Rall responds to Time’s top 10 editorial cartoons

Association of American Editorial Cartoonists president Ted Rall has fired off a letter to Time Magazine regarding their “bland, inane, and just plain stupid” choice of editorial cartoons in this year’s selection of the year’s top 10.

His letter in its entirety:

To the Editor:

Your list of the Top 10 Editorial Cartoons of 2008 is an insult to editorial cartoonists, many of whom are losing their jobs to the economic downturn in the newspaper industry. In 2008 hundreds of brilliant political cartoonists produced thousands of hard-hitting, thought-provoking and hilarious cartoons about everything from the flash in the pan that was Sarah Palin to the rise of Barack Obama, and all you could come up with was this phoned-in crap?

Never in American history have so many talented artists worked in so many diverse styles using as many approaches to produce as exciting editorial cartoonists. Yet never have the political cartoons appearing in print in mainstream print media have been so bland, inane, and just plain stupid. (The good stuff appears in alternative weeklies, family-owned dailies and, of course, online.) It’s a paradox, and it’s hurting our profession.

It’s one thing for lousy cartoons to appear in print somewhere. It’s downright appalling to anoint them the best work produced by a field in a given year. Heck, even among the artists you selected, they all did much better work than the pieces you picked. How would TIME like it if someone published a list of the Top 10 Newsmagazines of 2008-and it was just a list of blogs by 16-year-olds typing in their parents’ basements?

Do us a favor: If you can’t find a few clean and sober editors to take the time to sort through the year’s editorial cartoons, don’t bother.

Very truly yours,

Ted Rall
Association of American Editorial Cartoonists

49 thoughts on “Rall responds to Time’s top 10 editorial cartoons

  1. So much for not directly insulting the cartoonists involved 😉 That said, bravo. Particularly enjoyed the ‘clean and sober’ slice. Time magazine has become as relevant and useful as an ’80s cocaine binge.

  2. Wow.

    It’s apparent how infuriated Ted is but he should have quit after the first two paragraphs. He went off the tracks and sounds a lot more like the 16 year old he’s referencing than the President of any respectable organization.

    Might have counted to ten before sending that one in.

  3. Ted, I agree.

    Cartoonists are often remembered and applauded for their worst work. I guess Bob Saget will always be known for Full House. A tragedy. He was much better

  4. I’m in agreement with Ken. This wasn’t a well thought out letter. I agree with the sentiments but this is not how you persuade people. As much as I hate using tact, it is necessary. Bad move.

  5. This letter would be fine except that it is signed “President, Association of American Editorial Cartoonists.”

    Essentially this letter is saying that there are a lot of lame editorial cartoons out there and one has to look hard to find the really good ones. It is saying that even the lame editorial cartoonists can occasionally do something good, you just have to look harder. It is saying, Give us a break, we’re dyin’ out here.

    Maybe this is the way to get TIME to do a feature story on the state of editorial cartooning, I dunno. It seems more like a translucent exercise in apologetics.

  6. I’ve tried polite letters. Previous AAEC presidents have tried polite letters. Polite letters don’t work.

    Snotty ones may not work either, but they draw attention to the problem.

  7. I don’t see a problem with the tone. A letter like this is pointless unless it shows the writer’s passion toward the subject. I’m just not sure the message is clear due to the second and third paragraphs. But then, the letter wasn’t written for me.

    I’d love to see TIME and other national publications do stories on the crisis facing cartoonists.

    I wonder if TIME had to pay to run those top ten cartoons, or just got permission? I wonder if having to pay for the cartoons would have altered the selection of the best cartoons, or even nixed the story? The cartoonists wouldn’t have seen the money anyway, though. I just wonder silly things like this sometimes.

  8. “Bob Saget will always be known for Full House. A tragedy.”

    I agree. At least he made a boatload of money from that show.

    Back to the letter…. I’d love to hear if TIME responds to it. At the very least, I’m sure it got their attention.

  9. “I wonder if TIME had to pay to run those top ten cartoons, or just got permission?”

    The top 10 cartoons appear nowhere in “The List Issue” of TIME magazine. Looks like it was an online only feature.


  10. “Polite letters donâ??t work.”

    Good point. When it’s obvious that one direction isn’t working, turn around and try the other way. At this point, there’s nothing to lose.

  11. Being polite may not work, but this is not going to work either. Instead of being blown off and ignored, they’ll briefly realize your angry before blowing you off and ignoring you. I realize you’re well known as far as cartoonists go Ted, probably the best known in the AAEC, but does that really mean much in this context?

    The idea that an angry letter from the president of the AAEC is going to mean squat to these people reeks of delusions of grandeur. Maybe you might get a bland or meek response from some minor online editor. Should that be considered success?

    The issue here, when you get to it, is one of influence. An angry letter from some guy with an important sounding title of an unknown organization is going to have no effect on Time or any other large publication for that matter. If you get dozens of cartoonists to write that might register on their radar, or maybe not. In the age of email I’m sure they’re used to mail in protests by now. 200+ upset cartoonists won’t make a blip.

    The ideal solution would be a deluge of letters from the public complaining about how bad these cartoons. We know that isn’t going to happen. Otherwise most of you would still have a steady job at a newspaper. (Happy Mike?) Another great solution would be being one of their bar buddies. A few comments over beer would have a far better chance of succeeding than any amount of mail. I doubt anyone here knows anyone prominent at Time personally, so that’s not a feasible solution either.

    So gentleman the question is how do we acquire or create influence for the situation at hand?

    We all love to moan and complain. I confess to having done my far share. Honestly however I think attempts at problem solving and steps towards executing solutions would be far more practical.

    If polite letters from previous presidents fail the idea that writing one angry bitter letter is a fresh solution to the situation shows a pathetic lack of perception and creativity.

  12. So, Monty, your idea is that cartoonists should do…nothing? That letters do nothing? That emails do nothing? That 200 cartoonists mean…nothing? That knowing someone at Time means …nothing?

    That’s an interesting kind of support.

    Meanwhile, back to the category of actively doing something: Good letter, Ted.

    Let’s face it, how many editors do you know that have much experience in cartoonst? I’m in more magazines than papers, and in mags, let me tell you, they often have very little or none.

    Time should welcome the firm hand of a real cartoonist to bring up their standards.

  13. I have stated the solution. Professional cartoonists need a guild. One that is open to those with even rudimentary proficiency. No schlock artists; but elitist snobs shown the door. The big money goons that are willing to sell-out to the corporatists are the enemies of the rest of us. Don’t kid yourselves…we know who these selfish slugs are. They co-operate with the Tory publishers to have a Tory commentariat. A hegemony of self congratualatory…and totally agreeing, opinion.
    We know who ends up gainfully employed at IBD, and why.

    When nothing works, it is time to start doing something else.
    I say, the time for mutual co-operation has come!

  14. Actually I think Monty is on to something. We should drink more beer with these guys. The only problem is that the cartoonist(s) drinking beer with them may well try to persuade them to use their cartoons rather than represent the “group”! Seriously though, calling one of them up and going to lunch might be a good approach!

    In matters of opinion (Time’s vs. apparently everyone not chosen by them), it may be pointless to protest. However, a polite letter suggesting how they might want to revise their approach next year may stand more of a chance than this.

    Even if it is ignored, the AAEC might stick in the back of their minds as a reasonable association for future reference.

    Just a thought.

  15. A more reasonable tone might have made some difference, though I don’t think TIME puts a lot of thought into this business of selecting Top 10s in one area or another. Back in the days when I was young and hip, we used to snicker over TIME’s take on what has happening. Like most journalists, they spent their own teenage years up in their rooms wishing they had dates for the prom, and now that they own the ink barrels, they spend their time telling everyone else what to wear to the prom.

    So the first question is, what’s the point? And the second question is, if there is a point, how do you address it? And the third question is, if there’s no point, would you like to simply write them an outraged letter that will get passed around and put up on the bulletin board in the breakroom for laughs?

    And the fourth question is, what happened to the margins here?

  16. Pointing out problems is easy. Finding solutions is much, much harder. In my opinion, Ted, you could have made a much more powerful message by including your own personal top ten. Who knows, maybe they would have published it.

  17. Everybody will have their own idea of what the top 10 should be, which be skewed to their own tastes in cartoons and their political leanings. The job of an editor is be objective, so the point here is not what Ted would see as a top 10, but just how Time went about making their selection and who selected them. It looks to me that they didn’t spend any time at all on this and that the people (or person) dealing with it didn’t have any expertise in the field. I would rather have them not bother with it if they’re not going to take it seriously.

  18. Years ago, when it mattered, a wise man by the name of Gary Groth told me: “Cartoonists are pussies.”

    I can’t believe that there is still anyone who hasn’t be asleep the last 30 years–while we’ve lost jobs and wages and respect–who still thinks a reasonable, calm tone will persuade knuckleheads like these editors at TIME to start doing their jobs properly.

    Guys: We’ve been there. Done that. It doesn’t work. Never has, never will.

    My audience was not the editors of TIME. It was the public. Writing a letter that actually gets to the core of the matter might convince some of the public to consider that what they read in those Top 10 lists isn’t what cartooning is about. A moderate tone won’t do that because it won’t catch anyone’s attention.

    Of course, I know lots of cartoonists who are not pussies, like Wiley and Donna. Thank God.

  19. The passion of this letter is warranted. It does take some intellect to appreciate truly good humor as done in the best cartoons. Would they prefer humor which only extends to the mediocre reader? My fear is that newspapers, as well as magazines and print-media in general is becoming passe’ with the domination of the Internet. Perhaps that is not something to be feared, but rather further explored.

  20. It would probably be more effective to simply craft a cartoon of a 16-year-olds typing in the basement–Top Newspapers/ Magazines of 2008, and then crossing out TIME as one of them.

  21. “It would probably be more effective to simply craft a cartoon …”

    Are you nuts? Cartoons aren’t supposed to express strong opinions. They’re supposed to be funny! They’re supposed to bring joy!

    No, no … when you have a strong opinion, you have to express it in prose. It’s much more persuasive than just making some silly drawings.

    What? What? Stop shushing me — I’m trying to craft a post here …

  22. That TIME’S BEST OF LIST is being criticized by cartoonists means that it is exactly the list they were looking for: safe.

    In uncertain times, the idea is to play to the middle. How else are you going to get more vanilla?

    There is true fear in the marketplace, newsrooms and boardrooms today and the mindset is to play it safe and not to lose. But to quote Larry Bird, “You can’t make free throws with your hands around your throat.”

    TIME is but yet another corporate giant fawning it’s way into bankruptcy.

  23. “Guys: Weâ??ve been there. Done that. It doesnâ??t work. Never has, never will.

    My audience was not the editors of TIME. It was the public.”

    Mr. Rall,

    Taking into account the comments by Monte, Jason and Leo:

    Why not use your position as President and launch a campaign to raise awareness. Use your illustrative skills to demonstrate your point – THAT’S YOUR STRENGTH!!!

    This may not be the best suggestion, but putting together a collective series of cartoons posted simultaneously on your AAEC members websites might be a good way to attract attention by the mainstream press or better yet, get it to go viral, get picked up on Digg, Reddit, etc…

    If you can successfully put together something smart and entertaining while most importantly getting your point across, you could potentially reach more people than a cross letter to Time magazine.

  24. Hi Ken,

    Been there, done that too.

    A couple of years ago, the AAEC put together “Black Ink Monday,” a one-day campaign in which our members drew cartoons to draw attention to our profession. Many of the cartoons were great. Some even got a little publicity. But most of us agree that the attempt was a failure since editors and publishers refused to publish them in some cases, and simply ignored them in many others.

    Screaming may or may not work. We already know politeness doesn’t.

    As for doing entertaining work, we already do that. On our websites. Every…single…day. The point is, if a cartoon falls in thewoods.com, does it make a difference?

  25. Ted –

    I’m sure you’ve tried things in the past and it’s apparent you and a lot of talented cartoonists are frustrated.

    I wasn’t referring to getting them published in print, so in essence you don’t need the print editors and publishers to notice.

    I was speaking about attracting the attention of new media. Blogs and websites are STARVED for content. These people/sites are talking to the public.

    Why not provide something that’s on your sites as well as available to others like DrudgeReport? Drudge btw, was characterized as “America’s most influential journalist” earlier this year by New York magazine. http://tinyurl.com/75hjvh

    Even better, the Huffington Post? http://www.huffingtonpost.com/

    I’m just offering suggestions. I hope not to offend you or any hard working cartoonist. In light of all the recent layoffs, I would love to see a business model emerge on the Internet that would allow everyone to make a great living doing what they love.

    Good luck.

  26. “Use your illustrative skills to demonstrate your point – THATâ??S YOUR STRENGTH!!!”

    What he have heah, is a failyah t’ communicate…

    You see, the problem is, editors don’t understand cartoons, and the few who do have an inkling, dismiss them out of hand as unimportant and not worth paying any serious attention to. So, think about it. If you want to get their attention, why would do it in a manner that they don’t comprehend? They’re word-people, so you have to deal with them in form they understand.

    It’s this timid, let’s-show-them-by-drawing-cartoons-they’ll-never-look-at, that has gone nowhere for decades. As bad and lame as editors and publishers are regarding the importance and potential in cartoons, cartoonists have to take a good deal of the blame, as a profession, for not educating them over the years on how cartoons can stir controversy like nothing else in the paper, which attracts readership. Instead, the profession has taken the weak, polite, let’s-not-rock-the-boat approach which has brought about our own demise. And anytime one of us would try to point it out, the name-calling by these chicken-littles would ensue, to ensure that no one else raise their voice and keep the status quo.

    This letter, which will probably also be ignored, is long overdue… by about 20 years.

  27. Actually, what I was thinking was to submit a list of the 10 best editorial cartoons to Huffpost.

    More eyeballs than TIME Magazine, and you’re operating within your area of expertise. If editorial cartoons have a future, it will be on-line, whether it is also in print or not.

    I agree with Wiley — and have on many occasions in the past — that editors by and large do not understand cartoons. But putting together an annual on-line list of the best, and then planting it someplace like the Huffington Post which seeks content without remuneration and might well like something like this, is a way to make an end run around those cloth-eared gatekeepers and show your stuff to readers.

  28. While I agree that Mike’s idea is a good one, the problem would be trying to implement it on such short notice. A rather daunting task if you don’t want it to be as haphazard as Time’s “effort”. But it’s something that the AAEC should seriously consider for next year and set up a panel to make the selections.

  29. I think the future of editorial cartooning is headed toward original publication on sites like Huffington. Then if it causes a stink, the mainstream media can report on the stink and rerun the cartoon as part of the news article. That way they never have to take a chance – They were only reporting the news, that included a controversial cartoon.

  30. The Washington Post’s selection of the year’s best stunk too – it’s not online though so you’ll have to take my word for it.

    Maybe the Toles one that’ll be coming will be better.

    Regarding Huffington Post, I have no idea how the economics work, but I saw Mort Gerberg speak a few days ago and he’s submitting cartoons from one of his new books to them, presumably for the publicity. I know he shows up regularly now in my pre-set Google searches for cartoons. (He was pretty darn amusing in person too) ((Is darn ok, Alan?))

  31. Seth Godin makes a good argument in favor of the economic potential of tribalism on the web. If you can attract (and lead) a tribe, then you’ll be successful. So the ‘trick’ is to either create a place where the tribe comes to you, or you go to where the tribe is already hanging out. I’ll try the latter.

    I think it was also Seth though, who expressed the opinion that sites like Huffington will eventually fail because free just doesn’t work longterm. Contributors will eventually want to get paid. Duh.


  32. “I think the future of editorial cartooning is headed toward original publication on sites like Huffington.”

    That might sound good, as soon as they start paying their bloggers.

  33. “That might sound good, as soon as they start paying their bloggers.”

    Which will be never, according to the HuffPo CEO.

    Now that’s a predatory food-chai … er, “business model” I’d like to be on top of.

  34. “what I was thinking was to submit a list of the 10 best editorial cartoons to Huffpost.”

    And what makes you think your picks would be any less biased? Any top 10 list I have ever seen is full of crap and obviously biased or not well thought out. I just read Entertainment Weekly where they list the “Top Ten Most Notable Events of 2008” Three of them are movie premieres. Seriously, the premiere of Sex and the City is one of the top ten of 2008?

    Even if you post nominees and have people vote, what you end up with is still not the best. ie. Just because someone wins American Idol doesn’t make them the best singer in the competition.

    Maybe it’s that people get hung up on the terminology that if someone creates a best of list that it is absolute and therefore insulting to anyone not on the list. Instead, maybe you create a post of “Ten Editorial Cartoons of 2008 that I Liked Best”

  35. “And what makes you think your picks would be any less biased?”

    Nothing. Read the full thread.

    And then explain why the AAEC would want to pass up a chance to promote its members’ work?

    I mean, do you understand that, when a film — even a mediocre one — wins an Oscar, ticket sales go up? That a Caldecott medal sells books? That a Grammy sells records and a Tony sells theater tickets?

    The AAEC — of which I am not a member nor qualified to be one — exists to promote editorial cartoons. This would be one way to do that.

  36. Something that could be fun to do is some kind of informal peer revue. Like having only other editorial cartoonists nominate their top five picks over the year…and they cannot select their own.

    Perhaps some enterprising cartoon maven that is familiar with website construction could set up a venue for this purpose? Then any interested parties could submit their own top five to be voted on by the body. Seems that this would have more of an inprimatur than some nebulous and subjective dartboard nomination of disaffected junior editors at a declining magazine.

  37. A short note of clarification to Ted. After the AAEC’s “Black Ink Monday” a few years back, the Chicago Tribune created a small feature panel in the Sunday Perspective section called “Local Draw” which used the work of talented freelance independent cartoonists. I have no proof that it was done in response to BIM but the timeline works out. I contributed a few cartoons to it overa 12 month period as did other Chicago area cartoonists. It was a relatively lucrative gig for spec piecework.

    Submissions increased as word got around. 15+ cartoonists began sending cartoons weekly. The price went down by 25%, then dipped some 10% more. The Trib was sold to Sam Zell. Debt went through the roof. The Trib underwent a radical redesign. Layoffs. More layoffs. The Local Draw cartoons shrank in size, then got dropped to irregular publication status. Editors changed. Editors changed again. Cartoons disappeared completely. Trib files Chapter 11.

    I don’t always feel that editors are the enemy in all this. They are trying to keep their own jobs and cartoons represent cost. Most of the Trib editors really liked evaluating the cartoons and took efforts to pick the best ones available that week.

    It’s the economy. No money for drawings. I think editors appreciate a good editorial cartoon. They just can’t afford it anymore.

  38. I think Mike’s idea is practical and some attempt should be made to implement it. I doubt anyone’ s paying attention to this thread anymore put there’s a point I’m trying to make a pretty significant one.

    Instead of the usual venting or ego stroking why not come up with a solution? Take an honest look at the situation , look at the options available and pursue the best ones. This would be a far more productive use of your time.

    You’re supposed to be a bunch of accomplished professionals, start acting like it.

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