Sunday, February 1, 2009

Sunday morning toons: Special "Save Our Endangered Toonists" Edition

The bad sign across an economy is when you see the unemployment ripple effect begin: job losses at Point A cause layoffs at the next point in the economic chain, whether it means suppliers or buyers or sellers, and then the next, and the next. (At least that applies to the part of our economy that still actually produces anything, as opposed to simply manipulating paper. Meanwhile, over on the simply-manipulating-paper side of the economy, the lilies of the field, the--let's dispense with euphemisms: I refer to the Wall Street bankers and, against all reason and justice, they're doing fine.)

The classic example of the American entrepreneur is the person who sits down with their own tools, creates something of value, and sells it for enough to continue working. And that, my friends, describes political cartoonists to a tee-- sometimes to an actual tee, in fact--and they're hurting right now.

And recent days bring news that two longtime staff cartoonists -- the Ventura County (Calif.) Star's Steve Greenberg and the Kansas City Star's Lee Judge -- have been handed their walking papers. That, of course, follows such news in recent months that Dayton's Pulitzer-winning Mike Peters is cutting back his workload, for instance, and that Cincinnati's Pulitzer-winning legend Jim Borgman took the Inquirer's buyout offer.

So today, we pause to mourn anew the Endangered Species that is the Staff Political Cartoonist.

"Cartoon positions are disappearing -- probably forever," Greenberg told us yesterday. The artist, who was part of larger layoffs at the Ventura County paper, added: "I believe it's very counterproductive for newspapers to cut their best visual people, praying that the Internet will save them. ... They're cutting the people who are in the best position to help them survive."

Borgman told Comic Riffs recently that eventually, there will be room for only a few Mike Luckovichs -- that is, widely syndicated staff editorial cartoonists. He advised others seeking to pursue this field to "go local" in order to stay relevant and necessary.

And Ted Rall, president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, recently told 'Riffs: "There ought to be 1,000 staff cartoonists, but the newspaper industry is committing suicide."

If what plagues almost all American newspapers continues to ail us, then for political cartoonists, 2009 could be a bloodbath -- and unfortunately, federal regulators may bail out a Bear Stearns, but not so the artists who can deftly draw a political pachyderm, donkey or stern Russian bear.

Newspaper owners/publishers are getting their asses handed to them by the world wide web--not only by Craig's List, which siphoned off most of their life-giving classified ad revenue, but by other news media who migrated to (or created themselves) on the web much more successfully than the daily newspapers. Eight years later, the web sites of dailies remain some of the most unfriendly and difficult to use sites out there.

And the slowest progress has been in making their sites visually interesting and accessible--it's sad to see how little progress they've made in their basic conceptual thinking since 1981.

Which brings us back to toons. A lot of the names mentioned in that quote above are familiar to readers of the p3 Sunday toons. There are others at risk, too, if you read Willamette Week and other alternative weeklies--alt weekly regulars This Modern World and Red Meat have lost one of their main syndication arrangements. Red Meat creator Max Cannon calls it the beginning of the "Alternative Comics Apocalypse:"

It's a sad state of affairs, and potentially the end of an industry--if you want to call it that--where a small handful of ragtag scribblers like myself have slaved for many years (for very little money, if you ever wondered) to bring you a laugh or two every week in the pages of your local alt weekly. Over the last year or so, cartoonists such as myself, Derf, Tom Tomorrow, Lloyd Dangle, Ruben Bolling, Jen Sorenson, Ted Rall and many, many talented others, have watched our strips steadily and systematically dropped from the pages of your local weeklies and alternative publications. Times are tough, to be sure, and most of these free publications rely on discretionary advertising by local businesses and classified ads to keep the presses rolling and issues on the stands. When the money gets tight, the first line item in any small business budget to get slashed is advertising, so I understand and sympathize with the precarious position in which many weeklies now find themselves.

However, I can't help but be left somewhat incredulous that the disturbing recent trend of removing ALL COMICS from the pages of weekly publications (which many have already done) is somehow going to keep them solvent. If, indeed the humble $10 to $20 that I generally get paid for a RED MEAT strip is going to bring the whole operation tumbling down, then the alt-weekly industry is already dead on its feet--it just hasn't fallen over into the dirt yet.

Don't wait to find the toons suddenly missing from your favorite alternative weekly--drop the editor an email now, telling them that the toons are one of the things that keeps you a regular reader.

(WW hasn't said anything about their plans to keep publishing these toons--or not--and I've been under the weather the last couple of days and haven't been able to follow up myself. Anyone on the inside know anything?)

Meanwhile, let us honor, while we can, the toonists who still stand:

Bob Geiger's still taking time off.

But Daryl Cagle's round-up is still rich in output from hard-working toonists.

p3 Picks of the Week: Pat Bagley, Mike Lane, Bob Englehart, Jeff Parker, John Darkow, a href="">Monte Wolvertoon, and Steve Sack.

The p3 Award for Packing the Most Truth into Ten Words goes to Milt Priggee.

p3 World Toon Review: Stephane Peray (Thailand), Pavel Constantin (Romania), Manny Francisco (The Philippines), and Petar Pismestrovic (Austria).

In a time when profiteers need to be reined in, Ann Telnaes offers Obama the best advice he's going to get this week.

Guest toon: Now that all is said and done, now that the big Marine helicopter left the Ellipse behind the White House, what happens next? The K Chronicles knows.

Portland homeboy Jack Ohman presents: Diagnosis: Flatline.

"I'm your little seƱoriter:" To celebrate the best haircut I've gotten in a long time--and one that I had to persevere against heroic odds to get, too, although that's another story--p3 proudly presents #12 on the Top 50 Cartoons of All Time, Bugs Bunny in the 1950 classic "Rabbit of Seville," directed by Chuck Jones. (Slight problems with sound sync-up.)

p3 Bonus Toon: Jesse Springer poses the Super Zen Riddle (click to enlarge):

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