THE POWER OF A CARTOON

Posted by on January 3rd, 2011 at 8:42 AM

We’re back, me and my rabbit, none the worse for the wear of a month’s sabbatical, during which we didn’t accomplish whatever it was we hoped to get done by shutting up for a month. Oh, well.

Before we get too far away from the Recent Disturbance (i.e., the “holidays”), let’s take a look at how the festivities fared in editorial cartoons.

For the last 49 Christmas Eves, the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky, has published the same cartoon (on the left, below) by Hugh Haynie, who was a fixture on the paper’s editorial page for nearly four decades.

Not surprisingly, when Haynie first drew the cartoon—in 1955, while he was working for another newspaper, the Atlanta Journal—the editors at that institution declined to publish the cartoon because “they were afraid of offending advertisers.”

Haynie let the cartoon simmer for several years until he moved to Louisville, and then he put it before his editor there, the late Barry Bingham Sr., who forthwith approved its publication. Keith Runyon, the Courier-Journal’s current opinion page editor, extolled the fame of Haynie’s “most famous cartoon” at this year’s reprise of it:

“Framed copies of the cartoon appear in church offices around the world. The image has been reproduced on Christmas cards and in church bulletins. Haynie once even gave permission to have it be the theme of a Christmas parade float. In the spirit of the work, he never received any compensation for the re-use.”

Adding that “it is impossible to think of anything that better sets the mood for us all on Christmas Eve,” Runyon concluded: “It is our holiday gift to you.”

The trick in achieving one of these perpetually re-appearing heartstring jerkers or mind-bogglers is to come up with something so saccharine, so appealing to the “aw shucks—ain’t it the truth” sentiment that haunts us all, that readers will tear up at first seeing it and then will want to see the cause of their tender feelings again and again, year in, year out. Here, Steve Breen’s “Joy” cartoon, above and to the right of Haynie’s, is well within this soppy reverential tradition.

But Gary Varvel (below, left) follows more the custom of most editoonists at this time of year: he uses some aspect of the season to sharpen the point of his commentary on the passing contemporary scene.

Ditto Pat Bagley in the above cartoon at the right, which assails the tedious war against Christmas in the public square. Delightful drawing, too.

More in this holiday vein next time.

This time, we conclude with a CORRECTION to a Drastic Fubar we committed on November 29, when we posted two of Wiley Miller’s Non Sequitur Sunday cartoons, both referencing the timidity of newspaper editors on the use of anything with Muhammad (word or person) in it. I said the vertical format of Wiley’s feature was provided as “an alternative for subscribing papers.” And, indeed, at one time, Wiley produced the Sunday strip in two formats—one the traditional horizontal arrangement; the other, a vertical re-arrangement of the same artwork. But he stopped doing that a long time ago; Wiley wrote to bring me up-to-date:

“My Sundays are designed for, and done only in, the vertical format. It is not an ‘alternative.’ Non Sequitur is the only comic that is designed to run as a vertical, where other comics can be cut up and reformatted for the vertical, but doesn’t utilize that space well.

“Non Sequitur is designed only for the vertical format. It’s been that way for 10 years now, and is still the only strip to do so. Other strips can be rearranged to fit into running vertical, but they don’t work well as there’s a lot of wasted space. I found that this is a much better format as it makes you read it in the same manner as a column and you don’t get to the punchline until I want you to see it. It is also much more flexible and appealing graphically than the traditional horizontal format.

“Just as importantly, utilizing just the vertical format makes it easier for editors, as it’s designed to fit into the space that’s left when you throw out the title panels (a.k.a., ‘throw out panels’) of three strips that are run in the 1/4 page format (which most strips are today). In doing so, it allows editors to pick up Non Sequitur without having to drop another strip to make room for it, or allows them to add another Sunday feature. A win-win.

“I’m actually surprised that no one else has opted to try it. I guess it’s too graphically taxing for most of them. But if they ever tried it, they’d find just how much better it is and allows you to do so many more interesting things.”

My apologies to Wiley for getting it wrong; hope this sets the record straight.

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments are closed.