Friday, July 13, 2007

Comic Evolution

Editorial cartoonist Mark Wuerker evaluates the state of the American editorial cartoon world in his piece "The Evolution of the Toonosphere." Thanks in part to drastic budget cutbacks in newspaper staff and the overall depression of newspaper readership and sales, the print newspaper editorial cartoon has become a rare thing. The current political climate in the United States doesn’t help much either when hoping to speak truth to power. Fortunately, as Wuerker points out, the internet has provided a new outlet for the editorial cartoonist hoping to present their point of view to the public free of censorship. Personally, I look forward every Tuesday to reading on the internet the weekly This Modern World comic of Dan Perkins (aka, Tom Tomorrow). Sadly, Dan Perkins’ work appears only in small, alternative print publications—a sign of the sorry state of editorial comics in this country.

The art of the editorial comic took another blow this week with the death of Pulitzer Prize-winner Doug Marlette on July 10th. (A recent strip by Marlette appears above.) Marlette was an equal opportunity satirist, jabbing at both sides of the political spectrum. Back in 2003, a Marlette cartoon titled “What Would Mohammed Drive?” drew a heated response (which I felt was partially deserved). Marlette defended “What Would Mohammed Drive?” by saying that he meant only militant, radical Islam and not Islam as a whole (a fine point that I felt his blunter image didn’t support, but that’s a matter of opinion). In that same defense, Marlette took the opportunity to defend the vocation of editorial cartoonist in America:

“Political cartoonists daily push the limits of free speech. They were once the embodiment of journalism's independent voice. Today they are as endangered a species as bald eagles. The professional troublemaker has become a luxury that offends the bottom-line sensibilities of corporate journalism. Twenty years ago, there were two hundred of us working on daily newspapers. Now there are only ninety. Herblock is dead. Jeff MacNelly is dead. And most of the rest of us might as well be. Just as résumé hounds have replaced newshounds in today's newsrooms, ambition has replaced talent at the drawing boards. Passion has yielded to careerism, Thomas Nast to Eddie Haskell. With the retirement of Paul Conrad at The Los Angeles Times, a rolling blackout from California has engulfed the country, dimming the pilot lights on many American editorial pages. Most editorial cartoons now look as bland as B-roll and as impenetrable as a 1040 form.”

Sadly, we can now add Doug Marlette to that list of “professional troublemakers” now gone. Hopefully, a new generation of internet-based editorial cartoonists will pick up the torch passed on by these greats. Hopefully, they will prize passion and integrity over careerism and ambition in the exercise of their talents.

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