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.