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The Patrick O’Connor Exit Interview

Last week came news that L.A. Daily News editorial cartoonist Patrick O’Connor was being let go after 8+ years with the paper. I asked him, as I try to do with all cartoonists exiting their staff job, a few questions about their plans. Here is Patrick’s:

1. Did you have any advance notice?

Last year the Daily News fired 22 people from the newsroom including one of my best friends and its Institutional Memory, letters editor Mike Tetreault. Since then it seems the layoffs have come every month like clockwork. At the same time the company jacked up its health insurance premium to $2,000. Last week I received an email saying the company will not be matching its employees 401k accounts for all of 2009. A lot people found other jobs and jumped ship. Working at the Daily News has been like living with an incompetent, terminally ill relative. I think all of this, coupled with massive layoffs at every other news organization and a constant parade of unemployed editorial cartoonists, would constitute as having “advance notice.”

2. Did they offer any severance/compensation?

The company does offer a severance. It’s supposed to be one week for every year worked but they cap that at six weeks. Could you imagine having worked 20 years or more at a place and on your way out the door they give you six weeks severance? I was horrified when I looked at my check-the government withheld nearly HALF in taxes. That’s something you don’t hear about on the way out.

3. What are your plans now?

Well, I can’t retire for another 35 years so I’m going to have to find something to do. I’ll pick up some freelance work where I can and get to a few projects I’ve been working on. I’ve always been a cartoonist–it’s in my bones. So, that doesn’t change. I’ll always use my talent an ability to get by.

4. How long have you been with the Daily News?

Eight and a half years.

5. Is there anything you’d like to add, or say?

When I was sixteen years old I emailed Wiley Miller telling him I wanted to be and editorial cartoonist and asked for his advice. He replied with a simple answer: “Editorial cartooning is dead.” This early warning, along with many others (Chip Bok: “Don’t get into this for the money.”), would not dissuade me from my passion for the craft of editorial cartooning. All I wanted was to be was a staff political cartoonist and soon enough I was hired at the Daily News and was drawing five cartoons a week. Later, I ran into Wiley at a convention and told him what he had said to me 10 years earlier. “Editorial cartooning is still dead,” he replied.

After all I have witnessed in the last year or so, inside this profession and outside of it, I’m finally ready to admit Wiley was right.

Community Comments

#1 Phil
January/12/2009
@ 11:17 am

I disagree with Wiley’s comment. Ed cartoons are like everything else, it comes and goes around. The same with newspapers. It is a vicious cycle and hopefully be done soon.
Hopefully newspapers will recognise the vital role of ed cartoonists, nothing bad about syndicated ed/pol cartoonists, but there is something missing when the local guy/gal is let go.

#2 Wiley Miller
January/12/2009
@ 11:40 am

There are two reasons I give such a blunt answer to aspiring cartoonists.

1. I don’t want to lie to them and gloss over the reality of the job market in cartooning. Knowledge is power and I want young cartoonists to be as well armed as possible to help them find their way into the profession.

2. To see if they have what it takes to pursue this profession.

Clearly, Patrick passed that test. If the bug for the profession wasn’t really in him, he wouldn’t have tried. Instead, he pursued it even harder. Well done, Patrick. That drive will work well in your pursuit elsewhere.

I get no solace in being “right” about this. In fact, I hate it. I just have to be honest about it when asked for advice, as I don’t want to see talent being wasted or headed down a dead end path. Editorial cartooning, as we have known it, has been dead for some time now, and is just now becoming more apparent to the those who have been in denial about it. That does not mean the end of political satire, however (Phil, please take note… also read the rules for posting in this forum). There are other outlets, just not the more direct form of employment in print we have been accustomed to. Hopefully something new will evolve that will replace the staff job, where cartoonists can make a living again.

Reality is harsh, and only becomes worse when it’s not faced. The best way to deal with harsh realities is to confront it objectively then look for alternatives. It’s not a black-or-white issue, there’s a whole lot of gray area that can be exploited. You just have to have your eyes wide open and be creative in your thinking. Just remember, there are ALWAYS alternatives.

Good luck to you, Patrick, as well as everyone else hoping to make a living in the profession.

#3 Stacy Curtis
January/12/2009
@ 11:46 am

I don’t think editorial cartooning is dead.
I think editorial cartooning as we knew it is dead.

Dump an elephant in Antarctica and it will either adapt or die.
That’s the situation editorial cartoonists are in. It’s a damn cold situation, but we can adapt and survive.

Adapt, Patrick! And good luck!

#4 Clay Jones
January/12/2009
@ 12:00 pm

It will never die. There will always be someone drawing something as a protest from what they perceive to be an oppresive situation.
Maybe people who own newspapers respecting cartoons is dead. Maybe newspaper careers for cartoonist is dead. Maybe the days of good comic strips in newspapers are dead. But cartooning will never die. It will always be someplace. Cavemen were drawing on walls before anyone was paying for it.

And maybe where there’s no more jobs and people are doing cartoons because they want to, the craft will not only survive but thrive.

#5 Patrick O'Connor
January/12/2009
@ 2:29 pm

Thanks to everyone for the kind words, I really appreciate it!

Speaking of drawing on cave walls, Clay……I think one artist that’s had a lot of impact over the past year or two is not a newspaper or magazine cartoonist at all. He’s a guerrilla graffiti artist named Banksy. If you’re not familiar check him out at http://banksy.co.uk/. His work on Israel’s apartheid wall is particularly inspiring.

And what about the election we just had? Who had the most visual impact last fall? I can’t think of one political cartoonist that’s ever reached the cultural phenomenon of Sheppard Fairey’s “Hope” poster. It was certainly a visual achievement in its ubiquity and resonance.

So, Wiley is right again! There are always alternatives.

#6 Wiley Miller
January/12/2009
@ 5:01 pm

“So, Wiley is right again! ”

If I could only get my wife to say that…

#7 Daryl Cagle
January/12/2009
@ 7:12 pm

Patrick – your big cartoons in the Daily News were great fun. The paper is dull and lifeless without you. You’re already missed.
-Daryl

#8 Betsy Streeter
January/12/2009
@ 7:48 pm

I don’t think it is the art forms that are dead. It is the methods of delivering and consuming them that are going through huge changes. Good writing, good art, great ideas are not dead. But people are not consuming the way they used to… music, pictures, words, any of it. New business models will emerge but not without a period of great change and upheaval. So I hope people will keep drawing, keep getting their ideas out there — and find new audiences.

#9 KRANKY (JOE RANK)
January/12/2009
@ 8:01 pm

Patrick, good luck to you. So much of our revenue steam is associated now with “alternative”.

What that means is: “Find your own path”.
Not always easy.

The fascists will always try to shut us down, especially any satirists. They hate us, with reason. We shine a light on their failures and lies.
They don’t like that.

#10 Ben Gordon
January/13/2009
@ 2:18 am

1. I offer that it is the second rate newspaper, inefficient and poorly executed, that is dead — including their advertising products, which poorly serve most advertisers. Without revenue, it’s all dead.

2. Glib, know-it-all remarks about “apartheid walls” and fascists suggest an elitist viewpoint out of touch with your audience. Cartoons that are clever, sell; those that contrive divides, mock individuals and pedal simplistic, uninformed solutions are just propaganda and a lot of people seem to be enjoying their extinction.

Draw some cartoons in Russia and meet some real fascists, who will leave your bullet-riddled body on the asphalt. Or Gaza. Enjoy your freedom of speech there.

#11 Mike Peterson
January/13/2009
@ 5:50 am

I’m all for Wiley’s candor. The odds are so stacked against success in the creative fields that anyone who can be discouraged probably ought to be — save them a lot of wasted years and reduce the pile of dreck that editors and others have to go through to find the gems.

And the ones who ought to make it won’t stop just because someone suggested they do so. I’ve quoted this before, but it’s a great quote: I interviewed an actress once who said nobody in her MFA class had stayed in theater except her. “A lot of people want it, but not very many people have to have it. You have to have to have it.”

If you have to have it, Wiley Miller isn’t going to keep you from getting it.

#12 Quint Nelson
January/14/2009
@ 9:34 pm

I’m sorry for Mr O’Connor, but I fear newspapers’ will just continue the slash & burn content. The spineless owners’ inability to stop the beancounters’ illadvised idea of cutting the industry’s way to profitability is nothing more than mass suicide.

As content disappears, so do the readers. Once the readers are gone, then the ad revenues disappear. The newspaper business is run by morons.

Media News’ LA Daily News, which employed Mr O’Connor, is Exhibit A in this process. The newspaper is a disgrace & Singleton’s mismanagement has resulted in a newspaper not even worthy as a bird cage liner.

#13 Patrick O'Connor
January/15/2009
@ 12:38 am

“Media News? LA Daily News, which employed Mr O?Connor, is Exhibit A in this process. The newspaper is a disgrace & Singleton?s mismanagement has resulted in a newspaper not even worthy as a bird cage liner.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

“Draw some cartoons in Russia and meet some real fascists, who will leave your bullet-riddled body on the asphalt. Or Gaza. Enjoy your freedom of speech there.”

There have been many times in my career when readers, co-workers and even editors have suggested that I go live somewhere else when they didn’t like one of my cartoons. I find this logic to be the most basic, caveman sort of thinking there is. Why should I go to Gaza and draw cartoons? Or Russia?
Because you don’t agree with my viewpoint, that’s why. This is why we love America, isn’t it? Because we’re allowed to have different opinions? Simply because you don’t like what I think I’m the one that has to leave my country? That’s how it works in your small mind?
Well, there is no freedom of speech when it comes to Israel or a host of other issues, as Mr. Gordon so ignorantly points out. It seem the only bullet-riddled bodies I see these days are lying on the streets of Gaza in a bloody slaughter the press cynically calls a “war.”

#14 John Pierce
February/16/2009
@ 3:28 pm

As one who has always aspired to be an editorial cartoonist but always but that aside to hold onto my regular day job (which vanished waaaay back in August 2007), I’m only further distressed to see the idiotic Media News Group toss Pat O’Connor to the wolves to save themselves a few more pennies.

I knew the gig was up back on Nov. 2, 1989, when the late and great Los Angeles Herald Examiner (Death to the Hearst Corp.!) folded into oblivion. They had a practice of hiring up new talent, and I quietly hoped I could get a start there. Instead, I still have my last renewal bill I never got to pay and a few copies of the last edition as sad souvenirs, with people like William Bramhall and Bill Schorr now just as “freelance” as Mr. O’Connor.

Yes, the whole L.A. Newspaper Group’s bunch of papers are now no longer fit to wrap fish. I’m late to mourn O’Connor’s lay off because, well… Trying to land a regular art job somewhere tends to distract one. But it seemed odd that O’Connor’s last cartoon on Cagle.com was January 9, and even more disturbing that the Whittier Daily News (the L.A. Daily New’s weak sister) had “consolidated” its op-ed section to only one page every day, with a come-on to read its additional content online. Suddenly there was a dead canary in the cage…

I hope Patrick O’Connor can find himself a syndication somewhere, considering his eight-plus years of portfolio. And, hell, yes, the L.A. Daily News is now below pathetic as a newspaper. I won’t waste any money on them ever again. (Bad enough my Tribune-abused Times is slowly shrinking into oblivion, too!)

And my passion, cartooning? Well… It’s a relatively inexpensive hobby, I suppose.

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