Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Anti-Gulf War Cartoonists Got Reader Flak: Political Artists Who Attended AAEC Convention in Memphis Talk about Receiving Phoned Death Threats, Nasty Mail, and More

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Anti-Gulf War Cartoonists Got Reader Flak: Political Artists Who Attended AAEC Convention in Memphis Talk about Receiving Phoned Death Threats, Nasty Mail, and More

Article excerpt

Anti-Gulf war cartoonists got reader flak

Political artists who attended AAEC convention in Memphis talk about receiving phoned death threats, nasty mail, and more

Several editorial cartoonists who opposed the Persian Gulf war received a tremendous amount of flak, including death threats, for their commentary.

This negative reader response was the topic of informal conversation at the recent Association of American Editorial Cartoonists convention in Memphis. Ten days later, E&P talked to four AAEC attendees by phone to get more details about the reaction their Gulf war drawings elicited earlier this year.

"I was criticizing our government during the whole course of the shooting war and people didn't like that at all," commented St. Petersburg Times editorial cartoonist Clay Bennett, who said two people left phone messages for him wishing he were dead.

"One guy called to say he knew my father was an ex-military officer," said the 33-year-old cartoonist. His message? "Just tell Mr. Bennett I think his father should have taken a rifle and shot him."

Scranton (Pa.) Times staffer Dennis Draughon, 29, said he received two phone calls threatening his life after doing an anti-Gulf war cartoon based on Country Joe McDonald's famous Vietnam-era protest song, "I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die Rag."

Draughon's cartoon, and one of the Bennett drawings that elicited angry reader response, accompany this article.

The two cartoonists said they basically shrugged off the phone calls.

"There were no physical threats," observed Bennett. "It was all just rhetoric to me . . . . People were getting it all over, [including demonstrators] at rallies. I didn't feel like I was being singled out."

The North America Syndicate (NAS)-distributed Bennett added, "It's part of the business. I was just doing my job."

Bennett noted that he has received other threats in the past, including one from a man who vowed to rape him because of a cartoon about the Mapplethorpe photo exhibit controversy.

"You have to expect some sort of abuse," agreed Draughon. "It's comes with the territory. After all, you're given the space five times a week to abuse everyone else!"

Commenting on the Gulf cartoon threats specifically, Draughon said he "didn't take them very seriously. Phone calls are not that threatening if they aren't followed up by physical acts. My phone number and address are listed, but I never got a visit to my home. The callers were letting off steam the best way they knew how. They weren't the type to write letters to the editor!"

Draughon -- who also received lower-key phone complaints about the cartoon -- said he felt more intimidated when a reader sent him a box containing a dead skunk last year, although he is still not sure what drawing elicited that mailing.

Bennett knew what drawing was being protested when he received a mailing last December because it had excrement smeared all over. It was a Gulf-related Sunday cartoon showing a gas pump with slots for gallons, dollars -- and lives.

"The cartoon was in color, so it really worked well with the brown," joked Bennett.

Another time, Bennett received an Iraqi flag from a pro-war reader who signed himself "Proud American" -- and gave his return address. The cartoonist sent the flag back with a note saying, "Being an ethical journalist, I don't accept gratuities for my work. …

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