Habitat Destruction: Political Cartoonists are Losing Ground

Political cartoonists are not valued as they once were by the corporate press [Ed: But they are the heart of our publication, the Humor Times!]

As in the natural world, even the most beneficial creatures can be driven to extinction. And — yikes! — right before our own eyes, the invaluable species of Kar-toon-us A-mer-i-kan-us (aka political cartoonists) is fast disappearing from view. There is nothing natural about this; it’s not the result of a declining talent pool, and it’s certainly not due to any lack of rich political fodder. Rather, the cartoonists’ media habitat is being destroyed.

political cartoonists
Not to toot our own horn, but we here at the Humor Times put our political cartoonists front and center. And subscriptions are quite affordable!

Around the start of the 20th century, some 2,000 newspapers featured their own, full-time staff cartoonists to attract readers and subscribers. (The Hightower Lowdown’s own Brian Duffy notes that his onetime mainstay, the Des Moines Register, even ran its cartoonists’ art on the front page.) In just the last decade, though, there’s been a wholesale dumping of these artistic journalists, with even Pulitzer Prize winners unceremoniously dumped. Now, in the entire USA, only a couple dozen cartoonists are paid newspaper staffers.

What happened? Monopolization and Wall Street greed, that’s what.

Most U.S. papers, including major metropolitan dailies, have been gobbled up by profiteering hedge fund hucksters with murky names like Alden Global Capital and SoftBank Group. They have merged, purged, plundered, shriveled and shut down these essential local sources of news and democratic discourse. It’s not merely that these fast-buck owners neither know nor care about journalism, but also that they neither know nor care about attracting customers. They are money manipulators whose overriding interest is to cash out a paper’s financial assets and haul off the booty. Thus, they view cartoonists as a paycheck that can be easily diverted into their own pockets, dismissing the fact that enjoying good local cartoonists ranks as one of the top reasons people give for buying the paper.

Thus, the combo of Wall Street greed and corporate stupidity threatens to do what the brute force of tyrants and other self-anointed censors has consistently failed to do: Stop them damn cartoons! Note that no one is crudely banning political cartoonists from producing any image they want. But the new monopolistic order of newspapering says artistic journalists can no longer expect to get a fair price for their product, much less a living. In short, they are free to create … for free. The Wall Street barons of local news are locking these journalists out of their primary marketplace, arbitrarily separating producers from the strong consumer demand that continues to exist for their work.

Meanwhile, after casting cartoons out of their natural newsprint habitat, media profiteers cavalierly recommend that today’s cartoonists find niches in the vast worldwide web.

Two big problems with that: (1) The internet is so overloaded that finding any particular cartoonist is, as Duffy put it, “like finding an individual snowflake in a blizzard;” and (2) posting work online is not a career plan, for the webisphere is a cold, dark space that rarely pays a salary … or anything!

Yet thousands of intrepid souls around the world are pouring their talents into the challenge of connecting with the public while supporting their art. Today, animated cartoons, multi-panel stories, graphic novels, nonfiction books and more are finding support from direct sales to subscribers, self-syndication, live events, foundation grants and direct work with unions, enviros, civil rights groups and other like-minded organizations. Plus, they are inventing whatever else they can to support their cartooning habit and advance the civic causes their freewheeling democratic voices are championing.

Fans of political cartoons can rejoice at the existence of three websites, curated by cartoonists themselves, that offer cornucopias of cartoons from established and emerging artists. Feast on what the corporate powers are taking from our news feeds!

No. 1: A comic site edited by Matt Bors delivers a selection of cartoons to your email inbox every morning. The daily toons are free, but if you sign up as a member, you’ll be helping those cartoonists and editors actually make a living — plus, you’ll get more cool stuff. TheNib.com

No. 2: My friend, Matt Wuerker, edits Politico’s weekly “Cartoon Carousel.” Politico.com/tag/Cartoon-Carousel

No. 3: Check out the offerings of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. EditorialCartoonists.com.

[Ed note: We would hasten to add the Humor Times monthly publication, available in print or digital formats, which features over a hundred cartoons each issue by the best in the biz!]

More than celebrating their skills and gumption, we the people who benefit from their audacity and tenacity should seek them out and rally ’round to help this editorial art flourish anew.

Jim Hightower