This week Salt Lake City will host the annual convention of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC), a distinguished sounding name that doesn't mask the fact that these people scrawl rude little pictures for a living.
The group plans three days of high-minded discussion on all aspects of political cartoons, from the challenges of digital platforms to the outright dangers of satire in intolerant cultures.
They are coming because of the hard work and distinguished career of The Tribune's own scrawler in residence, Pat Bagley. "You have him to blame for this invasion of ink-stained wretches," says Matt Wuerker, president of AAEC and a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist for Politico.com, who acknowledges it's not exactly a bidding war for this convention. "Last year Pat raised his hand."
Bagley has been The Tribune's cartoonist since Jimmy Carter was president, having arrived fresh from Brigham Young University. Over the years he has brought forth a stable of characters from little round legislators to gay seagulls to Clueless George, the simian president.
There is almost no one Bagley hasn't offended, but there is no question that these offenses have brought him lifelong devotees. Bagley's scribbles and The Tribune are now so intertwined that it would be tough to imagine one without the other.
Despite that, Bagley maintains his role is more about enjoyment than necessity. Asked if journalism needs cartoonists, he replies, "It doesn't, but then you're stuck reading the Congressional Quarterly."
You may have noticed that Bagley's cartoons haven't been showing up lately. That is because Pat's temporary job convention organizer has been draining him.
"I've got to say the community has been tremendously helpful, especially The Leonardo, The Salt Lake Library and the Natural History Museum of Utah," he says of the venues hosting his fellow cartoonists. "There are others I should mention, but you'll just edit them out."
He's just a joy to work with.
Bagley is a Utah state treasure ("Thanks for not saying I'm the state dinosaur"), and he is also nationally recognized for his work. In 2009 he received the Herblock prize, which along with the Pulitzer is considered editorial cartooning's top honor.
"Bagley certainly is a treasure, and in greater Cartoonlandia he has many admirers," says Wuerker, who admits this kind of ardent following is getting harder to build as newspaper-cartoonist ranks shrink. The group coming this week is far smaller than the conventions of 10 or 20 years ago.
But rest assured that Bagley will return to his pen (drawing instrument, not cage) when he has recovered from the convention. After all, the Bagley cartoon is greeted by our readers as daily manna, a gift from above.
OK. Sometimes from below.
Tim Fitzpatrick is deputy editor of The Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Cartoonists on Trib Talk
Jennifer Napier-Pearce on Monday at 12:30 p.m. will moderate a live video chat at sltrib.com on the art of editorial cartooning featuring Pat Bagley of The Salt Lake Tribune; Jack Ohman of the Sacramento Bee; Kal Kallaugher of The Economist/Baltimore Sun; and Matt Wuerker of Politico.