Editorial Cartoonists Tackle Race, Gender, Religion at Convention

Article excerpt

E ditorial cartoonists gathered last week to discuss the big issues, including gender, race, religion, and (office) politics.

Most creators attending the June 16-19 Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC) convention in Chattanooga, Tenn., were men -- reflecting the small number of women in the profession. One AAEC session focused on how this paucity of female cartoonists affects diversity of opinion on newspaper pages.

Speakers note that female cartoonists are important because they comment on issues that male cartoonists don't address or don't address adequately.

Signe Wilkinson, the only woman to ever win the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning (in 1992), observes that many male creators treat women like a "special-interest group" in their cartoons. But "we share views with the majority of our fellow Americans," says The Philadelphia Daily News and Washington Post Writers Group (WPWG) creator, adding that female voters have had a major impact in several recent elections.

Ann Telnaes of North America Syndicate says she offers a different perspective than male cartoonists on various issues. When many male artists ridiculed a 63-year-old woman for having a baby several years ago, for instance, "my reaction was the hypocrisy. It seems to be accepted quite readily that 65-year-old men can marry 20-year-old women and have a baby."

Telnaes says there also should be more cartoons about why school shootings seem to be done only by boys, the elimination of women's rights in Afghanistan, and Vatican opposition to morning-after pills for Kosovo rape victims.

Addressing the issue of why so few females become cartoonists, The New Yorker magazine contributor Liza Donnelly says, "Girls are not always encouraged to speak their minds; there's been a lack of role models, although that's changing; and most cartoon editors are men. I sold more cartoons to The New Yorker when Tina Brown was editor."

CONTROVERSIAL CARTOONS

Most editorial cartoonists are not only male but white. During the past couple of years, at least half a dozen of them did cartoons meant to be antiracist but considered racist by a number of black readers.

One way to possibly avoid this type of reaction is to include blacks and other minorities in all kinds of editorial cartoons, not just ones that comment on race, says Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader editorial page editor Vanessa Gallman. She says this may reduce the chances that minority readers will suspect bias in well-intentioned cartoons about racism.

Gallman adds that some critics of white-created cartoons about racial issues are "genuinely concerned" while others are angry about other things but use the cartoon as a symbol.

Some minority readers are suspicious of the mainstream press because of past cartoons that really were racist, says self-syndicated cartoonist Tim Jackson of Chicago.

"When you talk about the mainstream press," adds The Philadelphia Daily News deputy managing editor Mike Days, "a lot of black and Latino folks put `white' in front of it. They believe it's suspect and can't be trusted."

Obviously, one way to build bridges to minority readers is for editors to hire and use more minority editorial cartoonists.

Kirk Walters, editorial cartoonist for The Blade in Toledo, Ohio, and Scripps Howard News Service, says syndicates in recent years tried to sign more minority comic creators. "Why not do it for editorial cartoonists?" asks Walters, who drew a cartoon last year that he considered antiracist but some black readers did not. …