If you draw cartoons in the United States it’s very unlikely someone’s going to shoot you for it. You do stand a better chance of getting shot in America for just walking down the street, going to school, eating a cheeseburger, being black, than you would anywhere else in the civilized industrial world. But shot, stabbed, bombed, beyotch slapped, purple nurple or being the recipient of vicious wedgies for drawing an offensive cartoon, not likely.
After the terrorist attack in Paris on the magazine Charlie Hebdo which killed cartoonists and other staffers, a lot of American cartoonists received extra attention for doing what the French cartoonists did. We ate it up. A bunch of us (not me) were interviewed on news shows on CNN, Foxnews, radio and other places. We got to wax philosophically about how we will not let these terrorists take away our freedom of speech. We will not be intimidated to stop drawing offensive cartoons. Thing is, American cartoonists don’t do what the French cartoonists did.
Hey, give us extra attention. We could use it. Yes, the newspaper industry sucks for everyone but it especially sucks for cartoonists. If we garnered enough sympathy for a publication to actually hire one of us that would be incredible. Alas, a cartoonist was laid off last week from the newspaper in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. By my count there’s between 40-50 cartoonists on staff at American newspapers. I might have missed a few.
We don’t draw cartoons like the ones drawn for Charlie Hebdo. The cartoonists for Charlie Hebdo sought to offend. You can argue there’s a point in that and we’ll save that discussion for another day or never.
American cartoonists do offend but it usually just comes with the territory. For example, I’ll draw a cartoon on Sarah Palin and someone will hate it. I didn’t mean to offend them although I kinda enjoy they’re offended. There was a point in the cartoon and the reader chose to be offended. I did not take his god (even if he worships Sarah Palin) and purposely set out to insult his faith. Even when I draw on a religion like Catholicism, I’m not out to say being a Catholic is wrong and you’re religion is a hoax. What I’m usually trying to say is it’s bad to rape altar boys.
Another difference between these situations is the fact that the publican Charlie Hebdo put the cartoons on the front page while American newspapers tend to bury their cartoons inside on the opinion page. When I worked for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin for a year they actually put my cartoons on the front page. The only other publication I recall doing that was the Des Moines Register, ya know…before they laid their cartoonist off.
Political cartoons are supposed to be irreverent. I think the guys doing irreverent cartoons today are some of the best in the history of cartooning. But there aren’t that many cartoonists being risque, taking a chance, making you think, challenging your position. I don’t think most cartoonists working today even understand the word “irreverent” (I looked it up when I first got in the business). Most of the time those cartoonists are drawing weather cartoons as in it snowed yesterday and “brrr,” or someone died and it’s sad when people die, or John Boehner sure is orange looking or Obama plays a lot of golf. You get the idea.
We don’t draw things that generate death threats very often. Oh sure, occasionally we’ll get one. I got one about 20 years ago. Readers threaten to drop their subscription or pull advertising, or call an advertiser. Usually we get angry phone calls and letters (Democrats write to the cartoonist and Republicans write to the publisher. What’s up with that?). Now people comment on blogs or send angry tweets. In 2015 you really gotta inspire someone to the point that they actually take the time to put something in an envelope, stamp it and put it in the mail. A friend of mine recently got a copy of his own cartoon in the mail after someone wiped themselves with it. That means two people hate you. The letter writer/wiper and the mailman. Someone did unscrew the lug nuts to a tire on my car once. I’m not sure if that was an angry reader or some girl’s angry boyfriend. I digress.
Nobody’s coming to kill us. I can’t even think of a time a cartoonist in this country was attacked (I had an editor that wanted to attack me every now and then but he knew I could take him). We’re not going to have to start drawing on the floor to stay out of sight from the window. We’re not going to need security (my last job had a couple of old ladies at the reception desk that had to buzz you in and they were kinda scary). I do recall once a cartoonist attacked a helicopter and another attacked a porno booth. Not sure what either situation was about.
So, my fellow cartoonists, please stop pretending that what we do is physically dangerous. It’s only financially dangerous. I know we’re an insecure bunch (I know one guy who paints huge paintings of himself) and we are under appreciated. But think about what happened and the threat others seriously have to live with and put on your big boy pants and stop having a pity party.
And if you’re an American political cartoonist offended by this…get in line.