No Laughing Matter
By Jean Godden
I have always had a secret love affair with editorial cartoonists and wish I'd had the talent and training to be one. It's one thing to be an editorialist trying to right the world in 700 words or less. It's far, far better to slay dragons in a cartoon with less than 700 strokes of the pen.
When I wrote for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial page, I worked with some talented cartoonists. First among them was David Horsey, who went on to win two Pulitzer prizes, go to work for the Los Angeles Times and now, happily for us, return to Seattle to draw for the Seattle Times. Along the way I worked with others: Ray Collins, known for Cecil C. Addle and Dipstick Duck, and Bob McCausland, who drew Hairbreath Husky.
I also worked briefly with Mike Luckovich, a University of Washington Daily cartoonist who subbed for Horsey one summer at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Since 1989, Luckovich has been a prize-winning cartoonist for the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
Good cartoonists have been the stars of the newspaper heavens. But today it's the sorry fact that editorial cartoonists are an endangered species. Print newspapers are in decline with cartoonists often the first to go. Back in the 1980s there were around 200 full time editorial cartoonists; today there are maybe 50.
The situation is dire. Take Texas. In 2017, Nick Anderson, a Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist, was laid off and not replaced by the Houston Chronicle. Now there is not one single staff cartoonist left in the nation's second-largest state.
Then there is the sad story of Rob Rogers, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette cartoonist. He was an institution, drawing cartoons for that paper for 25 years. Recently the paper's new editorial page editor, a Trump apologist, started rejecting Rogers' cartoons.
It's not unusual for a cartoonist to have a drawing rejected. Cartoonists have the occasional cartoon spiked. But, since March, the Post-Gazette editor quashed 19 of Rogers cartoons. Then in June Rogers was fired. The reason? The editor said that Rogers was "too angry for his health and his own good." Or it could have been because the cartoonist had drawn one too many anti-Trump cartoons.
One of Roger's best drawings was a version of the yellow and black caution sign that usually shows a silhouetted child crossing in traffic. Roger's cartoon showed two fleeing figures, one male and one female, followed by a young child being snatched by a figure with wild hairdo, pursed lips and tiny hands.
That Rogers cartoon is an example of the best of political cartoons: No need for a caption, no labels. Just a powerful message in a single glance. It shows that a picture is often worth more than a thousand words.
Rogers cartoons have been hard-hitting; sometimes they've been wicked and unfair. That's pretty much what good editorial cartoons should be: an antidote to hypocrisy. Since his firing, Rogers is still drawing, his cartoons now picked up by the Pittsburgh Current, an alternative monthly paper.
No president -- not Bill Clinton, George W. Bush or Barrack Obama -- has been spared by cartoonists. I remember cartoons showing Bill Clinton drawn as a spider, a voyeur and a lyin' (lion) king. Cartoonists have shown Bush as a ventriloquist's dummy, a dunce and a helmet-wearing fascist. Obama didn't have it easier. Cartoonists depicted him as a snake-oil salesman, a hypnotist, a half-man-half-duck, but always as a guy propelled by Dumbo-like ears.
All good cartoonists go after those in charge. They draw mean caricatures, picking a subject's worst feature -- big nose, flappy ears, squinty eyes, tiny hands -- to exaggerate. Cartoonists are known for speaking truth to power. In a country with a First Amendment and a Free Press, that's the way it should be.
What's worrisome is the dwindling numbers of those cheeky editorial cartoonists, a move guaranteed to stifle free expression. It's important to support those who help us strip away pomposity and provide the public with a quick assessment and a fresh viewpoint. Support cartoonists -- write the paper, tell editors how much you appreciate cartoonists. We need them and their irreverent sense of humor, now more than ever.
EDITORS NOTE: “Spiked: The Unpublished Political Cartoons of Rob Rogers” will open July 18 at the Corcoran School of the Arts & Design in Northwest Washington. You can see his editorial cartoons on his twitter page https://twitter.com/Rob_Rogers
Everybody can be a political cartoonist now on Facebook and Instagram.