Attending a Political Cartoonist Convention in Portland Part 1

From June 16 to June 19, I went to Portland to attend a conference of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. In the span of a few days, I met cartoonists from around the country and enjoyed many conversations about the state of the industry and about the craft of cartooning. I was initially nervous about meeting some of my cartoonist heroes, but once I started talking to them, they always turned out to be nice and engaging people.

The very first cartoonists that I met were Jesse Springer and Monte Wolverton. Jesse had attended his first convention last year and still considered himself a relative newby, even though he had been doing political cartoons for over 15 years. He does political cartoons for local papers in Eugene, Oregon, and during the course of the convention we got around to talking about the materials we used to create our cartoons.

Monte Wolverton is a cartoonist based in Los Angeles. He has been doing editorial cartoons since the mid 1990s, is managing editor of Plain Truth magazine, and is an occassional contributor to MAD magazine. His father is Basil Wolverton, a famous contributor to Mad Magazine in the 1950s. We talked for a brief time about each others work, and he mentioned how he is preparing to move soon to the Oregon area. Monte introduced me to another L.A. political cartoonist, Steve Greenberg, the regular contributor to the the alternative-weekly Ventura County Reporter, the influential L.A. news and politics site LA Observed.com and the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles. Steve was with his wife, and they gave me some good natured ribbing because of my Celtics shirt. I wore Celtics shirts during the course of the convention, and received gracious condolences from the Los Angeles cartoonists when the Celtics lost game 7 Thursday. Steve had just received some controversy for a political cartoon he recently did that looked at the recent incident between Israel and and the Palestinian boat from the Israelis point of view. I was surprised that he actually knew my cartoons, but it made me feel good to know that some cartoonists actually knew my work.

Most of the convention was made up of panels describing the state of the profession locally, nationally, and internationally. We met each day at Smith Memorial Student Union at around 9 a.m. to listen to the various panels, and during the breaks I got to meet many of the cartoonists and their spouses. Several of the cartoonists have been cartooning in their papers for over 20 years, and it was humbling to realize their dedication to their craft and their knowledge of various political issues. I was rather shy to meet some of the cartoonists whose work I admired for several years, but once I got over my shyness, I found these individuals to be very nice and funny. After the day was over, I would often go to the internet to look up the cartoons of people whom I didn’t know. When I did so, I found a lot of great work that I was unfamiliar with.

One of the cartoonists that I met the first day was John Trever and his wife Karen. John Trever has been the editorial cartoonist for the Albuquerque Journal since 1976, and his work has been honored by the Society of Professional Journalists, the Free Press Association, the Overseas Press Club, the New Mexico Legislature and the Albuquerque Arts Alliance. Both John and Karen were both very kind and kept me company when I looked rather like a deer in the headlights in the first day. I mentioned that my wife and I went on our honeymoon in Santa Fe, Taos, and Albuquerque to see the hot air balloon festival, and he gave a chuckle. He gave me some good advice on the political cartooning profession. I was especially curious to hear his take on how Arizona’s SB1070 law has affected the illegal immigration situation in New Mexico, as that has been a subject that I have had some interest in. John told me that New Mexico has a very different perspective on illegal immigration than Arizona does, and that the illegal immigration situation is very different for each border state of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. I appreciated his insights. One of the few disappointments that I had during the convention was that I was unable to meet the Arizona political cartoonists to get a first hand account of the situation in Arizona.

Another cartoonist that I was able to meet was Peter Evans and his wife Juanita. Peter became a cartoonist for the Florida newspaper the Islander News after retiring from a career in advertising and has won many awards from the Florida Press Association. He was very encouraging to a beginning cartoonist like myself and was very curious about my newspaper The Tri-City Voice. Peter Evans said that any cartoonist is lucky to have any newspaper to publish their work, as cartoonists in recent years have been losing their jobs as newspapers have been folding throughout the nation. This has been a running theme throughout the convention, as the political cartoonist profession has been going through a crisis as the number of cartoonists have dwindle with the number of newspapers. There is much debate on what the future of political cartooning would be for cartoonist who want to earn a living from their craft. Someone mentioned to me that over 30 years ago there were over 300 political cartoonist that were able to earn a living from their work. Today, there are only 50 or so political cartoonists who are working full time in a newspaper with an office for themselves.

There were several winning political cartoonists in the convention and I was surprised at how nice and normal they were. I had this preconception that they would be these serious and fierce individuals since their cartoons frequently are so biting and sharp, but they turned out to be very personable and funny. I was fairly nervous to meet Matt Wuerker, whose work has had a great influence on me since I first saw his cartoons in Ted Rall’s cartoon collection Attitude: The New Subversive Politcal Cartoonists. He just won the 2010 Herblock awards and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. When we talked, he mentioned that he was a fan of my cartoons, which gave me a big thrill. We had a nice talk about the new bike lanes that are opening up in Washington D.C. and the artwork of Goya. Here is a picture of Matt with fellow cartoonists Peter Evans and Adam Zyglis. I didn’t get much of a chance to talk to Adam, but he’s a great cartoonist for the Buffalo News.

A cartoonist that I met briefly was Mark Fiore, this year’s winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning. Mark Fiore creates animated cartoons on a wide range of online news sites and has won the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award in 2003. Mark was a very friendly person who always greeted everyone with a smile. Mark had just gone through a very public conflict with Apple Computers over an app that he created that was rejected by the company. Apple had rejected Fiore’s app for the iPhone to present his political cartoons because of Apple’s policy of rejecting anything that ridicules public figures. After Fiore won the Pulitzer, however, Apple called Fiore and asked him to resubmit the app.

This controversy between Apple and Mark Fiore is of some concern among political cartoonists because of the possible limiting of the freedom of First Amendment rights. The job of the political cartoonist is to ridicule public figures, and there is concern that Apple’s policy of rejecting anything that ridicules public figures effectively bans all political cartoons and satire from the iPhone and the iPad. The latest issue of the Notebook, the newsletter of the AAEC, raises a point that was echoed by media critic Dan Gillmore: since many news organizations use iPhone to publish their work, this potentially gives Apple a lot of control over what content is given to the public. This means that dissenting opinions and controversial subjects may be censored. This is of special concern, as newspaper readership declines and iPhones and other similar gadgets become the primary source of news for more and more people.

During the course of the convention, I bonded the most with cartoonists Ann Cleaves and Ann Ganz, and Kathy Reilly Mannix, the sponsor of Cartoons and Cocktails. Cartoons in Cocktails sponsors two groups: Young D.C. offers teenagers in the Washington D.C. area a chance to meet and learn from professional journalists; the Cartoonists Rights Network International helps cartoonists around the world who face censorship, imprisonment, intimidation or death due to their commentary. All three are very nice and interesting people. Ann has a very fascinating life. She began cartooning as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Liberia and as a volunteer in Fiji she illustrated schoolbooks for the Fiji Ministry of Education. She taught art in the Boston public schools, cartooning in Texas and high school subjects in the adult division of the Los Angeles School District from 1988 to 2004. During the course of a few lunches, we had several interesting talks on the political scene and in art and the comic scene. Since the Portland Museum of Art is having a current exhibit on Robert Crumb’s work on the Book of Genesis, we got around to talking about a documentary on Robert Crumb that every cartoonist seems to have seen. Ann recommended that I try lithography, a printing technique involving the use of a stone and that was used by early caricaturists like Honore Daumier. I really like her drawing style. It reminds me of Roz Chast of the New Yorker and Lynda Barry.

Ann Ganz is a very good storyteller with several interesting anecdotes about the Washington D.C. and Martha’s Vineyard area. She knows a lot of people in the area and she had several funny stories about them. I was thrilled to learn that Ann knew Thomas Hart Benton, a great muralist painter in the 1930s and one of my favorite artists. Benton and his family frequently spent the summer in Martha’s Vineyard, and Ann’s children were playmates with the Benton children. Ann mentioned that Tom wouldn’t have gotten anywhere in life without the business acumen of his wife Rita.

Kathy Reilly Mannix was a fun person to talk to as well. She had a lot of insights into the Washington D.C. scene, and she talked a lot about the political scene. At some point, I found out about her love of Doonesbury. I was an avid follower of Doonesbury for a three year period in the late 1970s and early 1980s. When Trudeau went on a sabbatical in the early 1980s, I began to read Bloom County and lost touch with Doonesbury. Last I read Doonesbury, Mike had just started dating Joanie, Hedley Donovan had just explored Reagan’s brain, and Zonker was retiring from the sun tanning competition. Kathy caught me up on the lives of the characters of Doonesbury since then, which is quite a bit.

V. Cullum Rogers seems to be the historian of the organization. He was a very nice man who gave me a lot of information about the history of the AAEC. He’s the regular cartoonist for The Independent Weekly in Durham, North Carolina, since 1997. For a gift, he gave me a copy of the Notebook celebrating the 50th anniversary of the AAEC. The AAEC started in 1957, when John Stampone of the Army Times organized a group of 84 political cartoonists in response to a Saturday Review article by Laddie Smith, a professor of journalism at the University of Wisconsin. Smith’s article lamented the decline in quality of political cartoons, which Stampone deeply disagreed with. Dan Dowling of the New York Herald Tribune was the first President of the AAEC, and in the next few years, some of the best political cartoonists of the nation have held the presidency of the organization. The President during this year’s convention was Rex Babin, a wonderful cartoonist for the Sacramento Bee who was the winner of the National Press Foundation’s 2001 Berryman Award and was a finalist for the 2003 Pulitzer Prize. During the last day of the convention, he turned over the Presidency to the capable hands of Steve Kelley, the cartoonist for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans. Kelley has won first-place awards from the CNPA, the Los Angeles Press Club and the National Headliner Award and is a very funny comedian. He has done comedy for the Tonight Show. In a more serious vein, Steve has helped Funny Money to provide funding for the San Diego Child Abuse Prevention Foundation, and he started 1,000 Laughs for 1,000 Smiles to raise money to fund reconstructive surgery for children in Mexico.

Overall I really enjoyed the convention. The hosts of the convention were Portland cartoonists Jack Ohman, of the Oregonian, and Matt Bors, an alternative political cartoonist found in The Village Voice, Cleveland Free Times, The Funny Times, Seven Days, The Buffalo BEAST, and The Free Press. I’ll end this blog for now and begin soon Part 2 of my times in the convention, covering the talk of famed political cartoonist Jeff Danziger, news of the VJ movement in Europe, the courage of Arab cartoonists, the work of the Cartoonists Rights Network International, and more talk of political cartoonists. As a plug, cartoonist
Rob Rogers, winner of the Thomas Nast Award in 1999 and the National Headliner Award in 1995, had a collection of his cartoons called No Cartoon Left Behind: The Best of Rob Rogers that just came out in bookstores. If you’re a fan of political cartoons, check it out.

Below are some youtube videos of political cartoonists. Some are interviews that Daryl Cagle took of political cartoonists during last years AAEC convention in Seattle.

Mark Fiore in SPARK

Daryl Cagle interviews Tim Eagan

Daryl Cagle interviews Jeff Parker, Mike Peters, Monte Wolverton, and Cameron Cardow


Daryle Cagle interviews Mikhaela Reid and Jen Sorensen


Daryle Cagle interviews Steve Kelly

Daryle Cagle interviews Matt Bors

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About angelolopez

I’ve wanted to be an artist all my life. Since I was a child I’ve drawn on any scrap of paper I could get a hold of. When I went to San Jose State University, I became more exposed to the works of the great fine artists and illustrators. My college paintings were heavily influenced by the humorous illustrations of Peter De Seve, an illustrator for the New Yorker magazine. I also fell under the spell of the great muralists of the 1930s, especially Thomas Hart Benton and Diego Rivera. I graduated with a degree in Illustration. Since my time in college, my goal has been to be a successful children’s book illustrator. I’ve illustrated 3 books: Two Moms the Zark and Me by Johnny Valentine in 1993; Night Travelers by Sue Hill in 1994; and Cherubic Children’s New Classic Story Book Volume 2 for Cherubic Press in 1998. I’ve painted murals for Lester Shields Elementary School in San Jose, the Berryessa branch of the San Jose Public Library, and Grace Community Church in Los Altos. I’ve had a few illustrations published in South Bay Accent Magazine and I will have an illustration published in the January/February issue of Tikkun magazine.
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