The Future of Political Cartoons: As Newspaper Budgets Dwindle, the Continued Role of Editorial Cartoons Comes into Focus

By Tornoe, Rob | Editor & Publisher, December 2010 | Go to article overview

The Future of Political Cartoons: As Newspaper Budgets Dwindle, the Continued Role of Editorial Cartoons Comes into Focus


Tornoe, Rob, Editor & Publisher


EVER SINCE BENJAMIN FRANKLIN'S FAMOUS "JOIN OR DIE" cartoon first appeared back in 1754, political cartoons in the United States have always drawn attention to important social issues happening in society.

Unfortunately, staff cutbacks at newspapers and dwindling freelance budgets have caused many in the profession to stand back and question the role an editorial cartoon plays.

Complicating matters is a reluctance of some newspaper editors to publish controversial or hard-hitting cartoons, fearing negative reader response and continued declining subscription numbers.

"Editors like funny cartoons about topics that readers are most interested in, rather than poignant cartoons about today's most important issues," says Daryl Cagle, the cartoonist for msnbc.com and owner of Cagle Cartoons. "The more offensive the cartoons, the smaller the market for the cartoons."

In terms of fodder for their cartoons, Cagle suggests cartoonists look to magazines at the supermarket checkout aisle and outlets like "The Today Show" in addition to hard news and politics.

Two-time Pulitzer prize-winning cartoonist Mike Luckovich agrees. "I want topics my readers are interested in and knowledgeable about," says the Atlanta Journal-Constitution cartoonist, whose work is distributed by Creators Syndicate. "It's important for me to find good topics that are front and center in political and pop culture."

Luckovich also thinks that it's easy for a cartoonist to come up with a hard-hitting idea. "The hard part is refining the idea so that it still has punch, but is also humorous," he says. "I think humor is the most important ingredient."

Popular cartoonist Ted Rall, syndicated by Universal Press Syndicate, thinks sometimes it's not just about creating a laugh. "When the president says torture is OK, it's hard to come up with something hilarious to say," says Rall. "Showing the bastard soaked with blood might be heavy-handed, but hey, it's got to be said."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Holidays and Obituaries

No topic divides editorial cartoonists more than drawing a cartoon for an upcoming holiday or the death of a famous person.

"If all you are doing is acknowledging the time of the year or the fact that someone dies, you are not doing an editorial cartoon and should seek another line of work," suggests Matt Bors, whose cartoons are syndicated by United Media. …

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