Toon Musings: An Aylan of Our Very Own
It seems I’ve reached a time in my life when I am doomed to revisit issues previously addressed. Last time it was the reaction to that dumb Trump/Netanyahu cartoon. Today’s regurgitation regards dead refugee kids and editorial cartoonists’ reaction to them. Remember little Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian boy who washed up on a Turkish beach? Remember Charlie Hebdo making a stink about it, resulting in others making a stink about them? And me, making a stink about those stinkers? Come to think of it, the issue I am currently revisiting was itself a revisitation of my very first column for Escape Into Life. A revisitation of a revisitation; I think I’m in danger of disappearing into my own navel… or other orifice. Whatever.
Anyway, it seems we Americans need no longer look east of the Prime Meridian for glimpses of child-murdering barbarity. Oscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his daughter Valeria, who drowned in the Rio Grande after being turned away from a border station while attempting to present themselves to US officials and request asylum, as is allowed by U.S. and international law. The world’s editorial cartoonists responded:
A picture is worth a whole lot of words, and contrary to what the editors of the New York Times might think, they’re not just for children and the feeble-minded. Now, the sharp-eyed among you may have noticed that a lot of these cartoons are very much alike. People of similar temperament who think about the same event often produce similar results, especially if they’re all working on deadline. The point of editorial cartoons is not to be original; it’s to ensnare, to entertain, to inform, but most importantly, to inflame— that is, to make the reader ‘feel all the feels’.
As with the written editorial, they are only as good as the creator is; they can be trite, obvious, misguided, or even actively mendacious, regardless of the artistic prowess of the cartoonist. But their potential power has always been evident. They inspire anger, or contempt, or sadness, or shame, or joy as potently, and much more quickly and viscerally than a sheaf of prose. That’s why tyrants and the better class of fools fear them. They can grab the attention of someone who may not know or even care about a particular issue and persuade them.
Editorial cartooning has never been more necessary, and never been more endangered. The New York Times’ high-handed decision to do without them highlights the troubled relationship editors often have with editorial cartoonists, and has prompted many interested parties, inside and outside the profession, to raise the alarm. For all the good it will do.
I think Mike Peterson, in his invaluable Comic Strip of the Day, said it most succinctly:
“The right has learned to weaponize feedback, and, when Breibart or Drudge unleash the hordes, the flood of fury — from readers or from golf partners — makes executives wet their silk boxers.
When the task is to keep the money machine running smoothly, feedback must always be positive, no matter what the public relations department says…”
Gary Varvel, a cartoonist, raises the alarm
as does Ted Rall, another cartoonist
and Michael Heath, a cartoon editor
as well as Jack Shafer, senior media writer
and Kenan Malik, a columnist
Phil Maish is a freelance cartoonist of no repute. His modest efforts may be viewed at myth-fits.com. He has worked for the Government, the Press, the Opera, and a Soulless Corporation. Self-taught and beholden only to his formidable wife and amazing son, he spends his free time gadding about in his vintage autogyro and, with his faithful manservant Nicopol, exploring forgotten ruins, discovering hitherto unknown animal species, smashing spy rings, and regaling fellow members of the League of Intrepid Adventurers with tales of his intrepid adventures