Cartoon Freedom Fighters

Politics & Prose Bookstore in DC had a book event tonight for Attitude 3 – a collection of the work of “the New Subversive Online Cartoonists.”  The book, edited with questions and commentary throughout by Ted Rall, features the work of people more than happy to expose the lies and crimes of the Bush regime.

Many of the cartoonists have done recent work on torture.  This is refreshing, considering how much of the mainstream media have thumbtwisted themselves away from the subject.

August Pollack showed a great cartoon with a country singer talking about his new song denouncing those “Saddam-fellating liberals.”   Pollack mentioned that he was very pleased with the strong international response his work generated.  He confided that this included many financial offers from Nigeria.

One of the female cartoonists showed a cartoon mocking women’s magazines’ obsessive articles on female bodies.   She pointed out – as a true story – that  women get their small toes removed to fit into pointy shoes.  She may have specified New York women, or perhaps this is a more widespread dementia.

One of the cartoonists on the panel, Stephanie McMillan, has a new book – Minimum Security –  with her own columns.  She has the greatest author photo I ever saw – showing her bent over a police car surrounded by cops with her hands handcuffed behind her back.  (This is a bona fide photo from a 1994 protest).  Publishers seem to prefer photos showing authors as erudite or professorial – something that looks safe on a coffee table, apparently.  (By the way, I sure as Hades did not choose the photo for the back flap of Attention Deficit Democracy. And it didn’t look that bad when I sent it to New York – along with the photo on this blog. I guess St. Martin’s/Palgrave was trying to make me look respectable.)

Rall said that the cutting edge of editorial humor is now online.  But he stressed that print mediums also have something special – “You can take it to the beach or to your cell at Guantanamo.”

In the Q&A, I chucked in a question about the cartoonists’ perception of whether editors had been more cowardly or fearful of controversy since 9/11.

Rall replied, “Editors have become incredible cowards – and they never had a lot of balls to begin with.”  Rall was one of the cartoonists most often reprinted in the New York Times in 1997 and 1999.  But they have ceased using his work.

Rall related how he was almost hired in the 1990s as a cartoonist for a newspaper in Asbury, New Jersey.  He sensed the interview had gone very well – and then came one last question.  The editor pointed out the window to the large parking lot and asked: “Am I ever going to look at that window and see someone protesting some cartoon that you drew?”
 So much for that job.

Mikhaela Reid, a red-haired former Teamster/Harvard grad, commented, “The cartoons that stay in the newspapers are those that generate the least angry mail… Editors respond to a few cranky letters as if the business is going under.”

One cartoonist commented: “You can judge people by the work they don’t do.”   Editors choose cartoonists not to offend.

Rall observed, “We have all sent our work to all the [top] newspapers – and they have seen it.” Yet chosen not to use it. 

Cartoonists, when they sign a book, tend to draw neat little figures and clever snippets.  Other authors usually only sign their names, or merely add a few sentences imploring the person to buy additional copies of the book for their relatives.

Rall had a great laugh – very hearty and quick  – helping his fellow cartoonists as they did their 3 minute presentations of their work.  His laugh is especially refreshing considering the deluge of hatred that came his way after 9/11.  (His next book will have a 40 page collection of hate mail he received).  He has a new book out entitled Silk Road to Ruin.    His webpage is excellent and has links to his cartoons and his op-eds.

Many, perhaps most, of the cartoonists on the panel tonight  are doing their art and political protests after their day jobs.  It is refreshing to see non-mercenaries popping up in the Washington area – people doing their best work out of love and passion.

Cartoonists are doing some of the finest political commentary in the nation these days.  It is unfortunate that so few respectable columnists have as much gumption.

Many of the cartoonists will be appearing this weekend at the Small Press Expo – America’s premier cartooning and comic arts festival –  in Bethesda, Maryland this Friday and Saturday.  They are an amiable lot, and catching them at their booths and signings should be a treat.

I have been fascinated by cartoons for more decades than I can remember.  My father encouraged my love of cartoons from the time I was kneehigh to a grasshopper. The Sunday Washington Post was a ritual in our house.  But even when I was 10 years old, I still recognized that Herblock, the Post’s cartoonist for its first 130 years, could not draw worth squat. Neither his drawing nor his thinking ever improved.



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5 Responses to Cartoon Freedom Fighters

  1. Jerry October 13, 2006 at 1:04 am #

    I saw the words “cartoon” and “freedom” in the RSS feed and thought “Oh cool, he’s gonna talk about the 9/11 conspiracy theory episode of South Park from last night.” Opps, wrong medium. My favorite though is Russmo. He’s usually right on the money, even though he’s been on sabbatical for a while.

  2. klyde October 13, 2006 at 8:44 am #

    Only liberal or progressive or anti-war cartoonist get fired or in the case of Rall not hired. Warmongering court artist like the hack at the LATimes, ramirez just go on and on no matter how many anti-war readers complain about his swill.

    Love your work at

  3. Scott October 13, 2006 at 12:30 pm #

    Yeah, but that South Park was hilarious though wasn’t it?

  4. Jim October 13, 2006 at 12:38 pm #

    Klyde – thanks for the kind words.

    That’s a great point about nitwit pro-war cartoonists. Maybe the editors are more fearful of being tagged anti-American if they run stuff that tarnishes Leviathan.

    Or maybe some of the editors got their jobs because of being certified half-wits.

  5. Jim October 13, 2006 at 12:41 pm #

    Jerry – Russmo does great stuff. I hope he is back soon.

    Scott – I missed the South Park episode. Got the cable connection cut a few months ago. Not having TV has meant that I had more time for the whetstone.