Four of America’s top political cartoonists gathered in a virtual room during the 2021 Society of Professional Journalists online conference. The topic? The perils of working in visual satire in the age of the Internet and social media.
SPJ President Matthew Hall moderated the panel “Editorial Cartooning in an Age of Cancel Culture and Death Threats” — a conversation between Pulitzer-winning cartoonists Darrin Bell, of the King Features Syndicate, Steve Breen, of the San Diego Union-Tribune, Ann Telnaes, of The Washington Post, and Pulitzer finalist Marty Two Bulls Sr., a freelancer.
Throughout the talk, the cartoonists touched upon the struggles they face as working political cartoonists. And agreed one of the biggest thorns in their side, is social media and the “bandwagoning” on damning misinterpretations of their work.
“On Twitter, if someone accuses you of making a racist cartoon, people will only see that it’s racist and then won’t read it,” said Telnaes. “They’ll just decide what your cartoon means, and everyone else will just follow them.”
People have “been told by social media to be angry about things,” said Breen. But, Two Bull said, “if we’re not making somebody angry, we’re not doing our jobs.”
Even so, rising above “all the din and noise” [on social media] can be difficult, Breen said. And making a political point in a cartoon without doing so in a way that provokes “blind outrage” online can also be hard.
So, is drawing a provocative cartoon that draws more ire than “making the point” is worth something they worry about?
Well, Bell said, cartoonists can’t be concerned about crossing lines, “but we do have to worry if the way we’re expressing the point will make it so the point we’re trying to make is lost.”