This year the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists have a convention in San Francisco. Editorial cartoonists from all over the nation meet in San Francisco to talk about the state of the editorial cartooning field and to see the innovations of several cartoonists in interactive cartoon journalism. Museum curators reminded cartoonists of the rich heritage of past editorial cartoonist greats and how they reflected the political climate of the times.
It is a chance to talk to cartoonists whose work I’ve always admired and to meet with cartoonists from all over the world. In the past conventions, I’ve always admired the courage of the foreign cartoonists in creating cartoons that attack religious extremism, authoritarian governments and corrupt officials and business practices. When I meet these brave people and listen to their stories, it always inspires me to take stronger stands with my cartoons to fight for the forgotten, the marginalized and those without a voice in our society. This year I met cartoonists from Cuba, India, Pakistan, Canada and Europe.
I also got a chance to catch up with the work and the lives of cartoonists that I met in previous conventions and have become friends with. I love editorial cartooning, but it can be a lonely task at times, as there aren’t other editorial cartoonists in the area to talk to. It’s just nice to talk to other cartoonists who are passionate about cartooning.
Here are some of the panel discussions at the San Francisco convention.
Jenny Robb, a curator from the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum, talked about the museum’s new location and the new storage facilities to house the original comic artwork. The Billy Ireland Museum has classrooms for presentations and a new tent deck exhibition case that protects comic art from light damage. They recently purchased the drawing table of Chester Gould, the creator of the comic strip “Dick Tracy”. The museum’s most recent exhibit is “The Long March: Civil Rights in Cartoons and Comics” to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Robb talked about The Opper Project, named after Ohioan Frederick Burr Opper, the first great American-born cartoonist. The Opper Project is an on-line collection of historic editorial cartoons that is available for teachers to use editorial cartoons to teach history.
Corry Kanzenberg, a curator at the Charles Schulz Museum, talked about the latest exhibit in the museum, titled “Social Commentary”, which examines Peanuts comic strips with topical themes. Nuclear fallout, school prayer, the Vietnam War, women’s equality, racial equality and pollution have all been dealt with in the comic strip. In 1968, for instance, Charles Schulz had a correspondence with Mrs. Harriet Glickman, who suggested that Schulz introduce an African American in the Peanuts comic. This led to the introduction of the character Franklin.
Andrew Farago, the curator for the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, talked a little about Malcolm Whyte, the founder of the museum. Andrew talked about some of the latest events in the museum, including a recent talk by Trina Robbins, an exhibit of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the 75th anniversary of Superman, and “Stranger Than Life: an exhibit of M.K. Brown”.
Knight fellow Gus D’Angelo is working on a project to make easy interactivity and animation more accessible to political cartoonists. He created a website where people can interact with the political cartoon like a video game.
Dan Archer, a fellow at the Reynolds Journalism Institute, talked about how he incorporates interactivity in his comics journalism. Dan uses Thinklink, Flash, Google Sketchup in his web comics to give views multiple points of view in his cartoon visuals. He does comics on human rights and social justice issues. Dan has done several comics journalist pieces as part of his MFA on cartoon studies. He did 7 stories of victims of human trafficking in a larger comics journalist piece called “Borderland” that was part of a traveling exhibit in Russia. For the San Francisco Public Press, he did a piece on the human side and the legislative side of human trafficking. Dan lived for a year in Nepal to study the issue of women and girls being sold to rich landowners. Like Joe Sacco, he puts himself in the comics pieces to give it more authenticity. During the Ferguson shooting a few weeks ago, he went to the site and interviewed the residents in the area and mapped out the crime scene to give a sense for readers of the environment. His latest piece is about mental health in the homeless community.
Zack Weinersmith is a cartoonist who does regular work for the Nib and is the creator of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. Zack talked about the various ways he get revenue from his cartoons. Zack talked about his experiences with various revenue sources, from advertising, kickstarter, and merchandising sales. He found that advertising revenue is highly variable and highly seasonal. Right now, Zack uses Patreon, a new crowd funding site. He advices aspiring web cartoonists to learn how to do programming.
Matt Bors is an editorial cartoonist who has in the past year found a job editing two cartoon sites, the Medium and The Nib. The Nib runs 24 cartoons a week, most of them being political cartoons and comics journalism. Over 47% of the readership is in mobile devices. Among the cartoonists featured in the Nib are Tom Tomorrow, Jen Sorensen, Andy Warner. The site has over 1 million views every month.
After Matt Bors and Zack Weinersmith spoke, the next group of speakers were 3 Cuban cartoonists. They all work for a magazine called Dedete, which is a great source of Cuban political cartoons. They have done many cartoons against the U.S. sanctions to Cuba and are very critical of imperialism. They are part of a group called Salon International de Satira Politica. In 2008, they went to the China Olympics and for a while pretended to be athletes to be able to talk to regular Chinese people and have some fun. Every Friday the cartoonists are in a television discussion show called “The Round Table”.
Alex Falco is a cartoonist from Dedete, and he has a wonderful simple graphic style and his work covers gender inequality, gun violence, and the oppression of women. Lazaro Miranda has done cartoons on the arms race, rising oil prices, drug addiction, African migrants in Europe, and the growing scarcity of water.
After the 3 Cuban cartoonists spoke, Sabir Nazar, a very courageous Pakistani cartoonist, was the next speaker. Sabir Nazar uses his cartoons to attack religious extremism. Many of his cartoons have drawn the ire of the Islamic extremists in the country. His editor was ambushed and killed by the Taliban. His cartoons have attacked suicide bombings, martial law, the Taliban, the country’s blasphemy law, and sexual harassment. He was threatened because of one of his cartoons commenting on the kidnapping of Chinese girls by the Taliban.
Sabir studied architecture and only came to editorial cartooning because of a college roommate. Sabir explained the historical and cultural context that his political cartoons are working in. Political cartoons were introduced to his culture by the British in the 19th century. Usually only English language newspapers use political cartoons. Most Urdu newspapers seldom use cartoons.
Another brave cartoonist that I met briefly was Kanika Mishra. She was in San Francisco to receive this year’s Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning from the Cartoonists Rights Network International. Her cartoons criticized cult leader Asaram Bapu, who had been accused of raping the 16-year old daughter of two of his followers. Soon after Kanika published her cartoon, a groundswell of threats came from the supporters and followers of the jailed and soon-to-be-charged Bapu. Kanika Mishra and her husband received nonstop threats to their life for around 4 months. During a break in the panel discussions she was with her husband talking to various cartoonists who were commending her for her award.
After the foreign cartoonists spoke, a group of cartoonists and tech people talked about various ways to fund webcomics through the internet. Tyler Palmer talked about his company, Patreon. Patreon is a site for web cartoonists to regularly fund their work by their fans. Tyler feels that Patreon is a more stable source of revenue than Kickstarter.
Leftist cartoonists Ted Rall and Rob Rogers went against right wing cartoonists Scott Stantis and Chip Bok in a fun drawoff contest. One of the things that I like about the AAEC is that the liberal and conservative cartoonists get along, and several are close friends in spite of their political differences. After the contest, I got a chance to talk to Scott Stantis. I wanted to commend him for a recent cartoon that he did on domestic violence. I thought it was the most personal and moving editorial cartoon that I’ve seen so far this year. He thanked me and introduced me to his wife. I found out we both share a love of Alfred Hitchcock movies. My favorite Hitchcock movie is North By Northwest and Scott’s favorite Hitchcock movies are Strangers On A Train and Notorious.
Jeff Lakusta, a cartoonist who works for Google, and Reza Farazmand talk about how to use social media to drive people to a cartoonist’s web comics and to gain revenue. Reza does a webcomic called Poorly Drawn Lines. Reza described various ways to monetize their comics. This was helpful to me, as I am pretty inept when it comes to promoting my work and making money from my cartoons.
To merchandize your cartoons, Reza and Jeff suggest that you create a storefront where you can sell your items. Base your merchandizing on your most popular cartoons, not necessarily the cartoons you like the most. Then drive traffic to your storefront via social media.
Their advice on ads is to find a reliable network to install ad units. That way you can translate page views into dollars.
You can also take advantage of crowdfunding sites like Patreon. Kickstarter tends to be for one time donations, while Patreon is geared more toward monthly donations.
Here is a presentation of Canadian political cartoonists. I didn’t know much about our Canadian compatriots, so I learned a lot from the presentation. There are around 35 editorial cartoonists working in Canada right now, with a wide diversity of styles. Some Canadian cartoonists include Sue Dewar, Barry Blitt, Anita Kunz, Malcolm Mayes, Tony Jenkins, Andy Donato, Brian Gable, and Bruce McKinnon. Terry Mosher, one of the 3 Canadian cartoonists in the panel, has been cartooning for 43 years. He goes all over the world, promoting Canadian cartoonists. Terry’s travels has led him to Spain, China, and Australia, where he met several Australian political cartoonists. Guy Badeaux is a Canadian cartoonist that I met two years ago in the AAEC Washington D.C. conference. We had breakfast and he gave me good advice about cartooning. Guy’s cartoons are sympathetic to the native Canadian people, and his cartoons show a sensitivity to the differences in the various cultures in Canada. He has a wonderful blog about the history of cartoons. Dan Murphy is a Canadian cartoonist who worked for 29 years in the Province newspapers. He is the author of a popular book “101 Uses For a Severed Penis”.
My favorite panel of the convention was the graphic journalism panel with Jack Ohman, Andy Warner, Susie Cagle, Dan Carino, Dan Archer, Stephanie McMillan, and Patrick Chappatte. When the library got a graphic novel section, I discovered the work of Joe Sacco and his great comic journalist pieces of the Bosnia Serbia conflict and Gaza. I wanted to see what other comic journalists are doing.
Patrick Chappatte is a Swiss cartoonist who showed his latest comics journalism piece on the gang problem in Guatemala. He went in the prison of Peron in Guatemala City, where he spent hours talking to prisoners in a prison of 15,000 convicts without any guards. He has done 30 pieces of comics journalism so far.
Andy Warner is a comics journalist who first started out doing mini-comics that he sold in comics conventions. He has done stories about Iraqi soldiers and PTSD, the world wide refugee crisis for the U.N., a piece called “Parched Produce” for KQED. His latest projects have been for the NIB. He did a comics journalist piece on moonshine in Saudi Arabia. And he did a piece on the closing of Fort Ord in California.
Susie Cagle majored in journalism but couldn’t find a regular journalist job after graduating, so she turned to comics journalism. She has done comics pieces on the drought, municipal debt, and income inequality. Susie approaches editors with ideas on comic journalist pieces. She has done frequent work for the Nib and the Medium. Her latest pieces have been on the tech bus controversy in San Francisco and how the sharing economy is actually very discriminatory.
Stephanie McMillan came to political cartooning through her political activism. Stephanie did a graphic journalist piece on the Occupy Wall Street movement from the inside. She followed the 2012 garment workers struggles in Haiti, working with Commodity Change, a group that represented the legitimate voice of the workers. Stephanie’s comics helped the grassroots movement to raise Haiti’s minimum wage. The movement failed, however, and wages were actually lowered. She has continued the fight, though, aiding the workers through her cartoons.
Jack Ohman is the cartoonist for the Sacramento Bee. He became interested in doing longer narrative cartoons after several conversations with his friend Matt Bors. He takes photos on his iphone, which he later uses as reference for his cartoons. He has done cartoons on Representative Kevin McCarthy and has done more personal cartoons on his childhood memories of the JFK assassination.
Stephen Pastis and Will Durst had a very humorous talk about Stephen’s first meeting with the great if reclusive cartoonist Bill Watterson. Watterson is one of the great cartoonists of all time with his run on Calvin and Hobbes, but he is also renowned as a recluse who refuses photos to be taken of him and refuses most interviews.
Lalo Alcarez shared a few of his cartoons then talked about his experience in the television show Bordertown. In the show, he consults with the stories and gets a chance to design the house interiors. Lalo showed a photo of him meeting with the writing staff.
One of the best panels that I saw was the talk by 3 great caricaturists: Zach Trenholm, Ed Wexler, and Kevin Kallagher. Zach Trenholm was heavily influenced by Miguel Covarrubias and Al Hirschfeld and he uses Adobe Illustrator to create caricatures based on distillation and design. Ed Wexler is the caricaturist for the U.S. News and World Report. He was deeply influenced by Mort Drucker and Mad Magazine. He does a lot of sketches to get a simple image. He uses a lot of photo references, preferring casual photos or freeze-framing a video. Kevin Kallagher is the cartoonist for the Economist magazine. Kevin learned how to caricature on the streets. He begins his caricatures with a core of recognition, then riffs on the drawing like a jazz musician riffs on a melody. Kevin draws a rough sketch on simple paper, then scans the drawing and works on the image in Photoshop. He then prints out the sketch when it is the way he wants it, and inks the drawing.
There were other great panels on Saturday that I missed out on because I overslept. On Friday night the cartoonists went on a boat ride around the San Francisco Bay. I was a bit worried because the last time I was out in water, it wasn’t very pleasant. I took some Dramamine before the trip and it worked. I didn’t get sea sick and I had a great time talking to cartoonists and looking at the Bay. Three women on the boat were looking woozy from the waves, so I gave them some Dramamine. They thanked me afterwards. The Dramamine helped me with seasickness, but it made me oversleep the next day.
I think that the best part of convention was just talking to other cartoonists whose work I have always admired. I met Andy Singer and Eric Garcia, two cartoonists I’m a big fan of, and I got a chance to see their original artwork that they brought to the convention to work on. We talked about the papers and the pens we used for our cartoons. I had a nice talk with Andy about religion, which I was grateful for since I’ve been struggling with faith and religion for several years now. On the boat ride I had a nice talk with David Brown about family. The past two years have been time of transition for my family, as we’ve faced unemployment and health problems and the transition from childhood to the teen years. I appreciated the wisdom that David shared with me from his own experiences.
On the last day, after the last panel discussion, I went with Ann Cleaves to the San Francisco Art Institute to look at a mural of Diego Rivera. The walk from the convention to the mural was a lot more strenuous than I expected, as the hills of San Francisco made the walk more of a climb. Along the walk, we talked about our lives and watched the Blue Angels jet planes fly over the San Francisco skyline. The Diego Rivera mural was wonderful to see in person. I didn’t realize it, but only a block away from the mural is the famous crooked road of Lombard Street. Ann and I push through the crowd of tourists and Ann got a chance to see the crooked road for the first time.
All three days that I attended the convention, I met new cartoonists and had many fun conversations with them and their spouses. I’d come home after the day and look up on the web the cartoons of some of the cartoonists I didn’t know and always found that they did great work. Though the editorial cartooning profession has been struggling with newspaper budget cuts and a loss of many staff cartooning jobs, I find that the work of many of the AAEC members to be very good. The cartoonists that I’ve met are doing cartoons mostly on local issues, and they work in a fulltime noncartooning job to pay the rent. I’m in the same situation. I work in a fulltime job and do editorial cartoons in a Filipino American community newspaper on my off time. Some of the cartoonists are hoping to retire soon so they can do stronger cartoons where they don’t have to worry about how their cartoons might affect their regular jobs. We all admire the cartoonists who are able to earn a living either through a newspaper staff position, working freelance in alternative newspapers, or through their comics journalism.
I’ve been in 3 conventions and there has been a lot of worry among how the editorial cartooning profession will last. I don’t have an answer, but it looks like the web cartoonists and comics journalists who were featured in the panel discussions may be mapping a road for future political cartoonists to follow. As the museum curators noted, political cartoons have played an important role in history in keeping politicians and rulers accountable and in fighting for the poor and marginalized in our society. Technology may change, but human nature won’t. As long as human nature is susceptible to the corrupting effects of power, political cartoonists will always play an important role in society.