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When a Cartoonist Goes Blind

A political cartoonist’s career began at The Daily Iowan and launched him into publishing in such outlets as The Washington Post and USA Today. Now, he faces blindness.

Joe Sharpnack’s first “Campus Zero,” ran in The Daily Iowan on Nov. 3, 1986. (Daily Iowan Archives)

Joe Sharpnack headed to The Daily Iowan with a lifetime of political frustration culminating in the Reagan presidency, paired with a passion for drawing and storytelling.

“Cartoons get people’s attention real quick,” Sharpnack said. “That’s the art of cartooning. Taking something that’s very complex and boiling it down to its most salient points.”

And he got the point across. He wrote regular strips with names such as “Campus Zero,” in which a “fictional” university traded the football field for funds so that Reagan had somewhere to build his missiles. Soon, the paper filled an entire page with angry Letters to the Editor about Sharpnack’s work.

The way he saw it, the hate mail meant his career had really begun.

Unfortunately a new editor didn’t like dealing with angry letters and controversy.

Joe’s cartooning career involved freelance cartooning with a few few staff positions shuffled in.

Good times and bad times, and some times when cartooning took a back seat to teaching, or music, or voice acting. But always a cartoonist. And now – a cartoonist with failing eyes.

An incredibly rare condition has diminished his vision to 26.2 percent of what it was. He sees massive blockages, blackness, and around them everything appears as if underwater. He misses his eyes.

“It’s something that happens overnight,” he said. “I mean, you do not see this coming. It’s not like, ‘Joe, if you just lay off the hot dogs, your eyes will be fine.’ It’s like, boom … what a perfect irony for a cartoonist, right.”

Brooke Clayton’s tale of Joe for the Daily Iowan.


Frazz by Jef Mallett from January 15, 2007





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