Open call: Ken Burns to make cartoon documentary

Comic Riffs’ Michael Cavna has posted an open letter or invitation asking Ken Burns to consider making a new documentary of the American cartoon. Michael argues that such a movie should be made sooner rather than later for two reasons:

First, the state of the American cartoon is in such tremendous flux: Staff political cartoonists have been disappearing from the newsroom landscape quite precipitously in recent years, as the American newsroom itself has been remade for deeply transitional times. The American newspaper comic strip, to put it simply, is seeing great change in terms of syndication and online delivery. The New Yorker is a bastion for the American magazine cartoon, but such print outlets are fewer, many cartoonists say. Meanwhile, audiences for the comic book and the graphic novel have exploded in recent decades.

Second, there are some longtime cartoon legends who till walk, and talk, colorfully among us. At the National Cartoonists Society’s Reubens Awards some days ago, I spoke with sports cartoonist Bill Gallo, whose historic tenure at the New York Daily News stretches back to World War II; George Booth, a longtime cartooning icon at The New Yorker; and Mort Walker, whose strip “Beetle Bailey” is the last newspaper comic approved personally some 60 years ago by publisher William Randolph Hearst. All three cartoonists had so much boyish glee in their eyes, who knows — they might outlive both Ken Burns and myself. But the larger reality is, they represent a generation of near-nonagenarians (one that includes “Family Circus’s” Bil Keane, and the 80something Mell Lazarus, among numerous others) who have great stories to share now.

14 thoughts on “Open call: Ken Burns to make cartoon documentary

  1. When they get to the part about Reader’s Digest cartoonists and greeting card cartoonists, I’ll raise my hand.

    I LOVE Ken Burns’ work. He defines what a documentary is and should be. I’d like to say which one is my favorite documentary, but I love all of them. He should cover every subject.

  2. @John – it was hard to get a <50 character headline to say everything the story should convey. Cavna is making the case that Burns should make a documentary.

  3. That is indeed a good, clear headline. I try to make headlines under 50 characters so they don’t wrap – “Cavna is making the case that Burns should make a documentary” is 61. 🙂

  4. “Cavna makes case for Burns Cartoon Documentary”

    That’s 46!

    44! Do I hear 44?

    “Cavna calls on Burns for Cartoon Documentary”


  5. “Cavna asks Burns for Cartoon Documentary”

    Woo! 40!

    In all seriousness, I think it’d be awesome.

  6. “Burns Toon Doc? Cav Asks”

    Yahoo News and CNN often have headlines like that. Never thought of it being a text wrapping issue. Makes sense!

  7. Alan, you just had to shuffle the words:

    Open call to Ken Burns: Make Cartoon Documentary

    But that’s okay, we get the picture, and thanks for the info.

    For the last 10 years or so, I have had the privilege of being a member of Long Island’s Berndt Toast Gang and attending the annual bash of 100+ cartoonists at Bunny Hoest’s house each year.

    Sadly, it seems every year we lose at least one artist from our group or party who was a real gem in the cartooning world and a generation of elders is fading away. Thanks, to your post on the article in the Post, I’ve begun a letter-writing campaign to help push for Ken Burns on this great idea. If the readers here would care to help, here’s the letter I’ve been emailing to artists and fans:


    The Daily Cartoonist reports that an open letter to PBS documentarian Ken Burns was placed in The Washington Post by columnist Michael Cavna requesting that he give the American cartoon “the treatment” while we still have many of our great artists around. Like Jazz (which he documented so well) comics are a uniquely American invention, so it’s a damn good idea and I thought I’d see if I could stir up some others to write to Burns and give him a push.

    The letter can be seen at

    Apparently Burns (according to the PBS web site) only has a snail mail address for contact ? no email ? so we’re going to really have to earn this one if we’d like to sway him. But clearly, getting actual written cards and letters from lots of artists and fans will show sincere passion for this worthy move. So here’s his address:

    Mr. Ken Burns
    Florentine Films
    P.O. Box 613
    Walpole, NH 03608

    I suggest writing something like “Please do an American cartooning film” in the left corner of your envelope. It’s a way of getting the message across even if the envelope never gets opened. And please feel free to forward and distribute this letter mercilessly around the web to help the push.


    Thanks again, Alan and to all who will help.

  8. Joe…Many thanks for taking up the campaign, For the greater good of cartooning, I appreciate that. And a side note: I finally had the pleasure to meet Bunny Hoest at this year’s Reubens (courtesy of a Lynn Johnston introduction). Now there’s an event — the Toast Gang — that I would have loved to attend, if only as an (off-the-record) fly on the wall.

    Good luck!

    All best,

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