Cartoon Critique

When I talk about shitty editorial cartooning, there is no better time to point to examples of the crap that ruin this profession then the maudlin pabulum that follows tragic mass deaths. The bombing in Boston earlier this week was a boon to America’s imagination-challenged political cartoonists. Those of us to actually care about this field sent a bunch of these around by email to make fun of them, but I thought it would be interesting to share them with you to see your reactions. I’m always amazed to read the comments section under these things when they appear online. So many people like them! Is something wrong with them, or is there something wrong with me? You be the judge.


130399 600 Boston Marathon 911 cartoons

A number of terrible editorial cartoons have drawn parallels between the Boston bombings and 9/11. This was our 9/11, Bostonians said. Well, sorry, what happened earlier this week really really sucked and was really really wrong, but you guys didn’t lose an entire ZIP Code and 3000 people. Not to mention, the political implications probably won’t be nearly as profound either. I don’t think were about to invade a couple of countries because of what happened in Boston.


130428 600 Boston Marathon Memorial cartoons

What the hell does this even mean? That there are memorials? That people are running past the memorials? It certainly doesn’t make any kind of political statement. It’s not a political cartoon. It’s just a pastiche of an illustration, and not a very good one.


130318 600 Boston Marathon terror cartoons

There were tons of these abandoned sneaker cartoons. I just picked this one out at random. Aside from the fact that it’s really stupid and doesn’t say anything, it makes no sense whatsoever. Nobody lost their sneakers running away. Sneakers are tightly laced on. Even if your leg got blown off, it was still attached to your sneaker. So aside from this being schmaltzy, it’s totally stupid.


130332 600 Boston Marathon Bombing cartoons

Again, I just have no idea what these things are supposed to mean. Is Boston metaphorically limping across the finish line? What is the finish line? The successful apprehension and execution of whoever is responsible? I feel like a lot of editorial cartoonists simply slap together a bunch of random images. It’s almost like random free association.



130325 600 Boston Terrorism cartoons

Admitted plagiarist Bill Day – scratch that, now he has de-admitted it – weighs in with a cartoon that  will no doubt be repurposed thousands of times for other unrelated issues. Now, correct me if I am wrong, but how exactly does this say anything other than terrorism is bad?  I think we knew that. Bear in mind, this guy has worked at numerous newspapers. I’ve never gotten a single one to offer me a job.


130396 600 Crying Lady cartoons

You would think that the parody cartoons in the Onion would have caused cartoonists to stop using cheesy weeping Statue of Liberty cartoons after tragedies, but cartooning’s master plagiarist continues. Well, it’s all good times when you’re counting the $42,000 you extracted from suckers on Indiegogo.



130355 600 Boston Marathon cartoons

One wag commented that a giant blue Anaconda appears to be loose on the streets of Boston. I would also add that a little bit of Ralph Steadman appears to be loose in the lower left-hand corner. Justice, apparently, is blind but really really hot and buff. Anyway, what does this mean? That justice is moving swiftly?  Bear in mind, the artist is a lot more successful than I am. He managed to get himself fired on staff at the Columbus Dispatch and was considered on the shortlist for the Pulitzer Prize in a piece by the Washington Post this year.


130287 600 Boston Marathon Attack   Runners cartoons

Another piece by someone who has had more success than me. He’s on staff at a big daily newspaper. Full medical benefits. Retirement plan. He doesn’t have to worry about how to pay his rent every month.  He won the very prestigious Herblock award, which if I’m not mistaken, was worth a cool $10,000 at the time. Might be $15,000. Not sure. Anyway, yeah, this is just an illustration of a story that anybody who has been watching the news has been following. The first responders ran toward the blast while the runners were running away. Very hot runners. But when I want to know is, is not the way it’s supposed to be? Most of the time, cops and firefighters don’t have anything to do. They’re paid a good deal of money to spring into action and risk their lives every now and then. That’s the job. They agreed to do it. How exactly does that make them heroes? And anyway, the idea that first responders are heroes is hardly something that needs to be said in an editorial cartoon. This is just pandering.


130358 600 False Flag cartoons

Another one by the same guy. By the way I always kind of liked his loose drawing style, though it doesn’t really work very well here. Anyway, I really hate these kind of metaphors. You know because there were a lot of flags at the marathon, or at least in the photographs of the marathon that went out over the Associated Press wire service. And because a lot of conspiracy theorists say that this is a false flag operation… Well, you know. Again, it’s not very risky to say that conspiracy theorists are dumb. More pandering.


130357 600 Boston Tragedy cartoons

More bullshit patriotism. One of the things I hate more than anything is when terrorists are called cowards. As Bill Maher pointed out, the guys who flew those planes into those buildings were a lot of things but they were not pussies. And again with the heroes! Enough. Shut up. Oh, I should point out that this guy works at one of the few new gigs in the business, at the Hill newspaper. I sent them a bunch of my stuff when they launched. They weren’t interested. This is the kind of stuff that they would rather have.


130303 600 Comfort cartoons

So apparently the metaphorical embodiment of the Boston Marathon is homely but with huge breasts. But you would really think that it would be hard to run 26 miles without a jogging bra. Also, I want to know how Uncle Sam is exactly comforting the Boston Marathon. Or is he just hitting on her?


130295 600 Boston Marathon Humanity vs evil cartoons

So wait, why is humanity crossing the evil finish line? Is evil the goal that we all run 26 miles to try to achieve?


130342 600 Boston Marathon cartoons

Um… What? What do the Boston Red Sox have to do with this? And anyway, just another illustration. Makes no point. Tragedy is sad. Blood is bad.



130363 600 Boston cartoons

When JFK died, cartoonist Bill Mauldin drew a famous cartoon of Abraham Lincoln on the Lincoln Memorial weeping. Unfortunately for the rest of us, we have to live with the zillions of cartoonists who want to redraw that same exact cartoon every time something like this happens. This one is a huuuuge stretch, though.


130321 600 Boston Marathon Bombing cartoons

Apparently what it really takes to bring us all together is schmaltz. Notice, by the way, that the Democrat is a black guy. Also, is it me, or is this a little bit gay marriage-y?


  • “So many people like them! Is something wrong with them, or is there something wrong with me?”

    I always thought of it as part of the spiral to the bottom that America has been on for a while. The average American is always more comfortable with the simpler and less challenging of alternatives in most media. So as all media has slowly become more about profit and less about integrity, each step towards thoughtless pap brought victory for those most venturesome to spiral further into the void. Then people get comfortable to this new slightly reduced standard and then the spiral turns again. After a few decades of this we find these types of cartoons are what the average American excepts and even expects as a political cartoon, and it is just as challenging thought wise as most of them are comfortable with (until simpler sappier stuff can be created).

    Of course your work was rejected by standard papers in favor of some of these schmucks. Your work might result in:
    1) Readers thinking outside of their comfort zone (thus fewer readers)
    2) Opinions that actually take a stance (thus FAR fewer readers)
    3) Occasional angry letters to the editor (and probably fewer readers)
    4) Insufficient sentimental pap to placate the masses. (thus fewer readers)

    Mass market is inversely proportional to integrity, and EVERYONE is shooting to have the largest market as possible these days.

    Again a fake cartoonist can’t take that much work because as you have shown above, free association illustrations apparently create “GREAT” cartoons – so says the editors and the masses. Just doodle catharticly while watching the News for 30 mins and then publish the results for GREAT SUCCESS!

  • After around the fourth cartoon, I started getting mad at Ted. No, really. I was irrationally pissed off that he had subjected me to this. Early in my first exposure to the web, I thought I’d check out political cartoons regularly, but found the mainstream ones to be utter shite, and, thus, rarely searched for or clicked on them. I haven’t strolled through so much kitsch and arrogantly nonsensical tripe in a very long time.

    And I strongly believe that the worst offenders here both confuse and disengage readers. Readers don’t all like this crap; they treat it as just another part of the newspaper to casually ignore. Editors love this stuff. My pet theory is that if you’re in an industry obsessed with being topical, a superficial illustration that is absolutely dated — worthless 30 seconds before the subject it illustrates and worthless 30 seconds after you and your peers stop talking about the subject — serves to actually venerate your worldview. Not the merely political aspects of your worldview, but your view that trendy is important and important is trendy. Thus, if everyone is talking about the deficit
    , talking about anything else is just being Not Very Serious, and it’s the serious people that, for personal and economic reasons, you want kissing your ass.

  • Well, I don’t mind them. I also don’t laugh at them. To me that is the purpose of a good political cartoon – to make me laugh. Your cartoons are always good for a laugh!

  • Holy shit. Two things:

    1. Ted, your bitterness has now reached a stage that is really uncomfortable to read and witness. You spit acid so caustic my face has pit marks. In fact, there’s an idea for a cartoon.

    2. The fourth to last cartoon is clearly saying “humanity” ran the race, only to find “evil” waiting for them at the finish line. It doesn’t make it any less cheesy, but it’s clear what was being said. I find it hard to believe you didn’t get that, but you probably couldn’t pass on throwing it in there with the others to shit on.

    Seriously though. The bitterness is now in the uncomfortable stage. It’s not just your fans reading this stuff. It’s your peers, potential employers, potential new fans. It doesn’t reflect well, it just makes you seem insanely bitter and that’s not a quality people move toward. In other words, it repels. Repels. Get it?

  • I agree to a certain extent to the 3 previous postings, and I would like to add that their is such a thing as being “right” and being “dead right”. I also agree with almost everything Bill Maher espouses, but he does make me a bit uncomfortable sometimes with how he illustrates his points. I think this may be why most people either love his work or hate him. There are a lot of people who can’t stand to have someone tell them they are fools or blind passive people with the attention span of a throwrug, and I believe it is true for the vast majority of Americans. The United States is still a very young country in comparison to many other nations, and I think that one of the things that comes with this, along with our history of intolerance for others, is the scourge of a mob mentality and the current wave of political correctness. Once painted as the constantly angry man who is always saying highly negative things, even though you are right, it is hard for some people to want to be around it. It’s like having a neighbor who has a dog who is constantly barking – do you shoot the dog, or do you spend time trying to find out why it is barking? Here in today’s America, I think most people want to shoot the dog….

  • You once asked us if we thought you should spend the time to “go after” Bill Day – to further out him for his plagerism. My response tried to indicate that you might be headed off down a side street of righteous anger, and that there were other topics that needed more attention than this – after all, in any profession, there is usually a bell curve of distribution, with some falling at either end of the spectrum, and this is where I see Bill Day. Other comments basically said, Yeah! If you feel this stongly, go after him, and I’ll watch and support you! No one wants to realize they are flogging a dead horse or that they have expended a great amount of energy pursuing a goal that it like “whack a mole” – Just look at how many Americans still think our wars were just while applauding all the heroes we were and are still “creating”.

  • alex_the_tired
    April 19, 2013 6:01 AM


    As you point out, most of these cartoons have big problems. The woman whose leg is off at the knee is crutching across the finish line while smoke is still all around? So she lost her leg, got the wound — somehow — sealed and bandaged, and is now “cresting” the finish line tape even though thousands of people had already finished the marathon by the time the bombs went off?

    Justice is running? How the hell is a blind woman running (while carrying a sword no less!) without someone guiding her?

    It’s hard to imagine that someone could screw up the continuity of a single panel.

    The flaw that all these cartoons have is not the reader (this reader’s?) inability to comprehend that they are not LITERAL representations of something. The problem is that the metaphorical points are simplistic, rah-rah bullshit. Terrorism=Bad. America=Good. The Statue of Liberty wears a funny hat. We’re all Boston Red Sox. 9/11. 9/11.

    Where’s the cartoon that asks why someone is engaging in terrorism in the first place? Years ago, a public discussion would be had on the motives and validity of the claims of the terrorists. The because-they’re-evil “argument” would be dismissed as stupid and unhelpful. (Notice how we expend so much energy now showing “respect” for idiocy? Creationism being the perfect example of how a small group can control the debate (an intellectual form of terrorism, I suppose.) Now, it’s the main theme of the discussion. The narrative focuses less on facts and more on emotional catharsis.

    Back in 1964 or so — hang on, I’ve got the book right at hand — John D. MacDonald wrote this about Santa Rosita in California: “The dullest wire services the world has ever seen fill their little monopoly newspapers with self-congratulatory pap. Their radio is unspeakable. Their television is geared to a minimal approval by thirty million of them. And anything thirty million people like, aside from their more private functions, is bound to be bad.” He goes on for a couple of paragraphs in that vein.

    The point is, media used to be bad in just a few locations. There used to be enough competent, compassionate, concerned journalists that there were places where the skilled ones could flee to. I remember when the Boston Globe was actually a very good paper. I remember when the Village Voice was not just de rigueur but actually necessary as an information source.

    But now? In Susan Stark’s recent post with the link to George Galloway’s dissection of the war criminal Maggie Thatcher (the Milk Snatcher) and the type of political ideology she unleashed, he describes the current crop of journalists as scribbling children.

    The same’s true for the current crop of editorial cartoonists. They show these things to the scribbling children, who are incapable of assessing anything with a critical eye, and are reinforced toward this sort of slap-dash idiocy.

    And Ex is right. Some of the venom is a little too forceful. I understand and sympathize that this upsets you, but there’s a little too much personal anger in it.

  • Personal anger in the face of corruption is appropriate. If you’re upset that someone is angry over something worth being angry about, then you’re, by definition, a terrible person. That’s what Very Serious People chide us about even now; if you were right about not going into Iraq and angry that innocent people have been murdered as a result, then your anger, alone, throws you out of a discussion. . . a discussion with monstrous assholes who wanted to invade Iraq.

    If Ted’s perspective wasn’t angry, he’d be nigh-worthless because his perspective wouldn’t have a moral component. I’m glad there are people upset that he’s angry, because those are the people, in proportion to their ridiculous, self-serving outrage, that I’d want to be upset. I, and plenty of my peers who seem to make up a good proportion of consumers but are ruthlessly undeserved in the market, are attracted to righteous indignation and disgusted by the smug immorality causing the former. Hell, I’m more entertained by the rightwing assholes posting on this site than some of the cartoons themselves.

    And, oh:

    2. The fourth to last cartoon is clearly saying “humanity” ran the race, only to find “evil” waiting for them at the finish line. It doesn’t make it any less cheesy, but it’s clear what was being said. I find it hard to believe you didn’t get that, but you probably couldn’t pass on throwing it in there with the others to shit on.

    Bullshit. This cartoon isn’t saying shit worth saying, and saying otherwise is disingenuous. Its value is that it’s saying nothing worth saying such that it can serve as a generic bromide. It’s not a political cartoon, it’s an illustration, and even bad in that capacity. Screeching that it has meaning when it doesn’t sounds tired and bitter. It repels. Get it?

    • Thank you, Sehmet. I suspect the commenters are right insofar as telling things as I see them won’t make me many friends, but hey, it’s cool since all my friends are people whose work I respect. Makes it much easier.

      I know it’s bad for biznez, but I refuse to pretend I’m mildly annoyed/bemused when I’m furious.

      Damn right, I am jealous of hacks who make 10 times more than I do. Damn right, they don’t deserve their jobs – not when cartoonists – plural – much better than they are are starving. And I won’t pretend that it’s OK. It’s not.

  • Exkio:

    Actually, I read that comic as probably meaning that humanity would ultimately overcome evil (the finish line ribbon, after all, is being torn apart as humanity bursts through it). So no, the meaning of the cartoon is not clear, and yes, the meaning of the cartoon is completely trite with either reading. It’s garbage.

  • @Ted: “I know it’s bad for biznez, but I refuse to pretend I’m mildly annoyed/bemused when I’m furious.”

    Do you see the logic loop here?

    Step 1: You are not doing well as some hacks, which makes you mad.
    Step 2: You (repeatedly) spit venom about the situation.
    Step 3: You admit such diatribes are “bad for biznez”.
    Step 4: Business stays bad (in part) because of Step 3.
    Step 5: Return to Step 1.

    This is what’s known as destructive loop. If you think it’s never going to change anyway, then have at it. But, staying in the cycle hoping to break out of it — ain’t gonna happen.

    Hell, even Johnny Rotten created PIL. He’s worth bloody millions. Think he gives a shit about keepin’ it real?

    Knock off the bullshit. Break out of the loop.

  • @Ted: Oh, and also …

    Listening to the rag-tag group of crusty OWS bitches who hang around here, telling you to keep it real? Misery loves company. Whether you believe it or not, you’re better than them. You’re above them. Don’t let them suck you down into the hopeless morass that is their lives. They won’t give you a red cent for all content you provide here. You know, “the web should be free” and all that. Those deadbeats will suck you into the swamp and you’ll never get out. Again, if that’s what you want — have at it.

  • aaronwilliams135
    April 19, 2013 10:02 PM

    Speaking of bitterness, venom, anger, etc., sheesh, “Exkiodexian”, whatever in the fuck that pretentious name means, how would you describe the crap that you are spewing?

    I would remind you, this is Ted’s website. By Ted, for Ted. House of Ted. It is more than a little rude to sit at someone’s table and then criticize the food they prepare and serve to you at their expense.

    Sure, “constructive criticism” is appropriate here. But ridicule, no.

    Why not create your own website and criticize Ted there?

    And, I practice what I preach. To whit, I disagree with Ted on the drone issue. Whereas I am a far left radical here at home, I’m ok with blowing up muslims abroad. Fuck em, I say. And for a while there I challenged every drone cartoon Ted put up. But then I realized, hey, what am I doing here, this is Ted’s site, I whole heartedly agree with 95% of what he says, and recognize and respect him for doing what he does, so, I backed the fuck off.

  • What the hell is wrong with you?

    I mean that as an American.

    See, many people in this country like to think of their ideal world as a meritocracy. The better you are at useful tasks, the more rewards you get. Now whether or not that’s the best thing to want out of a society notwithstanding, it’s obviously not a bad thing on its face; any just system should properly reward benefitting society somehow.

    But the problem with treating this relationship between quality of work and success as just is that when it doesn’t work — and I’m talking about extremes, not hedge cases — you should be angry. This is because all injustice should make you angry. And if you are not angry at injustice, you are a bad person. This is literally how we determine badness.

    As a result, if you see someone get a reward they don’t deserve, it should make you angry. This is why people get angry at nepotism all over the world — it’s a fundamental injustice. Hell, this is why CNN and other news networks are so frustrating: many times the reporter one views is less knowledgeable and less competent than the viewer because the owners deliberately select for, and reward, incompetence in journalism (as the latter is necessary if one will be a competent courtier). It’s not hyperbole to say that mildly ethical, politically astute laypersons could do Wolf Blitzer’s job better than Wolf Blitzer, and that’s an anger-inducing injustice outside of the “profession” in question. How much worse is it when someone who is ostensibly in your own career pulls the same crap?

    So what the fuck is wrong with you? Why do you hate it when people hate rewarded incompetence?

    (An aside: academics give us bullshit about how extremes in the political spectrum give us similar social results, but here’s a good counterexample. The only political perspective consistent with ignoring the injustice of unmerited rewards would be some kind of particularly reductionist communism, and that dovetails nicely with a rightwing agenda.)

    Finally, it should be noted that you can’t switch tactics without alienating your audience. The problem here isn’t that Rall can’t find an audience, the problem is that his audience must be deliberately fucking underserved by publishers. That’s why exky is spewing such ridiculous bullshit. There is a HUGE market for truth-telling, angry truth-telling, in the U.S., but it’s not politically desirable by the media, so they walk away from those dollars. People saying that the establishment is run by greed are totally wrong: it’s run by pride. Networks will happily shitcan you if you bring in the ratings but piss off the white house — we’ve seen that before. So please, cut out the worthless concern-trolling. All of the alt-cartoonists, including Ted, have the product people want. The problem is that they don’t have the a way to break the oligopoly that gatekeeps the market.

    Which is why we’re all talking on the fucking internet right now instead of bandying about with letters to the editor.

    An upside of that: more f-bombs available here than in the NYT.

  • @Sekhmet: You’re exactly what I’m talking about. You talk all day and say nothing. You don’t even make any sense. Everything’s a conspiracy. Everything’s about “the man” keepin’ us down. Christ, that whole schtick is so tired.

    It’s trash like you that’s keeping Ted from making a living.

  • Oh, please, exky, you’re the one spewing conspiracy theory. Like any rightwinger, even the basics of economics is anathema. Your concern trolling isn’t going to make Ted any money, though it will illustrate the nonsensical bullshit anyone not toeing a party line has to deal with. You’ve alread shown you hate merit, which is pretty much a universal human value; is there any aspect of your ethics where you won’t present yourself as worthless garbage? I’m actually curious.

Comments are closed.