One of the things I note about attending editorial cartoonist conventions is how the American ones tend to be segmented into vague factions — not unfriendly factions, but a few that seem to gather in social groups. They aren’t so noticeably divided by nationality, such as Canadians vs. Americans, right vs. left cartoonists, or the cross-hatchers vs. the photoshoppers. There is a clique of Alternative cartoonists who tend to stick to themselves. While they don’t say it at loud among mainstream newspaper editorial cartoonists I think the Alties view the products of the traditional big city cartoonist as generally lame, wishy washy in their politics, and predictable with their gags. The Alty cartoonist tends to be younger, angrier, they possess greater freedoms to express their opinions, and they tend to be from the left of the political spectrum. When they aren’t skewering Bush, Cheney, or some other right winger getting heat in the Liberal press they tackle issues that are often overlooked by the full time editorial cartoonists, like religion, feminism, racism and homosexuality. I enjoy following the Alty cartoonists, and while I may not agree with the approach of their cartoons or the point they’re arguing for, I respect their passion to tackle issues and politicians by using the liberties granted to them by their editors.
On the other hand there are those who don’t appreciate the editorial cartoon. I’m having a hard time wondering how someone can dismiss what I would call an art form going way back through history. Ivan Brunetti, a comic book artist writes on the Daily Crosshatch:
“…Another problematic genre is the political/editorial cartoon, with its facile and smug symbology, which often seems manipulative and insulting to the reader’s intelligence. The political value of comics (or art in general) is dubious at best, in my opinion. I have always said, “Political cartoons are the ass-end of the artform” (which is admittedly cruel of me). Political cartoons are often too reductive and lacking in nuance or subtlety. Occasionally, some heavy-handed or ham-fisted cartoon causes a great uproar. Well, if one sets out to offend a group of people with an image or cartoon, and one has a large forum, such as a newspaper, the cartoon will probably get a reaction. But I question the value of that. It seems like a little dance: someone draws something purposely to offend another, and then that person gets offended. Yeah, great.
Life and people, I believe, are a lot more complicated than that. It seems that (strictly) political cartoons can have one of two reactions: if you agree, you nod approvingly (but not really laugh), and if you disagree, you mutter something about the cartoonist being “an asshole” (and also not laugh). At best, the aim is to polarize people by relying on extreme viewpoints, and at worst, to pussyfoot around the issues for fear of actually offending somebody. Either way, everything is strictly in black and white terms, with no in-betweens, and I would much rather read a story about full, complex characters going about their lives. I think stories about human beings are still going to address political issues, if they deal with reality at all, but in an implicit rather than explicit (or worse, didactic) manner, thus generously and sympathetically allowing the reader to decide what to think. I guess one can argue that everything is political on some level, but then there really is no need to sledgehammer the reader’s head.”
Wonkette.com does a wonderful job of critiquing recent editorial cartoons. Wonderful, only because mine never get chosen.