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A Cartoonist’s Letter to Israel’s Ambassador

On the occasion of President Obama’s visit to Israel, most Americans think of the dramatic changes happening in the Middle East and the threat Iran poses to Israel. The world is a frightening place for Israel — but American cartoonists have something else on their minds, a Palestinian cartoonist who is jailed in Israel for no apparent reason. Here is a letter I wrote to Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren.

Dear Ambassador Oren,

I am writing to urge Israeli authorities to release a Palestinian political cartoonist, Mohammad Saba’aneh, who was jailed by the Israeli Defense Forces on February 16 at a border crossing between the West Bank and Jordan. He is being held without charge and is denied access to an attorney. Under Israeli law, Muhammad may be held indefinitely without charge. Only Israeli authorities know why he is imprisoned.

Mohammad is a cartoonist for Al-Hayat al-Jadida, the official newspaper of the Palestinian Authority, and he works at the Arab American University in Jenin on the West Bank. He is a respected cartoonist; he is not a terrorist or a criminal. Arab cartoonists often draw ugly, racist, offensive cartoons about Israel, but Mohammad’s cartoons are not among those; his work, although critical, is more balanced and artful.

I met Mohammad in 2010, when the U.S. State Department sent him to our Association of American Editorial Cartoonists convention in Florida, where he got to meet many of his American colleagues. Mohammad told me he was a fan of my work; he is a charming guy, eager to show his own cartoons to all of his new friends. Mohammad is active in the global cartooning community and cartoonists around the world are closely following the story of his plight in Israel.

I run a small business, Cagle Cartoons, Inc., that syndicates the work of cartoonists from around the world to over 850 subscribing newspapers, including half of the daily, paid-circulation newspapers in America. Among the cartoonists we distribute is Yaakov Kirschen, the cartoonist who draws Dry Bones for the Jerusalem Post; Yaakov’s cartoons run in Jewish newspapers throughout the United States. Our American editorial cartoonists are great supporters of Israel, in contrast to cartoonists from the rest of the world who harshly criticize Israel. The contrast is easy to see as editorial cartoons reflect world opinion. American cartoonists are Israel’s most visible supporters, and my own small business is the leader in distributing these views for America and the world to see.

It seems clear that Mohammad has been jailed to chill his cartoons that are critical of Israel. Instead, this ugly incident risks chilling Israel’s most visible supporters in America’s press at a time when Israel needs our support more than ever.

American cartoonists like to see Israel as a champion of democracy and press freedom in a hostile Middle East — Mohammad’s case undermines that perception and seems to be a clumsy attempt to silence the press. This incident makes Israel appear to be no better than its repressive neighbors.

I’m writing to you in the hope that you will urge the authorities in Israel to release Mohammad, return him to his family and allow us to again see Israel as a democracy that respects a free press.

Truly, Daryl Cagle

Daryl Cagle is a cartoonist who runs the CagleCartoons.com newspaper syndicate distributing editorial cartoons to more than 850 newspapers around the world including the paper you are reading now; he is a past president of the National Cartoonists Society. Comments to Daryl may be sent to [email protected] Read Daryl’s blog at www.cagle.com/daryl.

Please use the cartoon posted with this column. It’s by the jailed Mohammad Saba’aneh. Attribution should be to Mohammed Saba’aneh, Cartoon Movement.

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Cartoons

Democrat View of Chief Justice Roberts

Democrat View of Chief Justice Roberts © Daryl Cagle,MSNBC.com,Republican, elephant, GOP, Chief Justice John Roberts, Hitler, devil, satan, painting, art, artist

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Cartoons

GOP View of Chief Justice Roberts

GOP View of Chief Justice Roberts © Daryl Cagle,MSNBC.com,Republican,elephant,GOP,Chief Justice John Roberts,Hitler,devil,satan,painting,art,artist

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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.