This year’s annual convention of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists wrapped up on Saturday night (or early Sunday morning for some of us) in Salt Lake City. Full disclosure: I am not an unbiased source when it comes to this convention. I live near Salt Lake and am friends with the convention host Pat Bagley. That said, here’s my thoughts on the various events and issues surrounding this year’s convention.
Kickstarter Nation – This panel got off to a slow start due to getting the AV kinks worked out (I was in charge of AV, so my apologies!!) so it left Mark Fiore and his panelists Matt Bors, Kevin “Kal” Kallaugher, Bill Day with much less time to delve into their Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns.
The Art of Controversy: Political Cartoons and Their Enduring Power – Victor Navasky discussed the findings in his new book. He’s an interesting character with a lot of great stories about controversial cartoons.
Cartoonist Death Match" with Todd Zuniga – I’ll admit, I’m not a big fan of the death match. Contestants Steve Benson, Lalo Alcaraz, Signe Wilkinson and Ted Rall competed against each other. Steve, being from Utah and grandson of Mormon prophet Ezra Taft Benson, was hailed as the hometown favorite, but of the four, his presentation was perhaps the least funny. But he made up for it in other ways. He was advanced to the final round wherein he was placed in front of a microphone and a piano which is a dangerous concoction. The final round pitted Steve versus Lalo with Lalo kicking Steve’s butt in almost every regard except for random banging on various piano keys – which Steve did frequently. In the end, in a clutch question, Steve won. The game felt very rigged and I’m assured that it was. Lalo should have won purely on his first round presentation alone.
The Death Match Crowd
Magical Mystery Tour with Jann Haworth – Jann was the artist/designer of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover. She walked us through the 60s British Pop Art movement. It was a slight off topic subject for an editorial cartoonists convention, but it evoked a lot of questions and interaction from the audience that showed a high level of interest in the subject.
Successful Cartooning in the Digital World – Howard Tayler is the creator of the webcomic Schlock Mercenary and has been supporting himself and his family of six through his work online. His mantra comes down to “Own your content, Own your audience, Own your career” and then he stepped through his work and how he lives by those three principles. This ended up being a meaty topic. He’s given me permission to post his slides, so be looking for those sometime today.
Luncheon with Former Senator Bob Bennett – Bennett lost his senate seat in 2010 to a Tea Party backed constitutionalist. As Bennett said in his opening remarks, now that he has no plans to run for office again, he can now be more frank about his thoughts on politics. One of his major points is that the Tea Party is much like the McGovernites who took over the democratic party in the 1970s and set back the party for decades. Until the Tea Party movement runs out of steam, the Republican’s will not be able to elect “transactional” candidates who can make deals and compromises to make government work. Expect Democratic majorities for a decade or so.
Oliphant Reception – The Pat Oliphant Reception was really a once in a lifetime event. For about an hour Pat sat in front of a overhead projector and gave us a sketch-walk through of his career starting with his first newspaper job in Australia. He created 16 sketches over that hour ranging from sketches of his first editor to various presidents.
At the end of Oliphant’s presentation, Oliphant talked about his Pulitzer win and reiterated his view that awards are meaningless. With that segue, Matt Wuerker and Pat Bagley announced that the association wanted to present to Oliphant something to commemorate his career and the association had spared no expense with an expensive crystal sculpture. As Bagley walked to the front of the room to present that sculpture, he tripped and shattered the crystal. Fortunately, the crystal was a rouse. Bagley quickly went back and fetched a burlap sack and brought it to Oliphant and asked him to open it. Oliphant’s response was, “What the hell is this?”. The bag was opened and Bagley pulled out a rock etched with Oliphant’s signature Punk character. To commemorate Oliphant’s legendary career, he was presented with a ‘Punk Rock’. Oliphant lit up with a smile. He was genuinely happy with the gesture.
Also in the bag were small white stones also etched with the Punk character for all the convention goers. Some of us were luck enough to have Oliphant sign the back of the stone.
At the end of the reception, most migrated out to to the patio overlooking the city. It was a picture perfect end of a fantastic event.
Saturday morning was set up around the topic of plagiarism – a topic that has plagued the industry for the last couple of years. Joe Wos walked through the history of plagiarism in cartooning. Bill Day was in attendance and was offered the opportunity to present his side of the accusation of plagiarism earlier in the year when he used an image of a gun in his cartoon and then an accusation of being a lazy cartoonist when a Tumblr blog was discovered showing how many times Day updates and re-uses earlier cartoons. Day gave a 15 minute rambling speech that didn’t address any of the accusations against him. The meeting then went into the AAEC business meeting which addressed how to deal with plagiarism within the organization. The issue is going into the ballot for the wider membership’s vote.
In general, the feeling is that most (if not everyone) is anxious to get the Bill Day issue behind the organization. One comment I heard was that the association is spending a lot of time dealing with the sins of cartoonists who are not even members of the association.
The last session for the convention was a panel called “Satire and the Sacred: From Muhammad to Mormon Underwear.” It featured Daniel Peterson, a professor of Islamic studies, free speech champion Victor Navasky and moderator by Pat Bagley. Peterson was also a free-speech proponent so there were little fireworks based on free speech issues. Peterson gave insight into the historical culture of Islam. Historically, poetry was a huge influence in the culture and even satirical poetry was used to trash talk warring tribes. With that history, it can be better understood the sensitivities of satire within the muslim people.
Cartoons and Cocktails
The final event was a the Cartoons and Cocktails gala. This was the first time a Cartoons and Cocktails gala has been held outside of Washington DC. Bagley had solicited original art from a wide variety of cartoonists especially Pulitzer Prize winners. Most of the art was auctioned off silently, but five or six pieces were held in a live auction conducted by Kevin KAL Kallaugher. The night culminated with the auctioning off of a Pat Bagley original featuring the Pakistani Malala Yousafzai, a 15 year-old girl who became an education activist demanding that girls be given the same opportunity to go to school as boys. She was shot by Taliban gunmen. The Bagley cartoon depicted the girl holding a book with the words, “What terrifies religious extremists like the Taliban are not American tanks or bombs or bullets… it’s a girl with a book.” It’s a great cartoon and the winning bid was an astounding $3,000!
The money raised in the gala goes to the AAEC.
So that was the convention. As with most, it was memorable not just for the official panels and sessions but for the friendship and stories shared.
Next year the convention is looking to go to San Francisco and will be headed up by Mark Fiore. Best of luck to him.