October 31, 2014
Art, politics, angels, demons . . . and righteous dogs.

THANKS TO HANNAH

Watch Meet cartoonist Steve Brodner on PBS. See more from Need To Know.

Recently when the wonderful Matt Wuerker’s editorial cartooning Pulitzer triggered a hit job on the art  by a writer at Slate my old pals at Need to Know decided to investigate the issue of cartooning on the web.  This introduced me to the amazing Hannah Yi, who herself is the perfect exemplar of the new media maestro she is reporting on.  She showed up at my studio with camera,  audio equipment, using my lights (no make-up ,as you can see) and with another big skill set as interviewer.  She handled the visuals beautifully, did screen grabs, threw in music and edited with elan. You can see more of her work HERE.

Thanks to her for this perceptive piece of writing and movie.  Hannah, you are the future. Thanks for the lesson. I’m glad you think I’m making progress.

From Paper to Pixels: Political cartoonists Leap into the Digital Age

By Hannah Yi,
May 21,  2012

Matt Wuerker was touching up the colors on a cartoon of President Obama wearing gym shorts, a tank top and sweatband, when he was interrupted by a sudden burst of commotion in the Politico newsroom. The Pulitzer Prize winners had just been announced online.

“It was very surprising,” said Wuerker, who hadn’t expected any sort of excitement during what seemed like a typical Monday afternoon. He had just won $10,000 and journalism’s top prize for his editorial cartoons. “The newsroom all jumped up, and I got to run around and high-five everyone.”

Breaking news alerts and tweets quickly pointed out the significance of how Politico – along with The Huffington Post – was one of the first online news outlets to win the Pulitzer Prize since its inception in 1917.

But in the wake of Wuerker’s win, the cartooning profession has also come under scrutiny, as media critics debate its contemporary relevance in the increasingly digital world of infographics, photo memes and data visualizations.

Slate’s Farhad Manjoo fired the first shot with his piece, “Editorial Cartoons Are Stale, Simplistic, and Just Not Funny,” in which he called Wuerker’s genre “an increasingly timeworn form…blunt, one-dimensional jokes, rarely exhibiting nuance, irony or subtext.” Manjoo went on to suggest that the Pulitzer committee should “cast a wider net and get more flexible in how they recognize graphical journalism.”
Video: Cartoonist Steve Brodner on creating political satire for the YouTube generation. Produced by Hannah Yi

Wuerker is the first to admit that political cartoonists have enjoyed a monopoly over editorial graphics until now. “We had it really good for several centuries when American political cartoonists – even dating back to the Revolution – didn’t have to share that part of the media landscape with anyone else,” he says.

The earliest example dates back to the 1870s when cartoonist Thomas Nast took on New York City’s political machine Tammany Hall and its leader William “Boss” Tweed. Nast’s cartoons about their corruption plastered the cover of Harper’s Weekly. Eventually the power of ink and paper sprinkled with satire led to the downfall and arrest of Tweed. Fast forward to the 1950s when cartoonist Herblockdepicted the Cold War hysteria and even coined the word “McCarthyism.”

“Herblock cartoon’s against McCarthy had a profound effect in the same way Doonesbury cartoons were effective during Watergate,” said Hess. But whether he could name a recent cartoon with similar impact, “Oh, I don’t think so.”

Hess partly blames the blunted impact to the simple fact that the traditional home for cartoons is on the wane. As print newspapers fold and aggregation websites blossom, cartoonists – along with anyone working in journalism – are left to compete in a fragmented and chaotic media landscape.

“When Thomas Nast was doing cartoons, he had a huge chunk of the media pie, maybe two-thirds since there were very few newspapers then,” said political cartoonist Steve Brodner. “If Nast was a cartoonist today, even with all his talent and passion, he’d only have a crumb of that pie.”

The fight over crumbs is pushing some veteran cartoonists to figure out new ways of giving life to their paper characters.

“I’m finally finding my footing,” said Brodner, who’s been a cartooning for 35 years but only started dabbling in animating his cartoons in 2008.

Brodner’s style fuses his traditional paper cartoons with cutout photos, music and politician sound bites. Viewers of Brodner’s work often see his hand in frame drawing his cartoons. In his most recent work for the Washington Spectator, a pencil sketch of Mitt Romney is layered over photos of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini while Brodner voices his own commentary.

Comments

  1. ALEX MCCRAE says:

    Hi Steve,

    I hate to sound like a sourpuss, Debbie Downer* type here, but I find myself slightly flummoxed by your fellow political cartoonist Matt Wuerher’s receiving this year’s Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning. I’m almost thinking that the Pulitzer judging panel were attempting to give backhanded praise to the Politico blog, and its kind of vanguard status in the burgeoning new media/ online arena, and chose Matt as a deserving exemplar of the rapid shift from hardcopy-to-online media. Just a thought.

    To be honest (just my opinion), I find Wuerher’s basic cartooning style a tad on the crudely executed side, his caricatures of various in-the-news politicos and world leaders somewhat lacking in likeness, (even though we know that sometimes gross exaggeration is part-and-parcel of the caricaturing enterprise), and finally, I bristle when i see him relying on a superfluity of printed labels, and cliched tropes in his cartoons, like the GOP elephant and the Dem’s donkey, to get his particular point(s) across.

    Call me a cockeyed purist, but I much prefer minimal copy in my editorial cartoons, where the cartoonist presents his ideas visually, rather than having to resort to excessive ‘labeling’. What’s the old cliche about ‘a picture being worth a thousand words’ ?

    For a strip cartoonist, on the other hand, like say a Jules Pheifer (sp. ?), or Gary Trudeau, the words, (or in many cases the inter-character dialogue), are almost more impactful, and germane to the creative enterprise than the visuals, although I always got a big kick out of the dynamism in Pheifer’s figurative pieces.

    Former Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonists such as Paul Conrad (1964, 1971, 1984), Michael Ramirez (1994, 2008), Paul Szep (1974, 1977), and Pat Oliphant (1967), (except for the now-late Paul Conrad) all continue to ply their editorial cartooning trade as masterful draughtsmen, first-rate caricaturists, and minimalists, in terms of resorting to ‘labels’ sprinkled throughout their single panel efforts to get their point across.

    Granted the late, great Herb Block was often prone to excessive labeling, but he could also draw like a son-of-a-B, and his ideas were invariably sound and most prescient.

    Steve, I would have to agree w/ a goodly chunk of Slate’s Farhad Mangoo’s argument that much of today’s single panel editorial cartooning is “stale, simplistic, and just not funny”.

    However, Steve, I put your incredibly engaging, sardonically witty signature cartooning style—what you have to say and how you visually express it– on a much higher qualitative plane than most of what passes for political cartooning out there today. There are some other stellar ones in print today that I admire, as well.

    I like your enthusiastic embrace of novel, or at least less tried-and-true modes of visual expression, such as your most recent forays into online limited animation. We have definitely entered a new and challenging era for the aspiring political cartoonist , where the old tried-and-true print model that had worked so well for hundreds of years going back to the likes of Nast and, dare i say, Honoré Daumier, sadly might not survive the advent of the digital/ internet age.

    As McLuhan opined, “the medium is the message”. In a free society, hopefully the message will always get out there, no matter the medium of the moment. Technological changes is inevitable.

    These are hardly the best of times, but neither are they the worst.

    Steve, thought you and your readers might appreciate this link to veteran political cartoonist Ranan Lurie’s current web site, where he has been using simple, flat-color, kinda crudely drawn animation to express his skewed political perspective(s).

    Lurie, although in his prime a multi-award winning editorial cartoonist, I personally found sorely lacking as a polished draughtsman, yet his take on the political landscape was generally pretty insightful. He tends to be one of the ‘excessive labeling’ tribe of editorial cartoonist.

    http://www.cartoonews.com/

    * “Debbie Downer” is a recurring character from SNL. In her skits, she would always interject a fairly upbeat conversation w/ her friends w/ a litany of bad news, invariably bringing the tone of the discussion down into ‘Depressionville’.

  2. Steve says:

    Alex:
    Very insightful. Not a downer at all. We all suck sometimes. I find editorial cartooning always a mixed bag. But grateful it still allows graphics a string voice. I like Matt and recognize that the cartoonists who win this serve many different purposes. They all have difficult jobs and deserve respect. He is a true trail blazer and is also very good at what he does. People who comment on the Pulitzers are rarely as thoughtful as you are here.
    SB

  3. ALEX MCCRAE says:

    Steve,

    Thanks much for your very thoughtful and measured reply.

    It’s usually not my nature to be negative. I hopefully strive to come from a spirit of ‘constructive criticism’ when I’m critiquing any of the creative arts; be it illustration, graphic design, cartooning, fine art, film, theater, music or dance.

    To your point, I’m sure Matt (Wuerker) is a very cool, bright, hard-working fellow. In my earlier post, in no way did i want to give the impression that I was minimizing Matt’s dedication to his cartooning craft, or deny his obvious appeal to a wide audience out there in ‘media-land’. I don’t begrudge his Pulitzer nod—a major benchmark achievement for any professional cartoonist, short of the prestigious Ruben Award.

    it’s just that we all tend to have our personal favorites, and often compare others (sometimes negatively) to those creative folk we tend to exalt, and hold in our highest esteem.

    Steve, as you said,”editorial cartooning is a mixed bag”, not unlike, I would contend, the multi-faceted world of music. Some people love hardcore country music, but have no ear, or inclination for say urban hip-hop, while classical music zealots might totally reject R&B, Jazz, or The Blues. Yet in the final reckoning, it all boils down to MUSIC, which can thankfully be appreciated by aficionados of whatever genre tickles one’s fancy.

    Clearly the old adage, “Necessity is the Mother of invention” comes into play, more-and-more, these days, as daily newspapers across the continent no longer wish (or can afford) to carry a full-time, in-house staff editorial cartoonist, as in days of yore. The emerging political cartoonist of today is forced to come up w/ inventive, cyberspace-friendly new approaches to just staying relevant, and most importantly, gainfully employed.

    Case in point.

    I attended a “Live Talks L.A. ” interview event back in April w/ the Pulitzer Prize (1999) winning editorial cartoonist, David Horsey, who had worked for over 30 years at the Seattle Intelligencer, prior to his being hired recently by the L.A. Times/ online folks, as both a political columnist/ commentator, and political cartoonist.

    Fortunately for him, he was given the option to stay put in Seattle w/ his family, where he had established deep roots in the Northwest, rather than relocate, hollus bolus, to Los Angeles. Staying in Seattle, he could still basically fulfill all his cartooning and political commentating commitments w/ ‘the Times’, electronically via the Net. He would be obliged to come to L.A. and touch bases w/ his employer, ‘The Times’, only a couple of times a month.

    Nice work, if you can get it. HA!

    Incidentally, at the end of the interview, the discussion was opened up for queries from the audience. I took the mike, and asked Horsey if he may have been stylistically influenced, to some degree, by any of the fine Canadian political cartoonists working north of Seattle and beyond, particularly the incredibly gifted Roy Peterson who until a few years back did consistently marvelous caricature/ editorial cartooning for the Vancouver Sun.

    Horsey responded w/ an emphatic YES!, and had some very favorable things to say about Peterson’s talents, even suggesting that as far as the best editorial cartooning caricaturists on the planet, a handful of Canadian newspaper stalwarts, past, and present, should be included in that pantheon of greats.

    For me, having grown up in Toronto, and a budding cartoonist to boot, the Toronto Star’s Duncan MacPherson was my boyhood hero. He was very influenced by the early 20th century work of masterful Brit cartoonist, David Low. Fantastically fluid, thick-to-thin brush & ink work, super use of solid blacks, and brilliant use of white/ negative compositional space exemplified the cartoons of both Low and MacPherson. But I digress.

  4. Steve says:

    Alex:
    Thanks for this story and your great good energy. I grew up loving all the cartoonists. I wanted very much to be one of them. Didn’t work out, but I found other roads to ride on. I still respect these gjys and gals very much. I respect newspapers and the newspaper culture and thoroughly enjoy what’s left of it. I know it’s just for now. The Slate guy doesn’t have to beat this sick but glorious horse. Or Horsey.
    Thanks,
    Steve

  5. ALEX MCCRAE says:

    Hi Steve,

    Leave it to a maestro of cartoon metaphor, biting irony, and sheer whimsy like yourself to come up w/ that ‘groaner’ of a parting ‘equine’ shot, in your last post.

    “Horsey”, indeed. HA! (“I’ll Have Another”*)

    Sadly, the old, flagging nag—- traditional (hardcopy) newspaper editorial cartooning, that is—-does appear to still have evidence of a pulse, but her glory days are clearly numbered. The digital ‘glue factory’ beckons, I’m afeared. Enough said.

    Steve, in my view, what you have accomplished as a committed chronicler/ interpreter/ critic of the glaring inequities and injustices still endemic in our so-called ‘civil society’, and further, your shining a critical light on the jaded politicos, and monied interests who perpetuate, and enable these societal ills to continue, through your cut-to-the-very-quick satirical wit, thru modes of both cartoon/ caricature and political commentary within the editorial print arena over these past 30-some years, (plus your, in a sense, giving back thru your dedication to teaching, and fighting the good fight for social justice** and a free, equitable America), would, IMHO, make a thirty year-plus cartooning slog at some metro newspaper pale in comparison. (As they said in “Seinfeld”, “Not that there’s anything wrong w/ THAT !”, i.e., being strictly a career newspaper cartoonist.)

    Whew! I apologize for that convoluted, run-on sentence (?). But hopefully I made some sense, nonetheless.

    Steve, you definitely found your destined career path…… some metropolitan daily’s loss, and for the legion of progressive thinkers’ , and truth-seekers, out there, their net gain.

    Keep up the great, and most important work.

    *”I’ll Have Another” was just my lame attempt at more horsing-around humor. Of course, this is the name of the current Kentucky Derby and Preakness champion racing steed, and possible Triple Crown champ, if he can take the third jewel of the crown at the Belmont Stakes in a couple of weeks (Sat., June 9th).

    **Steve, thanks for your heads-up alert re/ the need for immediate emergency funding to keep the American Prospect enterprise solvent.

    Also enjoyed that group of posted illos….. some of my favorite current cartoonists in that stellar pack. That C. F. Payne dude comes up w/ consistently first-rate work. Bower’s brilliant piece had a bit of the old David Low signature style w/ the solid, fluid brush & ink work, and great balance of lights and darks. Also the essential point of the satiric image of corporate, and military greed and excess personified, for me, immediately registered in my noggin, as the high-lighted-in-crimson Mr. Everyman forlornly looks on, w/ only the meager crumbs remaining. No ‘labels’ needed here…. which kind of reenforced my point from an earlier post.

  6. Steve says:

    Very grateful Alex, for all the good energy. Your witty perspective is always refreshing. And your unreasonable praise, well, I’ll have to live with that!
    Gracias,
    SB

  7. ALEX MCCRAE says:

    Steve,

    Hardly “unreasonable praise”, kind sir.

    Your clear modesty is only exceeded by your formidable talent as a most prescient, natural-born visual (and literary) communicator, and keen observer of our best-and-worst of times. A double threat, if there ever was one. HA!

    Since I retired, almost four years back, from the rat-race of Hollywood TV series animation w/ Warner Bros., Disney Studios, and the like (designing characters, title cards, and key background layouts, for the most part), I seem to have acquired the desire, bordering on obsession, to intercommunicate much more on the blogosphere ; perhaps to the neglect and detriment of my God-given drawing and sculpting talents. I’m enjoying the online discourse immensely, though; particularly language usage sites; referred to as lexicographic discussion forums if we want to get all technical about it.

    Somehow, of late, I’m feeling a kind of weighty existential guilt in the fact that I’m not creating much art, per se, and wonder if my recent foray into online social intercourse (oh behave !), is just a procrastination, or avoidance response.

    I don’t want to get all Freudian-analytical here, ’cause I don’t believe there is anything pathological (HA!) going on w/ my recent weaning off the cartooning, or just plain drawing. Yet, I do get a ton of enjoyment out of digital nature photography, w/ a particular heavy focus on our rich, and varied local Southern California bird-life. (Okay, I confess, I’m a big-time birder.) Yet I’m faced w/ that old conundrum, i.e., how does one monetize one’s creative product, when there’s a slew of worthy competitors out there w/ the same commercial objectives?

    Maybe the Nike motto “Just Do It” would apply?

    And then I think……. hmm….. perhaps writing, illustrating, and hopefully publishing a kid’s book could be cool. But then again, every celebrity, and his brother out there is jumping on THAT bandwagon. (No offense, Mr. Henry “The Fonz” Winkler.)

    Steve, sorry for kind of crying on your shoulder, here…… in public no less.

    (I feel like I owe you $60.00 for the ad hoc consultation/ therapy session, although it was just me blowin’ some hot air.)

    Perhaps as Bob Dylan said, “the answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind”.

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