Thursday, November 19, 2015

Cartoonists Without Their Pens

It wasn't surprising that a public symposium at the National Archives called "Drawn from the Headlines: Communication & Political Cartoons" would draw (!) an overflow crowd. Four top 'drawer' names in the field spoke off the cuff with moderator David Sipress, the longtime New Yorker magazine artist: Keith Knight, Jen Sorensen, Tom Toles and Signe Wilkinson. This took place only days after ISIS' carnage in Paris, less than a year since the Charlie Hebdo massacre, so it was a bit of a surprise that only later in the evening a question was asked about what limits the panelists impose on themselves, given first amendment rights to 'speak truth to power.'
But whose truth and what kind of power?
"As a functioning cartoonist I'm extremely conflicted. it's a real quagmire. In the history of political cartooning there have been shameful chapters - viciously anti-Semitic and extremely racist  work- that have had serious consequences," said Toles (a Pulitzer Prize winner  with the Washington Post ). It's not that he would refuse to consider mockery but in what context, he seemed to say. To what end?
The balance, always the balance, was the answer to another question about the best way to get a point across: not to be too obscure'; not to be 'too clever.'
"You want [the point or message] to be like the viewer thought it up himself," said Sipress, whose introductory remarks included guidelines the New Yorker follows. (You can't advocate for a cause, or support any one party. Caricatures are forbidden, so he sticks to archetypes. I.e a politician who rants like a king can be portrayed in royal robes. Witness a recent drawing of his showing two kings in the midst of opposing armies saying, one to the other"On the other hand, we could join forces and attack the media." Which of the presidential candidates haven't hinted or proclaimed this outright?
Signe Wilkinson, best known for her work with the Philadelphia Daily News, one of two women panelists ('today there is woman who is a full-time paid cartoonist"), batted off any suggestion about a 'woman's point of view' as did Jen Sorensen, who called herself a 'generalist,'  open to the world. "The first goal is to make a point," in any piece. "The second is to be funny." Comedy chops are required above all or who would bother. " Knight, creator of (th)ink and other columns, keeps in mind "the guy in the bar." He told of the rise of 'niche' cartoonists, even one who deals solely in sex toys - a symbol of the  ever-divisible media world where the cartoonist has maybe have a thousand followers, receiving maybe $75 from each. An audience but not much of a living...

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