The Answer Is: Because Most of Them Totally Suck! The Question Is...

...Why are so many newspapers cutting editorial cartoonists? In the LA Times, James Rainey bleats:

"Cartoonists are disappearing like brunet anchors at Fox News—about a hundred are scratching out a living today, compared with about double that a couple of decades ago. And this presidential election cycle has been less engaging for their absence....

Uh, no. If this campaign has been lackluster, it's because of the candidates, who are about as exciting as Herblock and Conrad.

I don't know if Rainey's numbers about cartoonists at papers are on target, but I do know as a consumer of cartoons (and a publisher of three excellent guys who work at papers—Chip Bok, Henry Payne, and Scott Stantis) that I haven't noticed much difficulty in finding cartoons all over the place. But Rainey's lamentation sounds like a case for hiring the handicapped. Here's his gloss on what all those cashiered cartoonists might have brought to Election 2008:

"McCain's reputed explosive temper is a tantalizing prospect," said Steve Kelley of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, "as is Obama's abiding belief that there is no problem so simple that government can't find a way to waste enormous resources failing to fix it."

On the visual side, Kelley sees something of a replay of the 1996 election between President Clinton and Sen. Bob Dole. In shorthand: "Mr. Charisma against the guy who yells at kids to stay off his lawn."

I'm worried that the loss of cartoonists—and their verve and vitality—continues to numb- and dumb-down an audience that doesn't need any help sinking into complacency.

I'm not immediately familiar with Kelley's work, but I look forward to his anthology, which I suspect will be titled Antidote to Laughter. McCain's reputed explosive temper! Obama's abiding belief in whatever. I haven't felt this numb or dumbed-down since my Special K days. Joe Montana's textual poaching of Ziggy has more depth to it.

Rainey continues:

I might have asked The Times cartoonist to sketch out this problem but—oops—the paper ditched Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Ramirez in 2005 for reasons that remain murky. Ramirez was not replaced—part of an un-proud tradition at Tribune Co., which owns The Times and has been paring away cartoonists with some abandon.

Here's an example of Ramirez's work, which means to my mind the Trib made the right call:

More Rainey:

The latest blow to the diminishing art comes in Raleigh, N.C., where the News & Observer recently decided to make 33-year veteran Dwane Powell part-time and restrict him to local issues.

What will be lost? The kind of zingers Powell fired with regularity which, in recent weeks, included: a lampoon of Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton as bulls led around by the rings in their noses by a Wall Street steer,and an acid take on GOP alienation—a pair of Republican elephants so distraught over McCain they are prepared to jump into the abyss from a (flat) Planet Neocon.

Zingers, we hardly knew ye! Rainey's complaint here. And take a look at the cartoon used to illustrate his piece if you need further convincing that cutting their jobs ain't a good thing for art, democracy, the environment, and special ed programs everywhere:

I look forward to Rainey's future commentary on how the lack of radio drama gutted American democracy in way from which we've never fully recovered. And lest we forget, please recall the outpouring of trenchant commentary (read: craptacular eulogizing) from the quills o' cartoonists in the wake of Tim Russert's passing.

And while we're on that subject, let me pimp for the feller who is, to my mind, the best editorial cartoonist on the job today, The Onion's "Kelly":

More Kelly here.

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  • Alan Vanneman||

    Hmmmmmm. Guess whose budding career as a political cartoonist crashed and burned in his early twenties and who's been wearing black as mourning ever since?

  • ||

    Nick,

    You can keep slamming Ramirez all you want for that one particular cartoon, but if you think his body of work is inferior to Chip Bok's?...man o' man do we have a difference of opinion.

  • Sam-I-Am||

    The quality of political cartoonists has diminished with the diminishing quality of candidates.
    Coincidence?

  • ||

    Special K? damn son.

    Chip Bok sucks.

  • ||

    This gem bears a repeat.

    http://www.theonion.com/content/cartoon/feb-04-2008

  • PFJ||

    "as is Obama's abiding belief that there is no problem so simple that government can't find a way to waste enormous resources failing to fix it."

    That might be the greatest thing I've read this year.

  • Episiarch||

    Because Most of Them Totally Suck!

    I thought you were going to acknowledge the suckiness of the ones you allow here, but then you said:

    I do know as a consumer of cartoons (and a publisher of three excellent guys who work at papers-Chip Bok, Henry Payne, and Scott Stantis)

    You're either doing hyper-sarcasm or...well, I don't want to say, but it kind of puts me in a K-hole.

  • Rhywun||

    Is that what I think it is leaking out of Mr. Nobel's eye? And why?!

  • Josh||

    I wrote an essay in freshmen composition on why editorial cartoons sucked. Many of the reasons I came up with could be applied to the entire editorial page.

  • Josh||

    Is that what I think it is leaking out of Mr. Nobel's eye? And why?!

    Now that you mention it, those "tears" are awfully milky looking...

    That would have been a funny cartoon.

  • Unintentional Humor||

    Hi Nick. Nice to meet you.

  • Sam-I-Am||

    Nobel Bukkake Prize?

  • ||

    I've liked Horsey for quite a while. And...
    oh, that's right, basically no one else. (No, I'm not saying I AGREE with Horsey regularly, I'm saying he does a fair job of selling a punchline, is a decent artist, and is capable of bringing you something you didn't expect.)

    The biggest problem with cartoon quality is the same biggest problem with cable news quality. They have space (time) to fill whether there's something there to warrent it or not. The second-biggest problem is the opposite of cable news. As fewer cartoonists make a living doing it, they need to "appeal" to a wider and wider audience, making them churn out less biting, more sentimental crap. Bleh.

    Anyway, it's harder to be good than you'd think it should be, but there is still no excuse for the abysmal quality currently in circulation.

  • ||

    Jeff McNelly during the Carter years was often pretty funny. But, then, he had a good subject.

  • Fluffy||

    Newspaper political cartooning is dying because its market niche has disappeared.

    When newspaper editorial boards conducted themselves with a stuffy pseudoprofessionalism, the cartoons were often the area where commentary was allowed to be vicious, petty, brutal and direct, while using humor as a shield to get away with all these things. But now the internet lets everybody be as snarky and cruel as they want, 24/7. There's little need for the irreverence of newspaper political cartoons when you have a trillion irreverent blogs and when Stewart and Colbert have TV shows that are basically each a half-hour of live action political cartooning.

  • Jim Anderson||

    Is Mike Luckovich still halfway decent? I loved his Bill Clinton ouevre.

    About 12 years ago, the National Archive hosted an exhibit of political cartoons through the decades. Essentially, it's just like any other art form: a lot of dunghill, a few diamonds. The pre-Nast years were pretty amusing.

  • ||

    Ah, my. And Reason has Chip Bok, whose work is every bit as edgy as a Marmaduke cartoon. Sigh...

  • Nigel Watt||

    Wait, Reason actually pays those tards?

  • NotThatDavid||

    Please, please, please stop pretending that Chip Bok is not a hack. It's embarrassing.

  • ||

    Here's a tip for all you aspiring political cartoonists out there- you can't go wrong depicting politicians as venal, pettifogging imbeciles.

    Hope that helps.

  • Rimfax||

    Kelly's recursive parody is cute the first couple of times. After that, it gets as tiresome as any other nihilist comedy.

  • ||

    Kelley's comics are here.
    No comment on quality.

  • ||

    That Horsey cartoon could have been funny, except for the speech bubbles, which hit you over the head with the joke. See, no one could have ever figured out what the pictures the candidates were painting of each other were supposed to represent.

    Who was the cartoonist that always drew a little penguin-looking thing in the bottom corner, uttering a second punchline? That guy was pretty good.

  • ||

    Maybe the reason there's half the cartoonists now is that the internet made it so each newspaper doesn't need its own local guy making the same damn cartoon about every event that happens.

  • Simon Arthur||

    Wait, no mention of Peter Bagge? He takes the editorial cartoon to a whole new level. The dude deserves a Pulitzer.

  • Nephilium||

    joe:

    You mean Mark Streeter?

    I usually just hit up the list at Cagle every day or so... some are good... some are bad...

    Nephilium

  • ||

    No, that's not it. There was a really small, recurring character who commented on the action in the main panel.

    Oliphant, maybe?

  • ||

    I suspect political correctness has a lot to do with it. Newspaper editors can dish it out but they can't take it in when it comes to their political choices. They don't mind a cartoon lampooning the evil villain. But don't pick on the one that they love.

  • Taktix&#174||

    (and a publisher of three excellent guys who work at papers-Chip Bok, Henry Payne, and Scott Stantis)

    LOL!

  • ||

    "I look forward to Rainey's future commentary on how the lack of radio drama gutted American democracy in way from which we've never fully recovered."

    What the hell have you got against radio drama? I listen to them all the time, beat the shit out of almost everything I've seen on the boob tube for years.

    Rainey I don't know anything about. His cartoon was lame though, the medallion should have been puking, not crying.

  • *||

    Stantis excellent? Are you writing this because you get to use his cartoons for free or something?
    So when Nick Gillespie calls something excellent

  • *||

    take several grains of salt and call me in the morning.

  • Syd||

    joe | July 18, 2008, 1:52pm | #
    No, that's not it. There was a really small, recurring character who commented on the action in the main panel.

    Oliphant, maybe?


    Yep, Oliphant. And it was indeed a penguin.

  • the innominate one||

    Oliphant is correct, joe and Syd.

    reason should consider running Opus by Berkeley Breathed. When Bloom County won Breathed the Pulitzer, apparently, it gave Oliphant the vapors, which Breathed turned into more fodder for Bloom County.

    reason's cartoons are rarely funny, whether I agree with the point being made or not. Bok's work is very, very weak.

  • دردشة يمنية||

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