Thursday, October 11, 2007

Advice for college cartoonists

This seems to be the month for controversial cartoons in student newspapers. In yet another episode, the Arizona Daily Wildcat is making apologies this week for a cartoon in Tuesday's paper that many found offensive to Jews.

The comic, by staffer Joseph Topmiller, depicted a restaurant credit-card slip with a 7 percent tip signed by "Mark Goldfarb." Underneath was written: "Attention all crappy tipping Jews!!! Just because you're 'screwing' the server … does not mean that it's a mitzvah."

"I've gotten tons of feedback on it," Editor-in-chief Allison Hornick told the Arizona Daily Star. "Basically they think it's anti-Semitic and that we shouldn't have run it."

In light of the rash of cartoon controversies, I asked Eric Devericks, editorial cartoonist for The Seattle Times, if he had any advice for student cartoonists. Devericks was the editorial cartoonist for The Daily Barometer at Oregon State University in 2001 when he won the John Locher Award for best college cartoonist from the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists.

"In my profession, someone is always offended," Devericks wrote in an e-mail message. "I think that any time you have an opinion and share it forcefully, it seems that these days that that is cause for someone to become offended. Most of the time I think people are too sensitive and think they have a right to go through life and never see anything that they disagree with.

"However, I won't defend the cartoons that you referred to (see previous post) because in my judgment they failed as cartoons. They expressed no solid opinion, and were miserable attempts at humor.

"It seems the only goal of these cartoons was to offend. Mission accomplished. That said, I think that college is the place to learn these lessons. I am not convinced that in every case the cartoonist or editor should be force to resign."

Asked how to draw sharp, incisive cartoons without being overtly offensive, Devericks offered these guidelines:

  • Make sure you believe in what it is you are saying. If you believe in what you are saying, you can say it forcefully without regret. You may still offend, but not simply for the sake of being offensive. I have found that most people don't truly believe truly offensive things.

  • Know your subject so that your cartoons show a level of depth and so that you are prepared to defend what you have said. A reader will respect you more for it.

  • Really look at your completed cartoon and know what IT is saying. Not what YOU are trying to say, or what you would like to say. Look at the completed cartoon and know what IT says.

"When I follow these rules, I don't worry about being offensive," Devericks says. "If I believe what I am saying and say it well then I don't care that someone may be offended."

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