Last weekend was my fourth AAEC (Association of American Editorial Cartoonists) convention. The previous three were back in mid to late ’90s. Back then job openings were few, but at least there was buzz about which slot might come available. Speakers were top tier politicians or wonks. The Las Vegas convention banquet dinner was keynoted by then President Clinton’s senior advisor Rahm Emanuel. It was made memorable due to a verbal exchange between Emanuel and Arizona Republic’s Steve Benson. After an extended canned speech praising Clinton for every wonderful thing in the world, Steve asked a prolonged question invoking a sarcastic response from Emanuel that Steve had put a lot of time coming up with the question. Steve fired back, “A lot more than you did for your speech.” There was also a bit of glitz to the affair. We didn’t wear tuxedoes like attendees of the NCS Reuben weekend, but the hotels were four star, evening excursions and open bars were the norm.
So it was a bit of 2a shock after a 12 year absence to return to a much more humble association. Gone are the deep-pocket sponsors, the glitzy hotel and open bars. The times have changed. No longer do papers enjoy healthy double digit profit margins allowing them to pay the cartoonist’s dues and costs of attending the convention. This year’s convention, on the campus of Portland State University, is being held up as the new model. The hotel was three star. The panel discussions were a 15 minute walk to the student union building. The closest bar was three blocks away. The AAEC for the foreseeable future is a much more thrifty organization.
By the second day the shock wore off. In the subsequent days I realized the association isn’t the hotels, the open bars (any establishment serving alcohol will do) or the Q&A with top politicians. It’s an intangible. It’d be hard to market on the back of a brochure. I can best describe it as a brotherhood. It’s a camaraderie among those who have a rare ability to point out injustices, inconsistencies and ineptitude in our society in a way that causes readers to chuckle or curse out loud. The standing-room only Powellapalooza event Thursday night demonstrated that the public loves the art form.
The media at large is going through a contraction. If history bears true, there will be a cyclical expansion. The AAEC will see brighter days. No doubt the craft will evolve with the times. But the bond between ink slingers will remain constant.
Despite the distance to Florida, I’ll be making an effort to attend next year.