Animated editorial cartoons heading for tipping point?

Readers of this blog know that I’ve been somewhat reluctant to embrace animated editorial cartooning as the next generation of the profession, but I can’t help but think we’re heading for a tipping point (“the levels at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable”). Over two years ago The Washington Post ran a contest to find someone to provide “editorial shorts:” a “short animation (3 minutes or less) of commentary focused on current political or topical issues.” They never found that person.

At the time, Bill Mitchell at and Mark Fiore were the only editorial cartoonists that were producing animations consistently. The following year, more editorial cartoonists started delving into animation including Walt Handelsman, Mike Shelton, Nick Anderson, Gary Varvel, Mike Thompson among others. And then last April Walt won the Pulitzer Prize in part due to the animations included in his portfolio submission. In fact, all of the Pulitzer finalists submitted animations.

Other milestones include Nick’s viral approach to his animations by posting them on YouTube and having one of his animations selected for the GOP presidential debates. Mark’s animations are now syndicated through Universal Press. I can’t disclose specifics, but I know of at least one other syndicate that is looking at syndicating animated content.

So I think its significant that the Post now has their editorial shorts. On Wednesday, they began posting animated cartoons by Ann Telnaes, a Pulitzer cartoonist with a prior career in the animation industry. Her animations will run every Wednesday and Friday. The two year wait for the Post shows that a leading national paper was willing to wait for the right time and talent and now is that time.

When will we experience this tipping point? Deep down, I think 2008 might still be a bit early, but the right conditions are coming together. First we have the Pulitzer Prize winner announcement in April. If it goes to another cartoonist who’s submission includes animations, I think that’s a strong indicator that animation is here to stay. Secondly we’re in a presidential election year and if we see one or two animated editorials hit YouTube and go viral – much like JibJab’s “This land!” than demand for editorial shorts could open up a whole new market as there are more online news media outlets than print papers.

The tipping point IS coming. Of that, I’m now sure.

25 thoughts on “Animated editorial cartoons heading for tipping point?

  1. Tipping point? Maybe, Maybe not. I haven’t noticed a ground swell of demand from readers for animated cartoons or lasting interest. Jib Jab itself seems to have faded. You don’t hear it talked about like it was when it started. I did notice that when the writers stike hit, ABC’s Sunday morning show,”This WeeK” was looking for something to do for it’s Sunday Funnies segment that showed clips of Leno and Letterman, Animated cartoons would have seemed a natural. But I never saw them used. I did see one of Walts great animations squeezed in on acable news show. But it came and whent like a blip, he got a quick credit. If the Pulitzer once again decides to favor animators in the same category as Editorial cartoons, that would be a pity, because I think it sinks a nail futher into the coffin of an art form that should be valued more…the single printed Editorial cartoon.
    Jeff Darcy

  2. Jeff,
    I couldn’t agree more about editorial cartooning being best as a single print cartoon. Most animations are nifty, but they lack the power of a well executed pen and ink drawing.

    From what editorial cartoonists have told me, after Watergate, there was a uptick in the number of editorial cartoonists hired because papers wanted their own Conrad or Herblock. I’m suggesting that there could be irreversible movement in the direction to make animation more popular and in demand under the right conditions. That can be a good thing (provided you know Flash, or other related technologies).

  3. I see your point,Alan. I don’t mean to sound “Ba-Humbug to Political animations, because I’m not and,frankly I thought the tipping point was coming after those Pultizer nominations when it became a hot topic. I thought it was going to be like when color T.V. and C.D.’s arrived and immidiatly killed off black and white and records. It hasn’t happened like that yet. I am curious if any of these animators approached ABC’s “This week” about using them on the shows Sunday Funnies segment. It kills me that the segments title is taken from printed comics…but they never use them. Understandably they don’t work as well on T.V. and to there credit, ABC did use to use them on it’s Sunday Good morning America shows….But the Political animations would be perfect.

  4. I agree with Jeff.

    Plenty of editorial cartoonists want to do animation. The fact that editorial cartoonists and syndicates want to create and sell animations, and that they win awards for good animations, and that you can find animations on the web if you’re looking for them, has nothing to do with whether there is a market for the product.

    As soon as I see any opportunity to sell animated editorial cartoons, I’ll do them myself.

  5. An editorial cartoon is not better because it’s animated. TV didn’t become better by virtue of the fact it went color. This is a writing job first and the utilization of the latest software offers the same benefit as watching Beowulf in 3-D. It sucked both ways.

  6. The best editorial cartoons are both very pointed and very timely, which means they have a short shelf life. Animation is a lot of work and takes a lot of time (relative to single panel) to do well, so I don’t think it will ever be the primary tool of editorial cartoonists.

    However, I do think there is a place for them and believe markets will develop.

    Of course, “animation” doesn’t necessarily mean animating everything. I’d like to see artists use more creativity, like simply having a balloon rise in an otherwise static scene, or whatever.

  7. I’m a trained animator who worked for many years in the business and I would not take the time to animate 95% of my work because that work would not benefit from it. It wouldn’t become funnier or advance the message one iota.

    The danger is that animators will all stampede down the animation road, diluting the pithy central core of their ideas to fit in a bit of animation front and back.

    Animation is unavoidably a team operation anyway, at least if you want to produce a number of animations to deadline. You need to work with someone else, or you end up stuck doing the in-between drawings to tell the story.
    Most cartoonists would hate that. I was an in-betweener at the beginning of my animation career, and most of us in-betweeners had ambitions to become animators. which meant only drawing the important stuff.

    Me, I went one step further, and became a Key animator, which meant I drew only the crucial poses that defined the action in the scenes, and eventually I wrote the scripts. Having to animate editorial cartoons all on my own would be a step backwards.

  8. I think you are missing the underlying point here, and that has to do with the practicality of animations.

    Simply put, how practical will it be to replace the single panel cartoon with animation when it takes sometimes a week or more to produce some of these? They are great in and of themselves. Walt does great stuff because he realizes that it’s all in the writing and not a bunch of long draw out sequences etc. However, ask him how long it takes him and he’ll tell you the horror stores of the long nights and tireless effort that goes into these.

    No one is going to sit through a 10 minute animation. If it does not click in 30 seconds then you are wasting you time. But that 30 seconds takes along time to produce. In this YouTube, young Gen Y, no attention span world we live in is that really practical and furthermore, marketable?

  9. Comic art and animation are two very different beasts. I love the first and find the other to be just so-so in terms of enjoyment. That’s just my personal taste, and I’ve always been that way. As a little kid, give me a stack of comic books over Saturday morning cartoons any day of the week.

    When I started drawing myself, it was always comic books and political cartoons I wanted to make. I never wanted to be an animator â?? and I still don’t.

    I don’t think the Pulitzer for editorial cartoons should be given to an animation. The two should not be competing against one another because they are very different forms, requiring different skill sets. The Pulitzer rules committee recognizes that when it comes to photography, making sure to note that video is not eligible to compete against still photos. And, while, they don’t actually spell it out in the rules, they’d never let a broadcast news story compete in the news divisions.

    Tipping point or not, I know there won’t be a animated future for me. I just have zero interest in begin an animator. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m addicted to the simple power of the traditional editorial cartoon.

  10. The logistics of animated short editorials seems to me to be a problem. As was mentioned by Brian, animation takes time. Even for a short that is perhaps less than a minute, the labor involed in producing such a piece is quite time consuming. Especially when you consider that editorial cartoons (and editorial cartoonists) live in the moment. Their humor and their punch comes from topical observations of timely events. I can’t see how that would be possible with an animated piece.

  11. Don’t get me wrong, political animations are great, people ARE going to do them. However, who is going to pay for them is another matter. Jib Jabs stuff is terrific but they make no money from it, their money comes from corporate gigs and commercial work.

  12. Animation CAN be completed fairly quickly, perhaps within 30 minutes, by an experienced Flash user, but anything that can be done that quick (e.g. putting blinking eyes on a static drawing) isn’t worth doing at all.

    On the other hand, there will be the rare occasion when limited animation COULD add to a drawing, for instance:

    Scene -Oval office: Presidential aide asks Bush whether he’s losing interest in the job. Dubyuh stares dumbly at a set of desk clackers, (you know, those steel balls suspended in a line on wires…?)
    The clackers animation could be operating on a loop.

    That would be a legitimate and effective use of animation in an editorial, but it shouldn’t be the clincher in a Pulitzer decision

  13. Don’t forget KAL’s trying to break into animation now too. He’s definitely taking a different approach with computer-animated puppets though.

  14. Since no one has yet mentioned them, I humbly recommend Scott Bateman’s one-minute animations. He was a political cartoonist for many years before abandoning the art form in favor of animation experiments that have are wild, unpredictable yet always funny. Nowadays he’s contributing to Salon.

    I don’t think animated political cartoons will replace the original still form. They’ll just be another fun thing to watch on the InterWebs.

  15. I’m just starting to do editorial cartoons in addition to my comic strip, and am a one-person operation without interest in becoming an animator, although I do love animation as an art form. The animations I’ve seen on the web are sometimes briefly entertaining, but they don’t have the immediacy I like in the still format. I enjoy showing action or implying action in the non-animated format. A lot of readers do, too, partly because of the natural tendency of human beings to utilize ‘closure’, that is, to use their imaginations to complete or visualize scenes and actions that are only implied, like you find in static cartooning (and in radio programs, too, for another example). Animation requires less use of closure, but that doesn’t really detract from it as an art form per se. It’s just a different animal. All that said, I do applaud all methods of getting cartooning in front of eyes, because I think it benefits readers and creators alike, so if the new short political cartoonists do that, I say hooray!

  16. Here’s a question: Is anyone getting paid to do these? I imagine most of the staffers who do them now are simply adding to their workload, probably under pressure that they now have to if they want to be considered for a Pulitzer.

    “demand for editorial shorts could open up a whole new market as there are more online news media outlets than print papers”

    Do any of these places have enough money to pay someone for the time it takes to create one of these? Most papers that put their entire paper online are simply subsidizing that with money they get from people who actually pay for the print paper. Doing something because it may go viral doesn’t generate revenue. The previous commenter about JibJab is right–they don’t make money from those.

  17. Has anyone seen the New Yorker’s animated cartoons? They have an animated gag panel on their home page now.

    If there’s a worse use of animation, I’ve yet to see it. gag panels are supposed to be quickly read…the 10 second animations add nothing and, I would say, detract from it.

  18. Matt, you are absolutely right. Wow, those are bad with the exception of Shannon. It seems that the animation lends nothing that a single gag line won’t deliver, at least they way they are doing it. Perhaps a animating a strip makes more sense than trying to animate a single panel. A strip is at least a storyboard requiring set-up and delivery.

  19. After I recognized a couple of the NY’r animations and remembered their static cartoon originals, one phrase came to mind, “tits on a boar”.

    The fascination w/ the moving editorial cartoon as Alan pointed out, may or may not be at a tipping point but if it is, I contend it is a reaction to the newspaper industry economy and a desperate reaction at that.

    For my money, instead animated content for the sake of animated content, I’d rather see tits on Matt Bors.

  20. Interesting point made above about animations adding to the workload. I recently heard a story about Mike Shelton, the longtime editorial cartoonist at the Orange County Register who was let go from his job last year.

    I heard he started doing animations for the newspaper on his own time and after a while the publisher got spoiled on them wanted it to be part of his job description….and for no extra money. When he butted heads with the powers that be over it they canned him.

  21. “For my money, instead animated content for the sake of animated content, Iâ??d rather see tits on Matt Bors.”

    How much money you got?

  22. Hey folks,

    You’ve never heard of me and I’m a total newcomer to the business, but I’ve been trying my hand at animated editorial cartoons for a little bit. You can see my attempt at my website:

    This method grew out of an earlier attempt to sell a similar concept to Adult Swim. I can produce a two minute cartoon in about four hours, so I can work within the 24 hour news cycle. I’m specifically focused on the political blogs, hence the title of the website.

    I know traditional animators will dislike my shortcut method using fades between pre-rendered clips, but I wanted to point out that there are other ways to do this besides Flash. A similar technique would work with a series of pre-rendered drawn images as well.

    Tom Wood

  23. Tom,

    Your animations are funny as hell. What 3D app are you using? Are those the AT&T Naturally Speaking voice fonts? How long did it take to do those cartoons? Good stuff. I did laugh while watching them. 🙂

    Ann Telnaes animation are good. She should get a preamp and a Shure microphone. She could also use winamp and the pacemaker plugin to get more out of the voices. That would make the audio better and alow her to pitch a female voice into a male voice.

    That way she could do most of the voice work herself.

    Other than the sound I like her work. She has good pacing and the artwork is tops. I wonder how long it takes her to complete the animated work.

  24. Thanks J. G.!

    Sorry for not responding earlier, I got distracted.

    I’m using LightWave for the 3D, then doing some compositing in Mirage (now TVPaint) and editing in VT4 (aka Video Toaster). Yes, those are the AT&T voices for the characters. I tried to negotiate a commercial license with them, and brickwalled.

    I rethought my approach, and now there’s a new incarnation at:

    I’m still finding my voice, but I think this will work out better.


  25. Urgh, actually, those are the NeoSpeech voices. None of those companies seem too interested in this market. They are focused on telephone help using synthetic voices.


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