Saturday, September 30, 2023

Portrait vs. Landscape

Seems that there is one more Saturday in September than I thought there was, so here's one more September to Remember post.

in Gaze Magazine, Minneapolis, MN, Oct. 15, 1993

Very few of my cartoons here are like this one in portrait orientation, but that is how the layout editors of Gaze Magazine wanted them. My cartoons shared a page with three other panel cartoons, all drawn to approximately the same dimensions.

I drew pretty much the same cartoon for the UWM Post — the  Post version drawn second, but published first. In accordance with the Post editorial page's layout, I drew the second version in landscape orientation. (Post editors in 1989 had asked me to draw my cartoons in portrait orientation for the three summer issues, but we reverted to landscape that fall.)

in UWM Post, Milwaukee, Wis., Sept. 20, 1993

Which version do you think is more effective?

100 years ago, nearly all newspaper editorial cartoons appeared in portrait orientation. In some cases, the cartoon was nearly square (Daniel Fitzpatrick, for example), but portrait orientation dominated the medium for the first half of the 20th Century.

There were notable exceptions: Luther Bradley and his successor at the Chicago Daily News, Ted Brown, drew their cartoons in landscape orientation.

"It Was Important, Too" by Ted Brown in Chicago Daily News, Sept., 1923

"The Royal Feast of Belshazzar Blaine" by Walt McDougall and Valerian Gribayedoff stretched across the front page of Joseph Pulitzer's New York World is another remarkable exception, as are the weekly cartoons Winsor McCay would produce to run atop William Randolph Hearst's syndicated Sunday sermons.

"The Royal Feast of Belshazzar Blaine" by Walt McDougall & Valerian Gribayedoff in New York World,  Oct. 31, 1884
"For Good Reasons They Fear Him" by Winsor McCay for International Feature Service, Sept. 30, 1923

John "Ding" Darling's cartoons for the Des Moines Register and New York Tribune hewed to the portrait standard...

"Strange How Different She Looks" by J.N. "Ding" Darling in Des Moines Register, Sept. 25, 1923

...but he oriented his cartoons for Colliers Weekly landscapewise.

"Ellis Island Hotel" by J.N. "Ding" Darling in Colliers Weekly, Oct. 6, 1923

When weekly magazines were the primary outlet for editorial cartoonists, the likes of Nast, Keppler, and Dalrymple would have a cartoon in portrait orientation on the front page and an epic two-page landscape cartoon as the centerfold. With a whole week to work on each cartoon, why not?

"In the Democratic Bowling-Alley" by Victor Gillam in Judge, Sept. 30, 1893

Daily newspapers began to employ editorial cartoonists late in the 19th Century, fitting the cartoon in among multiple columns — breaking up the page rather than headlining it. Whether it was the shorter deadlines, the less sophisticated printing process, or just artistic preference, landscape orientation would remain relatively rare until the 1960's and '70's, with the rise of Gene Basset, Pat Oliphant, Jeff MacNelly, Don Wright, Mike Peters, (oh, I could go on and on), and those of us inspired by them.

As conglomerate newspaper management these days fails to see profit in printing editorial cartoons, the medium may have to return to portrait mode to accommodate editorial cartooning's future — the thing you are probably holding in your hand as you read this.

Oh, by the way, since I asked: even though I still favor landscape mode for my own cartoons (and it's what my remaining editors expect of me), personally, I think the portrait oriented version of my Cuban MiG cartoon  is the more visually satisfying.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Q Toon: Unspeakable Acts

Oh, and of course, money.

A student group at West Texas A&M University planned to put on a drag show to raise funds for the Trevor Project, a charity that works to prevent LGBTQ+ suicides. Once upon a time and place, that would seem to be a laudable move, but not now and not in Texas.

WTA&MU President Walter Wendler banned the show with the novel argument that drag is “derisive, divisive and demoralizing misogyny” comparable to “blackface,” and that drag performers “stereotype women in cartoon-like extremes for the amusement of others and discriminate against womanhood.”

The student group moved their fund raiser off campus, and took the university to court. Unfortunately, that landed their case in the court of right-wing activist Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, appointed to the North Texas District Court by Donald Joffrey Trump in 2017.

Kacsmaryk found that drag is likely not protected expression under the First Amendment, but rather “vulgar and lewd” “sexualized conduct” that may be outlawed to protect “the sexual exploitation and abuse of children.” In short, he concluded that drag fails to convey a message, while explaining all the reasons why he’s offended by the message it conveys.

Your humble scribbler has drawn Mr. Kacsmaryk before. Last year, he found that health care professionals have every right to refuse to treat transgender patients. When Trump elevated him to the bench, he was policy advocate and deputy general counsel for First Liberty, a Talibangelist advocacy group based in Plano, Texas, to push that agenda exactly.

Kacsmaryk's ruling in this particular case is a sharp break from precedent: judges, even those in Red states such as Florida, Montana, and Tennessee, have ruled against state attempts to ban drag performances. The language of Kacsmaryk's ruling goes well beyond Wendler's feminist defense of his ban — perhaps that stuff was too woke for the judge — to assert his own revulsion against any departure from strict gender norms as the foundation of his bench-based legislation.

This case may well be appealed, perhaps all the way to the Supreme Court. If any of the right-wing activist justices with which the highest court in the land has been packed still profess any belief in constitutional originalism, I hope they remember that our Founding Fathers actually had a fondness for wigs and petticoats.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

You May Ask Yourself, My God! What Have I Drawn?

At least once a month, this Graphical History Tour dredges up some of my old cartoons at decade intervals, and today we start with September of 1983.

in University of Wisconsin Parkside Ranger, October 13, 1983

This is one of less than a handful of cartoons I drew using gesso and an artist's blade. The technique involves coating the drawing surface with a white plaster called gesso (it is available in other colors), then painting over that with ink. Once that is dry, you cut away at the ink to reveal the gesso beneath. The resulting heavy shadows can be striking.

You don't have to completely cover the gesso with ink; I've seen cartoons and other artwork where the creator drew the scene on top of the gesso, then continued by cutting away some of the ink in order to lessen shading — the result resembling a woodcut.

My cartoon here came in response to a drunk driving crash in which the president of the student government was critically injured. Although I had made no attempt whatsoever to make anyone in the cartoon a caricature of him, my editors worried that some readers would find it in bad taste.

Well, not every cartoon is meant to be funny, and a cartoon of the student mascot crying would have been trite. To their credit, the Ranger editors held the cartoon to include it in a four-page feature section on drunk driving a few weeks later.

in Gaze Magazine, Minneapolis, 1993

Some cartoons are meant to be totally serious. Other cartoons are meant to be utterly silly.

In 1993, it was hard to avoid Barney the purple dinosaur, whether you had small children in the house or not; there were various cartoons and late-night comedy sketches around riffing on his "I Like You, You Like Me" song and that dopey voice of his. 

Years later, I saw that some other cartoonist had gotten around to drawing pretty much the same idea that I had. Or maybe it was a meme. Or quite possibly both.

Puns are low-hanging fruit in the cartooning biz, and yours would have to be extremely elaborate and exquisite before you'd have any right to claim, "Hey! That's my idea!"

2003 marked Harley Davidson's centennial celebration in Milwaukee, and the people putting the big 100th anniversary party together thought it would be a great idea to keep everyone guessing what the big-name entertainer they had hired for the big concert at the Marcus Ampitheater.

Rumors flew that they were bringing in Steppenwolf, whose "Born to Be Wild" is a biker anthem, but who had broken up in 1972. Or perhaps the Allman Brothers, or George Thorogood, or Judas Priest. Or maybe even the Rolling Stones!

in Business Journal of Greater Milwaukee, Sept. 5, 2003

So fans of those bands were disappointed and upset when the mystery headliner was revealed to be Elton John.

Make no mistake: everyone recognized that Elton John was and is a star performer. But he doesn't have that biker vibe one generally associates with riding on a Hog.

Front or back seat.

for Q Syndicate, September, 2013

One of my favorite things to do in a cartoon is to take a cliché and turn it on its head. The occasion for this cartoon was actually how little opposition arose when six counties in New Mexico began granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The counties had responded proactively to an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit on behalf of same-sex couples in the state. The New Mexico State Supreme Court would rule unanimously in favor of marriage equality in December, extending marriage rights into the more hesitant 27 counties.

A year and a half later, the Supreme Court granted those rights to the rest of the nation, and opposition has proven to be nowhere near "fever pitch."

Except in the case of a few county clerks and a couple of ethically challenged Supreme Court Justices.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Q Toon: We Are Driven

Many of us have become inured to the realization that our Internet of Things — from Alexa to our Rings to our phones and refrigerators and microwave ovens — are constantly spying on us. The Mozilla Foundation recently reminded us that one of the worst busy-bodies in most of our lives is parked right in our garage.

In a report headlined "It's Official: Cars Are the Worst Product Category We Have Ever Reviewed for Privacy," they reveal that whatever you thought your car was up to, it's worse than you think.

We reviewed 25 car brands in our research and we handed out 25 “dings” for how those companies collect and use data and personal information. That’s right: every car brand we looked at collects more personal data than necessary and uses that information for a reason other than to operate your vehicle and manage their relationship with you. For context, 63% of the mental health apps (another product category that stinks at privacy) we reviewed this year received this “ding.” ...

It’s bad enough for the behemoth corporations that own the car brands to have all that personal information in their possession, to use for their own research, marketing, or the ultra-vague “business purposes.” But then, most (84%) of the car brands we researched say they can share your personal data — with service providers, data brokers, and other businesses we know little or nothing about. Worse, nineteen (76%) say they can sell your personal data.

A surprising number (56%) also say they can share your information with the government or law enforcement in response to a “request.” Not a high bar court order, but something as easy as an “informal request.” ...

Nissan earned its second-to-last spot [second to Tesla] for collecting some of the creepiest categories of data we have ever seen. It’s worth reading the review in full, but you should know it includes your “sexual activity.” Not to be out done, Kia also mentions they can collect information about your “sex life” in their privacy policy. Oh, and six car companies say they can collect your “genetic information” or “genetic characteristics.” Yes, reading car privacy policies is a scary endeavor.

Of course, you can always check out your car company's 3,000-page, single-spaced, no margin, 4-point type in light beige font advanced legalese consumer agreement in search of its privacy policies. But keep reading in order to find out what necessary functions you're probably giving up (like maybe, reverse gear) if you don't agree to the whole thing.

As you can tell from this week's cartoon, I was not one of those schoolboys who spent his time in class sketching cars in his notebook. I could have at least colored some shadows and highlights on these cars, but I decided not to.

In hindsight, however, I think that the guy in the fourth panel ought to have been driving a convertible with the top down.

Monday, September 18, 2023

This Week's Sneak Peek

And the words of the prophets are written on minivan trunks... and tattooed on twunks...

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Making the World Safe for Autocracy

John McCutcheon's cartoon at the end of last Saturday's Graphical History Tour alluded to a "dictatorship bug" from Europe, so this week's episode takes a look at what was bugging Europe in September of 1923.

"Will the Cop Let Him Get Away with It" by Sam Armstrong in Tacoma News-Tribune, Sept. 6, 1923

Corfu is a narrow, 40-mile (64 km) long island due west of the Greek-Albanian border. The two countries disputed where their border should extend, and took their case to a council of British, French, and Italian ambassadors, chaired by an Italian general, Enrico Tellini.

Greece accused Tellini of siding with Albania, so the Greeks were the suspected culprits when Tellini and four others traveling with him were ambushed and killed at a Greek-Albanian border crossing on August 27. Italy responded by bombarding and occupying the island on August 31, arresting the Greek prefect of the island. Mussolini announced that Corfu had belonged to Venice for four centuries before being ceded to Napoleonic France, then to Great Britain, and to Greece only since 1864.

"Another Successful Operation" by Keith Temple in New Orleans Times-Picayune, ca. Sept. 28, 1923

While much of  Europe was focused on the Corfu crisis, Yugoslavia was preoccupied by Bulgarian guerilla attacks in Macedonia. The Bulgarians wanted to reclaim territory lost to Serbia at the end of World War I (Bulgaria having sided with the Central Powers during the war).

Bulgarian communists reportedly tried taking advantage of the situation, attempting, but failing, to overthrow the government. Prime Minister Aleksandar Tsankov, who had just come to power through a coup in June, declared martial law, and there was some thought that the crisis may have been fabricated in order to justify the move.

"No Wonder He's Getting Tired" by John McCutcheon in Chicago Tribune, Sept. 14, 1923

On September 14, Spanish military officers staged a coup in Barcelona. King Alfonso XIII accepted the resignation of the cabinet of Prime Minister Manuel García Prieto and asked coup leader Captain Miguel Primo Rivera to form a new government. 

"The Passing Show" by Gustavo Bronstrup in San Francisco Chronicle, Sept. 15, 1923

Primo Rivera's military dictatorship would last through the rest of the decade.

In Germany, Chancellor Gustav Stresemann called off his citizens' passive resistance to French and Belgian occupation of the Ruhr; but France vowed to continue the occupation until German reparations were paid in full. Given the worthlessness of the Deutschmark, full payment of reparations any time soon was highly improbable.

"From the Frying Pan Into the Fire" by Winsor McCay for New York Americanca. Sept. 22, 1923

American editorial cartoons of this period expressed much more sympathy for the plight of former enemy Germany and growing hostility toward former ally France.

"Divided They Fall" by Elmer Bushnell for Central Press Assn., before Oct. 4, 1923

At the end of September, monarchist separatists in Bavaria and the Rhineland rebelled against the German government with plans to crown Crown Prince Rupprecht king.

But that gets us into October, and I'm not quite done with September yet.

"Poor Butterfly" by O.C. Chopin in San Francisco Examiner, Sept. 4, 1923

Not all disasters were man-made — at least, to begin with. An earthquake registering 7.9 on the Richter scale devastated Tokyo and Yokahama on September 1, 1923. The quake hit just before noon local time as many were cooking their meals, sparking massive firestorms and a fire whirl that incinerated a crowd sheltering in a department store. The death and destruction were compounded by landslides and a tsunami. The death toll surpassed 105,000 (including the American Consul General in Yokahama and his wife).

But man was responsible for making the disaster even worse. Sparked by rumors that resident Koreans in the Kantō region had poisoned local well water, the Japanese military, police, and vigilantes —condoned by some within the government — slaughtered an estimated 6,000 people that day. The victims of the Kantō Massacre were mainly ethnic Koreans, as well as Chinese and Japanese people mistaken to be Korean, plus Japanese communists, socialists, and anarchists.

"There's My Old Neighbor" by Clifford Berryman in Washington Sunday Star, Sept. 2, 1923

Since today happens to be Independence Day in Mexico, I can't let the day go by without mentioning normalizing of relations between that country and mine. Great Britain, France, Belgium and Cuba quickly followed suit in recognizing the Obregón government.

At home, President Álvaro Obregón was derided as un entreguista (a sellout, literally "delivery man") for agreeing to U.S. demands to renounce his country's intention to expropriate foreign oil companies in Mexican territory. A subsequent rebellion led by Obregón's former Finance Minister, Adolfo de la Huerta, would be harshly put down within months.