Cartoon Hirings On Drawing Board

By: Dave Astor

With The Washington Post hiring Tom Toles to replace the late Herblock, the nation’s most prominent editorial-cartoonist slot is filled. But similar positions remain open at other papers for reasons ranging from economics to caution.

The best-known vacancy is at the Chicago Tribune, where Jeff MacNelly worked until his June 2000 death. But there are also openings — dating well back into 2001 — at papers such as the New York Daily News, the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News, The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, and the Asbury Park Press of Neptune, N.J.

Tribune Editorial Page Editor Bruce Dold said, “We do intend to hire a cartoonist,” but didn’t say when or why it has taken so long.

The Daily News has run syndicated cartoons, and editorial cartoons by staff sports cartoonist Bill Gallo, since Bill Schorr was let go last June for “economic reasons,” according to spokesman Ken Frydman, who declined to discuss whether the News would replace Schorr.

Buying syndicated cartoons, of course, is cheaper than paying a full-time salary.

At the Mercury News, there’s been no staff cartoonist since Mark Fiore’s tenure ended last summer. Dennis Ryerson, vice president and editorial page editor, wants to fill the position early next year if “the business situation” improves. Meanwhile, he’s building a file of candidates — and running photos, graphics, and syndicated cartoons on the editorial page.

Since he joined the Mercury News last fall, Ryerson said few readers have complained about the lack of a staff cartoonist. He feels this is partly due to Fiore not having been at the paper long. But Ryerson wants the slot filled: “I think it’s very important. When a staff cartoonist focuses on a local issue, it really draws attention to it.”

Some papers, however, think local cartoons stir up too much controversy.

‘We Want Someone Just As Strong’

Times-Picayune Editor Jim Amoss said he has “every intention” of hiring a replacement for Walt Handelsman,who left just over a year ago to join Newsday in Melville, N.Y. “It has taken longer than we expected … because we want someone just as strong [as Walt].”

Handelsman understands why a paper might be “cautious” about hiring a cartoonist — noting that it’s a “high-profile job,” salary and moving costs can be expensive, and people doing the hiring are more familiar with text than art. But he said: “There’s a lot of talent out there. I’m disappointed for the readers that The Times-Picayune hasn’t hired someone. They’re using syndicated cartoons, but there’s such great local news in New Orleans and Louisiana.” The Tribune Media Services creator added that some papers are so focused on well-known candidates that they don’t consider hiring young cartoonists who will grow on the job.

E&P Online couldn’t reach Executive Editor W. Raymond Ollwerther at the Asbury Park Press, which Steve Breen left last year to join The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Fred Hiatt, editorial page editor of The Washington Post, said six months went by before the paper hired Toles because it was mourning Herblock’s death and also “wanted to make sure we got the right person” to replace him.

Hiatt has been using more syndicated cartoons, but thinks a staffer is best. “A good cartoonist develops a relationship with readers and embodies the spirit of a newspaper,” he said. “And it’s important for newspapers to give homes to cartoonists. If we all relied just on syndicated cartoons, there eventually wouldn’t be a reservoir of talent to draw from.”

There are only about 100 full-time editorial cartoon jobs left in the country.

Toles, distributed by Universal Press Syndicate, is leaving The Buffalo (N.Y.) News in June. Editorial Page Editor Jerry Goldberg said some cartoonists applied to replace Toles even before the paper’s just-started search for a successor began. “How long it takes,” he added, “depends on how long it takes to find the right person.”


New ‘Beetle’ Character

Contest To Name Tech Officer

Mort Walker is introducing his first major “Beetle Bailey” character in more than a decade.

Readers can vote in a contest (see to name the tech officer, who’ll first appear on the drawing board of a cartoon version of Walker in the May 6 strip. Winners of the contest (managed by the Cartoon Art Association and sponsored by Dell Computer) will receive original “Beetle” art and tickets for any U.S. destination served by Northwest Airlines.

The contest benefits the Fisher House Foundation, which provides families with temporary lodging when visiting sick or injured military personnel.

Walker started “Beetle” in 1950, and created his last new character, Corporal Yo, in 1990. His comic appears in 1,800 papers via King Features Syndicate.


Oliphant Cartoon Criticized … Again

Drawing Opposed Slavery Reparations

Pat Oliphant has stirred up controversy again, with some Purdue University students criticizing the campus newspaper for running the Universal Press Syndicate creator’s editorial cartoon opposing slavery reparations.

In his drawing, Oliphant showed Abraham Lincoln saying reparations aren’t necessary because African Americans now have “full civil rights” and “preferential entitlements,” among other things.

The Indianapolis Star wrote an editorial saying cartoons such as Oliphant’s should be debated, not censored.

To see the last 10 “Syndicate World” columns, click here. Previous columns may be purchased in our paid archives. Search for “Astor” in the “Author” field.

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