A week ago, Patrick Chappatte wrote on his blog that he was a freshly ousted contract contributor to the New York Times, which as of July 1 would cease running political cartoons in its international edition, thus bringing it “into line” with the domestic newspaper. The veteran cartoonist’s post quickly did more than shine a light on the Times’s decision — it created a spark.
“I’m quite taken aback by the magnitude of the response,” Chappatte told The Washington Post on Tuesday. “Not only from cartoonists, colleagues and cartoon aficionados, but also from the media and the people all over the world. It seems we have touched a nerve here."
Political cartoonists the globe over consistently face threats against their ability to publish, while in the United States, scores of former staff editorial cartoonists have fallen victim to modern newsroom economics. What so many cartoonists share is a sense of existential crisis, so the Times’s decision has struck like a larger flash point.
“I feel this has energized it and given it a spirit of fighting back,” the Geneva-based Chappatte said of the political-cartooning community, “all this being carried by a wave of support and love. This feels rather good.”
One cartoonist who responded especially strongly was Kevin “Kal” Kallaugher, the Herblock Prize winner who draws for both domestic (the Baltimore Sun) and overseas (the Economist) outlets. He was struck by two distinct ways that the Times’s decision can be interpreted.
“This is a tale of a successful publication that aspires to be the leading journalistic organ in the English-speaking world, [which has] found political cartoons to be unworthy of their mission,” Kal said. “It is either because cartoons are deemed to be too lowbrow or oversimplified for their elite journalistic tastes, or they cannot be bothered to endure charged reactions that good cartoons can elicit from engaged, and occasionally enraged, audiences. It is likely their harrumphing decision involved an unhealthy dose of both.”
So like dozens of his colleagues, Kal said, he was “determined to counter the Times’s opinion that cartoons were ineffective purveyors of opinion by effective delivering my opinion in a cartoon.” (This approach was also notably undertaken by Liza Donnelly, who drew her letter to the editor, which the Times published.)
Meanwhile, Jeff Parker, co-creator of the syndicated comic strip “Dustin,” was moved to come out of political-cartooning retirement to deliver a drawn response.
“When a preeminent newspaper like the New York Times simply does away with what they see as those ‘bothersome’ cartoonists and their cartoons out of fear of future tweetstorms, that’s a very real danger to editorial cartooning and its long-standing yet diminishing role in watchdog journalism,” Parker said.
“The Times kind of snobbily suggests that their decision is all about preferring smarter, more nuanced ‘graphic journalism’ for their pages, and not the iconic single-panel cartoon punch that has been an indigenous part of American journalism for centuries,” Parker added. “Well, Patrick Chappatte’s powerful cartoons have always been nuanced and deeply thoughtful.”
Chappatte, a longtime Times cartoonist and recent Overseas Press Club award winner, remains encouraged by the response.
“The cartoons produced over the last week have been savage, inventive, funny, sometimes silly — everything we love about cartooning,” he says. “We should keep it up, in that spirit of healthy insolence.”
Here is how some other political artists have responded.
Jos Collignon (De Volkskrant, the Netherlands):
Kevin Siers (Charlotte Observer):
Rick McKee (Augusta Chronicle):
Jack Ohman (Sacramento Bee):
Patrick Bagley (Salt Lake Tribune):
Milt Priggee (Cagle Cartoons):