Back in 1954, an article in the Saturday Review titled "The Rise and Fall of the Political Cartoon" wondered if editorial cartooning was dead. The author of the piece complained that cartoons weren't as good as they used to be, and that they — and newspapers— were losing ground and influence to competition from "radio, television and news magazines." The article so enraged cartoonist John Stampone that he decided to fight back and form the "Association of American Editorial Cartoonists" in the hope it would "help restore some of the prestige to the profession." Organizing his fellow cartoonists took some time and effort, and the first gathering of the AAEC transpired in the spring of 1957.
I was thinking about this as I worked on the program for next month's 60th Anniversary AAEC Convention at Hofstra University — and then the following article popped up in my Google alerts:
Political cartoons must now be held to a new standard in the age of Trump
It may as well have been titled "The Rise and Fall of the Political Cartoon." 60 years later and another academic is writing about the imminent demise of the editorial cartoon — where have I heard that before?
While it is true that the fate of many cartoonists has been tied to the decline — ok, implosion— of the newspaper, with fewer than 50 staff positions remaining in the entire country, an informal survey last year turned up almost 300 cartoonists who are publishing regular political and editorial commentary online and in print. That number is remarkably consistent with the total of staff cartoonists at newspapers in the 1970s, when journalism was in its post-Watergate boom. The numbers haven't changed, just the outlets.
Yes, while cartoonists' competition these days are social media, memes and podcasts, that's true of anything — the internet has turned everyone into a political commentator.
Still, its amusing when you see editors and academics who declare that, if only cartoonists would follow their advice, the work would be more effective. Hey guys — if you think you can write a better cartoon, go ahead and do it yourself! Everyone else is.
All of this is just to say, everything old is new again. If anything, it's screeds like that that spur cartoonists on to prove them wrong; and, as with Nixon, who whipped a whole generation of journalists and cartoonists into action, hundreds of artists now feel compelled to take pen to paper and stylus to screen to confront the current occupier of the White House.
For a brief moment, as I read the above article, I felt the rage that washed over John Stampone. Fortunately for me and many other political cartoonists, the AAEC already exists and will be meeting — for the 60th time — from Nov. 1-4 on the campus of Hofstra University. (Word is the granddaughter of Stampone will be attending, truly bringing things full circle.)
So, if you're a cartoonist, or want to be a cartoonist, or want to learn how to be a better cartoonist, there is no better crowd. Come on down.
See you in New York,
AAEC Digital Director & sometime political cartoonist
Complete schedule of the 2017 AAEC Convention can be found here.