Monday, September 24, 2018

Associating with Editorial Cartoonists

I had a wonderful weekend as a guest and speaker at the annual convention of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC), which this year including big contingents from Canada and New Zealand. It was held in Sacramento, Calif., which is a convenient 2.5-hour drive for me, and the folks of the AAEC, none of whom I knew before I showed up for Thursday night's reception, welcomed me as family. Maybe a long-lost cousin with a shady past.

I took pictures. Assume every name I mention is preceded by the phrase "celebrated editorial cartoonist." The convention was a challenge for me in that, while I was very familiar with many of the cartoonists' work, I had no idea what they looked like. Luckily, we wore badges.

The view from my room at the Citizen Hotel, a grand old building which, being a block from the capitol, decorates in a political theme. For example, all the rooms have framed political cartoons, which made the venue a perfect headquarters for the event. 
I had FDR in my bathroom. Would he seek a fourth term? Time will tell.
The first person I ran into even before checking in was Daryl Cagle, who is a cartoonist himself as well as a big distributor of other people's cartoons.
A blurry pic overlooking the opening reception at the California Museum, a few blocks from the capitol. You know it's the California Museum because it has Mickey Mouse statues. There are probably four or five Pulitzer Prize winners in this shot.
I got a very warm welcome from outgoing AAEC President Pat Bagley, who hand-painted his jacket of many happy memories, and Tim Eagan. I had long, interesting, deep-delving conversations with both.

Cartoonist, illustrator, and game designer JP "Jape" Trostle, who blew me away by gifting me a terrific souvenir booklet from the 1964 World's Fair his parents had collected; and incoming AAEC President Kevin Siers, the 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner who introduced my talk.
Comics scholar, and author of about a thousand books, R.C. Harvey. I don't think Bob would argue if I said he has a reputation as something of a curmudgeon, but I found him delightful. 
Scott Johnston is a local editorial cartoonist in Canada. His wife Becky is patient. Terrific people!
During a break in Friday's sessions, I introduced myself to Zunar. Holy crap, it's Zunar! He's a free speech hero who faced 40 years of imprisonment for sedition in his home country of Malaysia. For drawing cartoons. We had a lovely conversation about the value we both find in putting ink on paper (as opposed to pixels on a computer screen) as a tactile way to transfer your soul to the page. After my talk on Saturday, he stopped me to talk about Mom's Cancer. Zunar gave a brief speech in which he said, “In a country with no media freedom, cartooning is the only medium we have.... No dictator can withstand laughter.” Beyond simply meeting an artist like that, having a couple of real conversations with him was a lifetime highlight for me.

I was invited to talk about "A Fire Story" in terms of writing and drawing comics under, let's say, extreme duress. I gave some quick background on myself, especially how Mom's Cancer made the idea of creating a nonfiction comic about a deadly serious topic not quite as big a leap as you might imagine. I talked about process, showed the KQED video, and shared some pages from my upcoming graphic novel.

Of course I have no photos of my talk--I was busy at the time--but I think it went very well. People said they were moved. I signed a couple dozen mini-posters I'd brought and handed out a couple of galleys. Nobody seemed to regret inviting me. Big-name award-winning cartoonists sought me out afterward to talk comics. No big deal.

My friend, Bay Area cartoonist Jonathan Lemon (left), showed up on Saturday. Jonathan will be the subject of a major cartooning announcement soon; he wouldn't even tell me what it is, but remember: you didn't hear it here first. I sat between him and Ward Sutton, who does very smart work and gave what I thought was the best talk of the day on Friday.
One of these things is not like the others.... At the closing gala Saturday night--for which I was woefully underdressed but no one seemed to mind--with three of the best of the best: Rob Rogers, my close personal friend Zunar, and Jen Sorensen. This wasn't just a photo op that I muscled my way into, we stood around a table and talked for quite a while. Hey, nobody told me to bring a blazer!
I thought this was one of the nicest moments of the whole weekend. Behind the lectern at right is Charis Jackson Barrios, winner of the Locher Prize for young aspiring cartoonists. She's done some good work for The Nib and other outlets, and warmly but pointedly noted that she was one of the few women or persons with brown skin in the room. She got an appreciative laugh calling them (us?) "the nicest group of old white guys" she'd ever met. What made this a great moment for me was the woman standing at left: Pulitzer Prize winner Ann Telnaes, beaming as happily and proudly as if Charis were her own daughter.
With Matt Bors, creator of The Nib. The Nib is, I think, a big deal, as an outlet and business model for cartooning in the 21st Century. Matt was there with his wife and toddler daughter, who melted my heart when she lurched up behind me and clutched the back of my knee for balance, just the way my own little blonde babies did so many years...sniff...sorry, I got something in my eye..... Anyway, Matt's cool, too.

I had good conversations (but no photographic proof) with Pulitzer Prize winner Ann Telnaes, Pulitzer Prize Winner Jack Ohman, Pulitzer Prize Winner Mark Fiore, and even some people without Pulitzer Prizes.

An undercurrent running through the convention was diversification. A few panels touched on what editorial cartoonists can do with their skills as newspapers cut, shrink, and die out from under them. New markets. Matt Bors's The Nib is one successful online model. A few folks buttonholed me to ask about graphic novels, and I took a couple of minutes at the end of my talk to encourage them to consider it--they have the skills!--compare and contrast the forms, and describe the state of GN publishing as I understand it. I told them it's where the big money is; hope I didn't steer them wrong!

As I said in my talk's opening remarks, editorial cartoonists intimidate the hell out of me. They're smart, opinionated and fast. On a good day, I'd only claim to be maybe one-third of that. But it turns out they're also kind and generous, which I've found to be true of most cartoonists everywhere. I had a great time.

I took this picture driving home from Sacramento on Interstate 80 because the "Milk Farm" neon sign is visible from the roof of the UC Davis Physics Building about 5 miles away. I happen to know that because when I TAed astronomy labs in college, we'd aim a telescope at the sign and shine its light through a diffraction grating, producing a nice neon spectrum that perfectly illustrated how astronomers know what stars are made of. So I'm just happy it's still there. For science. 


Robert Harvey said...

Funny thing: I had the same FDR cartoon in my bathroom. It appeared to be an original. So was yours a copy? Mine? FDR was like that.

Jen Sorensen said...

Great meeting you, Brian! I had the simulated original FDR cartoon in my bathroom, too.