Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sunday morning toons: Special "We Aim to Please" edition

Let us honor,
not later but soonest,
our endangered
political cartoonists.

(Sincere apologies to T.S. Eliot.)

Editor & Publisher has a special report this week surveying the landscape for newspaper staff (and syndicated) political cartoonists. Let's put it this way: It's not unlike what the rest of the newspaper industry faces, only a little worse.

To be a newspaper staff editorial cartoonist these days is to live in dread that the next phone call is coming from the human resources department. "There's a great sense of dismay and gloom in the editorial cartooning world," says Steve Greenberg, a member of that fraternity. Because their numbers were so small to begin with, the departure of cartoonists amid the mass layoffs in newsrooms around the nation has had a huge impact on the craft.

MSNBC cartoonist Daryl Cagle, who hosts the Political Cartoonists Index Web site, counts more than 30 who took buyouts or were laid off by mid-April, including such well-known figures as Don Wright at The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, Jim Borgman at The Cincinnati Enquirer and Bill Day at The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn. More recently, the departures of editorial cartoonists have been coming at a rate of two or more a month.

"The number of staff editorial cartoonists who are extremely safe is tiny," says Greenberg. He speaks from experience: Before he was laid off at the Ventura County (Calif.) Star last November, he reasoned that he was safe because cartooning was a secondary job to his main occupation there in news graphics.

Winning a Pulitzer Prize isn't even enough in some cases. David Horsey, who won Pulitzers for cartooning in 1999 and again in 2003, lost his job when the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ceased print publication. Though he stayed on as the newspaper went online-only, he now draws for all Hearst papers, but not as a local cartoonist. Following the layoff of Eric Devericks at The Seattle Times last December, there is no major-metro local editorial cartoonist in Seattle. […]

This exodus of editorial cartoonists, however, isn't creating any real selling opportunities to newspapers suddenly without staff artists, syndicates say. "I wish I could tell you there was something positive out of this," Newcombe adds. "That certainly seems to be what logic would dictate — but at the same time, budgets have been cut so much that I haven't seen any change. It's just such a depressed market these days."

Another reason there's been no bump for the syndicates is that newspapers with staff editorial cartoonists often were also substantial buyers of syndicated cartoons, says King Features' Burford. While the demand for that material hasn't slackened, neither has it increased, he notes.

So unless Craig's List or DailyKos start featuring in-house or syndicated political toons regularly, things look pretty dreary for the indefinite future. p3 will continue to promote the art, but I sense that's probably not going to be enough on its own to revive the industry. Of course, current intellectual property laws are working against word-of-mouth (word-of-blog?) distribution channels online, as p3 favorite Batocchio found out the hard way this spring.

(Thanks to John Sherffius for permission to use "Signature Loss." Click to enlarge.)

Meanwhile: It's date night for the Obamas! It's open season on abortion providers (and, indirectly, on the women who need their services)! North Korea goes looking for ways to stick it to the US! Conservatives now think Hitler was a Liberal, and so are all racists! Health care reform wakes the undead! Republicans ask, "Which kind of animal are we?" All this and more at Daryl Cagle's round-up this week.

p3 Picks of the Week: Mike Luckovich, Mike Lane, Mike Keefe, John Darkow, Monte Wolverton, Jerry Holbert, Steve Sack, Milt Priggee, and Matt Davies.

The p3 Special Mention to Nate Beeler.

The p3 Award for Best Adaptation from Another Medium goes to R. J. Matson.

And the p3 "Politics is Local" Medal to Pat Bagley. (Puzzled non-residents of the Beehive State can find the explanation here.)

p3 World Toon Review: Cameron Cardow (Canada), Stephane Peray (Thailand), Arcadio Esquivel (Costa Rica), and Hassan Bleibel (Iran).

Ann Telnaes salutes the ones who are always there when we need them, arms outstretched.

Walt Handlesman ponders a romance gone sour.

p3 Guest Toon: A tip of the harlequin's cap to Batocchio, making a second appearance today--it takes a certain amount of cockeyed daring to undertake a parody MAD Magazine.

Portland homeboy Jack Ohman muses on an underrepresented class.

"Watch me obtain a hamburger without the necessary fee!" Selected for the rarity of a fight between Popeye and Bluto in which Olive doesn't get the worst of it, here's "We Aim to Please," directed by Dave Fleischer, from 1934.

p3 Bonus Toon: Now that the Oregon legislature passed it tax bump for corporations and top-end earners. Jesse Springer wonders what will happen if, as is likely, the usual suspects manage to refer it to the voters.

And remember to browse Dan Froomkin's weekday political toon review.

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