Cartoonists' Confab Closes with Kucinich, Annual Awards

By: Dave Astor Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich closed the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists' 50th-anniversary convention Saturday night with a ringing call for the removal of a high official.

"I want all of you to join me in calling for the impeachment of President ... Rob Rogers," joked the Ohio congressman, referring to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/United Media cartoonist who's the AAEC's current leader.

Actually, Rogers was widely praised for his part in putting together the convention. Hy Rosen, the former Albany, N.Y., Times Union cartoonist who joined the AAEC when it started in 1957, said: "This was one of the best conventions. And since I've gone to 50 of them, I speak with some authority."

Kucinich, who in real life has called for the impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney, offered the AAEC a deal: "If I'm elected president, I'll ask Congress to pass a law requiring every newspaper to hire an editorial cartoonist."

In return, he added, "you can start to draw cartoons about me. I know you're required to draw a certain number of cartoons about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, but throw one in about me once in a while. I can take the heat! Give it your best shot! Just draw me!"

Kucinich continued joking, saying he saw a secret document indicating that Cheney wants to amend the Patriot Act to get ink, pens, and paper classified as weapons of mass destruction. "He knows what you've been doing," deadpanned Kucinich. "I can protect you!"

Of course, Kucinich is trailing badly in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Speaking from the audience, editorial cartoonist Steve Kelley of The Times-Picayune of New Orleans and Creators Syndicate told the candidate: "Personally I'm only a point behind you in the polls and I'm not even running!" Kelley questioned why Kucinich feels he should seek the Oval Office.

The Congressman said he has about 40 years of political experience, including more than a decade in the House and a stint as mayor of Cleveland. Kucinich added that disgust with the Iraq War, which he's opposed since President Bush first made noises about invading in 2002, will grow even stronger by next year's presidential primaries. At that point, said Kucinich, he could have a chance.

He added that he's disappointed that the Democrat-controlled Congress hasn't tried to force Bush's hands to end the war. "The U.S. occupation is fueling the insurgency," Kucinich said. "Congress could tell the president, 'you have $70 billion that will last until October 1, 2007, and you're not going to get any more. Bring the troops home and replace them with an international peacekeeping force.'"

And, he added, "Iraq must retain control of its oil."

Kucinich believes in "security through peace." He said the U.S. needs to defend itself when necessary, but also needs more diplomacy and less "us versus them" saber-rattling. The speaker added that Americans and their government leaders need to remember that the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed since the U.S. invasion were human beings with the same hopes and dreams as everyone else.

"The world is ready for an America that will open its heart again," he said.

Returning to the subject of cartooning, Kucinich told AAECers they have "the passion to fight injustice" and that "you help keep democracy alive with the power of your pen."

Prior to Kucinich's speech, the AAEC gave out several honors.

There were two winners of the Ink Bottle Award: the Herb Block Foundation (HBF), which has given grants to the AAEC and many other recipients; and Jay Kennedy, the late King Features Syndicate editor in chief who died in a drowning accident this spring at the age of 50.

Frank Swoboda accepted the award for the foundation he heads; and King Comics Editor Brendan Burford accepted the honor on behalf of Kennedy. "This is an absolutely appropriate and caring gesture on the part of the AAEC," said Burford. "It's great that this group is showing its love for Jay."

The John Locher Memorial Award for best college cartoonist went to Kory Merritt of the State University of New York at Brockport. The honor is named after the late son of Dick Locher, who does editorial cartoons and the "Dick Tracy" comic for Tribune Media Services.

Dick Locher said 13 of the 21 Locher honorees have full-time jobs as editorial cartoonists -- a high ratio in this time of dwindling staff positions.

And this year's Golden Spike for best killed cartoon went to Nate Beeler of the Washington Examiner, whose drawing showed George W. Bush saying that "artificial deadlines embolden the enemy." But the cartoon also noted that "artificial limbs" on badly injured American soldiers embolden the enemy, too.

The Golden Spike was presented by David Wallis, author of the recent "Killed Cartoons" book.

"Cartoonists get more rejections than those of us who work with words," said Wallis, who's also founder of the syndicate.

He noted that censorship goes back a long way. Just before the 1952 election, The Washington Post refused to run several Herblock cartoons critical of Republican candidate Dwight Eisenhower. But Wallis said the cartoons were picked up by many newspapers via syndication -- and a rival Washington paper wrote an editorial about the Post's cowardice. An embarrassed Post subsequently gave Herblock "unparalleled" editorial freedom, according to the speaker.

The final banquet also included another tribute to the three founding AAEC members at the 50th-anniversary convention who had previously spoke during the opening reception Wednesday night.

On Saturday night, the trio came to the stage and made more remarks. Hy Rosen offered the aforementioned praise for Rob Rogers, while Jim Ivey said the editorial cartooning profession is in good shape.

"Not in numbers, but in the work," said the former cartoonist for the St. Petersburg Times and three other dailies. "Great art, great caricatures, and a strong bite."

And Jim Lange of The Oklahoman in Oklahoma City said of the half-century with the AAEC: "I'd like to go back and do the whole thing all over again."


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