CSotD: AAEC Day Two

Day Two of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists included some fun, with a “Chalk Slam” happening on the sidewalk in front of the library. Here, Tamara Knoss, Matt Wuerker, Ann Telnaes, Patrick Chappatte and Salmeh Gaid admire Wuerker’s work.


However, before the fun, there was one of two meetings for the weekend, which involved a lot of internal stuff but is of more general interest because there is usually only one membership meeting.

The increase is appropriate because, with falling revenues throughout the industry and pressure rising on those who express strong opinions, it’s important, as President Kevin Siers said, that AAEC present itself as more than a group that gets together once a year for a party, which is the common image of a lot of similar associations.

Focusing the mission on protecting freedom of expression would not only benefit cartoonists and related graphic commentators but would be a public good, he suggested, that would, in turn, benefit the group because those activities are seen by foundations and other potential supporters as worth investing in.

In fact, besides creating or realigning various committees to address those more external functions, the group is discussing changing its name to be more inclusive of graphic journalism and commentary across the board, and not distract and limit with a title that seems wedded to one page of the local newspaper.

Much discussion followed; there will be some motions and votes at this morning’s meeting, though a fair amount of this stuff needs additional development.


But then it was outdoors for chalking, and a group of visiting cartoonists from the Middle East were able to make concrete statements however strong their English-language skills. Here Egyptian Sameh Gaid and Saudi Arabian Ali Jelan work, with Jelan clearly drawing a certain western leader, while Gaid insisted his tyrant, being threatened by a pen, could be anyone, anyone at all.

He didn’t actually wink as he said it, but he admitted that plausible deniability is at least a potential defense in countries where the wrong opinions can land you in jail. On the other hand, he was well aware of the case of Atena Farghadani, jailed in Iran for a cartoon based on a familiar Iranian saying about monkeys and goats, and said another cartoonist in the Middle East had recently faced charges for similarly metaphorical commentary.


Gaid went on to preserve the work of fellow Egyptian cartoonist Marwa Elsisi, one of several women among the group though I think perhaps the only one in Western dress.


Ann Telnaes was also in Western dress and not at all indirect in her depiction of Dear Leader, as Mike Thompson, John Aucthor, Nate Beeler and a photographer look on, while Jack Ohman demonstrates that the kneeling pads provided were also useful for sidewalk superintendents.


Chalking continues today, and we’ll see how turnout goes on a Saturday, but, even on a Friday morning, the AAEC’s goal of appealing to young artists caught on with the Skipper family. Their mother admitted she has some art/design background and was not surprised in the least that young Matthew was, in her words, “killin’ it.”


The afternoon included a tour at the Billy Ireland of the “Front Line: Editorial Cartoonists and the First Amendment” exhibit with co-curators Lucy Shelton Caswell and Ann Telnaes.

It’s an impressively complete collection with contributions by artists ranging from Paul Revere to Wiley Miller, and it contained so many great cartoons — and I use that adjective intentionally — that I’ll save a group of them for Monday’s posting, which will delight you and give me a chance of making my plane back home.


Meanwhile, back at the Billy Ireland, a reception followed the tour and included the larger CXC contingent as well as the AAEC folks.

This is not half the crowd; a larger was up on the second level whence I shot this. It was a very crowded house in which there were a number of people you wanted to talk to, but you had to be able to juggle conversations in order to do it.


One piece of important business there was the AAEC’s awarding of the John Locher Memorial Award, given each year to an “aspiring cartoonist, ages 18-25, whose work demonstrates both clear opinions and strong artistry on political and social topics.”

The award this year went to Chelsea Saunders who, in addition to whatever Lucite comes along, got a check for $1,000 and a free trip to the convention, both of which are of value to someone just starting out.


Saunders has already found a place on the Nib, where she has published several pieces, including this well-researched piece on the Tulsa riots, which she more accurately calls “The Destruction of Black Wall Street.”

In a less crowded corner of the gathering, I had a chance to sit down with Saunders and with Jake Thrasher, another recognized up-and-comer among young cartoonists and asked them a rude, old-man question about young cartoonists who have not yet found their voices but, thanks to the Internet, can be published with or without the approval of gatekeepers.

That is, newspaper columns have traditionally been given out to people in their 30s and 40s or older, as a bit of a “lifetime achievement award” but mostly because they’ve seen a lot, they’ve had time to process it and they can analyze it with a bit of wisdom.

It is also commonplace among artists and writers my age that we thank god there was no Internet when we were young, because we’d have published some truly awful dreck, including an attempted novel of mine of which a kindly cruel critic finally said, “Everybody went to college. Nobody wants to read about it.”

Chelsea laughed and said she’s embarrassed by stuff she did six months ago, never mind 30 or 40 years ago, but it gives her the knowledge that she can grow and improve, and certainly the motivation.

And they both conceded that there’s an awful lot about gender identity coming from young cartoonists, but, as Jake said, while it may not be unique for young people to go through a stage of finding themselves, there are still a lot of young people who need to read those cartoons and know they’re not alone.

To which he added, in a challenging but not at all hostile way, that if they don’t appeal to you, you don’t have to read them.

To which I conceded that I don’t like superhero comics and so I don’t read them, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t exist.

And I came away with a couple of insights I hadn’t had, the first of which being that public opinion is a gatekeeper of its own, and that, had we all posted our collegiate novels online in 1975, the vast bulk of them would have been forgotten by 1977, and not so much forgotten as never seen.

In the current world, public opinion is a gatekeeper, and, if some brilliant stuff sinks like a stone and some crap goes viral, that’s no different than the commercial world, which has always, always, always been full of undiscovered geniuses and undeserving hacks.

The other is that sitting down and talking, and listening, to young people is never a waste of time.


Meanwhile, outside, Dav Pilkey was about to make a public appearance, and the place was crawling with even younger young people, despite all the old folks who think they won’t read books.

And who think that all art and literature is required to appeal to them.