Newspaper editorial cartoonists love to draw president Trump! We make Trump fat. We give Trump a crazy, long, red tie, a bright, orange face and a grand swoop of yellow hair. Trump appears in editorial cartoons more than any other president, or anything else, has ever appeared in cartoons before. Just as Trump dominates the news on TV every night, he dominates political cartoons. Our problem is that newspaper editors don’t like publishing drawings of Trump.
I’m a cartoonist who runs a newspaper “syndicate” that distributes the work of about sixty of the top cartoonists from around the world to newspaper editorial page editors. Close to half of America’s approximately 1,400 daily, paid-circulation newspapers subscribe to my “package” service at CagleCartoons.com, where editors can pick what they like from a collection of up to twenty different cartoons on a single day. We have a broad range of political cartoons, reflecting a spectrum of content from liberal to conservative, across a range of issues, and editors are free to choose from any of it, with each cartoon presented in the same way. Subscribing editors choose to download high-resolution images of the latest cartoons to print in their papers, and I track the statistics of what the editors choose to download.
Since our our subscribing editors represent a very large and fairly random sampling of newspapers, I can safely project that the trends we see in editors’ choices are representative of all American newspapers, including those that subscribe to our competitors who offer a similar range of editorial cartoons in their syndicate packages. I don’t think anyone has ever tracked statistics like this before, and what the stats reveal about editors is surprising.
The most surprising thing the statistics reveal is that editors simply don’t want political cartoons that depict Trump. Sometimes, when Trump makes lots of news, the majority of the editorial cartoonists draw the president and editors still avoid the Trump cartoons.
I post a collection of the Top Ten most reprinted cartoons of the week, every week on my blog at DarylCagle.com. 20% of our cartoons get 80% of the reprints, and the Top Ten cartoons are by far the most reprinted. The last time a drawing of Trump made our Top Ten list was in March; it was a drawing I did of a tiny Trump who is oblivious to a giant wave of coronavirus that was about to hit him.
Most newspapers are small, rural or suburban newspapers in conservative areas; big city papers tend to be the liberal ones. Most cartoonists are liberal, and the conventional wisdom among cartoonists has been that conservative cartoonists are more widely reprinted because there are few conservative cartoonists and most, small and red state papers want conservative cartoons; recent stats show that this is all wrong. Even though we hear from conservative editors who complain that there aren’t enough conservative cartoons, editors from both liberal and conservative regions tend to select the same cartoons – funny cartoons about newsy topics that express little or no opinion. In fact, the more strongly an opinion is expressed in a cartoon, either liberal or conservative, the less likely editors are to choose to reprint the cartoon.
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Editorial cartoonists have their own, macho culture. We like to draw strong cartoons that hit readers over the head with our point of view. We draw out of passion. We’re certainly not in the business for the money, so the choices editors make are very frustrating for us. Some strong metaphors can almost guarantee that a cartoon won’t be reprinted, no matter what the point the metaphor is used to make. Cartoonists, especially foreign cartoonists, like to draw blood in cartoons to represent terrible violence, they like images of the Ku Klux Klan to represent racism, and drawings of Hitler to depict a murdering, fascist tyrant; these cartoons rarely get reprinted.
American editors don’t like cartoons from foreign countries at all; conversely, foreign editors don’t like reprinting American cartoonists. The idea that cartoons are a “universal language” is a canard; editorial cartoons stop at national borders. Unless there is a huge foreign story involving America overseas, American editors don’t choose to reprint cartoons about foreign events even by American cartoonists.
New events find their way onto the Top Ten. We’ve had some cartoons on the Black Lives Matter protests and racist monuments show up on our Top Ten recently, but not as many as I’d like to see. There were many more images of Trump in cartoons that got ink in the early days of the administration.
What do editors like? Lately they like cartoons about the pandemic, with cartoons about families coping with shortages, masks, back to school, social distancing and sports topping the list. In normal times, editors prefer cartoons that comment on popular culture, celebrity schadenfreude, modern family dynamics, struggles with technology, the workplace and new trends.
The timid choices that newspaper editors make are disturbing enough to bring a tear to the eye of the Statue of Liberty.
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