Drawing Conflict: Cartoonists Discuss War

By: Dave Astor

Whether they’re near or far from the front, editorial cartoonists are commenting about the Iraq War and other conflicts.

That was the focus of a Friday session at the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC) convention.

Panelist Signe Wilkinson has done cartoons about the Iraq War from afar. In the beginning, The Philadelphia Daily News/Washington Post Writers Group creator was uncertain whether or not the war was worthwhile — thinking people like Hillary Clinton and Colin Powell might have some legitimate reasons for supporting it. But Wilkinson soon realized how wrong the U.S. invasion and occupation was.

“Many cartoonists, like Tom Toles, saw through it all from the start,” said Wilkinson, referring to The Washington Post/Universal Press Syndicate creator.

Wilkinson showed several of her war cartoons, including one picturing a “pro-life” men’s center in which males had to be counseled, shown dead babies, and have a mandatory waiting period before going to war. Wilkinson also displayed a drawing of a park bench with blood all over it. The caption: “Benchmarks in Iraq.”

Panelist Ted Rall of Universal wrote/drew a book — “To Afghanistan and Back” — about that wartorn country. Visiting Afghanistan and making other trips to Central Asia made Rall realize that conflict zones can be “funny” and “absurd” as well as tragic. And putting that knowledge and experience into graphic-novel form can help convey the complexity, quirkiness, and horror of those places, said the AAEC vice president.

That was seconded by another panelist, military reporter/cartoon creator David Axe. “War is not just tragedy,” he said. “It’s not just gut-wrenching political drama. It can also be hilarious.” Not to mention tedious — Axe collaborates with Matt Bors on a cartoon called “War Is Boring.”

At least one cartoonist — Vaughn Larson of The Review in Plymouth, Wis. — currently serves in Iraq and supports the war. He obviously couldn’t make the session, but did e-mail some remarks to the AAEC.

“My overall opinion of the war has not changed — we need to finish the job we started,” wrote Larson, who draws cartoons when he can in Iraq.

The Wisconsin creator also said he feels there’s “a definite gap in perspectives between veterans and many cartoonists.” An E&P Online interview with Larson ran on April 11, 2006.

The session was moderated by editor/cartoon historian Harry Katz, who did a slide show on the history of war cartooning. One of his focuses was Bill Mauldin and his World War II everyman characters of Willie and Joe. “Mauldin took the side of the soldiers, not the generals,” said Katz.


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