Matt Bors
Comics, Politics & Ridicule

Bors Blog

Bad Cartoonist

Over the last few years, more and more editorial cartoonists are ridiculing their own profession. I'm not sure if this happens in many other communities, but we specialize in wielding brickbats so why not on ourselves? The best example is Ward Sutton's weekly cartoons in the Onion, which parody a hack cartoonist.

The latest critic is an anonymous editorial cartoonist that started a blog called Bad Cartoonist ripping on work, sometimes with some personal attacks thrown in. He (it's almost certainly a man) is definitely a professional cartoonist with personal knowledge of the people he's attacking so it's whipping up a firestorm of speculation. The Daily Cartoonist has an interview with the unknown blogger and a growing comment thread with a lot of pros responding. Justin Bilicki already has a comic about it.

Internal criticism is sometimes hard to take, but editorial cartooning desperately needs it. The artist should have started the blog with their name on it, but whatever. I guess it's more exciting this way. Everyone gets to call each other and rampantly speculate! Maybe we can out him like Larry Craig.

I've been told that some artists have floated my name as a possibility. It's not me.

I have been critical of the state of political cartoons though. The first time a lot of people saw my work was when Cagle posted this cartoon on his blog on 2005.

The Bad Cartoonist brings up a lot of embarrassing characteristics of "mainstream" comics--the cliche driven metaphors, the random cross hatching thrown behind word bubbles for no apparent reason, and the Jeff MacNelly style that so many cartoonist derive their work from.

The blog is enraging some pros because of the anonymous nature of the criticism (and the ad hominem attacks). I understand their beef. But I think the blog points out something important about this diminishing profession: There's simply too much unoriginal work drawn in very similar styles.

It's the fault of the artists as well as their editors. The decades-long drive to get an editorial cartoon that appeals to all readers has lead to safe, homogenized, and uninspiring cartoons that most everyday people can't even differentiate. Many editors are fearful of any cartoon that takes a partisan position and instead reprint safe political gag cartoons (as exemplified by the cartoons run three inches wide in Newsweek).

I just don't see the excessive labeling and holiday metaphors (cupid shooting arrows at whomever is in the news near Valentine's Day) as resonating with people in 2008. It's time to move on from that.

The anonymous criticism within our ranks may spawn resentment and paranoia but hopefully it will embarrass some people to do better work.
02.29.2008 |