Brian McFadden Debuts in NYT

Twenty years ago in September, I became the first “alternative” political cartoonist to appear in the New York Times. At the time, there was a lot of hand-wringing by “mainstream” editorial cartoonists. I used multiple panels. I didn’t use labels or metaphors. No donkeys, elephants or Uncle Sams.

Later in the ’90s, cartoonists Tom Tomorrow and Ruben Bolling also ran in the paper of record. Altie editorial cartooning had arrived. By 2000 I was running in Time, Fortune, Bloomberg Magazine and 140 newspapers.

As it turned out, the mainstream guys needn’t have worried. For the next 10 years, alties were cock-blocked by awards committees. The NYT stopped running altie cartoons.

Now, at long last, the NYT appears to be leading the way forward again.

Sunday’s New York Times “Week in Review” section will mark the debut of a weekly cartoon by Brian McFadden, who appeared in “Attitude” and does the strip “Big Fat Whale.” According to the paper, Brian will run for several months. So check it out! He’s one of the best cartoonists in the country, period.

After Brian, they might start doing similar short-term residencies with other altie cartoonists.

The bad news, such as it is, is that the NYT has eliminated its weekly round-up of syndicated editorial cartoons. It’s not all bad–those cartoons were so atrocious they were making the whole profession look bad. On the other hand, this could lead to the death of syndicated cartoons once and for all. Often they’re the only cartoons that a reader ever sees.

The future, however, will be very few cartoonists doing lots of freelance stuff.

A lot of older cartoonists are angry about this, and not happy about the triumph of the rising alties, but frankly, the revolution began in 1991. This is 20 years overdue. Personally, I hope the best and smartest of the old guard can adjust by using modern techniques and abolishing hoary tropes like donkeys and elephants.


  • Wonderful, this is a good thing.

    You forgot to mention their gratuitous infatuation with the use of cross hatching.

    I would argue though that there is nothing inherently wrong with the occasional elephant/donkey, uncle Sam, hoary trope, label, or one paneled cartoon. The problem is the more of these things a cartoon uses from the previous list the harder its creator has to work to make it poignant, original, intelligent, or even just interesting. The issue is that most political cartoonists consider these the only means by which to generate political cartoons and do so by simply shuffling these tropes around and modestly updating their arrangement and interaction to try and reflect current issues.

    My theory, is that the problem stems from current cartoonists trying to mimic the most successful political cartoons of yore, but without understanding why they were great. If you look in most history text books, the reproduced political cartoons from as far back as you would like to go are indeed, one panel, typically short, and often use hoary tropes. Certainly the most poignant usually are very short, for instance this one from Matt Bors: (you have a bunch that would make for a good example as well here, but linking you to your own work is a waste of everyone’s time). In the words of Leonardo Da Vinci “Simplicity is the highest form of sophistication.” However, the current hoard of cartoonists only sees the simplicity in the historically successful political cartoons, and not the sophistication behind it, so they respond by just siting there with their one panel and shuffle around their labeled piles of overused metaphors hoping the magic will happen one day. They are like cartooning alchemists, except they are hopping to transmute s–t, instead of lead, into gold via exhausting all the possible combinations of reagents.

  • Here is an interesting idea Ted. I know you are already ridiculously busy, but what if you started another political cartoon under a nom de plume on the side and didn’t tell ANYONE about it. This new strip wouldn’t take as much time as your current work, because unlike your traditional strip it would not be well thought out or researched and it would be in the simple craptacular format that has become the standard of the modern syndicated political cartoonists as you have outlined above. (you may need to create a new drawing style for it to help through people off your trail.) After you rise to syndicated success, you can pull off the mask and really mock the mainstream cartoonists while having an unbeatable comeback to the otherwise incessant dismissals of your legitimate complaints with versions of “sour grapes”.


    • Funny, I’ve had that fantasy. It would have worked in the past, but not now. Things are changing. Altie cartoonists are finally taking over.

  • Susan Stark
    June 26, 2011 1:07 PM

    Yeah, there’s a reason why the liberal-poseur paper called the New York Times is bringing McFadden on–they’re losing money. They need to bring back the readers that they’ve alienated during the past ten years.