Rall: Editors are killing editorial cartooning

Ted Rall’s latest column bemoans the bland and tepid state of editorial cartooning in American right now and lays the blame on editors who “promote hack work over quality.”

The state of political cartooning in 2009 mirrors that of radio in the late ’70s. Music was awesome, but the good stuff wasn’t on the radio. Punk, new wave and postpunk took chances and redefined popular music, but the only way to get it was to buy LPs at a record store.

Similarly, editors of the big daily papers and the newsweekly magazines know what makes a good cartoon: they post them on their walls and in their cubicles. What they run in their publications, on the other hand, is what we cartoonists constantly refer to as the worst of the worst: dull clich’es, hackneyed metaphors, idiotic gags about the news reminiscent of Jay Leno’s middle of the road comedy style. They’re safe. They don’t anger readers. But they don’t matter.

While Ted should be commended for the long and continued Paul Revere rants on the state of the industry, I have to agree more with Tom Spurgeon on how print editorial cartooning is going to survive in large measure.

I’ll repeat what I said after the last one of these jeremiads: it isn’t good enough. The decline of staffed editorial cartooning positions is beyond the point where a bunch of strong assertions cleverly made and presented with passion will convince newspapers that what they’re doing isn’t necessary. I don’t see anything here that would convince me as a newspaper editor I wouldn’t be better off simply picking up a syndicated Ted Rall cartoon or taking my staff cartoonist investment and hiring a video blogger. Once again, I challenge Ted Rall and the AAEC to come up with five models of newspaper-cartoonist relationships that work for those newspapers, specific examples and detailed reasons why they work, and how newspapers can develop that within their own publications. Having not one but two skilled cartoonists sure didn’t save the Rocky Mountain News. Fair or not, that’s the tenor of the conversation right now.

UPDATE: Tom has posted a follow up email exchange between he and Ted regarding this challenge.

18 thoughts on “Rall: Editors are killing editorial cartooning

  1. Ted is absolutely right here… and so is Tom Spurgeon. It’s a complex problem that grew over the period of decades, not just in the past year or so, and solution lies all the entities (publishers, the bean counters, editors and cartoonists) working together in revamping the entire industry, making newspapers relevant again. They need to listen to us, and vice versa, rather than remaining firmly entrenched in our positions and expecting the “other side” to bend to our will. The latter is what caused the slippery slope down to oblivion.

  2. Ted’s analogy is a good one, but also something of a cautionary tale. While punk certainly freshened and improved popular music, the old stuff didn’t go away. The Clash called for a revolution by declaring “phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust.” Well here it is 2009 and yet another Beatles-impostor group just put on a show in my town.

  3. Wiley – “Ted is absolutely right here? and so is Tom Spurgeon.”

    Agreed. I would make another comparison as to when the movies went from silent to “talkies”. Some made the transition…others could not. Also, TV was supposed to doom the film industry and radio. The advent of photography had foretold the end of art.
    Some of us will adapt and survive. Others won’t.

    ( I am working on organizing a symposium that will address many of these issues and the current state of the business. I would like to have editors as well as cartoonists to be panelistss. Perhaps others could do likewise in their locales? )

  4. Also, radio’s decisions didn’t kill the radio business. That analogy suggests newspapers should keep doing what they’re doing.

  5. Milt Priggee – “How can you kill something that has been dead for decades?”

    I get dibs on a new strip concept:

    “INKULA—-Vampire Cartoonist”

  6. “Also, TV was supposed to doom the film industry and radio.”

    Movie theaters survived but not without changes. Among them are the loss of short films before each movies (some films, like Pixar’s, would have a short film attached before the main feature, but that’s an exception). MGM shut down their animation studio, leaving Hanna and Barbera to work on TV animation. And Warners closed their cartoon studio in the sixties as well (although they continued to have new “Looney Tunes” made through sub-contracted studios and eventually re-opened their cartoon studio for 2 more years).

  7. yep DEAD-

    Actions speak louder than words.
    Here is the growing list of a few pretty good editorial cartoonists who have left the art because it is… dead.

    Ted Geisel

    Bill Watterson

    Wiley Miller

    Stacy Curtis

    Paul Combs

    Jim Borgman

    and now

    Bill Schorr……

  8. I worked in radio back when it was gelded by “programming consultants.” The man many called responsible for the death of good music radio was a fellow named Lee Abrams.

    Lo and behold, today Abrams is now Sam Zell’s “Chief Innovation Officer” at the Tribune company.

    Abrams turned many radio professionals’ jobs into factory work. His track record doesn’t bode well for newspapering.

  9. Perhaps it’s time for editorial cartoonists to ask what exactly we get from the AAEC. What has the organization done over the decades to ensure the survival of the profession and its practitioners? Does the organization have any leverage over these dreaded editors? Does the AAEC have any power at all?
    While many of us have been fired, laid off, forced out and bought out the AAEC has stood by and done absolutely nothing.
    Oh, sure there’s been a couple snarky letters sent out. Maybe, just maybe, a stupid little radio analogy will save this doomed profession and the doomed newspapers it’s attached too.
    Pretty soon Ted will be the only one left at the AAEC conventions. Then he can get drunk and bitch about the sorry state of editorial cartooning all by himself.

  10. Yep, Springsteen,Eagles,Van Halen,AC/DC Luckovich,Rogers,Bennett and the rest of the AAEC membership…they all blow! Long live the Sex Pistols!

  11. “Yep, Springsteen,Eagles,Van Halen,AC/DC Luckovich,Rogers,Bennett and the rest of the AAEC membership?they all blow! Long live the Sex Pistols!”

    I recognize your hyperbole Jeff, but I don’t think the point of the punk analogy was to say that those on your list here blow. (Well, the Eagles blow, there’s simply no getting around that.)

    The positive undercurrent of punk was that the art form (rock music) needed to be allowed to evolve. Punkers didn’t care if older folks continued listen to the music of their youth, but they were less than happy with having it served to them as the only rock music. They wanted their own music for their own youth.

    I once had an editor tell me that he really liked my editorial comics, but he would never use them because they didn’t look like editorial comics. What he meant was that I didn’t crosshatch like MacNelly. Well, nobody did — certainly not as well. So why not try something different in addition to the established form? Nope. For the editor, there was only one kind of cartooning music, and it was classic rock.

  12. The problem I have the radio rant-is that everytime I hear it, it sounds like sour grapes coming from people who are just ticked off because there stuff isn’t being picked up by Newsweek and a slew of syndication clients. The constant wine that Newsweek and USA Today just print lame cartoons -is tired and wrong. I don’t understand why the president of the AAEC feels it’s neceassary to slag off some of his membership to promote the work of others he thinks merits it. Hey,I love the work of some of cutting edge comics on comedy central- that doesn’t mean Jay Leno sucks and should be booted off the air.

  13. I’m a gag guy who occasionally strays into editorializing. I have sold to both time and Newsweek, though in general I see them as closed markets, so I don’t seek them out. Plus, I’m still waiting for my check from Time for something of mine they ran in November.

    It was Styx and Bob Segar that killed radio for me, by the way.

  14. Hey, Jeff, obviously opinions are subjective. But it’s way too easy to say that the vast majority of editorial cartoonists?the ones who complain about Newsweek and USA Today?are just jealous and suffering from sour grapes.

    During the 1990s, nobody was reprinted more often than I was in the NYT. Literally, nobody. You could count. Yet I constantly bitched and moaned to the appropriate editor about their lousy taste (which has merely gotten worse since he left). The system worked for me?indeed, it still does. The problem is, it fails the profession. That’s why I’m writing.

    No art form benefits from the domination of parochial, outdated tastes.

    By the way, I would be just as annoyed if the cartoonists whose work constantly appears in those forums were consistently excluded. And I would say so. This isn’t about favoring one genre over another?it’s about being OPPOSED to favoring one genre over another, mixing it up, opening the field.

  15. “Yep, Springsteen,Eagles,Van Halen,AC/DC Luckovich,Rogers,Bennett and the rest of the AAEC membership?they all blow! Long live the Sex Pistols!”

    Britney Spears is another. I think anyone who complains about her is simply jealous of her success. Sour grapes. She moves millions more albums than the Talking Heads ever did so obviously she is objectively better than them. No one should ever question the wisdom of MTV and the radio. Everyone has a fair shot to get on those venues and they only play the bestest, most deserving musicians.

  16. Interesting drag race of analogies here.

    But seriously, everyone knows it was Kurt Cobain and Nirvana that truly killed music.

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