IN MARCH OF 2009, on a Wednesday afternoon, Bill Day was blindsided. At 61, after a lifetime in political cartooning, he was called to Human Resources, handed a folder and promptly pink-slipped by his employer, the Commercial Appeal in Memphis. He sat there stunned, and thought: “What in the hell is happening to my life?”
“It was a terrible shock,” Day told Comic Riffs that day, just hours after the firing, packing up his newsroom belongings as a security guard hovered nearby. “I don't know what I'm going to do. I've got a family to support and my 401(k) is shot and I might lose my house.”
Now, several years later, Day continues to draw political cartoons when not at his job at a bike shop, but that next staff newspaper job never came.
And now, says Daryl Cagle — who syndicates the cartoonist’s work — Day “is close to losing his house.”
On Monday, Cagle decided to act, launching a campaign to “replace” something you typically don’t see from crowdfunding: a lost job.
Through the Indiegogo site, Cagle created “Fund a political cartoonist for a year” — a drive to raise at least $35,000 as a year’s “salary” to compensate Day for his work. As of late Tuesday, the two-month campaign was approaching the $10,000 mark.
Of Cagle’s effort, Day tells Comic Riffs on Monday: “I am overwhelmed at his gracious effort on my behalf.”
Cagle, a Southern California-based cartoonist who runs Cagle Cartoons, says he knows of no other project like this — a crowdfunding campaign to replace a cartoonist’s job and salary. He says it’s simply one way to respond to the brutal changes that have hit the ranks of staff cartoonists — as with journalists throughout the newpaper industry.
“Bill is an important cartoonist,” Cagle tells Comic Riffs of Day, who worked at the Detroit Free Press before heading to Memphis. “The changes wrought by the Internet and the troubles of the newspaper industry have hit him hard, and he is the perfect example of the problem facing our profession now.”
“I thought we needed to try something new,” Cagle continues. “We've seen some very successful crowd-funding campaigns by Web cartoonists who have huge [online] followings ... and a different demographic of fans than the editorial-cartoon fans, who tend to be older readers of print and kids in school. We don't know if this will work with our fans, but we're hopeful, and we thought we needed to give it a try for Bill.”
Indiegogo co-founder Slava Rubin is well-aware of the plight of political cartoonists like Day.
“Political cartoons have appeared daily in our newspapers for decades, and have been an integral part of American history, art and public life,” Rubin tells Comic Riffs. “As newsrooms get smaller and online journalism grows, this art form is in decline, and Bill’s campaign is a perfect example of how those from the traditional media industry are looking to alternative sources of funding via crowdfunding.”
Cagle is hopeful that the campaign will succeed on at least some measure.
“If this is a big success, we'll be able to fund a salary for Bill for more than one year,” Cagle tells Comic Riffs. “If it is a little success, maybe we can help Bill get caught up on his mortgage.” (Cagle writes on Indiegogo that “if we're able to raise ... $70,000 or $100,000, we will keep Bill working at the important job of drawing political cartoons for the next” two to three years.
And might crowdfunding-for-salaries be a viable option for other pink-slipped political cartoonists?
“I think it is too early to say that this might work a second time for another laid-off editorial cartoonist — we won't know for a while if it has worked the first time,” Cagle says. “Right now, we're only thinking of Bill, and we appreciate all the help and support we can get.”
In response to the campaign so far, Day tells Comic Riffs: “It restores my faith that there are good people in this world who want to help me.”