It comes as no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention that certain simple everyday pleasures we once took for granted have now become extinct relics of the past. The print edition of newspapers has been on this decline for years, resembling a slowly draining bathtub that eventually spirals into the abyss. As the last drops of this once-thriving industry slip away into the sewer, thousands of dedicated newspaper professionals find themselves in the throes of a livelihood crisis that has become all too familiar.
For the fortunate few of us who remain in this business, we’re acutely aware of the inevitable outcome we face. For decades, newspaper magnates grappled with the challenge of adapting to the internet era, knowing that it would catapult us into the future, leaving traditional print media behind, much like horse-drawn carriages of old. They had three decades to craft a successful transition to the digital realm that would persuade owners, shareholders, advertisers, and readers to embrace a virtual product superior to the physical paper.
Despite promises of cutting-edge websites, millions poured into computerized cross-media publishing systems, metrics for tracking web traffic, and enhancements like video content and the ever-loved pop-up ads (note the sarcasm), the average daily newspaper website seemed to dazzle only its creators – a trend that continues to this day. Unless it’s one of the international media giants with the resources to invest heavily in state-of-the-art technology and employ well-compensated journalists to create engaging and insightful content, subscribers are likely to face the same frustrations with regional daily websites. Expect the predictability of clunky interfaces where ancient news articles bury the latest content, or the enduring annoyance of resetting passwords for reasons unknown.
If you attempt to seek human assistance, prepare to be greeted with frustration – endless canned instrumental music and a robotic voice informing you that “there are zero customers ahead of you in the queue.”
Just a few weeks ago, my local newspaper, The Hamilton Spectator, closed its physical office after 177 years of operation. While we still deliver daily news both in print and online, our staff now operates primarily in the virtual realm. We attempt to replicate the camaraderie and collaboration of a traditional newsroom by gathering in a public space once a week. However, the pandemic, beginning in March 2020, forced us out of our office on Frid Street.
For 23 years, I created my editorial cartoons within the confines of our physical office. I had the opportunity to engage in conversations with reporters covering city hall, sports, education, health, and transit. I attended editorial board meetings with mayoral candidates, premiers, ministers, and influential figures in the community. All of that is now a thing of the past.
Despite various attempts to support the struggling newspaper industry and engage in battles with tech giants over compensating news sources on social media platforms, it’s clear that we are witnessing the final days of the physical newspaper.
But alas, we adapt, holding our heads high and thinking beyond the dark clouds above us. For years I’ve been attending gatherings of editorial cartoonists throughout Canada and the United States. These events are where I go to review with colleagues the good and bad developments of our times, to learn, and re-energize. There is no other better venue for such a tiny group of folks with similar passions and livelihoods to gather and celebrate. This very website has chronicled so many of them going back in time: Sacramento 2018, Toronto 2016, Havana 2014, Hamilton 2010, Banff 2008, Washington DC 2007, and this gathering in 2023, despite missing some old familiar friends and faces was robust in numbers giving the sense that editorial cartooning is alive and well despite the challenges. This convention was perhaps my most therapeutic professional gathering ever.
I went on a trip to California from October 7th to October 12th, 2023, to attend my first Editorial Cartoonist convention in five years. On Thursday morning, I arrived in San Francisco around noon to attend the 2023 convention of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists in combination with the Association of Canadian Cartoonists.
I was on the same flight out of Toronto with Terry Mosher, Brian Gable, and ACC President Wes Tyrell. The four of us shared a cab into the city and dropped off our bags at the hotel before the check-in time at 3pm. The recently retired Globe & Mail editorial cartoonist Brian Gable and I decided to have a dim sum lunch in Chinatown. We walked along Grant Ave, tried some delicious soup dumplings, won tons, and spring rolls. As we continued walking, we passed through Chinatown and reached a big Catholic cathedral, Saints Peter ann Paul Church and a lovely Washington Square in front of it. We also got to see Blue Angel fighter jets practicing for the weekend air show. The weather was surprisingly hot, with temperatures reaching 90 degrees Fahrenheit and clear skies. We headed back towards the hotel, exploring the streets and enjoying the sight of cable cars. In the evening, there was a reception at the hotel where I had nice conversations with several talented people, including Wes Rowell, Paul Berge, Ted Rall, Jack Ohman, and Guy Badeaux, among others.
On Friday, I spent most of the day on a Napa wine tour from 9am to 5:30pm. We made a stop at the Golden Gate Bridge to take some pictures. I was accompanied by Marci Brane and Sarah Alex from the Herb Block Foundation, cartoonist David G. Brown, Paul Berge with Chris Pierangeli, Deb Milbrath with David “Wing” Bruce, and Mike Sicilia, our guide, and an old friend of Jack Ohman who I first met in Sacramento in 2018, and who I now call a friend. We drove along the El Camino real road through Sonoma and our first stop was Beringer winery, which is known as the oldest continuously operating winery in the Napa Valley. We had an outdoor wine tasting of three of their wines and enjoyed a splendid charcuterie platter. After that, we went to the Oxbow Public Market in Napa for lunch, where we chose to have Mexican food with the Herblock team, Mike, and David. Our final winery was Monticello, where we visited their storage facility and had several wine tastings. We then headed back to San Francisco, which took about an hour and a half. I had expected Napa to be more visually appealing, but the dry fields of beige grass were quite overwhelming. If I had to choose, I would say that the Niagara region, despite not having the selection of quality wines that Napa boasts, definitely has more attractive vineyard surroundings. We were dropped off near the Cartoon museum for the Friday meet and greet, where I had the opportunity to chat with several talented cartoonists, including Ben Sargent, Steve Stegelin, Dale Cummings, Tim Campbell, Jeff Bell, Rod Emmerson, Daryl Cagle, Jack Ohman, Matt Davies, Ann Telnaes, Steve Greenberg, and Matt Wuerker. Jack Ohman welcomed us and spoke briefly, passionately, and as always eloquently, about the challenges faced by the print media. We continued the evening with beers at the Irish Bank pub behind our hotel, the Triton.
Saturday was our panel day. I started the day by taking a 5km walk to the higher points near the hotel, capturing some beautiful photos of the city under a cloudless sky with warm temperatures. I arrived a bit late to the panel discussions and missed the presentation on Mosher’s COVID book and the proposal by Christian Vachon to hold the next gathering in Montreal. However, I did get to listen to a fascinating talk by feminist cartoonist Trina Robbins about her long career. She was a pioneer for women in cartooning and bravely challenged the male-dominated industry.
Her presentation was followed by an inspiring workshop by the great illustrator Steve Brodner, who discussed different approaches to caricature. He emphasized the importance of making our work matter and fighting against oppressive forces and biased editorial practices. During the intermission, I had a great conversation with Steve Breen, the long-term cartoonist at the San Diego Tribune, who shared valuable tips on connecting with fans for future newsletters and subscription services. Too brief a time was spent chatting with and praising my new favourite editorial cartoonist, Ed Wexler. The day continued with a fun presentation by Kevin “KAL” Kallaugher, featuring several artists doing unique things outside of their regular editorial cartooning gigs. We then had some free time to explore around the hotel, and some of us went back to the Irish pub or looked for a pharmacy with Wes, Guy, Dale, and Eric Shansby.
The Saturday reception took place at the Book Club. Plaques were given out for the Rex Babin award for local cartooning, which went to Joel Pett. Inkspot recognitions were also awarded to organizer Mary Ellen Burns and cartoonist writers Mike Peterson and Alan Gardner – Find Mike’s own, much more thorough summary of the convention here. Our Canadian contingent recognized Guy Badeaux and Dale Cummings with the Townsie awards, and the Honorary Canuck award went to Rod Emmerson from New Zealand. For dinner that night, I had the pleasure of dining with Nick Anderson, Matt Davies, Ben Sargent, David Browne, Steve Stegelin, and Russ Hodin. We were joined by Jack Ohman, Mark Fiore, Kevin Kallaugher, and Matt Wuerker.
Sunday started with a breakfast hosted by Scott Burns. I had the opportunity to sit next to Clay Jones and across from John Auchter and David Brown. Later on, we were joined by Cullum Rogers, whose charming North Carolina accent became a source of endearment for the rest of our trip.
We said goodbye to our colleagues and stored our bags in Rod Emerson’s room before heading to the Presidio to catch the air show and visit the Walt Disney family museum (my Google review.) The museum showcases the evolution of Walt Disney, Mickey Mouse, and other Disney characters, as well as the technology used in cell animation films. We also enjoyed exhibits on Disney’s amusement park and a display of editorial cartoons marking Walt Disney’s death. Outside the museum, we watched the blue angels perform in the foggy sky over the Pacific.
At 4:00, Wes and I picked up our rental car from the airport after returning to the hotel to retrieve our bags. Thanks to Mary Ellen Burns and her crew of volunteers, Larry and Rick, we had transportation arranged. We drove north over the Golden Gate Bridge, stopping briefly, before having a delicious bbq dinner at Wes’ very cool friend Elijah’s house in San Raphael. The next morning, we had coffee with Elijah and went for a climbing hike before brunch in Fairfax. We explored the redwood trees at Samuel P. Taylor State Park and continued towards the coast through Point Reyes. The dreary rain changed our plans at Bodega Bay, so we headed inland and stayed overnight at a cozy Marriott in Santa Rosa, enjoying delicious Thai cuisine. The Charles Schulz Museum shuttered until Thursday – boo. Our journey took us to Stinson Beach, where we had a laugh at Wes’ expense (after leaving his jacket and passport back in the Marin Lodge) (my Google Review) and met a balloon artist from Wales. After returning to Fairfax to meet Mark Fiore, we decided to head south to Half Moon Bay, where we stayed at the Half Moon Bay lodge (my Google review) and dined at Cameron’s British Pub (my Google review.) We had a pleasant night and I took advantage of the heated pool and jacuzzi in the morning. Before departing, we enjoyed breakfast and continued our drive along Highway 1, stopping at Pigeon Point Lighthouse for some photos.
The gathering of editorial cartoonists in San Francisco was an invigorating experience. We engaged in lively discussions about the art of cartooning, shared our experiences, and gained insights into the influential role of political cartoons in shaping public opinion. We also addressed the challenges in today’s ever-changing media landscape.
Our collective exploration of art for social commentary and activism was set against the backdrop of San Francisco’s beauty. Even amidst our road trip with Wes Tyrell, we found moments of serenity in nature, though the weight of conflicts in Ukraine and the ongoing Israel-Hamas strife loomed large. Yet, as a community, we remain resolute, rising above the darkness and looking to the future with unwavering determination.