Animated Discussion of Animation at Cartoon Confab

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By: Dave Astor

In April 2007, all three Pulitzer Prize finalists for editorial cartooning submitted animations in addition to their print work. In April 2008, none of the three Pulitzer finalists did animation. In June 2008, the print-animation debate continues.

During an Association of American Editorial Cartoonists discussion about cartoon contests, audience member Clay Bennett argued for a separate animation category if Pulitzer judges are going to consider that kind of work.

“I agree that animation is the future of editorial cartooning,” said the 2002 Pulitzer winner, who did some animation in the 1990s. “But an animated cartoon has a whole other toolbox.”

Bennett, of the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times Free Press and Washington Post Writers Group, said print and animated cartoons are as different as still photography and online newspaper video clips.

“I can’t disagree,” said panelist John Young, the Waco (Texas) Tribune-Herald editorial page editor who has been a Pulitzer cartoon juror. “We’re talking about two different animals. Animation lends itself more to humor and slapstick than to hammer-on-the-head statements.”

Young did note that Walt Handelsman (Newsday, Melville, N.Y/Tribune Media Services) won the 2007 Pulitzer for “very strong” print work along with “stunning” and “amazing” animation.

“Our key concern [at the Pulitzers] is excellence in journalism, not the technology, said another panelist, Pulitzer board member Richard Oppel.

Oppel, who recently retired as editor of the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman, said animation also brings up the question of how involved the cartoonist is in the product. Some animating cartoonists collaborate with others in their creations.

“That’s OK,” said Oppel. “Reporters have help from editors. But the cartoonist should have dominant control” for the animations to be worthy of Pulitzer consideration.

A third panelist — Harry Katz, a cartoon historian and curator of the Herblock Foundation’s collection of Herblock cartoons — said the foundation doesn’t consider animation when deciding who gets the annual Herblock Prize. But “we’re looking at it,” he added, noting that cartoonists such as Ann Telnaes, Mark Fiore, and Kevin “Kal” Kallaugher “are doing fantastic work” in animation.

Oppel noted that animation is not the only way the Web has had an impact on cartooning. He said online traffic can obviously be measured, and that cartoons tend to do well in attracting page views. “Ben is an example,” Oppel said of American-Statesman/Universal Press Syndicate editorial cartoonist Ben Sargent, who moderated the panel.

Panelists also looked at the past in their remarks. Oppel offered some anecdotes about late editorial cartoonist Doug Marlette from when the two worked together at The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer in the 1980s. Oppel, who was editor of the paper, said Marlette was an excellent cartoonist but had his quirks.

For instance, Marlette insisted on parking in the publisher’s covered space “because he didn’t want his Porsche convertible to get wet.” Oppel said he eventually had to get Marlette’s car towed to break him of the habit.

Oppel also recalled that when Jerry Falwell came to meet him in his glass-enclosed Observer office, Marlette paced back and forth outside the window eyeing the conservative religious leader. Sure enough, Marlette did a hard-hitting cartoon blasting Falwell the next day, and Falwell never talked to Oppel again.

Katz showed some classic Herblock editorial cartoons to illustrate how The Washington Post staffer was ahead of his time on various issues. They included a 1929 environmental cartoon, a 1940 immigration cartoon, 1950s civil-rights cartoons, and a 1972 cartoon drawn a week after the Watergate break-in that strongly implied the Nixon White House was behind it.

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