Categories
Columns

Too Many Cartoonists Too Little Time

Too Many Cartoonists, Too Little Time

Whenever cartoonists get together we complain about syndicates (the businesses that sell our cartoons to newspapers). Cartoonists are no businessmen — we want syndicates to be like mothers to us, selflessly nurturing our careers so we don’t have to sully our minds with yucky business thoughts, when we’d rather be thinking about cartoons. But syndicates don’t act like mothers, and cartoonists have some very colorful names for the syndicate executives who sell their work – in fact, some of these colorful names include the word “mother.”

In addition to being a political cartoonist myself, I run a small syndicate that specializes in editorial cartoons; I see that there must be one thousand aspiring cartoonists for every working professional, as I’m deluged with unsolicited submissions that are truly awful. At times like this, when people are passionate about politics, the inner political cartoonist emerges from the psyche of the talentless “wannabe.”

Many wannabe cartoonists recognize that they have no drawing talent, but it seems that everyone thinks they are a writer. I get many submissions from writers who are looking to collaborate with editorial cartoonists. These writers want to send me gags, or want to find cartoonists who will draw their gags. Here is a typical gag submission:

“So, we have President Bush standing there, and he says, ‘Things are improving in Iraq’ and behind him you see two massive armies, the Shiites and the Sunnis, about to fight each other, and the sky is filled with thousands of U.S. helicopters, then, in the next panel …”

These are people who think in words, not pictures. For some reason, this group of wannabes includes lots of lawyers who think they are funny. I think lawyers are funny, but I laugh at-them, not with-them; and it is a dark humor that makes me want to go take a shower afterwards. These guys just don’t get it. The cartoon writers often send obvious or trite gags that they think are brilliant and original. Sometimes the writers follow up with angry mail when they notice that another cartoonist has “stolen” their gag.

The second group of wannabes do their own drawings, but can’t see how truly awful their drawings are. These guys like to use computer fonts in their cartoons instead of hand lettering. Often they will use clip art in their cartoons, or lift photographs from the web, or they will use simple objects like squares and circles, and then have these objects making comments in speech balloons. These wannabes frequently don’t know how to work their scanner and will send murky gray images that show crinkled paper backgrounds from the napkins they drew their cartoons on.

One thing aspiring editorial cartoonists have in common is paranoia. I get inquiries like this: “I’m really funny and I have some great ideas, but I need to know how to get them copyrighted first so you won’t steal them.”

I have a notice on our syndicate web site that that says: “We do not accept and will not review unsolicited submissions from cartoonists.” Often the submissions come in with a note saying, “I know you don’t accept submissions, but …”

Ambitious aspiring cartoonists see syndicates as gatekeepers, guarding a barrier to the success they deserve. Sometimes the passion and perseverance of these wannabes can be frightening. They find my home phone number and my home address. Drive and perseverance in the face of adversity is a virtue, so their quest never ends.

Some horrid amateur cartoonists are convinced that the world of professional cartooning is a closed shop, an old-boy’s network where success is a matter of who you know. Wannabes try to be friendly with my employees or cartoonist colleagues, hoping that the relationship will get them past the barrier. Many terrible submissions are forwarded to me by friends.

When I was an aspiring cartoonist I thought the syndicates were arrogant for sending form-letter responses, or for ignoring submissions – but now I understand why. For many wannabes, any response is an invitation to argue. The aspirants are convinced that their work is great and anyone who doesn’t “get it” needs educating. Giving a polite brush-off sometimes fuels their anger.

Ironically, editorial cartooning is a terrible business. Newspapers pay only a few dollars a week for packaged groups of talented cartoonists who are, in turn, poorly paid. The professionals compete for fewer and fewer staff cartoonist positions at papers that are cutting back, as the internet crushes print. More and more professional cartoonists can’t make ends meet. The syndicates aren’t really a barrier to success for the aspiring cartoonists, just a hurdle on the road to more frustration in a dying profession.

My profession is fading away, I’m poorly paid and there are thousands of rude, talentless wannabes who want my job … but Britney Spears shaved her head – at least the life of a professional editorial cartoonist has its little pleasures.

Daryl Cagle is a political cartoonist and blogger for MSNBC.com. He is a past president of the National Cartoonists Society and his cartoons are syndicated to more than 800 newspapers, including the paper you are reading. His books “The BIG Book of Bush Cartoons” and “The Best Political Cartoons of the Year, 2005, 2006 and 2007 Editions,” are available in bookstores now.

Copyright 2007 Cagle Cartoons Inc. Please contact Sales at [email protected] for reproduction rights.

Categories
Cartoons

Korea Crossed Fingers

Korea Crossed Fingers © Daryl Cagle,MSNBC.com,Kim Jung Il, North Korea, nuclear, energy, oil, negotiations, six party talks, dictator, bomb, atomic, cross, fingers

Categories
Cartoons

Valentine Violence

Valentine Violence © Daryl Cagle,MSNBC.com,Tic Tac Toe, hearts, bombs, game, terrorism, war,love

Categories
Columns

Read This Column About Political Cartoons – Then Write About Something Else

Read This Column About Political Cartoons – Then Write About Something Else

As a political cartoonist, I’d like to think my cartoons influence public opinion, but that rarely happens. People love a cartoon that they already agree with, and hate cartoons that they already disagree with. Editors like to choose editorial cartoons that they know their readers will like, so cartoons end up being a reflection of public opinion. In fact, political cartoons offer a great historical tool, giving a true picture of the opinions and emotions of a society at any given time.

Historians seem to have discovered political cartoons only recently, and I’ve started seeing a steady stream of scholarly papers about my profession as college professors and students suddenly look to my work and the work of my colleagues to support their political positions. One widely held canard seems to be popular among the academics: that the world supported the USA after 9/11 and this support was then squandered by the Bush administration’s adventures in the Middle East.

Academics like to look at the cartoons drawn immediately after the 9/11 attack where, around the world, almost every editorial cartoonist drew the same image of a weeping Statue of Liberty. I drew one too. In fact, most cartoonists are ashamed of their weeping statues; we wish we could have a “do-over” where we wouldn’t draw the first image to come to mind. Newspaper columnists all wrote much the same column right after 9/11, but it is easier to notice matching cartoons than matching columns, so cartoonists get the bad rap for “group-think.” Even so, our matching cartoons were what the public wanted to see at that time and I probably received more mail from readers who loved my weeping Liberty than any other cartoon I’ve drawn.

International political cartoonists revile the USA in a uniform drumbeat of daily digs at America. The academics don’t notice that international political cartoons before 9/11 were almost as negative about America as the cartoons now. After our matching, weeping statues, the American and international cartoonists diverged. On 9/12, American cartoonists started drawing patriotic cartoons portraying resolve, strength, and the virtues of the New York Fire and Police Departments, standing tall as twin towers. American cartoonists drew scores of images of a strong Uncle Sam, threatening eagles and a newly militant Statue of Liberty, demanding revenge.

Just after 9/11 the international cartoonists depicted the irony of mighty America put in its place. A favorite, foreign symbol for America is Superman, and we saw scores of images showing both Superman and Uncle Sam defeated, injured, bleeding and grieving. The worldwide cartoonists treated 9/11 in the way that tabloids treat fallen celebrities: with delight in the spectacle of a beautiful actress who is overweight, or getting a messy divorce — or better yet, caught in a drunken scene, screaming racial epithets so that we can see that the rich, powerful, famous, conceited, fallen star was a hypocrite all along.

Some international cartoonists wrote to me about the patriotic cartoons; they couldn’t believe American cartoonists would choose to draw such cartoons by their own free will; we must have been directed to draw that nonsense by the Bush Administration. Academics have picked up on the idea of “self-censorship;” that cartoonists somehow didn’t draw what they wanted to draw because the country wasn’t ready for jokes, or editors didn’t want to see criticism of the Bush administration at a time when we all had to pull together.

In fact, the system worked as it always had: some cartoonists criticized the government right away, some cartoonists were joking immediately, most cartoonists held the same opinions as their readers, editors selected cartoons they agreed with and thought their readers would agree with. Newspapers ended up printing cartoons that accurately reflected public opinion, both here and abroad.

I have a few words for the professors and college students:

1.) Editorial cartoons show that the rest of the world didn’t like America before 9/11; they didn’t like us just after 9/11; and they still don’t like us.

2.) The government doesn’t control or intimidate American cartoonists or editors, now or then. Yes, we really believe what we say in our cartoons. No, cartoonists are not hampered by self-censorship.

3.) Please don’t ask me to comment on your paper, thesis or dissertation about editorial cartoons. Just read this column, then write about something else.

Daryl Cagle is a political cartoonist and blogger for MSNBC.com. He is a past president of the National Cartoonists Society and his cartoons are syndicated to more than 800 newspapers, including the paper you are reading. His books “The BIG Book of Bush Cartoons” and “The Best Political Cartoons of the Year, 2005, 2006 and 2007 Editions,” are available in bookstores now. Copyright 2007 Cagle Cartoons Inc. Please contact Sales at [email protected] for reproduction rights.

Categories
Cartoons

Iraq Field GuideCorrected

Iraq Field GuideCorrected © Daryl Cagle,MSNBC.com,Iraq, War, Sunni, Shiite, shiite militia, enemy, shoot, Kurd, Arab, Syria, Iran, gun, insurgent, Maliki, Bush, friend, field guide, Iranians, Turk, Middle East

Categories
Cartoons

No Other Iraq Plan

No Other Iraq Plan © Daryl Cagle,MSNBC.com,President Bush, Iraq, public, war, surge, hear, suggestion, plan, better, get out

Categories
Columns

The New York Times and Cartoons

Last week The New York Times ran one of my cartoons. The cartoon showed three kids on a couch with their laptops and iPods, one says, “Check out Saddam hanging. Ouch. That’s gotta hurt.” The next one says, “He’s so dead.” The third one says, “Let’s look again at Britney Spears with no underwear.” The caption reads, “The death of newspapers.” It is a cartoon that plays well with newspaper editors who are obsessed with the crass, unedited Internet that is destroying their business.

The Times ran my cartoon in their weekly round-up of editorial cartoons where they edit the cartoons to remove the artist’s signature and attribution. Typically, the Times will print the artist’s name and attribution alongside the cartoon, as with the two cartoons above mine where the artist, his newspaper and syndicate are credited. But in my case, only my name is given, no credit is given to MSNBC.com, my publication of record, which was erased from my cartoon and omitted from my attribution.

Although it is traditional for a cartoonist to sign his work and include his publication name in his signature, some newspapers object to any mention of a Web site in a cartoon, or in a syndicated column; the concern is that mentioning a Web site is like giving the cartoonist or writer a free advertisement. The Times wouldn’t be concerned about their readers picking up a copy of The Columbus Dispatch, so an advertisement for another newspaper doesn’t carry much value, but a mention of MSNBC.com might send readers to a serious competitor. This is ironic, given the subject matter of my cartoon. By itself, the cartoon is funny, but suggesting that the cartoon came from a Web site – particularly MSNBC.com, whose audience dwarfs the New York Times – that might just be too painful for the Times to acknowledge.

The Times calls their weekly cartoon round-up “Laugh Lines,” a title that doesn’t sit well with editorial cartoonists who consider themselves to be graphic columnists. Like columnists, cartoonists are sometimes funny; sometimes we want the reader to wince; sometimes we want to bring a tear to the eye. Some of the most famous cartoons are serious cartoons. We all drew the Statue of Liberty weeping after 9/11. Bill Mauldin famously drew the statue of Lincoln weeping after the assassination of President Kennedy. But don’t expect to see a poignant cartoon running in The New York Times under the title “Laugh Lines.” Many cartoonists decry the trivialization of our profession by editors who choose to reprint cartoons that are soft little jokes. Serious cartoons are not so popular with timid editors who want to avoid offending anyone. We call this phenomenon “Newsweekification” because of the funny, inoffensive, trivial cartoons that Newsweek chooses to run each week – just like the Times. The secret to becoming a popular editorial cartoonist is to be funny and not express an opinion.

The New York Times reprints syndicated cartoons on Sundays, but hasn’t had its own editorial cartoonist since the 1950s. More and more newspapers are doing without staff cartoonists as our profession slowly dies. Top newspapers without cartoonists include the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, USA Today and the Chicago Tribune. There are two famous quotes, attributed to “the editor of The New York Times,” (although I’m not quite sure just who actually said these). The first is: “We would never have an editorial cartoonist at the Times because we would never give so much power to one man.” The second quote: “We would never have an editorial cartoonist at the Times because you can’t edit a cartoonist like you can a columnist.” (He must have forgotten about how the Times edits the signatures and attributions of out the cartoons.)

A number of cartoonists e-mailed me this week with the same question, “Hey, Daryl, I saw your cartoon in the Times, how do I get my own cartoons in the Times?” I regret that the reality behind the big-time political cartooning business is a little disappointing. Here’s how it works: dozens of cartoonists around the world e-mail their cartoons to the Times and other “pay-per-use” newspapers who accept unsolicited submissions. It is the same thing with USA Today, send it in and if they run it, they pay $50 – but the Times is a little different. Instead of just paying $50, the Times doesn’t pay unless the cartoonist notices that they ran the cartoon and sends them an invoice. The Times doesn’t tell the cartoonist that they ran the cartoon and if they don’t receive an invoice, the Times saves the $50.

Suppose The New York Times dealt with McDonalds the same way they deal with cartoonists. The Times would say:

“Hey, McDonalds, I want you to deliver a hamburger to me every day; I may choose to eat it, and I may not. If I choose to eat the burger, I will pay you for it. If I don’t eat the burger, I won’t pay you. I’m not going to tell you if I eat a burger or not. If you want to get paid, you’ll have to see me eating the burger and then send me a bill, and the bill must tell me when you saw me eating the burger. I understand that you’ll have to watch me all the time to see if I’m eating one of your burgers, but that shouldn’t be a problem, because I’m very big and very interesting, and I expect you to be watching me all the time anyway. If you’re lucky, I might eat one or two of your burgers every year.”

There are about one thousand aspiring cartoonists for every one who actually makes a living as a professional editorial cartoonist. I’m sure that if the “wanna-be” cartoonists would actually look inside the editorial-cartoon-burger, to see how it is made, it would give them a belly ache – a $50, New York Times-sized belly ache.

Daryl Cagle is a political cartoonist and blogger for MSNBC.com. He is a past president of the National Cartoonists Society and his cartoons are syndicated to more than 800 newspapers, including the paper you are reading. His books “The BIG Book of Bush Cartoons” and “The Best Political Cartoons of the Year, 2005, 2006 and 2007 Editions,” are available in bookstores now. Copyright 2007 Cagle Cartoons Inc. Please contact Sales at [email protected] for reproduction rights.

Categories
Cartoons

Iraq Jackpot

Iraq Jackpot © Daryl Cagle,MSNBC.com,slot machine, one armed bandit, gambling, Iraq, president bush, army, defense, military, jackpot, invest, due, money, war, President Bush

Categories
Cartoons

The Death of Newspapers

The Death of Newspapers © Daryl Cagle,MSNBC.com,Saddam, Iraq, hang, execution, Britney Spears, panties, underwear, newspapers, publishing, internet, web, teenagers, couch, dead, death, laptop, iPod, news

Categories
Cartoons

Saddam Skin Rug

Saddam Skin Rug © Daryl Cagle,MSNBC.com,Saddam, Hussein, Iraq,bear,rug,hunt,gun, President Bush, death, execution

Categories
Cartoons

Iraq Study Group Yell

Iraq Study Group Yell Color © Daryl Cagle,MSNBC.com,Iraq Study Group Uncle Sam, President Bush, book, James Baker,Lee Atwater

Categories
Cartoons

Bush Santa Iraq

Bush Santa Iraq © Daryl Cagle,MSNBC.com,Santa Claus, President Bush, list, christmas, xmas, x-mas, wish