNelly spent nearly a hour trying to make headway with a beehived blonde who’d never heard of them and didn’t seem to regard artistic talent as much of a turn-on. MacNelly died in 2000, and now Marlette is gone, too. ... Marlette had intelligence, talent and energy. Over a career that began in 1972 at the Charlotte Observer, he published nine volumes of editorial cartoons; won a Pulitzer Prize in 1988; created a comic strip, Kudzu, that he later adapted into a musical; and wrote two novels. He also had an eye for the brass ring and the ability to shrug off critics—common traits in the ed-toon biz, but Marlette had them more than most. His relations with his colleagues, like the Hillsborough neighbors he satirized in his book, The Bridge, could be rocky. But in person he was unfailingly courteous, and on paper he was often deadly, a potent combination. He’ll be missed.”
Some of Rogers’ cohorts in AAEC remember Marlette as an arrogant self-promoting egotist and recalled that he was once physically thrown out of their convention. Reportedly, it was at the 1982 gathering in San Francisco, and Marlette, who was scheduled to be on a panel presentation, assumed, incorrectly, that the Association would pay for his hotel room and instructed the front desk accordingly. When he was confronted by the AAEC secretary treasurer, who attempted to advise him of his error, Marlette brushed him off, which was the mistake. The man grabbed Marlette by the collar and marched him away; he never came back, and no one ever attempted to get him back.
But that was in 1982, just after the launch of Kudzu, and Marlette might have been a little more full of himself than usual. Even those who harbor unflattering memories of Marlette admit that in person he was always pleasant and thoroughly professional and that he was a well-spoken voice for the profession. Others remember his kindness and courtesy.
Author, illustrator and one-time political cartoonist Kate Salley Palmer wrote: “Doug was the first working cartoonist I ever met. It was 1976, I believe, and I drove from Greenville to Charlotte (in the rain). He let me spend the day with him. Even gave me his collection of Best Cartoons of the Year, dating back to the early '70s—which I tried to return, but he told me to keep them. He signed a copy of his latest collection of cartoons and then politely mentioned that he had a deadline. I was so thrilled—he made me believe I could be a cartoonist, too. He was really nice to me that day—and on other occasions as well. I don't feel safe any more,” she added, “—like if Doug could get killed, anybody can. I know that sounds stupid, but there it is. We all have to make sure we live till we die.”
I like to think the Marlette whom Kate met in 1976 was the actual Marlette, the authentic cartooner before fame set it. But even if it wasn’t, who can fault someone for promoting himself? And who among us doesn’t envy fame in others? We’re all flawed with our humanness, after all.
Sources: In addition to the publications cited in the foregoing, I relied upon AAEC gossip, eye witnesses, and several obituaries posted online from Newsday, Burlington Times News, Los Angeles Times, and news.yahoo.
GRANNY’S SUGAR DADDY DIES
By Azam Ahmed, Chicago Tribune, with odds and addenda
In 1961, Robert "Buck" Brown submitted a cartoon drawing to Playboy, then a fairly new and wildly popular skin magazine. A student at the University of Illinois, Brown offered the drawing on a whim, already having resigned himself to a career in advertising. But his drawing was accepted, sparking an artistic career that would span more than four decades. Brown would go on to become an iconic cartoonist, best known for his Granny character, a bespectacled lady with salacious habits. An African-American artist, his work often brimmed with social commentary on the civil rights movement.
Brown, 71, died of a stroke Monday, July 2, in St. James Hospital and Health Centers in Olympia Fields, said his daughter Tracy Hill. Brown was a longtime Chicago resident and contributed more than 600 cartoons to Playboy during his four decades there. His last cartoon is published in the August 2007 issue. According to his daughter, he sold thousands more to other publications; his work also appeared in Ebony, Jet and Esquire. While he was most famous for his cartoons, Brown also was a noted painter of what he called "soul genre paintings" — humorous, slice-of-life images.
"Buck's cartoons ranged widely in subject matter from the sexual revolution, golfing and westerns to parodies of figures from history and literature," wrote Playboy cartoon coordinator Jennifer Thiele in an online memorial. "His cartoons depicting relations between black and white Americans are perhaps the most poignant. As an African-American, his insight and humor were an important contribution to the magazine during and after the American civil rights movement."
Brown moved to Chicago from Morrison, Tennessee after his parents separated. He attended Sexton Elementary School and Englewood High School on the city's South Side. After he graduated in 1954, he joined the Air Force. There he would pin up his work in the barracks, eliciting laughs from his sergeant and fellow soldiers, his daughter said. By the late 1950s, Brown was taking art classes and driving a Chicago Transit Authority bus. While attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1961, he stopped by the Playboy offices in Chicago to drop off some ideas and sketches. His first cartoon, a black-and-white drawing of a boy holding a trumpet, ran the next year. The character that became Granny [a lusty insatiable old bag beloved by young studs as well as old codgers like me—RCH] came four years later in his first color cartoon for the magazine.
Brown was a warm father and husband. "As busy as he was and as famous as he was, he would always take the time to really show me things. I used to be absolutely petrified of spiders when I was a little girl, but he'd have me watch a spider spin a web after it rained," his daughter said. "I really did have a different perspective after that."
His humor and distinct voice extended beyond his artwork, exhibited in ways like his manners of speech, dubbed "Buck-isms" by his family.
"Dad would call milk 'moo-juice,' and before he left to go anywhere, he'd always say 'It's time to get my hat,'" his daughter said.
The family keeps a book of "Buck-isms."
Hill said her father kept a sense of humor about everything, and she laughed about some of the more titillating images her father drew, especially the sex-addled Granny character. Her father showed her some of his drawings when she was a little girl, she said, but reserved others until she grew older.
"As a child, I was teased every once in a while [about her father doing cartoons for Playboy]. But it never really stuck with me," Hill said. "We never had this loose household. You wouldn't have Playboys lounging around."
Brown never fully retired from drawing sketches, his daughter said, and he remained committed to his work, passionate about the drawings around which he formed a life. His artwork graces the collections of Bill and Camille Cosby as well as Johnny Mathis.
[Some of us remember another African American cartoonist, a pioneer in fandom circles, Richard “Grass” Green, who died a few years ago. And it was Don Thompson, then co-editor of the Comics Buyer’s Guide, who once wrote the sentence that many scribblers among us envied when he said that both Brown and Green were black.]
SUNSHINE SETS FOR SCHNEIDER
By E&P Staff
The Sunshine Club cartoonist Howie Schneider died June 28 from complications due to heart surgery, according to a Provincetown (Mass.) Banner obituary. Schneider, born in 1930, was probably better known for the long-running Eek and Meek comic he did from 1965 to 2000. He also produced The Circus of P.T. Bimbo, which ran 1975-83. Schneider began The Sunshine Club, which focused on a group of older characters, in 2003. He also did editorial cartoons for the Provincetown Banner. “He made us laugh, each week, time and again,” wrote Sally Rose at the Banner, “—at ourselves and at the rest of the world. He had a quirky and comical lens through which he observed life's events, both national and local, and an incredible talent for sharing that humor with the rest of us through his cartoons and comic strips. He also found great humor in both local and national politics and could point his arrow of fierce wit at Provincetown Town Hall or the White House with equal and great ease.” The cartoonist was the subject of an April 15, 2004, profile by Dave Astor on E&P’s website. Here's that story:
Howie Schneider feels that the many newspapers looking for younger readers shouldn't ignore their older audience. That's one reason that he created The Sunshine Club—Life in Generation Rx, a humor strip which entered syndication in the fall of 2003.
"Seniors represent an enormous and growing group in this country"— and many are loyal newspaper readers, said Schneider, who did the Eek and Meek strip from 1965 to 2000. The "over-65" cartoonist added that the oldest baby boomers will reach retirement age in just a few years, making the senior category even bigger. Older characters appear in a number of comics, but usually as part of a cast that includes younger characters, noted Schneider. "The thing that makes mine different is that it's focused just on a community of seniors," he said. Many seniors have similar lifestyles and interests. Schneider cited about a dozen examples of this, including: "They have a lot of time on their hands, they may no longer be earning money, they talk about EKGs and blood tests, and their favorite movies are out of date."
There's potential for humor in all those situations, as when Schneider did a Sunshine Club strip in which one senior character says: "They're not making movies for us any more." Another replies: "That's why they give us discounts." But the comic also offers universal humor many younger readers might relate to. "There's nothing that can't be looked at through the lens of the aging," said Schneider .
Indeed, the ideas flowed when Schneider came up with the concept for his comic. "I filled three sketchbooks in two or three weeks," he recalled. Then he showed his work to 30 seniors to make sure that the material—which included things like a character talking with his late wife and a reference to early-bird specials at funeral homes— wasn't offensive to that audience. The seniors weren't bothered.
The strip’s main characters include friends Uncle Bunty and George, the Bovines married couple, Edna (who doesn't understand her children), Willard (who rails against changing times), Fran the flirtatious widow, the TV-watching Badgers, the wise and lovable Professor Noodle, and others. All of them are drawn— in a minimalist style—as animals. Why? "I didn't want to do stereotypical old people with gray hair and wrinkles," said Schneider. "I indicate age in subtle ways—the leaning of the body, not looking too energetic. ..."
How energetic is the comic's client list? The Sunshine Club has about 60 newspapers—a respectable total in an economic climate that has made many editors reluctant to buy new features. Schneider’s syndicate, United Media, said subscribers include the Denver Rocky Mountain News, Detroit Free Press, and Las Vegas Sun. One reason the Free Press began running The Sunshine Club last December was that "the aging populace is obviously a big part of newspaper readership," noted John Smyntek, the paper's special features and syndicate editor. He said it's too soon to say how Free Press readers will take to Schneider's comic; Smyntek explained that many readers resent a new strip when it first starts (partly because it often bumps an established comic), then feel more neutral about it after six months or so, and then might warm to it after a year.
"I'm a late convert to niche strips," added Smyntek, who said many of the comics introduced during the past few years are geared toward specific audiences. So, the editor said with wry exaggeration, "it was either move with the crowd or have empty spaces in the comics section!"
The award-winning Schneider, who resides on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, doesn't have much empty space in his artistic life. He's also an editorial cartoonist for the Provincetown Banner, a sculptor, and a children's author/illustrator who has done books solo and with his wife, writer Susan Seligson. But Schneider is glad to be doing a comic strip again four years after Eek and Meek ended. "You get in the habit of looking at the world through these little droplets of humor," he said. "If you don't have characters' mouths to put observations in, you feel frustrated. It's like taking away a ventriloquist's dummy."
To Astor’s story, we add what the Banner’s Rose wrote: “In addition to his popular weekly cartoon in the Banner, called Unshucked, he was well-known as the author of several children's books, including his two most recently published, Wilky the White House Cockroach and Chewy Louie. Schneider won two first place awards from the New England Press Association for his Banner cartoons. For more about Schneider and the unique evolution of Eek and Meek (characters who began as mice and finished as people), visit Opus 124 and/or Opus 171. The last Sunshine that Schneider shed will be published September 1.
THE ELEGANT PENMAN HANDELSMAN LEAVES
By Martin Plimmer, London Independent
J. B. Handelsman [known on this side of the Atlantic as a New Yorker cartoonist] died in Southampton, New York, June 20; he was 85. The signature is the most extravagant feature of a Handelsman cartoon. The drawing style is economical and unadorned—even restrained—yet the sign-off, which eschews the graphic abbreviations favored by other cartoonists, lopes across the white space at the bottom with writerly expansiveness: "Handelsman.” For many readers who looked out for that signature in Punch, The NewYorker and other magazines (and perhaps for himself too), the writing was the most important aspect of a Handelsman production. He was the most literary and intelligent of cartoonists, famous in a profession of knowledgeable wits for his "encyclopedic" brain. Few other cartoonists divided their attentions between such polar extremes as the European Common Market and the Garden of Eden. His cartoons were as likely to comment on the Iraq war ("We are among those chosen to bear the burden of rebuilding Iraq. A thankless job, with no reward apart from obscene profits.") as he was the Trojan War ("These Trojans—they like women, don't they? The pansies!"). In fact, few wars can have succeeded in keeping out of range of his ironic gaze.
As can already be seen from the two gags above, drawing plays a secondary role in Handelsman cartoons. Though he was an excellent draughtsman, seemingly undaunted by any mode of behavior or setting, the humorous idea is seldom visual, but is played out in the longish captions. Two men face each other across an office desk and one of them is saying, "I'm afraid I can't help you; civil liberties are outside my domain. I specialize in jungle law." In another, two men face each other across another office desk. One says, "That's my advice as your accountant. Speaking as your friend, I'd have to say it was pretty lousy advice."
John Bernard Handelsman (known informally as Bud) was born in NewYork's Bronx district in 1922, the grandson of an immigrant Hungarian Jew. Both parents were teachers. He drew cartoons as a child, and was famous at family functions for producing likenesses of Popeye to order. He soon decided he wanted to be a comic-strip artist and on leaving school, attended the Art Students' League. He served briefly in the Army Air Corps during the Second World War and after a brief flirtation studying electrical engineering, found work as a commercial artist and typographic designer in advertising agencies. At the same time he submitted cartoons to magazines including Esquire, Playboy and The Saturday Evening Post.
"I did a lot of angry things," he said later, "about the KKK and Civil Rights and neo-Nazis coming to power in Germany." The first cartoon he sold to The New Yorker was of two Nato Germans at the Arc de Triomphe; one of them is saying, "Memories, memories ..."
He had enough work to go freelance in 1960, but it evidently wasn't of the right caliber because by 1963 he had decided that America wasn't an appreciative enough market for his brand of intelligent irony, and he packed up his wife Gertrude and young family, and relocated to England—namely, Leatherhead in Surrey. Handelsman found an enthusiastic welcome in this irreverent land, and was soon contributing to The Observer and New Statesman, as well as pocket cartoons [small, column-wide drawings] for the news columns of the Evening Standard that demonstrated a keen grasp of political subtleties and also revealed a deft skill at caricature. He was not interested in rendering his subjects as grotesques, in the manner of Gillray or Scarfe, preferring to let the captions spell out their absurdities and follies. He drew Harold Wilson, Willy Brandt, Lyndon B. Johnson and other famous players of the period in an elegant and economical line that made them instantly recognizable, despite the visual limitations of the single column space.
Handelsman was enthusiastically welcomed by Punch, the home of British literary humour, which commissioned some of his finest work. He is best remembered in England for his 11-year series Freaky Fables, a comic strip that facetiously revisited biblical stories, Greek myths and other tales of folklore, giving them modern and delightfully irreverent interpretations. When the Philistines marched against the Israelites in Handelsman's world, they chant the spine-chilling cry, "We like Walt Disney!"
Perhaps realizing what it was missing, The New Yorker now clasped him to its bosom. He slotted in well to a cartoon culture which required independent and innovative ideas from its contributors. He drew almost a thousand cartoons for The New Yorker, including front covers, and became a regular guest at the magazine's lunches. His last drawing was published just a few months before his death. He was as sharply topical then as ever.
Freaky Fables was published in book form. He also illustrated several other books, including Families and How to Survive Them (1983), and Life and How to Survive It (1993), both by John Cleese and Robin Skynner, and The Mid-Atlantic Companion (1986) by David Frost and Michael Shea. On Christmas Eve 1992, BBC television broadcast his 10-minute animated film “In the Beginning,” based on the Creation and Fall, with the voices of John Cleese, Harry Enfield and Michael Hordern. Handelsman and his wife returned to live in the United States in 1981. "I think cartoons are very important," he once said. "I think they are essential; I just don't think they're an artform."
Bud Handelsman was known for his gentle touch and, despite his liberal and compassionate convictions, never came across as brutal or bitter. Nonetheless, he was not without bite, particularly if the object of his humour lacked compassion or was illiberal. Always he was funny and wise. "Can you fold your legs like this?" asks an ascetic guru in one of his cartoons. "Without it, there can be no wisdom."
SILAS H. RHODES DIES AT 91
Founder of New York’s Legendary School of Visual Arts
By Randy Kennedy, New York Times
Silas H. Rhodes, co-founder of a trade school for cartoonists and illustrators in Manhattan that he built into the School of Visual Arts, one of the nation's most important colleges for art and design, died on Wednesday at his home in Katonah, N.Y. He was 91. Rhodes, who remained active as chairman of the school's board, died in his sleep after spending a full day at his office, said his son David, who is the school's president.
Rhodes and the illustrator Burne Hogarth, who is perhaps best known for drawing the Tarzan of the Apes comic strip for many years, founded the Cartoonists and Illustrators School in 1947, primarily to serve returning veterans, most of whom worked during the day and took courses at night to compete for better jobs in the advertising and publishing worlds. The school began with a faculty of three, a student body of 35 and a budget largely supplied by the G.I. Bill. Rhodes, who had earned a doctorate in English literature from Columbia University before serving as a pilot during World War II, insisted early on that humanities and liberal arts education take a prominent role alongside studio courses. In 1955 Rhodes changed the name of the institution to the School of Visual Arts to reflect its broader mission.
Just as the school was beginning, it ran into trouble that threatened its existence. In 1956 Rhodes and Hogarth were called before a U.S. Senate investigations subcommittee and asked whether they were members of the Communist Party. The committee was trying to determine whether Communist influence had tainted vocational schools that were supported largely by federal money. Both men said they had not been members since founding their school but they invoked the Fifth Amendment when asked about prior involvement. Their refusal to testify provoked Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, who was quoted in an article in The New York Times saying that it proved the men were Communists.
Rhodes shouted back: "I'll match my record against yours any day in the service. That's a horrible thing to say."
The senator responded, "I don't doubt a bit you are a full-fledged Communist."
David Rhodes said his father had been a Communist but left the party in 1936; he said his father told him that the Veterans Administration later audited the school and contested some of the money that had been provided to it through students who were veterans. The dispute between the school and the government was later settled, he said. [I’m not sure of the chronology herein. Assuming the date 1956 is correct, McCarthy was by then a toothless relic of the fearsome crusader he had been. He had disgraced himself during the televised Army hearings in the late spring of 1954, and the Senate, now thoroughly embarrassed by his antics, censured him on December 2 that year, stripping him of his committee chairmanships. He drank himself to death, dying on May 2, 1957. Could be Rhodes’ confrontation with McCarthy was earlier than 1956; maybe the Times goofed.]
Silas Harvey Rhodes was born on Sept. 15, 1915, in the Bronx. His father worked for many years as a postal clerk, and his mother ran a wholesale egg business that failed. (Both his parents later worked in longtime administrative roles at the School of Visual Arts.) Rhodes received a bachelor's degree from Long Island University and master's and doctorate degrees from Columbia. He wrote a dissertation on the poet Robert Burns and intended to become an English teacher. But he enlisted after Pearl Harbor and flew missions with the Army's elite First Air Commando Group in Burma, India and China. When he returned, he worked for the Veterans Administration and, with Hogarth, came up with a plan approved by the administration to create an art school to help veterans.
Rhodes was a longtime humanities teacher at the school and was its president for six years. In the 1970s he negotiated successfully with the New York State Board of Regents to allow the school to confer bachelor's degrees in fine arts, an authorization not typically given to proprietary schools like his. During his term as president, the school grew to become the largest independent college of art in the United States, with 2,700 students; it now enrolls more than 3,000 undergraduates and graduate students. Some of the more illustrious teachers and students over the years have included the graphic artists Milton Glaser and Paul Davis, and the artists Joseph Kosuth and Keith Haring. [Not to mention, which the Times doesn’t, Harvey Kurtzman, Will Eisner, and Art Spiegelman.]
In addition to pursuing his administrative and teaching duties, Rhodes was also creative director for one of the school's signature public projects, the visually adventurous posters that the faculty has produced for the New York subway for more than 50 years to promote the institution and recruit students. Rhodes, who was given to quoting Socrates, ultimately saw the school and its students as promulgators of much more than just good art, advertising and design.
"Education is a moral affair," he wrote in a 1963 essay, "and the ultimate concern of the school is with moral values, while society is concerned with such matters indirectly and only occasionally."
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