Color ‘Toons Are Catching On

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By: Dave Astor

Nick Anderson began coloring his editorial cartoons last year, and won a Pulitzer Prize this spring. The artist, who works for The Courier- Journal in Louisville, Ky., doesn’t know if adding hues to the news helped him win, but does know it helped his work. “I don’t think I can overstate how much color changed my entire approach,” he tells E&P.

His win also shows that color editorial cartooning is starting to catch on. At least a half dozen of America’s 85 or so staff cartoonists now do all or most work in color for their newspapers’ print editions. Various other artists add color to the syndicated and/or online versions of their cartoons.

How did color change Anderson’s approach? He’s rare among editorial cartoonists in using Corel Painter, the software program that enables him to achieve great artistic effects but adds two hours of time per cartoon. So Anderson now tries to come up with ideas the night before, and draws differently. “All my line work loosened up last year, because that meshed better with the stylized approach I was developing with ‘Painter,'” he says.

Mike Smith of the Las Vegas Sun and King Features Syndicate is another recent convert, switching his daily cartoons to color in April. “Color adds an extra dimension,” says Smith, noting that the 30-45 minutes needed for hues is worth the time. “I’ve gotten good reaction from readers.”

Gary Varvel of The Indianapolis Star and Creators Syndicate feels there’s “still a place for black-and-white,” but color usually works better. “It’s a different day,” says Varvel, who began colorizing in 2002. “We can’t all look like Bill Mauldin anymore.”

One advantage of color is how it directs readers to certain elements of a cartoon. Varvel recalls one drawing that tweaked Indiana’s governor and others for inaction on taxes by having them read “Property Tax Assessment for Dummies.” He made the books yellow to grab readers’ eyes.

Color also helps make a point, as in the two-panel Nick Anderson cartoon contrasting a beat-up Humvee in Iraq with a shiny yellow Hummer in America.

Among the first editorial cartoonists to use color were Clay Bennett of The Christian Science Monitor and Ann Telnaes, now of the Cartoonists & Writers Syndicate/ New York Times Syndicate. Telnaes, who began spot colorizing in 1999, says a big reason was her Web clientele. “Color works real well on the Internet,” she says.

Most colorizing creators also offer black-and-white versions of their work for the many papers still using cartoons that way. For instance, Smith’s syndicate estimates only 5-10% of his clients run him in color.

Why do opinion pages lag behind when it comes to color? “Editorial-page people are word people. Some see cartoons as noisy intrusions made even more overpowering by color,” says Slate.com/Cagle Cartoons creator Daryl Cagle, adding that magazines and other non-newspaper outlets that cartoonists can sell to often prefer color.

Opinion pages might avoid using color because many of them don’t run much art anyway, says Karisue Wyson, sales manager/North America for the Washington Post Writers Group, which distributes Anderson’s work. But syndicates and cartoonists do expect these pages to gradually introduce more color in the future.

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