Thursday, February 19, 2009

From Your Senior Cartoon Correspondent...

Did you ever see that Jerry Seinfeld stand-up bit where he teases the audience by saying (I paraphrase), "You come here, you get drunk, and sit in judgment of my comedy. But you aren't writers, you aren't comedians, you're completely unqualified!"

As a cartoonist I get that feeling every time one of these cartoon outrages breaks. You sit there listening to Michael Reagan, Chris Matthews, Ron Kuby, Jim Lehrer, arguing about a cartoonist's "intent," whether a cartoon is funny, whether it's well executed, whether it even deserves to be called a "cartoon." And then they take calls. The New Yorker "fist bump" flap was a particularly cringeable moment.

Look, every cartoonist has spent some time looking at cartoons in books. You can't become an editorial cartoonist for a major newspaper without some study. At some point you run across Little Black Sambo and other old, "darkie" imagery from packaging and advertising from the first half of the 20th century. You've seen reproductions of the cartoons of Lincoln's time showing the brutal "negro" caricatures of the day. Maybe you've even seen a pre-sanitized version of Disney's Fantasia. And perhaps you learn about the history of slavery, Jim Crow, and civil rights struggle in the United States. You file that information away and it informs how you approach cartoons. Depending on who you are, you either avoid the shameful stereotypes from the past on a subconscious level––or you find a way to work them into your repertoire.


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