So how is it that a politically potent art form has collapsed in the past few years to the point where perhaps two dozen full-time cartoonists work for US papers, as against hundreds a century ago? Simple, says Ted Rall, the country’s best-known “alternative” cartoonist: It was murdered.
We think Ted Rall is right, which is why we’ve hired — Ted Rall.
WhoWhatWhy explains its purpose:
WhoWhatWhy embodies a form of investigative reporting that is rigorous, relentless, and scientific — we call it forensic journalism.
Forensic journalism requires skepticism towards power and credentialed expertise; a determination to unearth the facts interested parties want to keep hidden; and an unflinching commitment to follow the trail wherever it leads. We are truth seeking — not quote seeking.
Later in that introductory article:
We are purposely swimming against the industry tide here. Chris Lamb, professor of journalism at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis and author of the 2004 book Drawn to Extremes: The Use and Abuse of Editorial Cartoons in the United States, says cartoonists have not been murdered but “they’ve become perhaps an endangered species, and like any endangered species they’re worth protecting.”
Elsewhere Ted is featured on the sites podcast,
where he discusses the start versus the finished product:
With the rough sketch, you don’t care about the art. No one else is going to see it besides you and maybe an editor who you really trust. So you just draw it quickly, and then when you go to draw the final art, you’re aware of the fact that it’s going to be published and appear online, so you’re more conscious and you want it to be prettier and you’re trying to gussy it up with nice colors and make sure there’s no smears or anything. But what you’re ending up with is something that’s too polished in a way sometimes.
It’s like the difference between listening to an early Rolling Stone set, where it’s sloppy and very lively, and like The Stones after the 1980’s, where everything got highly produced and synthesized and 16 track overdubs. So it might sound good, it might sound slick, but it doesn’t sound alive. Cartoons are the same way, and I think those kinds of cartoonists who can be super loose like a, well actually Jeffrey Brown is like that. He’s not a political cartoonist, but he’s a great, great, great, great cartoonist and he draws the roughs straight into his books and that’s it. It doesn’t go to final and it’s awesome.
Or how the craft has been killed:
… I’d say, since the late 1990’s but newspapers have started to see circulation drops starting in the early 60’s. Every time they’ve cut the budget, when the bean counters come along, they tend to think of the editorial cartoonist as disposable.
At first, it was not because they didn’t respect the form, but because it was way too tempting to replace a $100,000 a year editorial cartoonist with a syndicated package that would contain cartoons by Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonists like Pat Oliphant and Jeff Macnelly, and just like, well, for $15, I can run this same cartoon and I can fire my $2,000 a week cartoonist. It’s very hard for a budget stuck newspaper editor to say no to that.
But then the syndication model started to break down because all the staff cartoonists who were drawing the syndicated material were themselves losing their jobs. So the syndicated stuff was being subsidized by newspapers, those subsidies went away, and so people realized they just couldn’t make money drawing cartoons. So now…
Keep up with Ted’s weekly cartoon commentary at WhoWhatWhy’s Ted Rall page,
where it seems as if the new gig isn’t all that brand new after all.