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Virginia Student Cartoonist Suspended Indefinitely (UPDATED)

Last week I reported that Grant Woolard, a student cartoonist at the University of Virginia, had erupted another firestorm by drawing a cartoon depicting “nine nearly naked black men fighting each other with sticks, stools, boots and a pillow” and ran with a caption, “Ethiopian Food Fight.” The paper has printed a near 1000 word editorial apologizing to the public for allowing the cartoon to run and the University has suspended Grant indefinitely.

Grant has issued an apology as well and a rather long explanation of the cartoon.

The message of a comic must be terse by its nature. This, unfortunately, often lends itself to multiple misinterpretations. Needless to say, this comic has been widely misinterpreted and was by no means created to suggest that certain people are “barbaric” or “inferior”, as some others claim. As a comic artist, I feel that it is sometimes necessary to address sensitive issues. However, had I anticipated the number of people hurt by this comic, I would not have deemed it worth running. I am upset that, due to previous comics, Quirksmith has gained a reputation for being merely offensive. As any one of my fellow comic artists can attest, I have always devoted much thought, time and effort into every comic I produce. I try to construct a work with substance, so it pains me when the message is obscured by misunderstandings. In the future, if tackling a sensitive issue, I will exercise much more consideration as to what could potentially be misconstrued as hurtful. For those who have been hurt by this recent comic, please understand that I have no ill intent.

You can read his full letter as well as see a small thumbnail of the comic on a local T.V. station’s web site.

UPDATED: After questions regarding whether Grant was suspended from the school or just the paper, I tried to find a more concrete source that made it less ambiguous. A NBC affiliate reported that because the paper was not school run or affiliated, they would not take any disciplinary action. According to this headline in the Washington Post, indicates that Grant quit (again, it’s a bit ambiguous as to whether he’s quit cartooning or his job as the graphics editor on the student paper). Suffice it to say, he’s not going to be cartooning for that paper again.

Community Comments

#1 Garey Mckee
September/11/2007
@ 2:07 pm

This is crazy. Inappropriate as the cartoon may be, as I stated in the comment thread from the original article, isn’t it the EDITOR who is responsible for the paper’s content? It’s not like Grant broke into the paper’s office and snuck his cartoon in the paper. If you suspend the cartoonist you should suspend the EDITOR as well. I’m suprised nobody else has commented on this one yet.

#2 Rich Diesslin
September/11/2007
@ 2:45 pm

I would like the cartoonist to explain just what issue he was trying to be sensitive about. He does nothing to explain what his point really was. It seems more like the kind of thing that was funny after a night of excessive drinking than something that was “given a lot of thought.”

I agree the editor should take some flack for it as well. Indefinite suspension seems harsh … this is a college environment that should allow it’s students to have some ability to experiment and find out what’s good judgment and what isn’t. A motto I’ve adopted is “Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.” A corollary goes something like “judgment is that thing that allows me to recognize a mistake when I make it again.”

This whole thing seems stupid: the cartoon, the editor, the student reaction, and the paper’s response.

#3 Alan Gardner
September/11/2007
@ 3:03 pm

I think an indefinite suspension is a bit much. He does have a history of questionable cartoons which tells me a more proper action would have been to stop running his cartoons and remove him from his role on the paper (apparently he was a graphic design editor or something). But to kick him out of college seems WAY excessive.

And absolutely, the editor should have been reprimanded as well.

#4 Dawn Douglass
September/11/2007
@ 6:32 pm

Wait a minute…I thought he was just suspended from being the paper’s cartoonist.

Alan, are you sure he was suspended from the college??? That would be grounds for a law suit, as well as a huge over-reaction.

#5 Rich Diesslin
September/11/2007
@ 8:19 pm

I think he’s just suspended from the paper, not the university. Reading the link to the article he does attempt to explain his logic behind the cartoon. I think it’s a post-facto rationalization (based on my night of excessive drinking theory), but maybe not. It seems a little bit “out of nowhere” to be making the point that there might be a famine somewhere. I’m missing the connection to anything currently relevant. I can see suspending his cartoons for a month or two, then assigning an editor that can keep a better eye on things.

#6 Alan Gardner
September/11/2007
@ 9:17 pm

Here’s the quote in question:

The student cartoonist responsible for the controversial comic that ran in UVa’s student run newspaper “The Cavalier Daily,” has been suspended indefinitely.

I interpret that to be suspended from the school.

#7 Dawn Douglass
September/11/2007
@ 9:23 pm

If that’s the case, I hope he sees a lawyer! That’s draconian to say the least. It also makes him a scape goat. What about the editor? What about the publisher? If his head deserves to roll, then theirs do moreso.

#8 Alan Gardner
September/11/2007
@ 9:29 pm

Okay, I think I’ve found another citation that might clarify the first one. According to this NBC affiliate, “Because The Cavalier Daily is an independent, self-governing paper, school leaders say the university will not take action against the paper or the cartoonist.”

#9 Rich Diesslin
September/11/2007
@ 9:44 pm

Well, looking at one of the other controversial cartoons displayed in your link above, I can see where there might just be more to the story than the one cartoon. Alan, you may have been right on when you mentioned it could be the repeated nature of the offense. Still seems like an over-the-top reaction for a student newspaper … since when are they tasteful?

Note: Looks like the NBC affiliate needs an editor too — “Editors of The Cavalier Daily has apologized for publishing the two comic strips, …” editors has apologized … ugh! So much for grammar checking.

#10 Louis Coppola
September/11/2007
@ 10:14 pm

Most student newspapers do actually attempt to retain some taste (or at leat mine did.) My editors kept a close watch on the cartoonists because an editorial cartoon almost got them sued a few years back. We didn’t even run a cartoon about “The Passion of the Christ” (I don’t know the specifics of the cartoon; it wasn’t mine.)

That being said, I’m surprised Woolard’s cartoon didn’t raise concern with at least *someone* on the editorial staff.

#11 Louis Coppola
September/11/2007
@ 10:24 pm

Oh, sorry for the typo (and now the extra post.) I meant to say at *least* my school paper retained some taste.

#12 Eric Burke
September/12/2007
@ 7:32 am

What a lame excuse for an explanation/apology by Woolard!

And why did he drag Art Spiegelman’s name into it? Woolard’s cartoon is a poor, misguided execution of editorial cartooning. To even bring the work of Art Spiegelman into his defense of his cartoon is asinine!

The cartoon has no real relevance to any current topic, despite Woolard’s attempt at coming off as a humanitarian. Using a dated stereotype in any comic format is obviously wrong, ignorant and flat out artistically lazy…

#13 Kelly Mitchell
September/12/2007
@ 10:54 am

I am really confused. As an African-American female, perhaps I to should cry foul…except I don’t see it. What was the point? Perhaps to make us take a look at the facts? I feel, greatly, for the people effected by famine, as much as anyone. But the question seems to be; If they are so hungry, so weak, so destitute, how is it that they have the energy required to sexually mutilate children? To viciously murder and maim one another? To burn and pillage villages taking everything from childrens virginity to yes, boots and chairs. Would something like Paris Hilton and an emaciated Ethiopian woman, standing in the desert ( Paris:”Wow, you’re HOT!” Woman: “Would you like some bread?”) be funnier? Sure, but I don’t think Grant’s main point was humor. Do you? I’m really sorry Dude, I’ll be looking for you on the net, along with a lot of others I’m sure! And my people…please don’t make this a “black” thing. We are not Ethiopian, we have no clue, therefore no right to start climbing up on that worn-out old soap box. Get a grip, then a clue.

#14 Dawn Douglass
September/12/2007
@ 11:05 am

I’m with you, Eric. I still don’t get his real motivation. I suspect he thought he had a clever play on words with the “food fight” (that starving people will eat boots and tree bark) and picked Ethopia as the result of a Google search of “famine.”

It’s definitely an immature cartoon and not worthy of the space, but I don’t think it deserved the reaction it got. People try too hard to be offended these days.

#15 Angela Robinson
September/12/2007
@ 1:34 pm

Kelly said, “But the question seems to be; If they are so hungry, so weak, so destitute, how is it that they have the energy required to sexually mutilate children? To viciously murder and maim one another? To burn and pillage villages taking everything from childrens virginity to yes, boots and chairs.”

What do you mean by “they?” Are you saying that ALL Africans rape children, murder, etc. Sorry “girlfriend,” but your comments sound an awful like my little friend, “Robert.” A black female you are NOT. ;-)

All of the other opinions on this topic have been fair, balanced and insightful. Let’s keep it that way.

#16 Alexander R. Cohen
September/14/2007
@ 11:31 am

You can find more about this story in my column for The Cavalier Daily: http://cavalierdaily.com/CVArticle.asp?ID=30758&pid=1612

Mr. Woolard has not been suspended from or otherwise disciplined by the University. Under our system of student self-governance, that would normally require action by the student judiciary. Mr. Woolard is, however, no longer a cartoonist or editor at The Cavalier Daily.

#17 Caroline Choe
September/14/2007
@ 2:14 pm

After seeing one of his “controversial” cartoons in his paper last year, I went to the cavalier daily and met with him. Grant is a kind, good-natured and clever cartoonist whose biting wit is usually targeted at culturally ignorant Americans who derive their personal opinions from generalized, untrue stereotypes. He seeks to portray their misinformed perspectives by illustrating them in his cartoons. It truly saddens me that he has received so much undue criticism from people who have completely miscontrued the point of his artwork.

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