Back in 1954, an article in the Saturday Review titled “The Rise and Fall of the Political Cartoon” wondered if editorial cartooning was dead. The author of the piece complained that cartoons weren’t as good as they used to be, and that they — and newspapers— were losing ground and influence to competition from “radio, television and news magazines.”
The article so enraged cartoonist John Stampone that he decided to fight back: so he formed the “Association of American Editorial Cartoonists” in the hope it would “help restore some of the prestige to the profession.”
Organizing his fellow cartoonists took some time and effort (Editor’s note: ok, that sure as hell hasn’t changed) and the first gathering of the AAEC transpired in the spring of 1957.
2017 marked the 60th anniversary of our august drinking and drawing club, and I was thinking about those early days as I worked on the program for the (then upcoming) Long Island convention — when a Google Alert sent me to an article with the headline “Political Cartoons Must Now Be Held To A New Standard In The Age Of Trump”
It may as well have been titled “The Rise and Fall of the Political Cartoon.”
I’m not even going to bother to give you a link to article — it’s facile junk by yet another academic who clearly doesn’t read or understand cartoons, predicting the imminent demise of the format.
For a brief moment, as I read the so-called think piece, I felt the rage that must have washed over John Stampone as he read the Saturday Review. It’s like nothing had changed in 60 years.
Yes, while cartoonists’ competition these days are memes, social media, and podcasts, that’s true of anything — the internet has turned everybody into a political commentator.
Still, its amusing when you see editors and academics who declare that, if only cartoonists would follow their advice, the work would be more effective. Hey guys — if you think you can write a better cartoon, go ahead and do it yourself! Everyone else is.
Though the fate of many cartoonists has been tied to the decline and fall of the newspaper — fewer than 50 staff positions remain in the United States — a whole new generation of journalists and cartoonists has felt compelled to take pen to paper (or stylus to screen) to confront the current occupier of the White House.
Now, here’s the part I hate to admit. We do need to be held to a new standard. While political cartooning might be doing OK, the AAEC isn’t. As Ann Telnaes explains in her departing president's letter (see the January 4 post below), we have reached a crossroads.
We used to be a professional association that connected the ink-stained wretches dispersed across the newsrooms of America. That world is gone — if not now, soon.
Yet, we still need that connection.
The majority of cartoonists doing political and editorial work are outside the newspaper, outside the AAEC. They should be here: they should be members.
If nothing else, they deserve a drinking and drawing club too.
—JP Trostle is the digital editor for the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. This opinion piece appears in the forward to the 2017 Year-in-Review issue of the AAEC Notebook.