Lee Judge: Endangered Species: Political Cartoonists

E&P reported that Kansas City Star editorial cartoonist Lee Judge will be speaking at the National Conference of Editorial Writers on September 29th. The topic of his speech? “Making the Case for an Endangered Species: Political Cartoonists.”

When I wrote last week that today’s editorial cartoonists are “infatuated by their own victim status” this is an example of what I mean. It’s becoming an incessant whine that their profession is in decline – but it’s been that way for over 50 years and I’m starting to gloss over on the message. It’s not new, and it doesn’t tell me (if I was a newspaper editor) why in this changing environment I should keep the cartoonist other than to continue the grand tradition. Does the AAEC have a positive message that might inspire editors that editorial cartoonists are evolving as well – doing SOMETHING DIFFERENT to warrant their continued existence? I got to assume editorial cartoonists would get more milage out of a positive campaign rather than the tired and so far unsuccessful, self-destructive woe-is-me path that they’re currently on.

I apologize (somewhat) if I’m coming across as a back street driver (one that is no longer in the car itself). I have a great passion for editorial cartooning and it would be a tremendous travesty if the art was to disappear completely – but looking in from the outside, the messaging that has come from the community is reminiscent of the Debbie Downer character on Saturday Night Live. Always negative. And who wants to associate with someone always bringing things down.

18 thoughts on “Lee Judge: Endangered Species: Political Cartoonists

  1. Quick question…are there more

    1. …Cartoonists giving speeches and writing articles about how editorial cartoons are an essential and irreplaceable form of political discourse, or

    2. …Cartoonists drawing interchangeable cartoons starring a few dogs wisecracking about Michael Vick?

  2. Those are a tough two choices Neal. Can I add

    3. …Cartoon dogs giving speeches about editorial cartoons being essential and irreplaceable with Michael Vick being the only audience member listening to the speech.

    Damnit I think I’m gonna draw number three.

  3. I think a positive message to newspaper editors might involve editorial cartoons on local and regional topics. Rather than fill that space on their editorial page with a the same syndicated cartoons as every other paper, why not offer a local cartoon with a subject that hits close to home? A local cartoon can provoke as much or more interest and discussion as a column or editorial on a local issue.
    Other positive aspects of local cartoons: they look great on the internet, especially animated, and can drive traffic to the paper’s site.
    The number of cartoonists animating, blogging and posting color cartoons on the web certainly demonstrates that this is an evolving profession, looking forward and offering something different.

  4. At the recent AAEC convention in Washington DC, the group DID make a sincere effort to get away from the doomsday attitude, realizing that the whining wasn’t getting anywhere and perhaps even encouraging the negative trend. There were two “town hall” forums dedicated to coming up with positive, proactive things to promote the profession, show its value to publishers, raise public awareness of the value of editorial cartooning and so forth. These efforts are just getting under way. But yes, there is a clear consenus that editorial cartoonists need to stop talking about our demise (and things ARE still getting worse) and start taking positive action to promote, save and show the value of what we do.

  5. What is still getting worse? I’m not denying that it’s happening, but I’m just looking for actual data. I realize I’m hardly making the big bucks, but I went from nothing to making my full-time living in editorial cartooning in a few years, and nobody was let go to make way for me.

  6. In that other Ted Rall political thread, somebody mentioned how it’s “obligatory” for editorial cartoonists to take leftwing stances on certain (most? all?) issues. As long as that is the case, then editorial cartooning IS NOT a powerful tool for political discourse, as it should be and could be and once was. There is no such thing as a one-way conversation.

    IMO, the fact that each paper had ONE cartoonist on staff doomed them. Surely when somebody who is very partisan is fired, at least half the readership is happy they’re gone.

    That term “obligatory” still bothers me. Whatever happened to free speech, not to mention truth? If cartoonists are just shills for editors who won’t buy anything they don’t agree with, then is newspaper editorial cartooning even WORTH saving? I’d vote no.

  7. It’s hardly obligatory for cartoonists to take leftwing stances on issues. Have we seen any conservative cartoonists laid off because of their political affiliation? Let’s see, I can think of Paul Nowak, Steve Breen, Cox & Forkum, Mike Lester, Gary Brookins, Michael Ramirez, Chip Bok, Jeff Koterba, Scott Stantis, Chuck Asay, Henry Payne, Randy Bish, Larry Wright, Wayne Stayskal, Bob Gorrell, Eric Allie, Ken Catalino, the McCoys…and I’m sure there are others I’m overlooking.

    Political comedy and commentary are obviously going to target the party in power, and for most of the past 7 years, that’s been the Republicans. I’m not going to deny that the balance of cartoonists favors the left, but making this absurd “obligatory” claim is intellectually dishonest and useless in this kind of discussion.

  8. I probably need to clarify that my list up above is of conservative cartoonists that I can think of, even though the way I structured my paragraph makes it look like they were laid off because they were conservatives.

  9. By the way, Neal, Mike Ramirez, notably conservative and the best in the biz in my own humble opinion, lost his job at the LA Times. Perhaps they didn’t say it was for his point of view, but you can’t help notice how left that paper is.

  10. Good. I’d like to think that the “obligatory” statement was wrong, but nobody rose to challenge it.

    In any case, I believe the point still stands that if there is only one cartoonist on staff, that’s a doomed position, whether they are conservative or liberal. It would be much healthier and more sustainable to have two or more cartoonists taking opposing looks at the same issues. Of couse, I do understand that if a newspaper isn’t going to pay for one staff cartoonist, they certainly aren’t going to pay for two. But if they HAD, they just might not being going downhill as quickly.

  11. To be clear, what I’m saying is a newspaper couldn’t get rid of one without getting rid of the other and if they got rid of both there would certainly be reader uproar. But as it is, like I said, when a partisan cartoonist gets canned — whichever side he’s on — it just feels like “Oh well, that’s fair” or even “Good riddance!”

  12. Neal,

    LA Times did not replace Ramirez. And yes, he did get a new job at Investor’s Business Daily. He’s their cartoonist and also a senior editor.

  13. Eliminating a staff editorial cartoonist has more to do with cost cutting versus the political slant of the cartoonist. It’s much less expensive for a paper to purchase syndicated work at 10 cents on the dollar than to pay someone on staff.

  14. I think it’s good the Lee is talking to the Editorial writers group about the state of the craft. Usually when cartoonists address job loss they at the same time talk about the pluses Cartoons bring to the paper. {Although I’m sure Editorial writers might not enjoy hearing that cartoons are what draw readers to the editorial page and are often the first thing the reader looks at.} I’ve often thought part of the difficulty for cartoonist is that we’re kinda of like the step kid of the newspaper family. Nobody else at the paper does what we do.We’re not writers. You’re hired and fired by Editors who were once reporters. When an Editor is forced to reduce staff and the choice is between the writer and the Bush doodler..the doodler I think is at the disadvantage even if he or she is more productive than the writer, just because the newsroom and edit-page is run by writers. So the more cartoonists can talk to writer,Editor, and Publisher associations the better.

  15. Since my speech at the National Conference of Editorial Writers set this discussion off, I should clarify a couple things: My editor, Miriam Pepper, was hosting the conference here in Kansas City and asked if I’d show my collection of killed cartoons. When the convention brochure came out with my speech entitled, “Making the Case for an Endangered Species: Political Cartoonists” I was surprised, since no one had asked me what I’d planned on saying.

    I started by offering to show them a nice, middle-of-the-road collection of cartoons that wouldn’t offend anyone or a collection of cartoons that were killed because they were controversial. Since there was no nice, middle-of-the-road collection of cartoons, I’m lucky they chose the controversial stuff. I then pointed out that they all wanted to see just the kind of thing they won’t put in their papers.

    Over the course of the show I remarked on how much they were enjoying the stuff they consider too outrageous to print and, if they really wanted to reach a younger audience, a good cartoonist has the best chance of doing that. It wasn’t a “woe-is-me” speech (who the heck says ‘woe’ anymore anyway?)…It was more of a woe-is-you speech.

    I suggested that any paper that uses terms like’balderdash’, ‘poppycock’ and ‘piffle’ and then wonders where all the 18-year-olds went is clueless and needs the help of a cartoonist to connect with its readers. I told them I believed that controversy is good business, that offending a fraction of their audience is better than boring all of them and that their timidity was killing our chance of engaging the demographic they say they want.

    This was all greeted with thunderous applause, which I’m assuming, won’t change a thing, but, hey, I took my shot.

    I just thought you might like to know what actually took place at the conference.

  16. Thanks Lee for the report and I’m glad that it went well. For the record, I enjoy using some of the lost lingo of yesteryears, “woe is me” is in there and “don’t get your knickers in a twist” being one of my favs as well.

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