I have never shared the view that a newspaper’s front page needed to be a sacrosanct opinion-free zone.
The New York Times published a front-page editorial about gun violence today, and I blogged separately about that.
As I wrote that post, my mind quickly turned to the Des Moines Register’s wonderful run of cartoonists who produced editorial cartoons running regularly for Page One. This started out as a section of that post, but I quickly decided it was worth a separate post.
I worked a decade (in two hitches, 1977-85 and 1998-2000) for the Register. During both stretches, and for decades before I showed up and eight years I left, the Register published page-one editorial cartoons by three of the greatest artists in journalism history: Pulitzer Prize-winners Ding Darling and Frank Miller, as well as Brian Duffy (who should have a couple of Pulitzers).
I’d like to see a newspaper today revive the front-page editorial cartoon (with digital animated and/or interactive versions). Innovation doesn’t have to be a tug-of-war between invention and tradition. It can mean updating and adapting the best parts of your heritage. Editorial cartoons, particularly at the Register, are a piece of newspaper heritage worth updating and adapting.
Brief reflections on each of the great Register cartoonists:
Duffy is a model for innovation and perseverance as a cartoonist.
I was disgusted in 2008 when the Register cut Duffy’s job after 25 years, losing an important voice and a valuable distinction for one of my favorite papers. I was editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, and Duffy produced some cartoons for us, one of his first steps in establishing what is now a statewide network of media customers. We explored the possibility of a deeper arrangement with the Gazette, but I left in 2010 without being able to work that out.
He also draws national cartoons for King Features, local cartoons for the weekly Cityview newspaper and draws live cartoons on a Thursday morning television spot on KCW123 Great Day. An avid cyclist, he draws monthly cartoons for Momentum Magazine. Duffy published another book of his cartoons this year.
I asked Duffy this morning for an update and some cartoons to use. The cartoons he sent, from 1994 and 1999, illustrate how persistent the gun violence issue in our nation is and how long Congress has been under control of the National Rifle Association:
Duffy has been lampooning the Iowa Caucuses since 1984:
Like Miller and Darling before him, Duffy frequently addresses issues in Iowa agriculture.
As you’ll see shortly, Miller was the master of the obituary cartoon, a form in which Duffy also excels:
One of the regrets of my career is that I was too shy as a young journalist at the Register to ask Miller, a fellow Yankee fan, for the original of a cartoon he drew (alas, for the sports section, not the front page) to accompany a sports commentary that I wrote.
One of the most-heartbreaking stories of my early career was editing Miller’s obituary, masterfully written by Ken Fuson.
Miller won the 1963 Pulitzer Prize for a cartoon on nuclear war:
No one was better at the obituary cartoon:
I wasn’t able to quickly find another of Miller’s obituary cartoons in the excellent Iowa Digital Library collection of his work, but will add one if I find another.
In an earlier post, I used these Miller cartoons about Richard Nixon:
I liked Miller’s tribute to the Des Moines Tribune, which died in 1982, a year before Miller did:
Occasionally a huge breaking story would chase an editorial cartoon off the front page, but the Page One cartoon was such a Register institution that Miller held his place on the cover on a day with two historic stories:
Darling was before my time, but launched the tradition of cartooning excellence on the Register’s front page, winning Pulitzers in 1924 and 1943.
This cartoon won Darling the 1924 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning.
This cartoon, with the caption, “What a Place For a Waste Paper Salvage Campaign,” won the 1943 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning.
In addition to his cartoons, Darling is perhaps best known as a champion of conservation. The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge at Sanibel Island, Fla., is named for the activist cartoonist who led efforts to protect the area from development.
Which editorial cartoonists are updating?
If you know someone who’s using editorial cartoons on Page One or updating cartoons successfully for the digital age, please share images or links. Editorial cartoons are a rich part of journalism tradition. I hope they are an important part of our future, too.
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