Statement from the Board of the AAEC:
The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists Endorses Originality. Over the years, there have been rare instances where an editorial cartoonist passes off someone else's work as their own. This practice diminishes the cartoonist, their body of work and damages the profession of editorial cartooning. The vast majority of political cartoonists create imaginative, original art and commentary on a daily basis and are a vital part of journalism. Passing someone else's work off as your own is not tolerated in written reporting, and it should not be tolerated in political cartooning. Indeed, it is not tolerated within the membership of our association. Further, reselling old cartoons with only a few labels changed is just plain bad for both the art form and for business. These rare instances of plagiarism should not detract from the thousands of unique, original and well-drawn works created by hard-working cartoonists every year. These fresh, original creations jump off the page (be it paper, monitor or mobile), engaging readers and making them think, talk, argue and act. New, creative and original political cartoons make a difference in our society. The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists will continue to dedicate itself to supporting and promoting the craft.
Exploiting the fervid political turbulence of the election season, this year’s convention was deliberately scheduled to take place September 13-15, after the nominating conventions of the two political parties, when the antics of editoonists at their drawing boards could become a public spectacle in the form of “A Festival Celebrating the Political Cartoon.” Staged in Washington, D.C. at the roiling center of the nation’s political perturbations, the convention by design invited the general public to attend certain events intended to showcase political cartooning, while providing amusement as well as insight into the subversive machinations of pandering politicians.
Punctuating the event with a suitably festive finale, the presidential suite was raided by the police on a noise abatement errand just after Bruce MacKinnon and the Toon Tones completed an exuberant performance of “Cartoon Blues.” Thus were the unruly ruled: thereafter, into the wee hours, knots and clusters of cartoonists resorted to whispering instead of shouting.
The timing and design of the convention were the concoction of AAEC President-Elect Matt Wuerker of Politico, and they were notably successful. Over 100 editorial cartoonists attended (107, to be exact), including 17 international visitors (from Qatar, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Palestinian territories, Egypt, Uzbekistan, Lebanon, and Morocco), plus spouses for a total of 125 registrants. Sale of tickets to public events attracted another 300 persons, tallying a record-setting 425 attendees (not all of whom were present all the time: the 300 ticket-holders came to only those events for which they held tickets).
Almost all of the public events took place at George Washington University on Friday and Saturday, but Thursday’s opening event, a panel discussion from the Left to the Right and back again, was held in the Madison Building of the Library of Congress at noon. Panelists were Lalo Alcaraz (Pocho.com and “La Cucaracha” comic strip), Ted Rall (Los Angeles Times), Steve Kelley (New Orleans Times-Picayune), and Scott Stantis (Chicago Tribune). The public audience included a dozen or so eighth graders from the nearby Capital Hill School, who witnessed illustrated talks from Alcaraz and Rall ridiculing the Right, plus more of the same, this time, championing the Right, from Kelley and Stantis.
Questions from the audience (among which were several canny adults as well as the attentive eighth graders) provoked admirably defensive responses from Kelley and Stantis. Following a spasm about requiring photo ID of voters and checking suspicious persons’ citizenship papers, Alcaraz quipped: “When they start checking the papers of Irish immigrants, call me.”
After a box lunch (sounds cheap, but the boxes offered a variety of sandwiches, and mine was purely delicious), the convention moved to the House of Representatives’ Longworth Building and the concentrically arrayed U of desks of the Agriculture Committee Hearing Room, where Mike Peters, eager to avoid disturbing a whole row of wedged-in cartoonists in order to get to an empty chair in the middle of the row, climbed over the intervening desk in order to gain the vacant chair.
Almost no one (apart from your intrepid photographer) noticed Peters’ gymnastic, however, because many of the attending cartoonists had unfurled sketchpads and spent an hour sketching each other while awaiting the disdainfully late arrival of two members of the House of Representatives: Jim McGovern, a polite and respectful Democrat from Massachusetts, and California’s Kevin McCarthy, House Majority Whip, a Republican whose glib misrepresentations predictably sidestepped the questions he was asked, erecting smoke-screens and impenetrable untruths with every syllable.
According to reporter Warren Rojas at Roll Call, the reception “turned from cheery to combative faster than it takes to sketch a Pinocchio nose on an unsuspecting politician.” The congressmen intended to keep it light. McGovern joked about being mistaken as the son of George McGovern, 1972 Democrat candidate for President, and added that what bothered him most about David Hitch, the editoonist at the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, is that Hitch is “really talented.”
In the same vein, McCarthy said: “I’ve always enjoyed [political cartoons] because they put a little humor at the same time they state a little policy,” billing the late Rex Babin, the Sacramento Bee’s award-winning cartoonist, as must-read.
But the happy talk evaporated once the politicians started fielding questions—all of which were directed at McCarthy. Several cartoonists berated McCarthy for pandering to the Tea Party and for endorsing voter suppression.
McCarthy of the silver tonsils deftly avoided answering, shifting the ground of the argument from the issue highlighted by the questions to other, barely tangential, matters and going on about them at great length. But his interrogators were not fooled: they kept repeating the same question.
“Is this a top issue with all cartoonists? Because I feel like I’m at a town hall,” an exasperated McCarthy said after 10 minutes of rhetorically jousting with peevish cartoonists. What did he expect anyway? Well-behaved small talk? From those who make a living hurling visual brickbats at public figures?
On Friday, the convention moved to GWU’s Jack Morton Auditorium, where cartoonists took to a stage that had been thematically and technologically equipped for their presentations. Gigantic cardboard cut-outs of caricatures of political figures (Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Joe Biden, Paul Ryan, Rush Limbaugh, and the justices of the Supreme Court) ringed the stage; at the rear and other both sides, projection screens displayed the visuals of each presentation while the presenters watched it all in a monitor positioned just in front of them. Genuinely high tech. Many of the presentations were conducted in part for the benefit of non-cartooning attendees unfamiliar with the profession.
At the first session, for example, Sandy Northrop and Stephen Hess, authors of American Political Cartoons, 1754-2010, quickly reviewed the history of American political cartooning, and they were followed by freelancer Steve Brodner and Nick Anderson (Houston Chronicle) who demonstrated, respectively, editooning by hand and by Cintiq. After their presentations, they were joined by Mark Fiore (Daily Kos) and Ann Telnaes (Washington Post), and they all exemplified with animated editoons how “the political cartoon evolves outside the box.”
Comics journalism was the topic addressed next by Matt Bors (Universal Press Syndicate) and freelancer Susie Cagle, who had been arrested twice last year during Occupy events which local police sought to disperse. She was properly credentialed as a journalist on both occasions, and on the second, was one of several journalists arrested; all but one were soon released, but the charges against her from her first “offense” have not yet been officially dropped (although no one is apparently pursuing any legal action either way).
In an interview last summer, Cagle talked about journalism and comics: “I’ve been surprised by how so many people still subscribe to the view that a ‘journalist’ comes from a place without an opinion, and, of course, that a journalist cannot be a cartoonist, or vice versa. I think that’s changing and that we’re growing more savvy in our consumption of media, recognizing all the frames and sources of our stories. But until then, a lot of people are uncomfortable with the fact that I have opinions and those opinions are sometimes in the story. For me, it’s a more honest way of reporting. I like to let my readers know where I’m coming from, and I work to not let it affect my gathering of facts.”
She said she has always loved what cartoons bring to the journalistic media and regrets seeing cartoons die as newspapers contract. “Those jobs aren’t being replicated on the Web,” she continued, but she also sees opportunities for cartooning on the Internet, especially for reporting breaking news.
After lunch, Mike Thompson (Detroit Free Press) and Nate Beeler (Columbus Dispatch) continued the “man vs. machine” motif of two of the morning presentations, offering cartoons both animated and static. Thompson began by reminding us that “the days of holding one job at a newspaper for an entire working lifetime—gone!” Cartoonists should therefore be prepared to move into other modes of cartooning throughout their careers.
Next, panelists Clay Bennett (Chattanooga Times Free Press), Jen Sorensen (Daily Kos), and Dan Perkins (aka, Tom Tomorrow of “This Modern World”), displayed their cartoons viewing campaign 2012 “from the Left.” Later, the view from the other extreme was presented by Nate Beeler, Scott Stantis, and Chip Bok (bokbluster.com). Because the audience was, as usual, predominantly of a flamingly irritable liberal persuasion, the conservative cartooners were forced to defend their views as often as they presented them, which they did with passion, erudition and the usual ideological rigidity.
Between these two antagonistic panels, Francoise Mouly, art director for The New Yorker, showed pictures of the magazine’s more provocative covers, described the circumstances that prompted them and the ensuing controversies, and discussed the professional relationship of the artists and the art director (echoing the substance of a recent book of hers, Blown Covers). Asked if she was herself an artist, Mouly said she was but not nearly in the same class as those she nurtures as art director. She also confessed that she was married to an artist—Art Spiegelman, who has produced a notable number of the magazine’s most incendiary covers.
Friday evening featured “Cartoon Death Match: A Field of Memes ... a wild must-see cartoon smackdown” in which Mike Peters, Jen Sorensen, Mark Fiore and Keith Knight (of K Chronicles and The Knight Life) competed. Emceed by the voluble Todd Zuniga of Literary Death Match fame, the contest concluded with a second round of competition between Knight and Sorensen, during which each of the competitors was given 30 seconds to produce while blindfolded a caricature of one of the “celebrity judges” who were refereeing the event (Gene Weingarten, humor columnist at the Washington Post; and, sitting in for Michelle Obama, Heidi MacDonald, reporter on comics news for PublishersWeekly.com; and the creator of comic book hero Billy Dogma, Dean Haspiel, whose proudest possessions are, judging from his frequent flaunting of them, his torso and biceps).
Knight, showing an eerie ability to draw Haspiel without seeing, won; and his earlier caricature of Weingarten produced under a 20-second time allowance, revealed a stunning command of this aspect of the cartooning arts. (Haspiel was easy, Knight told me later: all he had to draw was a huge bicep with a small beard.)
On Saturday, the programming unraveled in two strands, both directed at members of a non-cartooning (but interested) public. In the lobby of the auditorium, an exhibit showed how editorial cartoons are created, and an unruly impromptu assembly of cartoonists demonstrated their skills at easels, sketchpads, and Wacom tablet. While that was going on outside the auditorium, inside, a somewhat more staid series of individual presentations took place at the steady gait of one every 15 minutes.
Matt Wuerker started the latter series with a presentation entitled “Cartoonists: The Original Meme Machines,” during which he explained that the name of the festival, “#!&% Cartoons!” originated with New York’s Boss Tweed in the 1870s. Tweed was being regularly skewered by the cartoons of Thomas Nast, and he complained that he didn’t mind what the newspaper editorials said about him because his constituents couldn’t read, but they could see and comprehend “those damned cartoons.”
The deployment here, and elsewhere in the weekend’s program, of the term meme is a satirical slap in the face of a Slate.com writer, Farhad Manjoo, a particularly ignorant would-be critic of editorial cartoons who, in the wake of last spring’s Pulitzer Prize awards, announced, on the basis of his seldom looking at political cartoons, that they could be improved if they borrowed some of the graphic devices seen on the Web, mentioning, among others, memes (such as the iconic image of “The Casually Pepper Spray Everything Cop”), not realizing, apparently, that editorial cartoons are, essentially, memes—except that editoons are often funny as well as provocative.
Second at the podium as Rob Rogers (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) who explored possible alternatives to Uncle Sam as candidates for a new national avatar. After running through a likely list of national quirks and preoccupations, he offered the image of a gorilla.
Jack Ohman (Portland Oregonian) discussed the evolution of style—not drawing style but manner of visual presentation—concluding with a sampling of his weekend cartoon that explores a topic in “graphic novel”style.
In his fifteen minutes, Lalo Alcaraz, under the heading “Show Me Your Cartoon Papers,” continued his life-long advocacy for immigrant rights. His parents were immigrants from Mexico, and he grew up on the border, where he saw how badly immigrants were treated. At pocho.com, Alcaraz satirizes Latino issues and pokes fun at biculturalism; a recent issue of the Columbia Journalism Review hailed his efforts as being one of the first models for Latino news websites in English.
In a voxxi.com interview conducted over the AAEC weekend, Alcaraz talked about which of the presidential candidates is the most fun to draw: “Mitt Romney is easier for me to spoof because obviously I’m opposed to everything he says, and he’s a robot. He’s a human simulation. He’s not real. Obama is tough. Although he’s kind of a wonk and a nerd and that’s kind of funny, but it’s not that funny. Mitt Romney is from another dimension.”
Clay Bennett (Chattanooga Times-Free Press) launched into his presentation “Some Offense Intended,” by apologizing if any of his cartoons offended anyone but added that if nobody was offended, “I must be doing something wrong.”
Joel Pett (Lexington Herald Leader) came on stage next, asking if he was the only presenter who had been cautioned not to use profanity—specifically, the F-word and the C-word. He then recited a host of F-words and C-words, beginning with Fundamentalist Christian and continuing through a list of likewise usually innocuous F- and C-words.
The stand-up part of his presentation concluded, Pett also demonstrated how current events can be used in political cartooning, displaying a cartoon in which Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is shown competing in an Olympic event, a race he wins because of the prosthetic legs he runs on—bioengineered “blades,” each in the shape of a dollar sign.
Pett observed that various groups of Olympian fans and/or officials objected to South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius’s running his race on carbon-fiber legs, saying they gave him an advantage. In the enduring spirit of the Olympics, Pett finished, Chinese athletes, in preparation for the next games, will be cutting off their legs just above the knee.
The morning series concluded with Tom Toles (Washington Post), who, conscious of an audience among whom were numbered non-cartooning members of the reading (and newspaper buying) public, began with a satirical allusion to the financial plight of print journalism and how it could be solved: “I didn’t bring any cartoons,” he said, “—if you want to see my cartoons, buy the fucking newspaper.”
Toles then illuminated “The Five Secrets of Cartooning.” Beginning with the first, “Learn to Draw,” Toles, widely appreciated for the evident lack of drawing ability on display in his cartoons, explained that he can, actually, draw better, but he purposely chose the manner of his rendering, adopting a lumpish style rather than, say, a thoroughly cross-hatched illustrative one.
The remaining “Five Secrets” (Be Funny—defining “witty” as “humor without the laughing part”—Be Fair, Don’t Be Stupid, and Don’t Be A Whore) were each introduced with a non-lumpish but barely stick-figurish title slide, which seemed to emphasize Toles’ contention that he could draw in more than one clumsy, amateurish style.
Under the whoring heading, Toles referred to a cartoon he’d seen just a day or so before in his paper—a half-page, color cartoon, produced by a political cartoonist Toles’ declined to name, who had clearly offered his talent in the service of the oil industry, thereby creating what Toles called an excellent example of the worst kind of editorial cartoon—a surrender of integrity to a whoredom that the craft should not tolerate.
David Horsey (Los Angeles Times) kicked off the afternoon session with “How Cartoons Counter Delusions, Misperceptions and Big, Fat Fibs,” concluding the visual portion of his presentation with a cartoon depicting Rush Limbaugh dressed like a floozie and saying, “I’ll do anything for money.”
“Perceptions are often wrong,” Horsey said, “—but I hope for a better world” (a better informed one).
Nate Beeler (Columbus Dispatch) spoke about the power of art: “The visual dynamic of a political cartoon draws the reader in” to the argument.
Gustavo Rodriguez (El Nuevo Herald) illustrated his talk about “cartooning para todos” with his customary array of delicate linework against brilliant swatches of flat color (like those that defined his caricature of Rush Limbaugh on stage). Brian McFadden, whose altie cartoons have lately invaded the sacred precincts of The New York Times, spoke of “The Future of Freelance: Brought to You by RomneyCare.” Ben Sargent (Austin Statesman) tackled the absurd with a picture of a pipe that is demonstrably “not a pipe.” Jen Sorensen captioned photos from the Democrat National Convention. Patrick Chappatte (International Herald Tribune) advocated animation in cartoon journalism. And John Cole (Scranton Times-Tribune) talked about “the magic of ridicule,” of which he is a master.
Pat Bagley (33 years at the Salt Lake Tribune), who describes himself as “Mormon Emeritus,” traced the history of Mormonism as reflected in cartoons, beginning with the particularly nasty efforts in the 19th century to demonize the religion, and including a couple of his own more gentle jibes.
And Kevin “KAL” Kallaugher, who surpasses Bagley with his 34 years at the Economist (albeit a weekly magazine, not a daily newspaper), talked about the mystery and mastery of caricature with his usual flair. KAL, who was laid off in 2005 from the Baltimore Sun where he’d cartooned for 17 years, rejoined the paper in February to do a Sunday cartoon.
Recently he helped the paper celebrate its first 175 years of publication, and, subsequently, produced his first Sunday cartoon in color—both in evidence near the convention. I asked him if he would like to return to the Sun on a full-time basis; surprisingly, he said “no”—he was too busy to take on the work.
ANNUAL AWARDS NIGHT
On Saturday evening, following a cocktail hour liberally laced with finger food, the Association conferred awards, beginning with John Locher Memorial Award, presented yearly to an outstanding student editorial cartoonist. This year, it went to Ben Wade, Indiana University at Bloomington.
Jack Ohman delivered remarks remembering his friend and past-president of AAEC, Rex Babin, who died last year.
And then the Ink Bottle Award for exceptional service was presented to Robert “Bro” Russell, Executive Director (and co-founder) of the Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI), a non-profit organization based in the U. S. that protects the human rights and creative freedom of editorial cartoonists by monitoring the fates of those in countries whose government authorities threaten them to prevent them from criticizing government actions. Giving international publicity to such official harassments often saves livelihoods and lives. CRNI, acting directly through affiliates, has frequently helped cartoonists find asylum from their persecuting governments.
From WittyWorld: Born in New York City in 1942, Russell graduated in 1966 from Syracuse University’s School of Fine Arts, a sculpture and painting major. After a tour in the U.S. Peace Corps in India, “Bro” (as his friends know him) went into international development work and has been a career specialist in developing new and innovative organizations that serve critical human needs. He has lived and worked in Asia and Africa for more than 25 years. With a Sri Lankan cartoonist, he started Cartoonists Rights Network in 1992. CRNI has evolved and grown, now with more than 15 affiliate organizations around the world, including a regional office in Ploiesti, Romania. Bro runs workshops on free speech issues for editorial and social cartoonists, and writes extensively about human rights and editorial cartoonists. He keeps relationships with more than 50 free speech victim clients who have been assisted by Cartoonists Rights Network over the last 11 years.
Every year at the AAEC convention, CRNI presents its Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award to a cartoonist who persists in defying the censorship that his/her government imposes. This year, two cartoonists were recognized: Ali Ferzat of Syria and Aseem Trivedi of India. [Ed. note: R.C. Harvey’s article about the award appears on page 7.]
Taking to the podium briefly under the punning heading “the cartoonists walked up to the bar” was Roslyn A. Mazer, Counsel of Record for AAEC in Hustler Magazine v. Falwell, the 1988 Supreme Court case that ruled in favor of Larry Flynt’s magazine, which the evangelical preacher Jerry Falwell had sued over a 1983 parody advertisement featuring a fake interview in which Falwell admits that his “first time” was incest with his mother in an outhouse while drunk. The ruling held that public figures cannot circumvent First Amendment protections by attempting to recover damages based upon emotional distress suffered from parodies. The decision in favor of Flynt strengthened free speech rights in the U.S.; AAEC had joined the action in support of Flynt’s rights, and Mazer spoke in recognition of “the remarkable role of the Association in protecting satire.”
This year’s keynoter was ABC News’ award-winning Jacob Paul “Jake” Tapper, the network’s senior White House correspondent. Among his other accomplishments is the dubious distinction of having produced a political comic strip, “Capitol Hell,” for Roll Call from 1994 until 2003, when he joined ABC News. Declining to predict the outcome of the current presidential race, Tapper talked about the chances of the two candidates and finished by drawing his caricature of President Obama.
AAEC President John Cole closed the evening with an invitation to repair to the host hotel’s otherwise deserted rooftop restaurant for a nightcap. When thrown out of the restaurant due to the lateness of the hour (or, rather, the wee-ness of the hour), the carousing multitude found its way to the president’s suite, where it continued, resorting, eventually, to whispered conversation and smothered gawffaws after the police brought a complaint about the noise.
The next day (or maybe earlier on Saturday evening), I ran into Pulitzer Prize and Herblock Award winner Matt Davies, loitering in the hotel elevator lobby. He said he’d found the convention invigorating. “This is what it’s all about,” he said excitedly, “—talking among ourselves and seeing what everyone’s been doing. Saturday’s program exactly. Simple. Nothing complicated.”
Dispirited after being laid off at the White Plains Journal News two years ago, he said he’s been trying to construct a new career and didn’t know for sure whether editorial cartooning would be a part of it. At present, his cartoons are syndicated by Tribune Media Services and the Hearst Newspaper Group in Connecticut. After Saturday’s cascade of presentations, he felt renewed and rededicated himself to continuing in the profession.
As for next year’s as-yet unknown convention site—just pick a bar in a central location, he said, and we’ll show up, talking and drawing.
In mid September I attended the 56th annual convention of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists in Washington D.C. It was an enjoyable event and I managed to meet many cartoonists whose work I deeply admire. Two years ago I had attended an AAEC convention in Portland, Oregon, and had a good time. This year it seemed very appropriate for the convention to take place in our capitol as it is an election year. It was my first time in Washington D.C. and I had time to visit the great monuments and talk to other political cartoonists from across the country.
The convention kicked off on September 13 at the Library of Congress. We heard a discussion on the views of four esteemed political cartoonists on the upcoming Presidential elections of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Ted Rall of the Los Angeles Times and Lalo Alcarez of Pochco.com represented the left wing viewpoint while Steve Kelly of the New Orleans Times-Picayune and Scott Stantis of the Chicago Tribune represented the right wing view of the election. The panel discussion was open to the public and it was well attended, with over 60 people in attendance. Both the progressive and the conservative cartoonists were critical of Obama and Romney. Rall was deeply critical of Obama for his policies in Afganistan and his compromising too much to a recalcitrant Republican Congress, while Alcarez criticized Obama’s immigration policies. Both Steve Kelly and Scott Stantis were critical of both Obama and the Congress for their failure to deal with the national debt. Stantis was also critical of Mitt Romney as being a waffler on important issues and he was deeply critical of the Super Pacs that seemed to be able to buy off elections with their money.
I enjoyed the clash of ideas in the discussion. One member of the audience asked a question that provided some of the most thoughtful responses. With the deep polarization of the American electorate, can cartoons be an avenue for people to be exposed to different points of view other than their own? Ted Rall noted that the Internet seems to be making things a lot more polarized, as people can look at sites that confirm their points of view. Rall tries always to bring something new to the discussion with his political cartoons and he wants to always be original. Scott Stantis noted that when he does a cartoon that tries to present both sides of an issue, he gets criticized by the Right. Stantis’ goal is to make people think when they see his cartoons. Alcarez said that as someone who was born in the border of the U.S. and Mexico, he wants his cartoons to always defend immigrant rights. He noted that laws may change, but humans are humans and always should be treated fairly. Steve Kelly said that readers need to read widely and be informed and be able to defend their point of view. For Kelly, it’s important an individual to develop his or her own point of view and not just blindly follow the views of their parents, their friends or their community.
After the Library of Congress, the group went to a Congressional hearing room, where we heard Republican House Whip Kevin McCarthy and Democratic Respresentative Jim McGovern of Massachussetts speak to the AAEC. Several cartoonists grilled Representative McCarthy with questions about the Republican efforts to supress certain voter groups that are taking place in swing states. Clay Bennett, Joel Pett, Ted Rall and a cartoonist named Pam (I didn’t catch her last name) peppered McCarthy about proposed laws that would have the effect of suppressing voters in minority, women and poor communities. Jack Ohman noted the lack of community in Congress and asked how the two Representatives have tried to get the two Parties to talk to each other. Nate Beeler asked the two Representatives their thoughts on the next four years if Obama wins the elections but the House remains dominated by the Republicans.
I enjoyed the several planned discussions, but I most enjoyed just meeting and talking to the various editorial cartoonists from around the country. During the past year, I had gotten into an exasperating conflict at a church, so I was feeling a bit depressed coming into this convention. So it was really gratifying to just meet some of my cartoonist heroes and listen in on conversations. I was a bit star struck when I’d meet a cartoonist whose work I have always admired and I kept getting brain freezes when I’d first encounter them. Holy cow, I’m talking to Clay Bennett! I just had breakfast with Lalo Alcaraz! I’m sitting four chairs from Tom Toles! At my first day I had breakfast with Lalo Alcaraz, David Brown and Guy Badeaux, and we had an interesting conversation about receiving hostile emails from readers and about the need for more political cartoonists of color. I listened in on a conversation between Ted Rall and Tom Tomorrow about the state of alternative political cartooning. I didn’t know anything about any of those subjects, so I learned a lot from listening.
At another breakfast I asked Guy Badeaux his advice about a situation I sometimes get into while cartooning for the Philippines Today. I’ve been cartooning for about a year now for the Philippines Today, and though I’m a Filipino American, I’m still learning about issues pertaining to the Philippines and the Filipino American community. Sometimes some important news occurs in the Philippines or the Filipino American community that I have no knowledge or opinion about, and I don’t really have time to do much research on. When I don’t have a strong opinion on something, I have a hard time thinking up any good ideas for a cartoon. Since it’s big news in the Philippines, though, I feel this need to do a cartoon on it. Guy told me that sometimes a cartoonist can know too much about an issue, and he can wind up doing a cartoon that the average reader won’t have enough information to understand the cartoon. Sometimes it’s best just to skip a certain subject for other equally important but less publicized subjects that I’m more knowleadgable about.
At a panel with Matt Bors and Susie Cagle on comics journalism, a member of the audience asked a question of Cagle that had particular interest to me. Cagle had covered the Occupy Oakland protests and was arrested while in the middle of a protest. The audience member asked Cagle if she considered herself an observer of the protests or whether she considered herself a participant in the protests, and how would this affect her as a disinterested journalist. The question interested me, as I participated in the local Occupy San Jose and Occupy Mountain View events in my area, and I had attend various rallies and protests in the past 3 years. If Cagle was a participant in the protests, why would that be bad? I was too shy to ask about this, but I thought about it later. I had read in Jules Feiffer’s memoir that he had participated in a few protests during the 1960s while working for the Village Voice. Many of the great radical cartoonists of the early twentieth century, like Art Young, Boardman Robinson, and Robert Minor, had participated in workers’ rallies, socialist meetings and political protests. After thinking about it for a while, I have this theory that there may be a difference between editorial cartoonists who work in major newspapers and political cartoonists who work in alternative newspapers or advocacy periodicals. It seems that editorial cartoonists in major newspapers view themselves as journalists and work within the boundaries of journalistic ethics. Cartoonists like Feiffer, Young, and Robinson may have seen themselves foremost as political activists who see their political cartoons as another form of political activism to go with protests and acts of civil disobedience. I don’t know how accurate my theory is, but I may ask some cartoonists about it when I attend my next convention.
I spent most of my time hanging around those political cartoonists who, like myself, work fulltime at a noncartooning job and do their editorial cartoons on the side. We all admired those cartoonists who were able to ply their trade fulltime at a major newspaper or were able to earn their money from alternative newspapers. During lunch breaks, we would talk about our favorite points from the speakers at the various talks and see how that could apply to our own situations. It was fun just to talk to other cartoonists about cartooning. One of the things with me is that I go through periods where I come up with several good cartoons in a row, then I go through a dry spell where I’m not really satisfied with any of the cartoons that I’m producing. In talking to other cartoonists, they also mentioned that they also went through frustrating dry spells. One evening a group got together to shoot pool and play ping pong and I had a great time. In all these conversations and sharing, I made some good friends.
The foreign cartoonists were an interesting lot. The Uzbekistan cartoonists were very friendly, but it was frustrating at first trying to talk to them, as they didn’t understand English. They were followed by two really nice translators, and I had a chance to joke around with them. I didn’t get much of a chance to talk to the Middle Eastern cartoonists, but I wish I had. I wanted to ask them about their thoughts on the Arab Spring. With the recent protests in the Middle East due to the Youtube video, they would’ve been able to provide some good insights to help understand the situation there.
The panel talks were very enlightening. The panel comprised of Steve Brodner, Nick Anderson, Ann Telnaes and Mark Fiore did a very good presentation on animated political cartoons. Brodner noted that the decrease in the number of newspapers makes finding new avenues for political cartoons necessary. One of the strongest impressions I got from each cartoonist is that none of them like working in the Flash animation program.
Matt Bors and Susie Cagle did a good talk on comics journalism. Bors talked about his work as editor in the Cartoon Movement, a political cartoon website based in the Netherlands. As editor, Bors fact-checks the comics that come his way, and has recently worked with a cartoonist in Haiti to cover the situation in that country. Cagle has done several good cartoons on the Occupy Oakland protests, the history of the Bay-To-Breakers, Faith Based Pregnancy Centers in the San Francisco Bay Area, and the medical marijuana issue. Cagle uses the “Thing link” site to upload images and put links to audio or video, which adds an exciting new element to her cartoons. Two panels showed cartoons from a left wing and a right wing point of view. Clay Bennett, Tom Tomorrow and Jen Sorensen showed cartoons from a left wing point of view, while Chip Bok, Scott Stantis and Nate Beeler showed cartoons from a right wing point of view. Both groups were very good. I am biased towards a more liberal view on things, but I found Bok, Stantis and Beeler to be just as informative, and thoughtful in their cartoons. The common thread of the three conservative cartoonists was their concern about the national debt.
Jack Ohman talked about the passing of the generation of cartoonists who were influenced by Jeff McNelly and Pat Oliphant. As a youth, Ohman was influenced by James Thurber and the New Yorker, and he’s lately been returning to his roots, doing multi-panel comics that have really satisfied Ohman with their artistic challenges.
Lalo Alcaraz showed the cartoons on immigration that he has been doing since 1994. Clay Bennett talked about his experiences as a liberal cartoonist working in a conservative state. Tom Toles did a funny talk on the five secrets of good political cartooning. Pat Bagley talked about the depictions of Mormons by political cartoonists throughout history, while Gustavo Rodriquez talked about his transition from doing Cuban political cartoons to doing American political cartoons. David Horsey, Brian McFadden, Ben Sargent, Jen Sorensen, John Cole, Kevin Kallagher and Patrick Chappatte also had informative talks. In the evening, Jack Ohman gave a moving memorial on the life of cartoonist Rex Babin.
The most inspirational moment of the evening was when the The Cartoonists Rights Network International awarded Ali Ferzat of Syria, and Aseem Trivedi of India, the Courage in Cartooning Award for 2012. Ali Ferzat’s cartoons confronted the Syrian regime’s increasing brutality against the democracy movement and he lampooned President Bashar Assad. In retaliation, thugs brutally beat Ali up, intentionally breaking both his hands. Aseem Trivedi, a young cartoonist from India, launched the Cartoons Against Corruption website to mobilize his fellow citizens against India’s pervasive political corruption. The Indian government charged Trivedi with treason and insulting national symbols, and he is in imminent danger of being jailed.
I probably won’t go to next year’s AAEC convention, but I hope to attend the convention in two years. I have to save up the money. It was a very enriching experience for me to attend this year’s AAEC convention, and I learned a lot. It inspired me to try to constantly improve my cartoons and to challenge the readers on important issues. This was only my second convention, so I have no comparison to how this convention compares to past conventions. But I think Matt Wuerker and John Coles did a good job. I hope the editorial cartooning profession survives in the U.S. as I think we provide a needed forum for dissent and discussion on important political issues.
Armed with a bullhorn, cartoon placards and the right to assemble, the Cartoonists Rights Network International, AAEC cartoonists (Pat Bagley, Drew Rogier-Chapman, Nik Kowsar, Jeff Parker, and Matt Wuerker), and local Amnesty International members, held a small protest in front of the Malaysian embassy in Washington, DC as a show of solidarity with Malaysian editorial cartoonist Zunar, one day before the AAEC convention kicked off.
Zunar, visiting for the 2012 convention, is the recipient of the 2011 CRNI Courage in Cartooning Award. He lives under constant threat and harassment for drawing cartoons critical of his country’s government and officials.
With chants like, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, censorship has got to go” and “Malaysia, you can’t outlaw a person’s right to speak and draw”, Zunar, along with the dozen or so other protesters, drew attention to Malaysia’s oppressive laws, such as the Sedition Act as well as the Printing Presses and Publication Act. Both laws have been cited to prosecute Zunar for his cartoons.
The Malaysian cartoonist used CRNI’s bullhorn (yes, CRNI has a bullhorn) to call out embassy officials in his native language. Two embassy staffers eventually came to the front gate to speak briefly with Zunar and CRNI’s Drew Rogier-Chapman.
Interesting to note, there was a large police presence at the embassy when protesters arrived. DC police were informed of a permitted cartoonist protest in front of the Malaysian embassy, and apparently heard “cartoons” and “Muslim embassy,” and went, “uh-oh.”
The 45-minute protest ended with no arrests or mortalities.
AAEC conventions are marked by an atmosphere of warm collegiality. Cartoonists of all philosophical persuasions are welcome, and although the individual members are possessed of an array of strong political points of view, there is very little in the way of heated arguments at these events. There are no blood feuds, no screaming matches, and most surprisingly, no drunken punch-outs over politics.
That’s a good thing, I guess, but one might hope for a bit more conflict among a group of opinionated news junkies, if only for the entertainment value. We got a little taste of it, fortunately, at the Library of Congress with Thursday’s “An Inky and Pixel View of Campaign 2012.”
The panelists, aligned appropriately from left to right, were Ted Rall, Lalo Alcaraz, Steve Kelley, and Scott Stantis.
Ted, as you may know, is so far left that he thinks Barack Obama has a terrible singing voice. He also has some bee in his bonnet about secret torture and the deaths of innocent civilians caused by our glorious drone strikes. What planet is he from, I wonder?
Lalo (and his excellent hair) had some message or other about our common humanity and how brown people are just looking for the same things you and I are. I’m assuming you’re white here. Anyway, where does he get this stuff?
I found myself listening with rapt admiration as Steve, from the middle right, made a game defense of the concept of a Mitt Romney presidency. He may feel moved to tinker with his argumentation, however, given Mitt’s recent comments about the 47% (Steve, I advise you to double and even triple down).
Scott seemed to rest his philosophy on such old standbys as freedom, liberty, and personal responsibility, precepts which the predominantly lefty crowd found to be either charmingly naïve or simply laughable. And that whole love of country thing … c’mon, Scott.
Despite the free expression of these noxious views, attendees seemed to find the cartoonists engaging and even amusing, if that’s the right word. It occurred to this writer, in fact, that all the silliness about personal conviction and righteous outrage was some kind of big, fat, ironic put-on. We are talking about cartoons here, after all.
That sweet notion was exploded toward the end of the Q and A session. A class of middle school students was there, and one girl asked the panelists how they decided what they thought. Well, let me tell you that the guise of good-natured fun-poking fell away, sloughed off like the spent skin of some poisonous reptile, and they pounced almost as one on the poor, unsuspecting eighth grader.
Read, they barked at her. Don’t depend on anyone but yourself and your own sense of right and wrong to find your positions on public policy. Be skeptical, ask questions, make your own decisions, they hissed. The girl was led away sobbing.
I guess you could say it was a fun event (if you like using fun as an adjective). The presenters got the attention they so desperately crave, and the audience got to stare at a freak show. At one point, there even may have been a small advance in human understanding, but with all the laughing, it was quickly forgotten.
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