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.