TCJ 300 Conversations: Ted Rall & Matt Bors

Posted by on December 23rd, 2009 at 3:55 AM

 

Bors:
The Supreme Court has had more diversity in its lifetime than this field. What the hell is wrong? Corporate boardrooms and Marvel comics have more women working for them. There’s a few more minorities and women today than there were 30 years ago, no? At this rate, editorial cartooning could be representative of the country by the 23rd century. I can imagine a lot of pros bristling at this observation. It’s too “PC” for them to make note of this, but it’s also true. The field would surely benefit by having the other, oh, 70 percent of the country represented in their ranks.

Rall:
Actually, I think most editoonists are conscious of the problem. They just don’t think it’s their fault that they’re white and male (like us) and got hired. Why aren’t there more women and minority editorial cartoonists? I don’t know. I buy into some of the theories I’ve read others expound that they’re not as into comics, that they don’t see role models, etc. But really, it is a shame.


Cartoon ©2008 Ted Rall.


Bors:
It’s not their fault — and the entire field of comics suffers from this — I’d just like to read some other perspectives. Surely some different issues would be tackled if women made up half the field. Steroids in baseball? Maybe you wouldn’t see 30 cartoons on it while the epidemic of rape in our military is largely ignored. That would be nice.

As for the future, we can look back and laugh at our speculation when it comes. I saw this transcript of a meeting in 1998 that some journalism outfit put on about the future of editorial cartooning. It featured Ramirez, Pett, Wilkinson, Luckovich, Oliphant, Conrad and even Tom Tomorrow. Reading it is hilarious. They were talking about the impending death of print and this weird thing called the Internet. Hearing them speculate about it is priceless. At one point, Tomorrow insists they get e-mail addresses as a way to get immediate reactions from readers. Ramirez gives a two-word response: “No way.” I’m not sure if that was the mood at the time or just another example of people not able to deal with change very well.

Rall:
I suspect that was Ramirez’s way of saying he didn’t want to be flooded with a bunch of hate mail. But yes, there is no way we know what will happen. Prognostication is a sucker’s game for sure! All I know is that something will happen. But what?

Bors:
I don’t think the future is inherently better for us. We are looking at less journalism and it might be as simple as that. Websites can’t support foreign bureaus. There will always be some but I doubt it will ever be as robust as it once was. The upside is that the resulting corruption that infects society and government will be great times for cartoonists.

I think graphic novels have huge potential for political satire, of course. A really great one would be remembered more than any cartoon of the day someone does. I’ve been wanting to draw graphic novels even longer than political cartoons, and I finally have one coming out next year. A long narrative really has the ability to do things we can’t in our microscopic spaces in newspapers. Think of 1984 and other political-themed books — they inform our political discourse more than any cartoons I know of. If editorial cartooning becomes less and less relevant, I’d be more inclined to take my social criticism into a work of fiction.

I have some graphic-novel work lined up for a while with you and David Axe. After that I’d like to try something of my own. There’s a few ideas in my head that can’t be boiled down to a short strip. I’m known for doing editorial cartoons, obviously, but I love long-form storytelling and want to dabble in that as much as possible.

Rall:
Definitely, the potential for graphic novels to have a lasting political impact is greater than the inherently ephemeral daily newspaper editorial cartoon. Look at Alan Moore’s stuff. Watchmen is actually pretty lame. So is V for Vendetta. Both reflect unsophisticated minds regurgitating vapid pol-speak minus serious ideas. But they’re still in print and inspire people decades after they came out.

Bors:
You did 2024, which is similar to what I’m talking about. How did that experience compare to drawing regular strips?

Rall:
2024 was my bitterest failure as a book. The sales were abysmal, so I must have failed to some extent as a writer. I have my theories why. Oh, well, one moves on. Still, it’s the most “Ted Rall” of my work; when a fan says they like it I am happy because they really “get” what I’m trying to do. It was a different experience because I could stretch and use characterization (or, in this case, anti-characterization) and the template of a pre-existing work to explore contrarian ideas. It was a lot of fun. Obviously I can do a lot better and I’ll try to do so in the future. I also had fun writing Wake Up! You’re Liberal! because it was all prose and, for the first time, laid out what I would do as president rather than criticize what others are already doing.

Bors:
Going in the other direction, local cartooning interests me greatly. It has none of the range of graphic novels or national cartoons but they are awesome in their own right. I do local work for The Oregonian‘s Sunday Opinion section when I have time and the probability that my targets (which have included the mayor, city commissioners and the sheriff) may very well be reading has an effect. You are working for a much smaller audience, but it’s focused and you can really gain some notoriety locally. And there’s nothing like upsetting locals.

If you look at smaller countries where newspapers still dominate much of the media, you can see this play out. Jonathan Shapiro in South Africa is gaining international attention for going after Zuma with his showerhead caricature. He’s driving the fucker insane to the point where he sued him. Of course, that only adds to the publicity and eggs on the artist who drew himself taunting him from his drawing table.

That doesn’t happen here. You have sad, pathetic men like Sean Delonas at the New York Post simply wasting space that could go to a decent ad for a department store underwear sale. He’s in New York City for Christ’s sake and blowing a huge opportunity by ridiculing gays and fat people and tracing his old cartoons to meet deadlines instead of using his space for something worthwhile. He has shown how dreadfully low the bar for staff employment can be but he’s never done anything noteworthy. I don’t think he’s capable of original thought. He should be scribbling on napkins in the lonely corner of a dive bar. Even Page 6 of the New York Post, the print equivalent of a smelly taint, is too highbrow for him.


Cartoon ©2007 Matt Bors.


Rall:
My bitterest disappointment as a cartoonist is not landing a job at a paper. Not just because I want to work in a newsroom — local cartoons are incredibly powerful. I’ve had the chance to do local cartoons on a freelance basis — for the Asbury Park Press in central New Jersey, Los Angeles, Pasadena and Toledo. Making fun of the president feels more glorious, but going after the mayor hits harder.

Speaking of Delonas, one of my duties as AAEC president was to stick up for him when he came under fire for a cartoon he did that used monkeys and came across as racist. It wasn’t much fun to defend him, especially since he’s been crapping ink on that page in the Post for years, wasting space that could have been used by a real political cartoonist.

Bors:
The readers are more connected to local work. It’s like a concentrated example of what editorial cartoons can do.

Rall:
Tom Toles almost single-handedly got a lakeside development project killed when he was still at the Buffalo News. That’s heady stuff. Sadly, too many of our peers squander their space at their daily papers on lame local stuff, just as they do on lame national stuff. I always think of how much it would cost if an advertiser were to rent the space occupied by an editorial cartoon. Thousands of dollars! And what do these miserable hacks do with it? Schlock cartoons depicting a couple watching a giant TV. Why? Why do they hate America so much?

Bors:
That’s a good way of looking at it, and I’m sure publishers are starting to realize that as the financial squeeze is laid on them. “Why am I paying this guy $80,000 again?”

Rall:
Or $300,000! Or more. Plus bennies. Of course, these guys (they’re mostly guys) are mostly reacting to the headlines of the day. Very few of them see themselves, as Toles did in Buffalo, as setting their own agenda. Look at you and I — we’ve made torture our personal topic for years, even when it wasn’t in the headlines. If anything, it’s a cartoonist’s duty to set an agenda, to make us think about stuff we would otherwise remain ignorant about or simply forget in the daily blizzard of celebrity gossip and random chaos. But I find that it’s really hard to get those “off official topic” cartoons published. How about you?

Bors:
Oh, in dailies, it’s next to impossible. Altweeklies love it and sometimes prefer it over something that’s very “news of the week.” I think doing comics on social trends, culture, even relationships is just as valid as what’s going on in our rotten capitol. It’s idiotic to limit yourself to that and we’ve always had that kind of freedom in altweeklies. Tom Toles was doing strong stuff about American culture, TV and other broad issues when he started out and he slowly moved to the issue of the day thing. Part of that no doubt is working at the Washington Post. His local cartoon targets are national figures. Still, I’d like to see people broaden their range as cultural critics.

I like putting forth a world view instead of merely reacting to what is happening in the immediate news cycle. It’s easy to get stuck in that because you are trying to generate ideas constantly. One of my favorite topics is religion, and, once in a while, prompted by nothing, I love throwing something out there about God or morality issues independent of the news.

Rall:
Quirkiness is the essence of humor, anyway. Even the weird random cartoons I do, like one I did recently about the unreliability of e-mail (a prisoner dies because the governor sends his clemency via Internet — “Have you checked your spam folder?”), give readers a personal sense of you. And they break up the constant flow of hardcore political commentary, most of it national. Gotta avoid the Inside the Beltway trap.

Be Sociable, Share!

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

Tags: , ,

3 Responses to “TCJ 300 Conversations: Ted Rall & Matt Bors”

  1. scott says:

    I am struggling to see why this had to take up 8 pages? There is a lot of un-required waffling in this, which should have been edited out before posting.

  2. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by pvponline: Anyway, here’s a link to an article where Ted Rall and Matt Bors boo-hoo about editorial cartooning and me apparently. http://bit.ly/8MIbwZ