The Sport of Editorial Cartooning


…a few days ago I saw a really interesting cartoon, and I want to talk about it today.

The cartoon, which is about the California wildfires, was created by Ed Hall, an established political cartoonist whose work has appeared in major newspapers and magazines for many years. The notable thing about this one is that it’s based on a famous sports photo (click to enlarge):

I’m not interested in the cartoon’s message, at least for our purposes here. What interests me is this: As soon as I saw the cartoon, I recognized that it was based on Sports Illustrated photographer Neil Leifer’s famous 1965 shot of Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston during the first round of their second heavyweight title bout.

That’s sportswriter Paul Lukas, at Uni Watch, quoted above. To be honest, while I had read the Ed Hall cartoon, I never connected it to the famous photo. More Lukas:

 The Leifer photo, though, is famous and familiar to certain people (like boxing fans or, uh, athletics aesthetics obsessives), but lots of other people — maybe most people — probably wouldn’t get the reference.

Well, that makes me feel better.

I was curious to know more about Hall’s thinking on that, and also about a few other creative issues raised by the cartoon…

Paul’s curiosity led him to contact Ed and get an interview.

UW: Is it common for you to base a cartoon on a famous photograph, or even on a non-famous photograph?

EH: Not common, but cartoonists do use famous photographs, movies, art history references all the time. We do that because we know people will recognize an iconic image, and it’s also kind of a nod — like, in this instance, it’s a real nod to Neil Leifer.

Paul and Ed talk about other, non-sports related, details of editorial cartooning:

UW: About 10 years ago there was that legal controversy involving the Shepard Fairey poster for Barack Obama, which turned out to be based on an Associated Press photo, and the AP demanded compensation for the use of their photo. Are there any similar ethical or legal considerations when you base a cartoon on a photo like this, or is that just artistic license? Like, what if Neil Leifer saw your cartoon and said, “Hey, you’re using my work without permission!”

EH: It’s funny you should mention that, because after I posted the cartoon on Twitter, one of my Twitter followers brought that up to me, and I immediately contacted my syndicate and sent them an updated version that credits Leifer in the cartoon.

To prove I’m not a complete dullard – I did recognize the reference in another sports related image Ed had used in a recent cartoon which is also discussed.