Monday, March 31, 2014

This Week's Sneak Peek

The cartooning world lost one of its finest practitioners Sunday with the sudden passing of Mike Ritter, 48, in Atlanta. He was hospitalized for emergency open heart surgery over the weekend.

Editorial cartoonist for the Scottsdale Tribune and East Valley Tribune of Arizona from 1992 to 2005 and later for the Georgia Voice, he was president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists in 2003-04 and a charter member of the Arizona chapter of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association. His meticulously composed and witty cartoons garnered him first place honors in the Best of the West journalism contest in 2001 and 2003. At the time of his death, he was the Georgia Voice's Art Director. (See one example of his Arizona era work here, and several later cartoons at this Georgia Voice obituary)

I regret that I never got a chance to get to know Ritter; I joined the AAEC after he allowed his membership to lapse and have not been active in the NLGJ. I have long admired his work, though; and everyone seems to have stories about what a swell guy he was.

This week's sneak peek has nothing to do with any of that.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

BECY 2014

Pelican Books' Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year for 2014 is out, and I'm pleased to say that I have four cartoons in this year's edition.
The 2014 edition skews conservative when it comes to the Obama administration. It is tempting to attribute that to its editor, Dean Turnbloom, a naval civilian who was, briefly, a dogmatic conservative cartoonist. (To the best of my knowledge, at least, he no longer draws editorial cartoons.) A conservative bias on Turnbloom's part might explain why there is only one cartoon in the book by brilliant liberal cartoonist Pat Bagley.

But 2013 was, on balance, not a good year for President Obama, so there are plenty of cartoons in this book attacking him not only from the right but also from the left. Yet for all the cartoons lambasting Obama for the clumsy launch of Obamacare, drone strikes, and supposed scandals over the IRS and Benghazi, there are no cartoons lampooning Chris Christie's Bridgegate, Senate Republicans' abuse of the filibuster, or the Supreme Court's gutting of the Voting Rights Act and the ensuing Republican push to disenfranchise voters. *

Self-selection could also be a factor in a conservative bias in this year's BECY. The cartoonists themselves pick some of their own cartoons to submit to the book's editors (as contrasted with the Best Political Cartoons of the Year, published from 2005 to 2010, for which editors Daryl Cagle and Brian Fairrington determined which topics would be in the book and selected cartoons from Cagle's stable of cartoonists to illustrate those topics).

To demonstrate how this self-selection process plays out, here are the topics of the five cartoons in Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year 2014 by rigid conservative cartoonist Michael Ramirez:
  • Mocking Obama's claims that he had no prior knowledge of "Fast and Furious," leaks of national intelligence secrets, a Benghazi cover-up, IRS targeting conservative groups, or Justice Department phone taps of Associated Press reporters.
  • Blasting Obama as a fake Superman amid a rubble of debt, incompetence, scandals, lies, foreign policy, spending, IRS, jobs, and economy.
  • Depicting the problems of the Obamacare website as merely the tip of the iceberg.
  • Showing Obama blithely riding an Iranian nuke a la Slim Pickens as it falls toward the U.S. Capitol.
  • An anti-abortion cartoon.
Compare that with the cartoons by persistently liberal cartoonist Joel Pett:
  • Decrying an ineffective social safety net.
  • Alleging that the Republican elephant would deny Pope Francis a green card over his statements on social issues.
  • Lamenting the illegal ivory trade.
  • Apologizing to Martin Luther King Jr.'s statue for the plight of African-Americans 50 years after his "I Have a Dream" speech.
  • There are only four Pett cartoons in the book. Son of a gun. I thought there were five.
Yes, there are cartoons criticizing Congress, albeit mostly from an "A pox on both your parties" standpoint. And, yes, there are cartoons criticizing the Tea Party, but mostly in a generic sense; there are but two cartoons critical of Senator Ted Cruz and only one cartoon critical of Michele Bachmann. There is no criticism of any Republican that quite equals the harshness of Mike Lester's cartoon of President Obama feeding a huge, vicious IRS attack dog from a bag of "Pure Tyranny."

The BECY series has always been edited by a conservative, and for the most part, it showed. From its initial 1972 edition until his death, it was compiled by Birmingham (Alabama) News cartoonist Charles Brooks. Last year's edition was edited by Steve Kelley, late of the New Orleans Times Picayune, earning him praise for a well-balanced tome. I've been trying to find R.C. Harvey's review on line, but apparently it's behind a subscription wall. (It should be at the February 13, 2013 post's link down this page.) I'd like to quote from the review anyway:
"To the extent that Kelley's selection reflects a bias, it is probably a bias in favor of cartoons that attack, which editorial cartoons are better at than they are at supporting a particular point of view. Based on the content of this book, I find it impossible to determine which side of the political aisle Kelley favors, which is undeniably a desirable outcome."
I look forward to Harvey's review of the Mr. Turnbloom's work.
* Rereading the book, I see that there are one cartoon about the Supreme Court decision and one cartoon about the new voter disenfranchisement law in Texas.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Q Toon: The Doctor Is In

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman ruled last week that Michigan's ban on marriage for same-sex couples is unconstitutional. This is the fourteenth case out of fourteen that has gone in favor of marriage equality, and frankly, I'm running out of new cartoon ideas about it.

So this week's cartoon focuses on Judge Friedman's striking rejection of so-called expert witness Dr. Mark Regnerus, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, who produced a conservative-funded study which purported to show that children of same-sex couples do not fare as well as children of mixed-sex couples.

Doc Regnerus's study has been roundly criticized for its poor methodology -- of the 15,000 participants in the study, only two same-sex couples in a steady relationship were included. For the most part, the children in the study whose parents were in stable mixed-sex relationships were contrasted with children from broken homes:
While Regnerus critiques "same-sex couples" raising kids, his study does not actually compare children raised by same-sex couples with those raised by different-sex couples. The criterion it uses is whether a parent "ever ha[d] a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex." In fact, only a small proportion of its sample spent more than a few years living in a household headed by a same-sex couple. 
Even the UT-Austin Sociology Department rejected the study, so the only surprising thing about Judge Friedman's concurring opinion is its Judge Judyesque no-nonsense refusal to suffer the fool gladly. From the judge's ruling, scare quotation marks his:
The Court finds Regnerus's testimony unbelievable and not worthy of serious consideration. The evidence adduced at trial demonstrated that his 2012 "study" was hastily concocted at the behest of a third-party funder, which found it "essential that the necessary data be gathered to settle the question in the forum of public debate about what kinds of family arrangement are best for society" and which "was confident that the traditional understanding of marriage will be vindicated by this study." ....
Whatever Regnerus may have found in his "study," he certainly cannot purport to have undertaken a scholarly research effort...

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hail to the Ex-Chief

Former President Jimmy Carter has been appearing everywhere else this week, so why not here?
(from March, 1982)

Monday, March 24, 2014

This Week's Sneak Peek

We're going dumpster diving in search of this week's cartoon.

Tune in later this week if you want to know what we've found.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Phelps Retrospective

Mr. Fred Phelps died yesterday, and as I said in yesterday's post, there are some who believe his passing is best ignored. The question of how to react to Fred Phelps and his cult following is nothing new.

Phelps first came to public attention in the early 1990's pushing to criminalize homosexuality in Topeka public parks. No doubt, homosexual activity in Topeka public parks was already illegal, so that must have been an easy win for him. Flush with that victory, he began busing his Westboro Baptist family around the country to gay pride events to wave their God Hates Fags pickets and shout abuse through bullhorns.

This won the ire of LGBT groups wherever he went (and wherever it was rumored he might show up), but little attention outside of the LGBT community. Leaders in the LGBT community decided that the best way to deal with the Westboro gang was to ignore them.

So Phelps decided to escalate. In 1998 came the gay-bashing murder of 21-year-old Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming, which came to national attention. Phelps announced that he and his spawn were going to wave their hateful pickets at Shepard's funeral. Taking a cue from a series of Nixon cartoons by Herblock (but with only one photo of Phelps to work from), I drew this:
Counter-protesters with enormous crane puppets (a mainstay of peace protests) shielded Shepard's mourners from the Westboro picketers, but Phelps was close enough to the limelight for the mainstream media to take notice. So he continued showing up at funerals of anyone at all remarkable who died of gay-bashing, AIDS, or "a lingering illness."

The Phelps clan financed their travels, it seems, by filing lawsuits against anyone whose response to their picketing could be construed as assault or infringing on their religious liberty. In the first month of the Dubya Bush administration, the new president promised federal handouts to faith-based religious social service organizations. I imagined that the Westborans might take advantage of this new source of funding:
My favorite Phelps cartoon came one year later, when a story came out that the New York Aquarium at Coney Island had a pair of male penguins, Wendell and Cass, who had seemed to have developed a mating bond. (A more famous pair at Manhattan's Central Park Zoo, Roy and Silo, made news a couple years later.)
By this time, Phelps and his spawn were having more difficulty attracting media attention, even after adding "Thank God for 9/11" to their picket canon. The mainstream media had figured out that he was news only if they made him news, and there were plenty of other nutty religious zealots out there. Again feeling ignored, Phelps upped the ante and started picketing the funerals of American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 2006, the family of one such soldier sued Phelps and two of his daughters for "defamation, intrusion upon seclusion, publicity given to private life, intentional infliction of emotional distress and civil conspiracy," in a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court. In 2011, in Snyder v. Phelps, The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favor of Phelps and his ghouls (Justice Samuel Alito dissenting).
I've drawn other cartoons featuring the Phelps brood, but the nine-year gap between the penguin cartoon and the Snyder v. Phelps cartoon represents my attempt to go along with the conventional wisdom that it were best to ignore them.

It's sort of a shame that I had to draw this week's cartoon on Sunday in such a way that it would work whether Fred Phelps died right away or lingered for months. I had a better cartoon idea (similar to Nate Beeler's cartoon today) showing the Phelps clan at his grave site, brandishing "God Hates Dad" and "Grandpa In Hell" picket signs as one of them explains, "He would have wanted it this way."

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Q Toon: Ready for Freddy

Reports on Sunday that Fred Phelps, leader of the Westboro Baptist Church is near death have started a debate on how to respond to the news. (Phelps has supposedly been excommunicated from the family "church" for unstated reasons. Be that as it may.) Shall we gloat? Shall we pretend we don't care?

A number of LGBT bloggers have stated their intention to prove that they are bigger than the Westborans. As George Takei posted on Facebook,
I take no solace or joy in this man's passing. We will not dance upon his grave, nor stand vigil at his funeral holding "God Hates Freds" signs, tempting as it may be.
He was a tormented soul, who tormented so many. Hate never wins out in the end. It instead goes always to its lonely, dusty end.
As an editorial cartoonist, my job is not to turn the other cheek. I'm reminded that when Richard Nixon died, Pat Oliphant published a neutral cartoon remarking on the man's passing, and instantly regretted it. As the nation's cartoonists (myself included) cranked out charitable eulogy cartoons, Oliphant promptly followed his initial cartoon with another reminding readers of the more reprehensible side of Nixon's legacy. (See the third and fourth cartoons on this page: "Nixon Victory Salute" and "RMN: Lest We Forget.")

How To Respond To Fred Phelps is nothing new. In a future post, I'll dredge up some of my earlier cartoons about him and his clan to illustrate a few thoughts on the Descent and Fall of Fred Phelps.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Sneak Peek of the Week

Well, aren't these little nippers cute!

And yet, I don't believe we're in Kansas any more.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Q Toon: Slava Erin!

A while ago, posted a list of handy hints for recognizing artists' work. "If the paintings have tons of little people in them but otherwise seem normal," it counsels, it's Pieter Breugel the Elder. So perhaps this week's cartoon is something that Old Daddy Breugel would paint. And, incidentally, "Pa Breugel" is an anagram for my name; I've been known to sign April Fool's cartoons with that moniker.

I usually don't like drawing cartoons dominated by buildings, with tiny, tiny people too small to have their faces showing. The whole time I was drawing this cartoon, I was dreading the possibly more arduous task of colorizing it. Ultimately, I decided that nearly everyone in this crowd would wear green, which saved some time.

But I enjoy caricature much more than architecture, so I'm disappointed that there really aren't any faces to speak of this week. If there were, the cartoon might be mistaken for a painting by Jan Van Eyck.

Monday, March 10, 2014

This Week's Sneak Peek

Looks like there's a whole lot of architecture going on this week.

Do you know what's even less fun than drawing a whole lot of architecture?

Colorizing it.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A Problem Like Maria at the Oscars

Did you see Maria chumming it up with all of her Hollywood pals the other day?
According to the Travolta name generator, her name is "Maya Doon."

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Q Toon: Cultural Warming

U.S. District Court Judge Orlando Garcia ruled last week that Texas's constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying is in violation of the federal Constitution's equal protection clause.

The imagery in the cartoon is a take-off on this viral photo.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Return of the Sneak Peek

After a mere half-fortnight hiatus, Sneak Peek of the Week makes its triumphant return, back by popular demand.

And that ain't no bull.