Is this a political cartoon? Steve Brodner thinks so, and said so, at the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists convention in San Francisco this past weekend.
Picasso’s painting is considered Great Art, but he was reacting to the bombing of Guernica and he was certainly expressing his take on the horror. The fact that he didn’t draw it to be published in a newspaper doesn’t factor into either his intentions or its impact.
Brodner, whose caricature workshop was covered in yesterday’s CSotD, began his presentation with a list of artists who had inspired him, and it was too long to be repeated here, but he spoke of going to the Strand Book Store and the public library and devouring books of cartoons, and of allied arts, and, alongside his comments on style, added exhortations to the assembled audience to make their work matter.
That includes fighting both the opponents to freedom, but also the barriers to confronting it, he added. “We should be the first line of defense against the fascists, but also against editors who insist on doing ‘both sidesism,” he declared.
Brodner was not the only presenter who spoke of the current flood of buyouts and firings of cartoonists, and who, rather than bemoaning the trend, strategized how to keep producing good work while paying your rent and grocery bills.
Terry Mosher, who has cartooned for the Montreal Gazette for decades under the name Aislin, pointed out that he has published 57 books over his career, not just collections of his work but researched titles ranging from a biography of Canadian cartoonist Duncan Macpherson (1924-1993) to one about the late, lamented Montreal Expos baseball team.
Those books have helped keep him afloat, but they’ve also helped promote the art form, and his latest venture was dedicated not to his own benefit but that of public health. This 336-page collection of Covid cartoons by artists around the world has not just raised awareness but $20,000 for a hospital in Quebec.
Preservation and promotion of political cartoons is a serious enough endeavor that Mosher brought with him Christian Vachon, curator of the documentary art section of Montreal’s McCord Stewart Museum, which — among its other holdings — houses a collection of editorial cartoons that goes back to the 18th Century, with massive on-line resources.
Trina Robbins didn’t have to go back quite that far to trace the history of women in cartooning, though she did show an impressive variety of cartoons from the Suffrage Movement, but she had to fight a battle against the overshadowing chauvinism of the comic book industry, which she did with gusto.
“They said I was an ugly feminist who can’t get married,” she said, “and it just so happens that I was a babe!”
But her defiant attitude famously came forward in her confrontations of the violent misogyny in Robert Crumb’s work, despite his position at the top of the underground press hierarchy. “He said it was ‘satire’ but it wasn’t,” she still insists.
She also had a disagreement with Beetle Bailey creator Mort Walker over his sexism at ComiCon, but, she says, he eventually came around, better late than never.
The overwhelming barrier, however, was in the comic book industry, which insisted that “girls don’t buy comics,” to which Robbins replies that it’s because Marvel and DC were fixated on superheroes and women aren’t interested in seeing men beating up other men.
The breakthrough she credits to Sailor Moon, because when manga came to America, girls flooded to buy it and the industry reluctantly acknowledged the half of the market they had previously ignored and opened publishers’ eyes to the potential of the currently hot graphic novels category.
This hasn’t necessarily penetrated to making comic book stores less of a male cavern, but Robbins has been able to demonstrate other marketing approaches, with a special edition of a Barbie comic that sold out its print run in a single day at Toys R Us.
The graphic novel market has put another arrow in the quiver of Darrin Bell, already known for his Candorville comic strip and his editorial cartoons. The Talk is a memoir of his growing up biracial in a racist society and his reflections now on raising his own son.
He regaled the group with stories of his producing 600 pages only to be told it needed to be cut to 250. (They compromised at 352, and he’ll be able to salvage the deleted pages for his next work.)
But he spoke seriously of the problem, despite its rave reviews, of marketing the book to schools and libraries, normally a solid basis for graphic memoirs, in the current book-banning frenzy.
“They won’t buy it because nobody wants to be fired,” he said.
However, before you worry about that, you have to get your book into print, and Matt Davies strongly cautioned against waiting for the phone to ring.
Much of what he said was not unknown, but hearing it detailed from someone who has succeeded made a difference. For instance, most book publishers don’t want a completed manuscript but will buy the script from a writer and assign an artist of their own choosing.
However, established cartoonists have a track record of success as a creative person that will bend that rule, though he has also illustrated other writers’ books, which is another opportunity in the trade.
It’s getting your work seen that opens the door, and having that history of visible publication will attract the attention you need, which is that of an agent. Sending your work directly to a publisher just puts you in what is known as the “slush pile,” the mass of incoming mail that will eventually be sorted, and nearly always rejected, by an intern.
Even if some miracle got you past that doorkeeper, he said, an agent is worthwhile, not simply to handle the contract matters but because publishers know them, and they can approach more than one publisher with a chance of success.
They keep 15%, he acknowledged, but it’s going to be 15% of a substantially larger payout, which — besides the better chance of access in the first place — makes an agent well worthwhile.
And, yes, timing does matter, Ted Rall said of the graphic travelogue he created from a trip to Afghanistan in the early days of the war.
“It wasn’t the best book about the invasion of Afghanistan,” he confessed, “but it was the first book about the invasion of Afghanistan.”
Rall is currently working on what will be his two-dozenth book.
Keeping your eyes open is never a bad plan, Matt Wuerker advised. He had a conversation with the owner of the Hays/Adams bar in Washington, a noted hangout for political junkies, and the point came up that the cartoons framed on the walls were by classic political cartoonists often far from current papers, if not actually deceased.
What developed was not simply a new set of caricatures for the walls, but a set of coasters that rotate with the times and have become so popular that not only will people pay $25 for a martini just to get a coaster, Wuerker said, but he has brought Ann Telnaes in as a fellow contributor to keep things current and in demand.
However, in all the talk of how to stay alive in the current marketplace, there was throughout the weekend a continuing point of making a difference, of influencing public perception, through your work.
It’s not easy to react quickly to horror, and tomorrow we’ll look at cartoons about the current horrors in Israel and Gaza.
But it’s a credit to Emmerson that, in that stunned moment of sorrow, he didn’t go for the maudlin cliché teardrop with which such things are too often commemorated, but went, instead, for love and, thereby, for caring.
The never-ending battle to make it matter
The state is like a great and noble steed who is tardy in his motions owing to his very size, and requires to be stirred into life. I am that gadfly which God has given the state and all day long and in all places am always fastening upon you, arousing and persuading and reproaching you. — Socrates