On April 9, 2008 my first cartoon for the Tri-City Voice was published and it was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. I grew up wanting to be a published cartoonist, and the Tri-City Voice gave me an opportunity to be one. The Tri-City Voice is a wonderful newspaper with a circulation of 21,000 readers that covers the Fremont, Union City, Sunol, Milpitas, and Hayward areas of the San Francisco Bay Area. Every week I look forward to going on the drawing table and thinking up a new cartoon to submit to the Tri-City Voice editors.
This is not my first time doing political cartoons. For about two semesters in my early years in college, I did political cartoons for the college paper The Spartan Daily. During that time, my editorial cartoon heroes were Jules Feiffer, Tom Toles, Mark Alan Stamaty, and Ben Sargent. My own college cartoons were rather superficial and not as insightful as those cartoonists were, and my own style was a weak imitation of Ben Sargent’s crosshatch style. During those years, I first understood how seriously political cartoonists see the value of their work when a big controversy occurred when the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning went to Berke Breathed, the creator of Bloom County. Several political cartoonists, Pat Oliphant being the most outspoken of them, felt that Bloom County didn’t have enough bite to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize and several issues of the Comics Journal was dedicated to the controversy. These cartoonists saw the political cartoon as an essential avenue of political dissent and serious commentary on American society.
As you can tell, I am essentially a comics nerd. After my college years, I had not done any political cartoons for a long time until the Tri-City Voice gave me another opportunity to do cartoon work. It’s been a great time for me. Since coming back to doing political cartooning, I’ve once again started following various political cartoonists and like many cartoonists’ works. Among my many favorites are Clay Bennett, Tom Toles, Tony Auth, Andy Singer, Andy Wuerker, and Kevin Kallagher. I’m fairly liberal and these particular cartoonists are to the left of the political spectrum, but I also like some conservative cartoonists. Among the conservative cartoonists whom I think does great work are Michael Ramirez, Lisa Benson, and Chuck Asay. The best conservative cartoonist of all I think is Harold Gray, who did the comic Little Orphan Annie in the mid twentieth century.
To get ideas on political cartoons, I always try to do some research first. Paul Conrad and Herbert Block, Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonists, always read magazines and books to gain deeper knowledge of the issues of the day, and I try to do the same. I have strong opinions about certain subjects, but there are many things that occur in the news that I have very little knowledge about. During the health care debate last year, for instance, I didn’t have a good understanding of what a single payer system is, or the various options for health care reform.
I check out books or DVD documentaries from the library to learn more about certain subjects. When it comes to magazines, I always try to read from a spectrum of the more radical leftist viewpoints to the more middle of the road, to weigh different perspectives. My favorite magazines are Z Magazine, the Catholic Worker, the Progressive, the Nation, the New Republic, and the Economist. Occassionally, when I want to get a more thoughtful conservative point of view, I check out the National Review. There’s a wonderful book series called the Opposing Viewpoints Series published by Greenhaven Press that has both the liberal and conservative viewpoints to compare and contrast.
After I do some reading, I try to contact people who work in a profession or are connected in some way in a particular issue and could give their own personal views. During the health care debate, for instance, I emailed and talked to people in the health care profession to get their viewpoints on the issues. I read two websites, Everyday Citizen and Crossleft, to get the ideas of bloggers from different areas of the country and to read debates from different bloggers about certain issues.
This research is helpful, because I do my best cartoons when I have a strong opinion about a particular issue. After doing all this, I begin sketching in my sketchbook until I get a drawing I like. I show the rough to my wife to get her reaction. She’s not very political, so I always watch her reaction to see if she gets the cartoon or not. Then I photocopy the drawing and trace it onto bristol board. I then ink the drawing.
It’s a fun process for me to learn. I’m continuously trying to work on my craft, to work on the drawings and improve my inking technique. What I most enjoy is just the whole process I created, the research, the talking to different people, and then the actually drawing and inking of the cartoon. I read where my favorite political cartoonists feel an obligation to know the subjects that they’re drawing, since their political cartoons will have an influence on the public. Paul Conrad, the editorial cartoonist for the Los Angeles Times in the late twentieth century, wrote in the book Drawn and Quartered about the funtion of the editorial cartoonist:
“I believe it is to speak up for the people in this country, in some cases the world, who have no voice. In so doing, the cartoonist has to be as informed as possible. That’s why all the reading is required. A cartoonist has to care very deeply about the issues confronting the nation and the world. I’m not certain that any cartoonist has ever solved anything, but I think we help in clarifying the issues and providing a voice for the common folk who don’t have a forum.”
Ever since Arizona passed a new law targeting illegal immigrants, I have been trying to understand better the intricacies of the illegal immigrant issue and to get various opinions on what a good immigration reform bill should include. When I first heard about the new immigrant law, I first thought that Arizona had a lot of racists. When I emailed a friend in Arizona, it was explained to me that there was a rash of kidnappings and drug smuggling crimes in Arizona due to an influx of drug smugglers coming across the border, and that Arizonans are just tired of the rise in crime. Most Arizonans felt sympathy for those illegal immigrants who work hard and are decent people, but supporters of SB 1070 felt that the crime that was spilling across the border had to be stopped. My friend gave me this link to a study from the Center of Immigration on SB1070 and the effect of illegal immigration on Arizona.
After reading about the kidnappings and drug smugglings, I had more sympathy for the Arizonans who support SB1070. I’m still against the Arizona law, though. It’s too harsh a law that’ll lead to greater discrimination against the Hispanic American community. From what I’ve read, it seems like there are two groups of illegal immigrants. One group of illegal aliens are drug smugglers and criminals who want to expand their criminal activities across the border. Another group of illegal immigrants, though, are decent hardworking people who are just looking for a better life that they can’t find in Mexico. SB1070 is aimed at the first group of illegal immigrants, but I have a feeling that it’ll have harsh consequences for the second group of more decent illegal immigrants. I worry that SB1070 will drive the second group of illegal immigrants more underground, where they’re more vulnerable to being exploited by criminals and unscrupulous employers.
The Opposing Viewpoints series has a good book on Illegal Immigrants that is edited by David Bender, Bruno Leone, and Charles Cozic. It was published in 1997, after California passed Proposition 187, which denied public education, health care and welfare benefits to illegal immigrants. Though it was written over a decade ago, the arguments in this book are being echoed in today’s debate over immigration reform.
The June 2010 edition of Z Magazine has a good article by Greg Guma on Arizona’s immigration law and the historical context of the law. Guma is an author, editor and former executive director of Pacifica Radio and he headed the leading immigrant legal services in New Mexico in the mid 1990s. His article traces the history of anti-immigrant sentiment from the 1924 Immigration Act to the Braceros Program in the 1940s which provided cheap Mexican agricultural laborers to work in the U.S. fields. He also talks about the politics of the law, the move by conservatives like Senator Russell Pearce to wipe out sanctuary policies that protect illegal immigrants in certain cities.
A great resource for knowing more about immigrant issues is the group The National Council of La Raza which is the largest national Latino civil rights and advocacy group in the United States and works to improve the lives of Hispanic Americans. On May 6, NCLR joined with the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the National Puerto Rican Coalition (NPRC), and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) to announce a boycott against the state of Arizona in protest of SB 1070.
One of the most active groups in the fight for immigrant rights has been various progressive Christian groups. Bishop Kirk Smith and the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona has been very involved in helping Arizona’s immigrants, and Frontera de Cristo, a Presbyterian group, has been involved in a cross border ministry in Arizona and Mexico. The Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. is dedicated to provide legal services to indigent and low-income immigrants principally through diocesan immigration programs and to meet the immigration needs identified by the Catholic Church in the United States.
The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, Hispanic National Association of Evangelicals has denounced SB 1070 and has led an effort to lobby Senator John McCain to take up action on immigration reform. Interfaith Worker Justice has also called on faith leaders across the nation to sign a statement condemning SB 1070 and to enact comprehensive immigration reform. Rev. John Dorhauer, who heads the United Church of Christ’s Phoenix-based Southwest Conference, has called for a selective boycott of Arizona businesses.
Right now the political cartoonist who is doing the best work on the Arizona controversy is Lalo Alcarez, a political cartoonist who does a political cartoon called La Cucaracha for the LA Weekly. Ted Rall’s wonderful collection of political cartoonists Attitude: The New Subversive Political Cartoonists has an interview with Lalo Alcarez where Alcarez describes his role as a political cartoonist:
I take seriously my self defined mission to be an advocate for Chicanos/Latinos and immigrants, not to mention people of color. I don’t think I’m some kind of a crusader. I’m just a responsible Chicano- by definition, a Chicano is a politically-conscious and self-aware Mexican-American, so I’m just continuing a tradition of political advocacy and self defense on behalf of my community.
Content-wise, I feel my work is a departure from the usual Chicano art that can be a bit didactic, preachy, bombastic, etc. I am consciously trying to extend Chicano art into editorial cartooning. We all know editorial art is propoganda, so if I’m a good propogandist for the defense of Chicanos, etc. so be it. But as far as not really taking myself seriously, I feel it is the fact that I can tweak Latinos too and the fact that I cam use non-PC language and imagery to attack everybody on any side of an issue- that is liberating.
This is all really fascinating to me. The more I know about the subject, the more ideas I get for cartoons. In the book, Herblock: The Life and Work of the Great Political Cartoonist by Haynes Johnson and Harry Katz, they write that political cartoonist Herbert Block’s cartoons campaigned for causes that he was passionate about rather than solely created cartoons that responded to the daily headlines. Many of today’s best alternative political cartoonists, like Stephanie McMillan, Keith Knight, Ted Rall, and Matt Bors, focus on radical environmentalism, the monopoly of two party political system, flaws of the capitalist system, the excess of corporate power. My own interest in Arizona’s recent immigrant law comes from the knowledge that Filipino Americans have had a history of exploitation and discrimination that is similar to Mexican Americans. Carlos Bulosan wrote a book America In In The Heart chronicles the writer’s experiences as a migrant worker along the western U.S. coast in the 1920s and 1930s. Ronald Takaki’s book Strangers From A Different Shore is a history of Asian Americans and it describes the prejudices and discriminatory laws that these Asian immigrants faced. Hopefully I’ll be able to think up some good cartoons.
I end this blog with a quote from Herbert Block and some youtube videos of great political cartoonists.
A wide range of work comes under the heading of editorial cartooning today, including gag cartoons on current topics. I enjoy many of these and usually put some fun in my work. But I still feel that the political cartoon should have a view to express, that it should have some purpose beyond the chuckle. So what I’m talking about here is the cartoon as an opinion medium.
The political cartoon is not a news story and it’s not an oil painting. It’s essentially a means for poking fun, for puncturing pomposity.”