This week I drew an unusual cartoon that garnered a crazy response from my outraged, cartoonist colleagues.
There was a short lived debate about whether a Miranda Warning should be given to Boston Bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who had been questioned without being given the warning. I drew this last Sunday:
I got no response from editors or other cartoonists to this cartoon, but I got such a strong reaction from readers against the cartoon, with many well reasoned arguments, that I changed my mind – something that doesn’t happen much in this profession. (The comments on my Facebook page are representative of the overall comments I received). So I posted a revised version of the cartoon on Monday. I learned that Tsarnaev was given his Miranda rights shortly before I posted the revised cartoon, so I doubt that this second cartoon got reprinted much.
The second version is the same as the first, but instead of “none of them” deserving to be read their Miranda Warning, the revised cartoon says “all of them” should get the warning. I’ve changed my mind before, not often, and usually over a longer period of time, but I won’t go back into the archive to delete the old cartoons. I posted them, I should live with my history. So both cartoons are still posted. (My old cartoons supporting the run up to war in Iraq are still posted too – I’m more embarrassed by those.)
I remember when the Miranda decision came down in the 1960′s, on a 5-4 vote. It was controversial for a long time; the only area of the law where “ignorance of the law is no excuse” didn’t hold true. Liberals like it, conservatives still don’t like it. I decided to disagree with the talking heads at Fox News and I changed my mind to agree with my readers and conclude that the Miranda decision should no longer be controversial – it has become a part of our national fabric. Most of the responses conflate reading the Miranda warning to the suspect with the suspect’s overall civil rights; I have come to the conclusion that is a good thing. (I really do pay attention to the arguments that readers send to me.)
I got very little response to the second version of the cartoon from readers or editors, but there was an angry torrent of responses from my editorial cartoonist colleagues. Some cartoonists blogged that I had a new, insidious business plan to make more money by offering two versions of the same cartoon, for both liberal and conservative editors – to sell twice as many cartoons with only one drawing. Others agreed, adding that I was cheapening the profession with this crass commercialism.
One cartoonist blogged that this was no editorial cartoon at all (and by extension, that I am no editorial cartoonist) because editorial cartoons must, by definition, express only one opinion. Another editorial cartoonist responded to the cartoon in his blog by calling me the “Osama Bin Laden” of editorial cartooning.
Some cartoonists wrote that I must surely be lying about my reason for changing the cartoon, because the idea that I would change my mind was simply not credible. Others called for me to be punished for my breach of the unwritten laws of cartoon ethics. Some demanded that I remove the old version of the cartoon from my archive, as I would do with a cartoon that was revised to correct a spelling error; the idea that an editor could purchase and print both versions of the cartoon, with two different opinions, was repugnant. Bloggers and journalism sites reported on the cartoon controversy.
Yes, the cartoon police really do exist.
I know this all sounds unbelievable, but I’m not exaggerating. It is fascinating that editorial cartoonists have such a different perspective on their own work than editors and readers do. The cartoonists take themselves far more seriously than anyone else takes them.
Perhaps I should change my mind more often – it makes for a wild ride.
My next cartoon, about Fox News and the gold crash, got little attention as the controversy over my previous cartoon raged. Just as well, I draw too many old couples on the couch in front of the TV.
Next came this cartoon about the immigration bill in the Senate. I should note that when I draw cartoons about Mexicans, and draw them with sombreros, I always get some angry mail. I syndicate cartoonists from Mexico, who draw their fellow Mexicans with sombreros just like this, so I take my cue from them. Don’t get mad.
My most recent cartoon is this “Red Line” cartoon about Syria and Bashar Assad. I drew an actual squiggle with a crayon so that I would get nice, crayon texture, and I squished the squiggle in Photoshop so that it would appear to have perspective on the ground. I thought for a bit about the blood on Bashar’s hands, because bloody hands weren’t integral to the gag – but I decided the bloody hands were a necessary part of Bashar’s personality, even if his hands are a bit of a distraction.