Longing for the days of smart, witty editorial cartoons
History was a subject in school I really connected with. I enjoyed the stories, how one event connected to another and then another. The intrigue around huge historical events, such as the development of the atomic bomb and the secrecy of the Normandy invasion were so interesting, and the iconic speeches and writings of Winston Churchill were among my favorite.
My mother was a history teacher in high school. I, and a few other of the juvenile delinquents in my class, had her for AP American History. We were supposed to be some of the best students in our class, but in all honesty, we were goofballs and my mother was a saint not to completely banish us from her classroom, much less the school.
But during that class I fell in love — I know an odd word — with editorial cartoons.
It fascinated me how an artist could take pen to paper and depict a historical event, a political decision or opinion in a cartoon that could easily be understood and translated by readers.
Editorial cartoons of the past were witty in how they tied items together, how they made a point quickly and touched a nerve to those who disagreed with it and wrangled applause from those who agreed.
Understanding and interpreting cartoons from history was among the items we were asked to learn during that class. So much so, that it was on the AP History test we had to pass in order to get collegiate credit.
Sadly, that art and the artists who wield their opinion creatively are becoming increasingly rare.
In Mississippi, there are two who come to mind whose work continues to impress readers and impress change.
Marshall Ramsey, who once drew for The Clarion-Ledger and is now managing editor for Mississippi Today, has drawn tremendous notoriety for his spin on state politics, and his awe-inspiring takes on national events. Most notably, recently was his cartoon of former President Bush’s passing.
The cartoon depicting his arrival in Heaven went viral and was beloved by the Bush family.
The other is Ricky Nobile, a Hattiesburg artist whose cartoons are used by a number of newspapers around the state.
The caricatures of state politicians he creates are beloved by both those who view the cartoons and those who are often the subject of those cartoons. So much are they appreciated that recently the Mississippi Press Association gave caricature drawings by Ricky of those running for state office who agreed to speak at the association’s summer convention in Biloxi.
There are a lot of reasons, in my opinion, that the editorial cartoon has dwindled in popularity and effectiveness. One, budget cuts at many newspapers has made artists a far more rare breed.
Second, those cartoonists who remain — state company excluded — have become less talented in wielding their craft. Their takes on politics and events in history have become far too slanted to one side or the other, that newspapers — including this one — have found them hard to use. Some newspapers have discontinued the use of cartoons all together, instead using space on opinion pages for content that is focused more on local events and happenings.
They have lost their tact, their ability to be witty. Today, many go for the cheap joke or take shots well below the belt.
For me, I still appreciate a good cartoon that is effective, gets to the point and is fair in either its criticism or praise. Just like the words of an editorial or column, the best ones are those who make a point, support it and stand by it.
Editorial cartoonists — the good ones — are artists and journalist who are worthy of admiration. I just wish there were more of them.
Tim Reeves is editor of The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.