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EDITOONERY CASUALTIES

 At the end of July last summer, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch laid off 23 staffers from the newsroom, advertising and production—including R.J. Matson, the paper’s staff editorial cartoonist. The Post-Dispatch is the largest in the Lee Enterprises chain, which owns 53 daily newspapers and 300 weeklies, shoppers and specialty publications mostly, plus online sites, in 23 cities. Founded by A.W. Lee in the 1890s, Lee Enterprises acquired Pultizer, Inc., owner of the Post-Dispatch, in 2005, in a deal now seen by many as the purchase that saddled the property-gobbling company with debt that forced it into bankruptcy last year. The reductions in staff continue a chain-wide budget-balancing purge.

While cutting costs by dropping staff, Lee gave CEO Mary Junck a stock bonus worth some $655,000 last winter. Junck’s previous employment includes being publisher and president of the Baltimore Sun (which laid off its legendary staff editoonist, KAL, a couple years ago) and the St. Paul Pioneer Press (which laid off the esteemed Kirk Anderson several years back). When Lee merged the Lincoln Journal with the Lincoln Star in 1995 to create what was then the chain’s second-largest daily, the paper’s staff political cartoonist, Paul Fell, was laid off. (He now self-syndicates his work, which, with additional editorial comment by the perspicacious Shawn Peirce, is available by free subscription at PaulFellCartoons.com.) It’s a track record that makes me fear for the continued livelihood of the Lee-owned Arizona Star’s superlative editoonist, David Fitzsimmons, whose cartoons we’ve featured in the Usual Place (Rants & Raves at RCHarvey.com) almost every time we discuss the current crop of visual comedic mayhem.

Junck’s bonus is a reward, perhaps, for her negotiating a deal last year with Lee’s lenders to refinance $759.5 million of its distressed loans and forestall collapse. 

Lee employees are understandably outraged by the news of layoffs at the papers Junck is responsible for. In Montana last winter, missoulanews.bigskypress.com reported that one former staffer described Junck as “no strategist,” saying, “You could have thrown water balloons in the newsroom and hit ten better candidates for CEO.” ... Another said Junck and other managers “crossed the line from managing to looting a long time ago.”

Matson0001United Media Guild, which represents St. Louis area workers, pulled no punches in its assessment of Junck’s work: “Junck and [CFO Carl Schmidt, who got a $250,000 bonus] are the fiscal geniuses ... [responsible] for eliminating promised health insurance to its retirees, forcing current employees to take unpaid furloughs, freezing pensions, and cutting pay” while laying off hundreds of employees across the country.

Paul Friswold at Dailyrft.com put it this way: “If I may be so bold as to ask, what the hell kind of business strategy do you call giving the boss a big bonus and then giving staff their pink slips? Is this trickle-down economics at work, or merely simple plundering?”

No one has heard any post-employment comment from Matson, who continues to cartoon for Roll Call; he gave no interviews that I’m aware of (although his September 20 cartoon depicting the “47 Percenter” might have an alternative message).

Matson has cartooned for Roll Call since 1986, the year after he graduated from Columbia University. At the same time, he was art director for the Washington Monthly (until 1988) and then cartooned for the New York Observer (1989-2010) and the Post-Dispatch, which he joined in July 2005.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

HERE'S WALDO

Waldo 25 YearsWaldo, the spectacled, pom-pom hatted cartoonish youth in a red-and-white striped shirt, has been hiding out from dedicated readers for 25 years, and an anniversary volume is out from Candlestick Press. Waldo’s British creator, Martin Handford, sold his creation in 2007, as unsullied as ever. But Waldo got in trouble once, according to Susan Carpenter of the Los Angeles Times: “The original 1987 book made the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books for one of its images — a topless sunbather’s bare breast was exposed in a beach scene crowded with hundreds of other beachgoers.” Ahhh, those self-righteous puritans: eagle-eyed as ever, they can spot a naked boob in any panorama of covered ones, no matter how vast. What would we do without them? Probably rot away in miserable decadence.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

GOING DIGITAL

After 80 years in print, Newsweek is joining the multitudes of print publications stampeding into the Internet in an attempt to salvage readership. The news weekly, established in 1933 in louche imitation of Time (which started in 1923), will go to press for the last time for its December 31 issue. After that, it’s all digital.

Newsweek almost went under two years ago when its owner, the Washington Post, decided to cease publication. Then in a last-ditch rescue operation, millionaire Sidney Harman bought the magazine for a buck and installed as editor Tina Brown, then (and now, still) editor of the online Daily Beast. Brown Tina Brown on TVconverted the news magazine into a dishy political gossip rag with an emphasis on opinion columns (Brown’s forte) and long in-depth stories. It was a lively enterprise, and Time started imitating it (or so it appeared to me, subscribing to both).

Oddly, Brown, in her October 22 announcement of the impending change, spent no little energy extolling the magazine’s stupendous recovery under her leadership: “a moribund magazine got its mojo back,” she enthused. Despite all that gloriousness, “when it comes to print, some realities cannot be ignored,” she said. The decisive reality was, apparently, a falling off in advertising revenue. And so Newsweek will join numerous newspapers and other formerly print vehicles in the digital ether.

Newsweek - First CoverWill it be successful there? I doubt it. Another historic news weekly, U.S. News and World Report, went digital several years ago. Have you heard of it lately? I predict that Newsweek will be swallowed up in less than two years by the Daily Beast, which is, apparently, successful.           

Meanwhile, Time will march on. And so — strangely, perhaps, unaccountably — will The Week, a weekly news magazine launched just a few years ago with a reporting formula akin to the original Time scheme: the news from numerous sources is condensed and departmentalized for quick reading. In the early years, Time infused its reports with snide opinion sometimes, but by the 1950s, it aspired to objective journalism.

The Week devotes half pages to reports of the events of the week, adding opinions quoted from (and attributed to) editors and columnists elsewhere. The Week carries very little advertising, so either it has a deep-pocketed angel somewhere or its newsstand and subscription rates are sufficient to cover its production and distribution costs. Or it’s losing money and deep pockets doesn’t mind. But it’s forging ahead, looking pretty healthy to me.

The Week also features a page reprinting a selection of the week’s editorial cartoons and a full-color painted “editorial cartoon” on the cover every week. So if the magazine is thriving, maybe it’s due in some measure to the presence of editorial cartooning. Wow. What a concept.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

SYRIAN AND INDIAN CARTOONISTS' COURAGE RECOGNIZED

Every year, the Cartoonists Rights Network International recognizes a cartoonist who has shown exemplary courage in the face of unrelenting threat, legal action or other pressure as punishment or disincentive for cartoons that are too powerful for some officials, sects, terrorists or demagogues. This year — again, as usual, at the annual convention of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists —  the CRNI presented its Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award, recognizing two cartoonists: Syria’s Ali Ferzat and India’s Aseem Trivedi.

Quoting CRNI board member Matt Wuerker in Time’s issue listing the 100 Most Influential People in the World: “Ali Ferzat, 60, spent years drawing insightful cartoons, mostly staying between the prescribed lines of Syria’s state-sanctioned media. But confronted with the regime’s increasing brutality, he embraced the democracy movement and turned his lampoons on President Bashar Assad directly.” For this, thugs were ordered to send Ali a message: they brutally beat him up, intentionally breaking both his hands. After the attack, Ali made a second courageous and potentially life-threatening decision: he decided to make public what the Assad Regime had done to him. The work of this brave and talented artist can be seen online at ali-ferzat.com/ar/comics.html and on Facebook at facebook.com/ali.frzat.

Malaysian cartoonist Zulkifli Anwar Ulhaque, aka Zunar, last year’s CRNI Courage Award winner (see Ops. 300 and 281), accepted for Ferzat, reading the Syrian’s remarks: “I would like to thank the Board of Directors and staff of Cartoonist Rights Network International for this very wonderful award. The other cartoonists who have won this award in the past, and my colleague Aseem Trivedi, who is wining it today with me, are giants in our cartooning world. They are giants in the defense of freedom. It is a badge of accomplishment that I will wear proudly.

“What I have learned through my rather unpleasant experience at the hands of the tyrant and his goons, is a difficult lesson. It’s a lesson about bravery and fear. When confronting power and tyranny, you must deal with your own fear. Fear is what the tyrants promote and breed in order to keep our heads bowed, out mouths closed, and our pens doing everything other than what we should be doing. Our humor and laughter to a tyrant is deadly. Fear and Threats are deadly to us. Conquer your fear and you can conquer tyrants. Thank you so much.”

Susie Cagle Accepting Award for Aseem TrivediAseem Trivedi, a young cartoonist from India, like Ali Ferzat, made two courageous decisions. First, in an atmosphere of increasing censorship and repression in the world’s largest democracy, Aseem launched the Cartoons Against Corruption website. In an effort to mobilize his fellow citizens against India’s pervasive political corruption, Aseem filled this site with his anti-corruption cartoons. After being charged with treason and insulting national symbols, Aseem took his second courageous act. Despite the charges and threats of additional charges, he has taken a leadership role in India’s emerging free speech movement. Joining forces with other free speech activists, Aseem has launched an online freedom of expression campaign called Save Your Voice: A Movement Against Web Censorship.

Susie Cagle accepted for Trivedi.

Footnit: A month after the AAEC convention, timesofindia.indiatimes.com reported that the state government has decided to drop sedition charges against the Kanpur-based Trivedi. But the cartoonist will still be charge-sheeted for dishonoring the national symbols, emblem and parliament. Trivedi may be punished with imprisonment for a term extending to three years maximum or a fine or both.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

AAEC AWARDS NIGHT

On Saturday evening, following a cocktail hour liberally laced with finger food, the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists conferred awards, beginning with John Locher Memorial Award, presented yearly to an outstanding student editorial cartoonist. This year, it went to Ben Wade, Indiana University at Bloomington.

And then the Ink Bottle Award for exceptional service was presented to Robert “Bro” Russell, Executive Director (and co-founder) of the Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI), a non-profit organization, based in the U. S., that protects the human rights and creative freedom of editorial cartoonists by monitoring the fates of those in countries whose government authorities threaten them to prevent them from criticizing the government. Giving international publicity to such official harassments often saves livelihoods and lives. CRNI, acting directly through affiliates, has frequently helped cartoonists find asylum from their persecuting governments.

From WittyWorld: Born in New York City in 1942, Russell graduated in 1966 from Syracuse University’s School of Fine Arts, a sculpture and painting major. After a tour in the U.S. Peace Corps in India, “Bro” (as his friends know him) went into international development work and has been a career specialist in developing new and innovative organizations that serve critical human needs. He has lived and worked in Asia and Africa for more than 25 years. With a Sri Lankan cartoonist, he started Cartoonists Rights Network in 1992. CRNI has evolved and grown, now with more than 15 affiliate organizations around the world, including a regional office in Ploiesti, Romania. Bro runs workshops in free speech issues for editorial and social cartoonists, writes extensively about human rights and editorial cartoonists. He keeps his relationships up with more than 50 free speech victim clients who have been assisted by Cartoonists Rights Network over the last 11 years.

Next at the podium under the punning heading “The Cartoonists Walked up to the Bar” was Roslyn A. Mazer, Counsel of Record for AAEC in Hustler Magazine v. Falwell, the 1988 Supreme Court case that ruled in favor of Larry Flynt’s magazine, which the evangelical preacher Jerry Falwell had sued over a 1983 parody advertisement featuring a fake interview in which Falwell admits that his “first time” was incest with his mother in an outhouse while drunk. The ruling held that public figures cannot circumvent First Amendment protections by attempting to recover damages based upon emotional distress suffered from parodies. The decision in favor of Flynt strengthened free speech rights in the U.S.; AAEC had joined the action in support of Flynt’s rights, and Mazer remembered those efforts and spoke in recognition of “the remarkable role of the Association in protecting satire.”

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

FRIDAY NIGHT AT THE AAEC CONVENTION

AAEC Literary Death Match 2012Friday evening at the convention of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists was devoted to “Cartoon Death Match: A Field of Memes ... a wild must-see cartoon smackdown” in which Mike Peters, Jen Sorensen, Mark Fiore and Keith Knight (of K Chronicles and The Knight Life) competed. Emceed by the voluble Todd Zuniga of Literary Death Match fame, the contest concluded with a second round of competition between Knight and Sorensen, during which each of the competitors was given 30 seconds to produce while blindfolded a caricature of one of the “celebrity judges” who were refereeing the event (Gene Weingarten, humor columnist at the Washington Post; and, sitting in for Michelle Obama, Heidi MacDonald, reporter on comics Haspiel by Knightnews for PublishersWeekly.com; and the creator of comic book hero Billy Dogma, Dean Haspiel, whose proudest possession is, judging from his frequent flaunting of it, his torso and biceps).

Knight, showing an eerie ability to draw Haspiel without seeing, won; and his earlier caricature of Weingarten produced under a 20-second time allowance, revealed a stunning command of this aspect of the cartooning arts. (Haspiel was easy, Knight told me later: all he had to draw was a huge bicep with a small beard.)

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

EDITOONISTS INVADE WASHINGTON: AAEC CONVENTION

Exploiting the fervid political turbulence of the election season, this year’s convention of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC) was deliberately scheduled to take place September 13-15, after the nominating conventions of the two political parties when the antics of editoonists at their drawing boards could become a louche public spectacle in the form of “A Festival Celebrating the Political Cartoon.” Staged  in Washington, D.C. at the roiling center of the nation’s political perturbations, the convention by design invited the general public to attend certain events intended to showcase political cartooning while providing amusement as well as insight into the subversive machinations of pandering politicians. DamnCartoons0001

Punctuating the event with a suitably festive finale, the presidential suite was raided by the police on a noise abatement errand just after Bruce MacKinnon and the Toon Tones completed an exuberant performance of “Cartoon Blues.” Thus were the unruly ruled: thereafter, into the wee hours, knots and clusters of cartoonists resorted to whispering instead of shouting and singing.

The timing and design of the convention were the concoction of AAEC President-Elect Matt Wuerker of Politico, and they were notably successful. Over 100 editorial cartoonists attended (107, to be exact), including 17 international visitors (from Qatar, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Palestinian territories, Egypt, Uzbekistan, Lebanon, and Morocco), plus AAEC members’ spouses, for a total of 125 registrants. Sale of tickets to public events attracted another 300 persons, tallying a record-setting 425 attendees (not all of whom were present all the time: the 300 ticket-holders came to only those events for which they held tickets).

Almost all of the public events took place at George Washington University on Friday and Saturday, but on Thursday, the group convened at the House of Representatives’ Longworth Building and the Agriculture Committee Hearing Room, where the editoonists unfurled sketchpads and spent an hour sketching each other while awaiting the disdainfully late arrival of two members of the House of Representatives, Jim McGovern, a polite and respectful Democrat from Massachusetts, and California’s louche Kevin McCarthy, House Majority Whip, a Republican whose glib misrepresentations predictably sidestepped the questions he was asked, erecting smoke-screens and impenetrable untruths with every syllable.

According to reporter Warren Rojas at Roll Call, the reception “turned from cheery to combative faster than it takes to sketch a Pinocchio nose on an unsuspecting politician.” The congressmen intended to keep it light. McGovern joked about being mistaken as the son of George McGovern, 1972 Democrat presidential candidate (he was still alive at the time of this convocation), and added that what bothered him most about David Hitch, the editoonist at the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, is that Hitch is “really talented.”

In the same vein, McCarthy said: “I’ve always enjoyed [political cartoons] because they put a little humor at the same time they state a little policy,” billing the late Rex Babin, the Sacramento Bee’s award-winning cartoonist, as must-read.

But the happy talk evaporated once the politicians started fielding questions — all of which were directed at McCarthy. Several cartoonists berated McCarthy for pandering to the Tea Party and for endorsing voter suppression.

McCarthy of the silver tonsils deftly avoided answering, shifting the ground of the argument from the issue highlighted by the questions to other, barely tangential, matters and going on about them at great length. But his interrogators were not fooled: they kept repeating the same question.

“Is this a top issue with all cartoonists? Because I feel like I’m at a town hall,” an exasperated McCarthy said after 10 minutes of rhetorically jousting with peevish cartoonists.            

Other would-be questioners urged both sides to get their act together. “Stop this insane back-and-forth between the parties. It’s very destructive to the country,” warned one incensed Oregonian.

The insanity, as has been amply demonstrated since this historic confrontation, continues unabated. But it was gratifying to see a double-talking Grandstanding Obstructionist Pachyderm with his feet held to the fire, however briefly.

What did he expect anyway? Well-manicured small talk? From those who make a living hurling visual brick bats at public figures?

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

OCTOBER HAT TRICK

NewYorkerBlitt0001Barry Blitt’s cover on the October 15 issue of The New Yorker was his second cover for the magazine in three weeks. Then two weeks later, he drew the cover for the double-issue, October 29 - November 5, bringing his record to three covers in one month. I doubt that even Rea Irvin, the magazine’s storied first “art director” (titles were eschewed in those days), had as many covers to his credit in as short a time. And Blitt also had the cover of the September 3 issue. In his first October appearance on the cover (October 1), he also had a full-page picture inside, illustrating the louche Mitt Romney biographical piece. 

One is tempted to suppose that Blitt is on the cover so often because he is better at drawing Romney than anyone else, a dubious likelihood and one Blitt’s actual artwork denies.

In all his renderings, Blitt’s work is notable for a line that, when not hesitant to the point of vagary, is flacid to the point of boring. I know: it’s a matter of taste, mine against that of New Yorker art director Francoise Mouly. Now we know where each of us stands.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

ZUNAR WINS BUT FREE SPEECH LOSES

Zunar photographA Malaysian court has finally ruled in the lawsuit brought by cartoonist Zulkifli Anwar Ulhaque (aka Zunar) after being arrested last year under the country’s Sedition Act and Printing Presses and Public Act and having his cartoon book collections seized. Human Rights Watch reported recently that the court has ruled that the arrest was lawful. However the court also said that the state’s continued holding of Zunar’s books and artwork was unlawful after the prosecutor opted not to file charges against the Zunar. The Court ordered their return as well as ordering the registrar of the court to determine any damages that should be awarded to Zunar.

In a press release, the Human Rights Watch called the decision “a disturbing rejection of the right to freedom of expression in all its forms, including cartoons.” The press release continues: “Zunar has used political cartoons to highlight the responsibility of government officials for human rights abuses and other problems facing Malaysia. These include corruption, abuse of power, mismanagement of government revenues, racism, and failure to protect religious freedom.”

Zunar cartoon Wait and see..Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at at HRW said: “The court’s verdict against Zunar is no laughing matter, but of real consequence for Malaysia. The conclusion to be drawn is that politicians and officials who feel stung by Zunar’s pen apparently count for more than free expression.”

In 2011, Zunar filed a civil suit against the police and the government over his "unlawful detention.” The government controls Malaysia’s major newspapers and forbade the publication of Zunar’s work, so the cartoonist turned to alternative methods of reaching his readership: he published books and magazines of his cartoons and posted his work online. That, however, did not prevent further governmental attempts to silence him. His books and magazines were banned, his office and those of the enterprises that print his books and magazines were raided, copies were seized, and vendors were frequently warned not to sell his work.

Said Zunar: "The cartoons mainly touch on issues that fail to be highlighted by local political cartoonists such as the prime minister (Najib Tun Razak) and his shop-a-holic wife (Rosmah Mansor), the conspiracy against (opposition leader) Anwar Ibrahim, Scorpene, racism, corruption and Malaysian politics in general.”

Zunar admitted that continuous government pressure had made it difficult for him to find willing printers and vendors to openly sell his book.

Zunar cartoon MurtadGovernment officials have threatened legal action against printing presses and publishers associated with Zunar’s work, and against bookstores who stocked his books. In 2011, Zunar received the prestigious Hellman-Hammett award, given to writers and authors facing political persecution and violations of their rights to free expression. The Cartoonist Rights Network International also recognized the legitimacy of Zunar’s effort, giving him its Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award last year.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian government has announced increasing censorship on cartoons by barring all cartoons for a period of two weeks before the general election, expected to be called later this year. Zunar and a group of political cartoonists announced their opposition to this violation of their rights and said they will defy the ban. Zunar released a statement, part of which Tom Spurgeon published in his ComicsReporter blog:

“The court has denied my fundamental right as a political cartoonist which contradicts the Malaysian Constitution that guarantees the freedom of expression to its citizen. Even though in the other part of the judgment the court had instructed the police to return all my books and drawing and pay the damages, this 'play-safe ruling' does not impress me. This ruling will not stop me, but will give me more strength to ‘Fight Through Cartoon.’ I will appeal to the higher court soon. And I will keep drawing until the last drop of my ink.”

Spurgeon applauded: “I think the favorable ruling may have been a surprise, at least according to Zunar's own predictions in terms of whether he would see any satisfaction or not. That the cartoonist would pivot and hammer away at the remaining injustice rather than dwelling at all on the positive elements of the case is admirable to the extreme.”

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

SUPERMAN ENTERS THE BLOGOSPHERE

By now you've likely heard that in the pages of Superman No.13, Clark Kent quits his once-beloved great metropolitan newspaper. NPR’s Glen Weldon reports: “Disillusioned by his employer's increasing predilection for glitzy infotainment over hard-hitting news, Clark takes a principled stand and abandons print journalism for the Web, a medium blissfully free of petty, frivolous, celebrity-driven content.” Among those aroused by this news was an editorial cartooner who remarked: “You know your industry has problems when a comic book creator decides that it is too unrealistic for his character to have a paying job in the newspaper business. Someone actually looked at the Superman comic book and had the following thought: ‘Well, Clark Kent is a benevolent Kryptonian who has x-ray vision and can fly, but what strains our readers’ credulity is the part where he has a paying newspaper job at the Daily Planet. Readers like realism.’”

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

NOUS R US MISCELLANEY

New York Comic Con drew 116,000 attendees, putting it in a realistic position to rival the Sandy Eggo Con, which shuts down when it hits about 125,000. ... Parade, the Sunday newspaper supplement, was again missing any of its traditional Cartoon Parade feature in the issue for October 7. No cartoons. None. Nada. Sad. Next week, to make up for it, two. Two tiny, postage-stamp sized cartoons. By the end of the month, it was back to one measly cartoon. And the issue for November 25, no cartoons again. Sigh.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com