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Cartoonists chat about the impact of their art

Published June 24, 2013 2:19 pm

Top editorial artists • Illustrators gather in Salt Lake this weekend for association meeting.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Some of the editorial cartoonists who will descend on Salt Lake City Thursday for the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists 2013 convention continue to "test the line" of controversy as they carry on the tradition of lampooning the elite with the use of drawings and words.

The Salt Lake Tribune's Pat Bagley, Jack Ohman of The Sacramento Bee, Kevin "Kal" Kallaugher of The Economist and The Baltimore Sun, and Matt Wuerker of Politco discussed the art of editorial cartooning Monday during a live video chat with The Tribune's Jennifer Napier-Pearce Monday.

The group will meet Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Salt Lake City with a number of open-to-the-public events. For a schedule and information, log on to editorialcartoonists.com.

Kallaugher said he is asked about where he draws the line everywhere he goes in the world and said where cartoonists decide to test that line depends on how they view freedom of expression.

"The line is different than yesterday and will be different tomorrow," he said. "Wherever you are, the line will be a different shape. We are dancing along that line. It's what cartoonists have to do. Culturally, there are certain hot buttons … But how humor is viewed around the world is more similar than what we think. People laugh at the same thing."

Ohman said cartoonists must gauge how graphically they can portray something to get a point across. For example, a recent cartoon he did lampooning Texas Gov. Rick Perry for deregulation policies that could have led to deaths in a fertilizer plant explosion in west Texas sparked outrage among state officials. It generated thousands of comments on national websites and sparked a national media firestorm.

"I was stunned," said Ohman. "All of us do cartoons that we probably think are incendiary all the time. But you get picked up by Twitter and somebody decides you are the topic of the day for National Review online."

Ohman said Perry and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz both misrepresented the cartoon.

"When you are doing your job, you get a strong reaction," he said. "We hit people all the time. When they deliberately misinterpret it for political gain, it's truly frightening."

Bagley, who did a similar cartoon for The Tribune, said Perry misconstrued the point of the cartoon as making light of the deaths of people when the point of the cartoon was the lack of regulation in Texas.

The cartoonists said that in some parts of the world, regimes can imprison or even put cartoonists to death for crossing that line. Wuerker pointed to the case of Syrian cartoonist Akram Raslan, who is missing and presumed to be in the custody of Bashar al-Assad regime. The group Cartoonists Rights Network International will present Raslan with its Award for Courage Saturday night in conjunction with the AAEC Cartoons and Cocktails gala at Little America.

A statement by CRNI president Joel Pett said that Raslan was arrested by Syrian authorities at the offices of his newspaper Al-Fida in Hama, Syria, about six months ago. A reliable source reports that he has been tortured and abused, deprived of any legal counsel, and is now to be put on trial in a special court that has been created for enemies of the state.

In the Tribune chat discussion, the cartoonists also discussed the future of their art at a time when newspaper and magazine circulation is declining and more and more readers get their information from the Internet.

Wuerker viewed the future as bright. He said before the Internet, people would often clip a cartoon and put it on a refrigerator door for all to see. He views the Internet as a great big refrigerator door, where cartoonists' work will still be displayed. But he is also optimistic that there will be a place for more traditional print as well.

"A simple idea with a drawing and a one liner conveys a political idea super quickly," he said. "In a place where there is a short media attention span, the cartoon still has a place."

wharton@sltrib.com

Twitter @tribtomwharton