Spiegelman reviews 1939 editorial cartoonists’ reactions to rejected Jewish refugee boat

The Washington Post has a comic editorial by Art Spiegelman exploring editorial cartoonists reaction to a 1939 refugee boat full of 900 European Jews fleeing Nazi German who were turned back when they reached the United States. Interesting review of editorial cartooning history and a not so subtle jab at the modern profession.

56 thoughts on “Spiegelman reviews 1939 editorial cartoonists’ reactions to rejected Jewish refugee boat

  1. I found the piece entertaining to look at — I like seeing editorial cartoons from different eras. But I think the commentary on the cartoons is just a tad bit unfair, because they’re somewhat viewed and judged from Spiegleman’s 21st Century perspective. In ’39, the full extent of the Holocaust’s effects weren’t realized. In fact, Auschwitz was not in existence until 1940. So while the cartoon that compares college graduates to the Jewish immigrants seems overly insensitive to those of us that read it today, we need to view each of those cartoons in its historical context.

    And lastly, the thing that’s worse than editorial cartoons using tired clichés? It’s the tired cliché that editorial cartoons are using tired clichés. There’s some great work being done by some really good editorial cartoonists. And it’s all being done under stressful constraints of a struggling industry which makes the work even more impressive.

  2. so the mouse is fleeing the sinking editorial cartoon ship- how tired and cliche.

  3. Good comic. However, his example of a good editorial cartoon is a little disingenuous. His wife serves as Art Director for the New Yorker covers and, putting that aside, it’s a satiric illustration–not an editorial cartoon, no matter how good it is.

    He’s correct about cliche-driven work being horribly uninspired. But there’s also some of the best work of all time being created these days. It’s not all crap.

  4. I love Spiegleman’s work in general, and this comic was very well done, but that was quite a curious turn there at the end. I mean, if all he wanted to say is that modern editorial cartooning sucks, I think he could have found a better set up. As it was, I thought his point was going to be: some cartoonists end up on the wrong side of history, some rely of tired cliches, and some seem to miss the point entirely. But — then as now — the best always try to say the right thing.

  5. Spiegelman’s own attempts at editorial cartooning, as seen in his Forward newspaper cartoons reprinted in his book In the Shadow of No Towers, rank among some of the insipid, cliché-ridden pieces of graphic tripe ever published.

    So maybe he’s just criticizing himself.

  6. It is true, as Aaron writes above, that the Holocaust the way we think of it–death camps using sophisticated mechanized mass murder, mass deportations, etc.–hadn’t begun in 1939. That came later, in 1941 and 1942, after the Wansee Conference and the decision to effect the “Final Solution.”

    It wasn’t difficult to see by 1939, however, that European Jews were mortally imperiled by Nazi Germany. Kristallnacht took place in the fall of 1938. The Nuremberg laws, which diminished German Jews to second-class citizens, were in effect.

    American editorial cartoonists could have and should have pushed for the U.S. and other countries to take in as many refugees from Germany as applied. Those cited by Spiegelman as on the wrong side of this issue deserve our contempt.

  7. the worlds enlightenment has come a long way since the thirties and forties, being of Italian immigrant grandparents, I can state of first hand, the times they have been’a changing and for the good, thanks for the insight.So lets not block up the hall, learn to swim or sink like a rock, power to the people

  8. Read the panel next to the Yearns to be Free image. I think he is making the point that times have NOT been a changing.

  9. Spiegelman does does good work especially the WaPost piece.

    BUT in this WaPost cartoon he assumes that cartoonists of ANY era have had the freedom to speak out on any topic as forcefully as they wished.

    It doesn’t make any sense to condemn cartoonists for what editors and publishers have done.

  10. Good point, Milt. However, integrity requires a cartoonist to quit his job rather than significantly compromise her or his moral principles.

  11. “However, integrity requires a cartoonist to quit his job rather than significantly compromise her or his moral principles.”

    However, the reality of making a living has a nasty habit of circumventing such integrity as that.

  12. Editorial cartooning isn’t a regular job, where one has to put up with a stupid or wrong-headed boss. It’s an art form and political punditry combined. Better to drive a taxi than to sign one’s name to a cartoon one doesn’t believe in.

    Feeding one’s family never requires one to draw bad political cartoons. As they said in “Hollywood Shuffle,” there’s always work at the post office.

  13. “Whoring out”?!? Dude. ALL art forms involve compromise and yes, some more than others – it’s called LIFE.

    Feeding one’s family DOES require drawing bad cartoons sometimes – after all, if the editor DEMANDS it, you damn well better draw it – he’s paying your bills, he gets to *GASP* tell you what to do.

    Oh, the humanity… The “ruining of an art form”… Uh, yeah, it’s called, “money”.

    @RS Davis – beautiful ‘jab’!

  14. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. These days with the industry in the state it’s in, I believe to be unrealistic to expect to somehow support yourself or your family by drawing cartoons alone. There are, and will be exceptions, but I stand by my statement.

  15. Working for an editor at a newspaper takes a certain level of compromise. The lucky cartoonists find an editor with a cast iron stomach and are allowed to toe the line.

  16. As someone who has been on both sides of the editing process and is currently on the dole, I would say there is no future in a relationship where the editor and editorialist (cartoon or prose) can’t agree on fundamental values.

    It’s one thing to have the editor say, “Do something about Michael Jackson. He was such a talent!” and, as someone who despises pop music, you have to sigh and concede that, yes, he brought some innovations to the form and come up with something that acknowledges that.

    But if he comes back to you day after day with demands like that, or if he’s consistently chopping your own efforts off at the knees, there’s no point in hanging around. Aside from the soul-killing aspect of it all, you’re not going to come away with a portfolio that will get you a job that’s any better.

    When the main course is manure, don’t clean your plate in hopes dessert will be better.

  17. “heâ??s paying your bills, he gets to *GASP* tell you what to do.”

    The Nuremberg defense doesn’t cut it. If you are paid for some commercial illustration that blows–fine. Gotta pay the bills. Editorial cartoons are supposed to represent your opinions and take on things. If you are willing to do whatever an editor says, no matter how inane, than you must not have anything interesting to say in the first place.

    It’s funny how people can scoff at the idea that there is “art” or any seriousness to editorial cartooning. I guess if you view it as nothing more than a way to pay the bills by drawing big-headed caricatures with labels, consisting of whatever subject your editor demands, then yeah, you’re doing great work.

  18. I’ve always contended that editorial cartoonists are the same as columnists, just that we work in a different format. As such, editors should approach editorial cartoons and how they work with a cartoonist in the same way they do columns and columnists. If they don’t tell a columnist what to write, then they shouldn’t be telling a cartoonist what to write… and draw.

  19. Wiley:”Iâ??ve always contended that editorial cartoonists are the same as columnists, just that WE work in a different format.”

    Wiley, do you, then, consider “Non Sequitur” an editorial cartoon?

  20. “Wiley, do you, then, consider â??Non Sequiturâ? an editorial cartoon?”

    Yes and no. It’s a hybrid that combined my work as an editorial cartoonist, comic strip and magazine gag cartoonist. It’s more of social satire in the same vein as New Yorker cartoons. But I still editorialize a good deal in it, as my abundance of hate mail over the past 8 years will attest. But I was speaking more in the “royal we” in my post as a cartoonist, a former staff editorial cartoonist and a member of the AAEC.

  21. I was busted mid-step in drawing a ‘disrespectful’ editorial toon about ‘Wacko-Jacko’. Granted the man was a great artist. However, he was a world-class nut-job who was a treasure trove of jokes just waiting for a good place to land. I pitched a couple of ideas to some of my editors and they replied that they would have mobs with pitchforks and torches outside to burn down the building if they or any other editors dared run em. WHAT??? Are ya kidding me, hee? I see no need to cannonize in death someone we all would’ve gleefully skewered at every opportunity while he was alive. Editors….the great emasculators……

  22. So editorial cartoonists and columnists just write and/or draw about whatever they feel like? Whatever springs to mind? Hmmm? Reeeeeeeeally?


    I guess their editors just sit around, staring off into space, useless and ignored, right?

    Yeah, I thought so.

  23. Dave, it’s an either/or. They hire you, they may occasionally insist on some kind of compromise or modification. Most of the time, they stay out of your way. If they decide they don’t like what you do, or you decide you can’t stand the amount of “input,” the relationship ends.

    Laugh out loud if you like, but that’s how it works. Good editors are plenty busy without trying to micromanage their columnists and cartoonists. (If you’re working under the conditions you suggest, well, as the old punchline goes, we’ve established what you are and we’re just haggling over the price.)

  24. My guess is, Dave, judging from your last post, that you have never worked in a newspaper nor know anyone who has, or even ever worked with an editor in any capacity. Yet that doesn’t stop you from opining on the subject in such an absolute manner.

  25. Given what I’ve seen passing as “editorial cartooning” it’s hard to be too tough on Dave from my perspective. The sad part is that if people like editors would leave their creators alone, they would get a better product. Same’s true of The President of the United States.

  26. Guess again, Wiley.

    My point is, if you have a Boss or an Editor, hey, occasionally you get “Bossed”, you get “edited”. Are they hovering over you? I’m sure they have better things to do – Newspapers are a ton of hard work and stressful as heck. But do you have ‘complete freedom’? Not at all. You only get complete freedom when it’s YOUR paper.

    QUOTE: “They hire you, they may occasionally insist on some kind of compromise or modification. Most of the time, they stay out of your way. If they decide they donâ??t like what you do, or you decide you canâ??t stand the amount of â??input,â? the relationship ends.”

    TRANSLATION: “If you piss off your Boss, your ass is grass. Also, if your Boss pisses you off, you quit.”

    Sounds like a job. That’s cool. Certainly a much better job than most. But still a job.

  27. That point was rather unclear from your post, Dave. Perhaps if you eased back on the snark and simply stated your opinion there wouldn’t be any confusion about what you’re getting at.

    It’s not an either-or matter when it comes to doing your job as a cartoonist or columnist. The nature of the position is to have a great deal of freedom, as the newspaper is paying them to present their perspective in their unique way, not to take dictation from editors. A good editor knows how to leave their creative people to their creativity. If the work goes “over the line” then they simply don’t run it. In all my years as a staff editorial cartoonist, I never once had an editor suggest, much less dictate, a cartoon idea to me. Had plenty rejected, but even then, none of them ever told me what I should do a cartoon on.

  28. I’m confused, Dave. The link from your website goes to some random mall caricaturist.

    Which papers and magazines have you worked for?

  29. Mall caricaturist? Can you read? Parties, dude, parties. Events. You know, with free drinks, free food, free entertainment.

    There are links on the last page for illustration.

  30. No dictation. Fair enough. But rejection? You don’t think that’s a form of editing? Of direction? Kinda passive/aggressive? Could you call it influence? I would, but I guess that’s just my perspective.

  31. You didn’t answer Ted’s question, Steve. Your last response indicates you have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about regarding working for a newspaper, so I’m guessing that means you, indeed, have absolutely no experience or knowledge of the process… yet that doesn’t stop you from pontificating such absolute opinions on the subject.

  32. Freedom is a state of mind. No editor can force anyone to draw anything. Personally, I have found working with editors to be valuable…usually. In exceptional cases, I’ve had to agree to disagree–and, if things came to a head, bow out of an assignment that would have diminished me.

    I suspect that’s how 99% of cartoonists operate.

  33. Mr.Rall,
    You nailed that one on the head. As a ‘freelance’ inkslinger, I have the ability to do toons on pretty much whatever I want and my editors have the ability to run em or not. In this instance, I absolutely refuse to do a ‘respectful’ cartoon about someone I so thoroughly didn’t respect. I chose not to do a toon at all about MJ. sure it cut into my money just a little, but so what. There’ll be more news tomorrow. MJ won’t even register as a blip on the radar in a few weeks. I’d bet that 99.9% of the ‘so-called’ mourners who are so upset by his passing have not even bothered to buy a single albim or CD of his in the last 5-10 years. His death is hot news now….in a few days, his death and his news will be one in the same….worm bait.

  34. Who is “Steve”? And yes, I haven’t worked for a newspaper but I’m “pontificating” on basic stuff – it’s not brain surgery. If you are employed by someone, you are, in fact, obligated to listen to them and, most importantly, if they won’t print your art, too bad for you – you are NOT in charge of that, they are. In fact, you are NOT given freedom to draw whatever you want – whatever they choose to print.

    You provide, they decide.

    Case in point – Steve Kelley chose to draw a butt crack, the SD Union Tribune chose to fire his ass… (and his butt crack, too)…

    Was Steve wrong to put himself ahead of the paper? Damn straight he was. He forgot who employed who.

  35. Sorry, Dave.
    And you still have no idea what you’re talking about regarding working at a newspaper and the editing process, including your case study on Steve Kelley.

    It’s generally a pretty good idea to have some actual knowledge of something before espousing an opinion on it.

  36. Dave,
    I havta call BS on ya! Sure,sure….Wiley and Ted and Mike and a coupla others already have….but I hate to feel left out. You draw doodles at parties….and then pretend to come here and down honest-to-goodness inkslingers who actually DO know a little about the business of newspapers. Man, you’re either the most cocky idiot I’ve ever seen or the biggest moron. A wise man once said….’it’s better to be quiet and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt’. Well, there’s no doubt with YOU, is there? If you’d done your homework, you’d know you are arguing with some of the true heavyweights of the biz….not including me. These guys are in a class unto themselves…but even I have more ‘cred’ than you….I have a readership in the hundreds of thousands. You…draw doodles at parties. Good luck with that.

  37. Dave,
    I hate to pile it on you, but:
    As someone who’s spoken to Steve Kelley at length and who’s gotten both sides of the “butt crack” story, I feel inclined to want to speak up since you chose to use Steve as “a case in point.” Have you ever even spoken to Steve Kelley? Steve wasn’t fired by the Union-Tribune because he “chose to draw a butt crack” (there’s way more to the cause of his departure than a single cartoon, but Steve will have to share that with you if he so chooses), and I’m pretty sure he was well aware of who his boss was and wasn’t trying to “put himself ahead of the paper.”

  38. Ease up. Dave is -if nothing else a consumer and appreciates/critiques what some of us do and as such has every right to be wrong. In this case he’s the latter.

  39. Pile on all you like – my wife works for the San Diego Union Tribune here in San Diego and so I know in rather vivid detail about Steve Kelley’s HUBRIS which got him canned, none of which ever saw print. Yeah, the butt-crack was not the sole reason, but his attitude from it WAS… Freedom is a two way street – you think the paper doesn’t have freedom to fire you?

    @J Read – He was fired because of how he arrogantly and foolishly put himself ahead of the stated demands of his editors. I’d love to talk to Steve, but I know the skinny from the newsroom about what he did and what he said. Hey, I love his art – I respect his drawing skill and cutting wit but that doesn’t excuse his behavior. I won’t discuss the details here – I can’t. But if Steve painted a prettier picture of it, it wouldn’t change the facts.

    @Mike Beckom – I not here “downing” anyone, I am disagreeing with people, not “icons”. Nobody gets a pedestal. Your name-calling is foolish. I’ve ‘done my homework’, duh. Of course, I must say you haven’t done yours if you think to put the freelance career of Caricature Artist in some lesser category than other freelance cartoonists – hey, it’s the shoes you are wearing – how do they fit? Mine fit great and I love paying my mortgage here in San Diego with ’em.

    @Wiley Miller – As snarky as you can be (which isn’t near as snarky as Ted can be), you are correct in calling me on my snarkiness. Snark rankles. Snark annoys. And annoyed people respond accordingly. But I still say an employee is an employee, regardless of additional freedom. You disagree. That’s fine. Oh, and to answer Ted’s question, I haven’t worked for any papers – haven’t ever marketed to them, really. I’ve heard from other cartoonists what they were paid (freelance) and I wasn’t interested – I suppose I should look into it now and see if anything has changed, to be honest.
    I have been printed in a few magazines but only one springs to mind – “Emmy Magazine” in 1999 for a series of 3 cartoon maps.

    @Mike Lester – I am a cartoonist and a caricature artist and a consumer. Entertaining at events pays quite well, actually, and by itself pays my mortgage with plenty left over, however, it’s not all I am by a long shot… I changed my link to go to my Cartoons by David web site.

  40. What I get for trying to be a peacemaker. I’m going back to being an a**hole: You, Dave attacked a profession in which you don’t seem to currently work from what I see on your web site. Those who do simply defended themselves and industry from misinformed comments. It’s incumbent on them to do so given the kids who read this looking for accurate info.

    I wish you success whether you’re drawing big heads or tying animal balloons and if I wanted to know how to do either, I’d listen to a professional.

    And when someone trumpets, “free drinks, free food, free entertainment” it’s not what most serious professionals are here for. I can go down to the mission for that.

  41. “But I still say an employee is an employee, regardless of additional freedom.”

    There is a far cry from being an employee at a fast food restaurant and that of being an employee of newspaper as a columnist or editorial cartoonist. What is clear is that you cannot seem to differentiate between the two, yet you continue to opine as though you do, again and again, in a desperate attempt to defend your ignorance.

    Finally, Steve Kelley happens to be a friend of mine for over 20 years. I resent your smearing him and his reputation in this public manner on a matter that you have absolutely no first hand knowledge. What you have just done is called slander. You might want to look that up, as you’re apparently as ignorant about that (and just plain manners) as you are about the newspaper business and how cartoonists work.

  42. >>>Pile on all you like – my wife works for the San Diego Union Tribune here in San Diego and so I know in rather vivid detail about Steve Kelleyâ??s HUBRIS which got him canned, none of which ever saw print.

    Does your wife know you’re on a cartoonists bulletin board publicly discussing sensitive issues of her company’s hiring and firing policies? Knowing my wife, she’d turn me into a gelding if she knew i was doing what you’re doing.

  43. Smear? Libel? LOL

    I’m attacking a profession? LOL
    Mike, you draw funny pictures and get paid for it, same as me, so your contempt for me is misplaced isn’t it? Go tell Tom Richmond about the low regard you have for his alternate profession – I’m sure he’ll listen to you.

    AND I’m attacking Steve Kelley, whose art I love and hold in high regard? I’m sure he’s a fantastic human being and a talented artist, but did he get fired for good behavior or bad? Steve Kelley HIMSELF says bad, go figure.

    AAEC article.

    Note this Steve Kelley quote from the article:

    A bad decision by Steve Kelley is what Steve Kelley says. Argue with the boss, call him names and hey, you know the story.

    Read the whole article – it’s not that long – and you’ll see the paper was legally bound not to discuss that matter further, so they couldn’t legally say something like, “Hey, Mr. Kelley, wait a minute, that’s not the whole story – here’s our side.” Is it libel to say there’s another side? I don’t think so. I think that if you talk to some San Diego Union Tribune folks off the record they’ll tell you that the wonderful and talented Steve Kelley is NOT telling the whole story… And from the article I just provided, his story is clearly NOT the final word.

    I’m a huge fan of Kelley – he was a tremendous asset to San Diego and I miss him. But even HE agrees he made a mistake.

  44. Here is the Steve Kelley quote from that was snipped:

    Kelley said he was later accused of trying to sneak the cartoon into the newspaper without approval, a charge he denies. After being accused of lying by senior editor Bill Osborne, his department boss, Kelley said he swore and got into a heated argument with Osborne.

    ï¾?He called my character into question and I responded indelicately,ï¾? Kelley said. ï¾?I think that ï¾? the progenitor of all that has taken place was a bad decision by an editor, compounded by a bad decision by me.ï¾?

  45. Everyone back to your corners.

    I’m shutting this down. Since Steve is not apart of this conversation and nobody that is has first hand knowledge of the matter between Steve and the Union-Tribune, it seems a bit unfair to discuss it so publicly.

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